Thursday, July 7, 2016

About Time, part three: The Bible and the Big Bang

Creationists have done honest Bible students a huge disservice. "Creationism" is not the alternative to the theory of evolution. It is the opposite of, basically, everything scientific - as if science itself is a dirty word. Creationists' claim that God created the Universe and everything in it about 6,000 years ago makes all believers in the Bible look like idiots.

How can the light from a star that is, say, 3 million light years away from Earth reach my retina if the universe hasn’t been here for at least 3 million years? Creationists answer to this is, ‘God can do anything.’ Well, yes he can, except for one thing: “God cannot lie.” (Titus 1:2) The only way a 3-million-year distant star could be visible in 6,000 years would be for God to cheat – to fill up the pathway between that star and my retina with photons, for the express purpose of tricking me into thinking the universe is older than it is.
Before we get too far into this discussion you need the following disclaimer: Math makes my head hurt. Most scientific articles leave me remembering with fondness my last trip to the dentist. Trying to make sense of the various scientific statements about the origin of the universe, for me, is like untangling a fishing creel stuffed with cell phone chargers and Christmas lights. I am not a scientist; I am not claiming the following paraphrase is accurate. If you need more than the gist I’m providing here please do your own research and see what you come up with.
In spite of the fact that this is deep material, do not for one second think, because you believe in God, or because you trust the Bible, that this discussion doesn’t concern you.
The Big Bang theory is relatively recent. It was proposed in 1931 by a Belgian Catholic priest who was also an astronomer,Georges Lemaitre. It got its catchy name from one of its detractors, astronomer Fred Hoyle, around 1949 or 1950. Hoyle was a proponent of “steady state,” the theory that the universe is infinite in size and without beginning.
The Big Bang may not be what you think: I guess I’d always thought of it like this: Space is an infinitely large gymnasium in which, at some point, a basketball exploded. Pieces of the basketball went flying in all directions. Scientists over the past few centuries – notably Edwin Hubble, for whom the space telescope is named – observed what seemed to be expansion – the pieces flying away from each other – and used that language foreign to me (math) to extrapolate the relative trajectories of the basketball fragments backward to a point in time when the basketball was whole.
But that’s incorrect. Actually, the Theory claims that, not only did the basketball explode, but that the very gymnasium itself (space and time) did not exist prior to the Bang.
The name may be new; the mechanism described by the Big Bang may be recent. But the argument has raged for over two thousand years. While nearly every ancient culture on earth has a creation story Buddhism, purportedly established in the 5th century B.C.E., asserted that matter is infinite, that matter is all there is, and that matter follows certain mechanical laws without any intervention from any deity.
In the century before Christ a philosopher named Lucretius, building on Buddha’s materialist concept, flatly declared that God did not exist and that the material universe was eternal.Philosophy refined that proposal over the centuries, eventually boiling it down to two opposing theories:
  • Either matter and the universe are eternal and the spiritual world, i.e., God, does not exist; or
  • God is eternal and matter is finite; matter and the universe had a beginning, was started by the infinite Creator.
Philosophers such as HumeKantMarx, and Engels opted emphatically for the first alternative. They considered option #2 to be absurd. They also militantly argued against another philosophical school, the agnostics. Agnostics maintained that it is impossible to know which of the two proposals is right. (The branch of philosophy on the other side of the tree from agnosticism was Gnosticism, whose believers contended that, while it was certainly impossible for most humans to know what was true via any logical means, they’d received special, secret personal revelations from God that proved He existed.)
The Big Bang theory postulates that it is possible to learn how the universe began; that by observations and empirical data, knowledge can be gathered and conclusions drawn.
As the Big Bang gained popularity with some scientists, others were alarmed that it seemed to prove the existence of God, especially after the Catholic Church acknowledged that the Big Bang was compatible with the Bible, whereas the Steady State theory seemed more like a product of godless communism.
If science is correct:
  • The Big Bang happened about 13.7 billion years ago.
  • Our solar system, with a formless Earth/Venus/Mercury blob orbiting the sun, began 4.56 billion years ago.
  • Water began to collect on the surface of Earth about 3.8 billion years ago.
  • The dust and steam swirling above the surface finally cleared enough for sunlight to reach the surface of the planet about 3.4 billion years ago.
  • As the dust and steam continued to thin it formed a greenhouse canopy that trapped off-gassing oxygen, beginning the formation of an atmosphere about 2.7 to 3 billion years ago.
  • As the crust cooled it shrank. The water ran into the wrinkles and a small amount of dry land (about 2-3%) appeared, about 2.5 billion years ago.
  • The first true seed-bearing plants began to appear on the dry land about 360 million years ago.
Which of these theories should raise the hackles of a Bible believer?
None of them.
Compare those 7 steps with the following 7 steps listed in the Bible’s creation account:
  • “In the beginning God created the heavens…” Genesis 1:1
  • “The earth was formless…” Genesis 1:1,2
  • “…it was dark on the surface of the watery deep…” Genesis 1:2
  • “…Let there be light…” Genesis 1:3
  • “God made the expanse, and divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse.” Genesis 1:7
  • “God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear.’” Genesis 1:9
  • “And God said, ‘Let grass come up on the earth, and plants producing seed, and fruit-trees giving fruit, in which is their seed, after their sort.’” Genesis 1:11
There is no disagreement between the Bible and scientific theories about early Earth. Creationism’s hocus pocus is unnecessary. “In the beginning” says nothing about when that beginning was. If you want to say it was 13.7 billion years ago, I have no biblical reason to argue with you.
As for the “days,” the Hebrew “yom” can mean a 24-hour period, but it is also used for other, longer periods, the same way we use “day” in English: ‘my grandfather’s day,’ ‘a day of reckoning.’
More importantly, since there were no humans around to count time on early Earth, why would “day” need to refer to a 24 hour period? Why couldn’t a creative 'day' have lasted for millions of years?
If creationists hadn’t made their unbelievable assertions perhaps people would be more inclined to see the Bible as reasonable, especially when compared with the creation accounts of other cultures:
  • Hopi: God’s nephew created Spider Woman, who created everything else, including men who couldn’t speak.
  • Maori: Man descended from a couple, Heaven and Earth, whose procreation resulted in six sons: Forests, Wind, Fish, Mean people, Wild food and cultivated food.
  • Japan: Originally, there were 3 gods. Land floated like oil on water. From the land reeds sprouted, and from the reeds, two more gods…
  • Babylonia: In the beginning there was neither heaven nor earth, only water, and multiple water gods who fought.
It should make a reasonable person wonder: How did the Bible writer get all those details right?
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