A Biblical Approach to Astronomy,

Part 1: Biblical Presuppositions and Cosmology

Wayne Spencer

There are many fundamental questions about astronomy that need to be answered from a young age creation viewpoint. There is a need to bring the Bible to bear on some of these questions. But, in trying to answer scientific questions using Scripture there is great danger of making interpretational errors. A number of the conflicts between scientists and Bible scholars, or between creationists and evolutionists, have been caused by incorrect interpretation of the Bible. Thus it is important to clarify how much we can learn about astronomy from Scripture. The Biblical issues related to astronomy must be addressed before there can be definitive answers to some of the scientific questions. In the days of Galileo this problem became an issue of great historical importance (especially around year 1633). The Catholic church had sanctioned the Ptolemaic view of the universe, which held that Earth was in the center of the universe and the Sun and planets orbited around it. But, the Copernican view (later called heliocentrism, holding that Earth orbited the Sun) was new in Galileo's day. Galileo was Catholic and the Catholic church was not only a very powerful cultural force but it was also considered the seat of academic pursuits and it funded scientific research. Galileo was threatened with death at the stake by the Catholic Church unless he recanted his view that the Earth was moving around the Sun and that the Earth was not in the center of the universe. Galileo recanted and spent the rest of his life confined and alone under house arrest.

The whole Ptolemaic vs Copernican controversy came about because the Catholic church did not interpret Scripture correctly. There may have been some scholars at the time who would have said otherwise, but the view that the Sun moved rather than the Earth was apparently entrenched in Galileo's time in the thought of many Christians and Catholics. In addition, the intuitive ideas about motion that most people had were reinforced by the Ptolemaic model.

The old Ptolemaic system and variations of it are referred to as Geocentrism. Even today there continue to be some Christian groups who hold that the Earth does not orbit the Sun. The modern form of this concept is referred to as Geocentricity.1 Geocentricity is not the same model as the old Geocentrism. However, believers who hold to Geocentricity today continue to make interpretational errors that lead to their views. Geocentricity believers today are sincere Christians as far as I know. There are two organizations today that promote Geocentricity. One group believes the Earth rotates, the other believes it does not rotate. They hold very strongly to the inerrancy of the Bible, which I applaud them for. Occassionally creationist publications will address the question of Geocentricity. However, to date these creation articles have mainly attempted to address scientific problems with Geocentricity. To me, the important problem with Geocentricity and the older Geocentrism is that they do not follow sound methods of Biblical interpretation.

Geocentricity believers also as far as I can tell always hold to a strict "King James only" view of the Bible. So they would reject other modern translations. Because they rely on the exact words and phrases in the King James for their view, they tend to come to a forced unnatural interpretation of certain details. Remember it is not any of our modern English translations which are inerrant, but it was the original autographs penned in the hand of the Biblical writers that were inerrant. This is one reason we should use more than one translation in our personal study.

The strict "King James only" view of the Bible does not reflect sound scholarship. Other more modern translations are not perfect either, but relying exclusively on only one translation while disregarding others tends to lead to mistakes in interpreting Scripture. The English language has changed significantly since the King James Bible was translated in year 1611. Also, many manuscripts of Biblical texts in their original languages have been found since 1611, including the Dead Sea Scrolls for example. These manuscripts allow scholars to have more confidence about what the Biblical text says. Furthermore, much has been learned since 1611 from archeological and linguistic scholarship that has bearing on Biblical translation. A number of the arguments Geocentricity believers use hinge on verses in the King James that are very likely not translated well. The King James Bible is still a good translation for many uses, if you understand some of its limitations as a translation and enjoy its language style. But most Christians who hold to a strict King James view have no idea of the interpretational difficulties it causes them. Enjoying the language style and sound of the King James does not make a person knowledgable enough to adequately deal with the translational issues with it. This does not mean we should not use the King James at all, but for in-depth study other translations and reference tools should be used.

Some verses used in support of Geocentrism and Geocentricity include for example Psalm 93:1, Ps. 104:5, Ps. 119:90, and Joshua 10:12-14. Geocentricity believers today reject the hermeneutical principle of phenomenological language (sometimes also referred to as "observational" or "anthropomorphic" language).2 This is the principle that events are described as they were seen and experienced by the people involved. Thus, when the long day of Joshua is described it is only telling how Joshua saw and experienced the miracle, not giving a scientific description of what actually took place. Geocentricity believers would argue that this would mean God would be revealing an untruth in His word, something that God knew was not really accurate.

I would think of it more in terms of God using the language skills and understanding of the individual He revealed His word to. There is nothing untrue about a description of what the long day of Joshua was like to experience, which is what we have in Joshua 10. God did not intend to describe the actual mechanical or scientific aspects of what took place. Scripture is not written from that perspective. We simply do not know exactly how God made the Sun "stand still" for Joshua's battle. God did not tell us. But the fact that God did not tell us does not mean it was not historical, or that it is a figurative story. We should still praise God for the miracle of it.

Thus, there is no challenge to Biblical inerrancy in the heliocentric view of the solar system, in which the Earth orbits the Sun. There was therefore no reason at all for the Catholic church to be threatened or concerned when a scientist like Galileo argued for a Sun-centered view. The Bible does not address the question of whether the Earth orbits the Sun or vice versa. It is sad that at that time in history, the church did not have a better understanding of how to interpret the Bible. The heliocentric view eventually won out over the Ptolemaic view after many years of debate. You may be able to say God used experimental science in the Copernican debate to correct the overly simplistic assumptions made by the Church about Earth's place in the universe.

The unfortunate result of the Copernican revolution was that the Bible began to be discounted in terms of its authority and historical reliability. As science prospered in the 1600's and 1700's the Bible was no longer taken to be authoritative, in matters that pertained to science. In time, science came to have more authority in western culture than the Bible. Thus there came to be a concept eventually in society that the Bible only speaks to personal, spiritual, and moral issues but not to objective truth such as in history and science. This is not how things should be because God's word speaks with equal authority in everything it addresses.

The Bible makes a number references to the stars and the universe. Often it teaches significant things about God from these passages. There are also some ways in which these passages confirm certain concepts in astronomy. It is important that we think Biblically as Christians, so that we can evaluate ideas we are exposed to from science and so that we can answer these ideas with our children or in speaking with others around us. Active leading Creationists still do not have a consensus on a number of basic questions about astronomy. Thus there is a need to apply Scripture to lay the foundation for further creation research.

The Bible affirms God's knowledge of the stars and His sovereignty over them. The Apostle Paul mentioned the stars in I Corinthians 15:41 for instance, saying that "star differs from star in splendor (NIV)." This implies that stars are not all alike. Today we know from astronomical research that there are great variations in the properties of stars. Psalm 147:4 is also interesting regarding stars. The NIV Bible says "He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name." This is amazing. Scientists do not have names for all the stars, they only name some of them and number the rest according to 2 or 3 different classification systems. But God has names for them all! In the NAS Bible it says "He counts the number of the stars." Note the use of present tense here. The Brenton English translation of the Septuagint (Greek) Old Testament says "He numbers the multitudes of stars." This Psalm as well as a similar verse in Isaiah 40:26 seem to indicate there is an ongoing tracking of the number of stars (by God) that has continued throughout history to the present. This could imply the number of stars has not been constant since Creation. Today we know that stars have an end to their existence and most astronomers believe stars can form today under the proper conditions. Whether stars form today is a question creationists still debate. But the ideas that stars are not all alike, they change, and they have an end to their existence are very consistent with modern astronomy.

Stars can go through various stages, though if the universe is only 6 to 8 thousand years old there may not have been time for most of them to change much. The changes in a star that naturally take place as it uses up its "fuel" is called Stellar Evolution by astronomers. Note that this is a use of the word "evolution" that has nothing to do with origins, except for how it is limited by a young universe less than 10,000 years in age. So, Stellar Evolution might be better called Stellar Aging. There is nothing contrary to Stellar Evolution or Stellar Aging in the Bible. In Part 2 of this series, we will look at how Intelligent Design is evident in astronomy.

A Biblical Approach to Astronomy,

Part 2: Intelligent Design of the Universe

It is important to clarify how much we can learn about astronomy from Scripture. Before there can be definitive answers to  scientific questions from a young age creation viewpoint, it is important to clarify the limits of what Scripture does and does not tell us about astronomy.  There are a number of issues in astronomy in which there is a need for creative original thinking from young age creationists.  In the light of Romans 1:18-20, intelligent design must have relevance to astronomy.   Much of astronomy tends to be based on the assumption that the Big Bang model of the universe cannot be seriously questioned.  Even a number of arguments that the universe is designed by a Creator are (wrongly) based on the assumption of the Big Bang.  Young-age creationists, who have a commitment to the authority of Scripture need to carefully evaluate arguments from astronomical research.  It is easy to err in one of two ways in this endeavor.  Either we can allow our assumptions of what the Bible teaches to lead us astray in how we understand science, or we can allow our assumptions from science to lead us astray in how we understand the Bible.          

There are a number of references to the stars or astronomical phenomena in Scripture.  They generally emphasize God’s greatness and power.  Psalm 103:11 illustrates the magnitude of God’s love for us by the distances to the stars!  There are occasional references to constellations, and to God “stretching out the heavens” at creation (see Isaiah 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, or Jeremiah 10:12).  Isaiah 40:26 and Psalm 147:4 indicate God names all the stars (see Part 1 of this series).  Jeremiah 31:35-37 essentially says that man will never be able to measure the heavens.  Some of these statements raise difficult interpretational questions about how they should be understood. 

For example, Isaiah 40:26 says God “brings out the starry host one by one and calls them each by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength not one of them is missing.”  Should this be taken to mean that stars cannot “die” as astronomers say?  I would prefer to take it to mean nothing in the universe, including stars or galaxies, is outside of God’s control.  So, no astronomical object would cease to exist (such as a star exploding for instance) apart from God allowing it. 

In Jer. 31:35-37 mentioned above, is Scripture somehow incorrect because astronomers have used various types of observational data to calculate distances to galaxies and other astronomical objects?  I don’t think so.  Every time man learns a way to extend his reach in terms of what we can see of the universe, there is always more out there.  We have no way of knowing how far the universe goes, we only know what we have measured.  There is even debate in astronomy sometimes about whether the universe has a finite “size” at all.  We know that we’ve detected various galaxies and other objects at great distance, but there is always more than we have measured.  Many things about astronomy should remind us of our human limitations and God’s infinite nature. 

Our Place in the Universe

The second verse in the Bible begins by describing the unfinished condition of the Earth on the first day of the creation week.  Isaiah 45:18 says about the Earth, “he did not create it to be empty but formed it to be inhabited.”  Earth was made special to be the home for life, especially human life.  But it is not only the Earth that had to be made special in order for it to be a safe home for living things.  God’s intelligent design had to extend from the subatomic level within every atom to the largest scales of clusters of clusters of clusters of galaxies.  Without God’s intelligent design on all these levels, we would not have a stable safe existence.  Earth is at the center of God’s attention in Scripture.  Genesis 1:16-17 include the stars in saying that astronomical objects were created “to give light on the Earth.” 

In 1984 astronomer William Tift and colleagues published some observations about the redshifts of galaxies.  Redshifts occur when something, such as a galaxies’ motion, decreases the frequency and color of the light given off by the galaxy (or star).  These changes in the light are used to estimate the distances to galaxies and stars.  Tift’s observations were very controversial and took a long time for astronomers to accept.  The measurements showed redshift ratios did not take on just any values but  they concentrated around certain regularly spaced numbers.  His results implied there were regularly spaced walls of galaxies going out to great distances.3  Over the years this observation has been confirmed independently by other researchers and extended out to even billions of light-years distance by the Hubble Space Telescope.  In the Big Bang view of the origin of the universe, it is very awkward, perhaps impossible, to explain this.  But creationist physicist Dr. D. Russell Humphreys has published a recent paper showing that Big Bang scientists ignore or do not think of a simple explanation of the regularly spaced

The regularly spaced galaxies shows an extremely large scale order in the universe.  Such a pattern cannot be an accident.  The best explanation is that galaxies were created in concentric shells that are equally spaced in all directions.  Our galaxy then would have to be very near the center of the shells, otherwise the walls of galaxies would not be equally spaced.  Note that this would not be the same as Geocentricity, which puts the Earth precisely at the center of the universe.  Rather the Earth would orbit our Sun and our Sun would orbit the center of the Milky Way galaxy.  The Milky Way galaxy would be divinely placed in or near the center of the universe.  Scripture does not explicitly tell us anything about where the center of the universe is in relation to us.  But, this finding certainly fits in nicely with the Bible’s emphasis on God’s focus of attention being our blue planet.

This finding from astronomical science is very important.  In Big Bang cosmology, where our existence is ultimately an accident resulting from natural forces, we could not have a special location in the universe.  Consider the following quote of Physicist Stephen Hawking from 1973: 

     However we are not able to make
     cosmological models without some
     admixture of ideology.  In the earliest
     cosmologies, man placed himself
     in a commanding position at the centre
     of the universe.  Since the time of
     Copernicus we have been steadily
     demoted to a medium sized planet
     going round a medium sized star
     on the outer edge of a fairly average
     galaxy, which is itself simply one of a
     local group of galaxies.  Indeed we are
     now so democratic that we would not
     claim that our position in space is
     specially distinguished in any way.
     We shall, ... call this assumption the
     Copernican principle.5

But God was not democratic in creating the universe!  Also, God made mankind distinguished as being created in His image.  Man was made for a personal relationship with the infinite Creator of the universe.

There are a number of other scientific facts about where we are in the universe that are of special benefit to us.  In recent years some scientists have realized these things that show how really “fortunate” we are.  For instance, if our solar system were located near the center of our galaxy, we would be close to supernova explosions and possibly dangerously close to a Black Hole where radiation and other hazards could affect us.6

Our Sun orbits the center of the galaxy in a manner similar to Earth orbiting the Sun.  But, for the Sun (our star), there are many other stars in the same spiral arm our Sun is near.  Our Sun is believed to be located between two of the spiral arms, but it happens to move in synch with the spiral arms.6  This is good because if it were moving faster or slower than the arms, it would cross the arms and come close to other stars, which could cause various catastrophic events to happen.  Also, God has placed our solar system in the middle of the spiral arms.  This allows us to see both the dense part of the central region of the Milky Way, and also see out into distant space.  If we were near the center of the galaxy, we would not be able to see nearly as far into the universe because of all the obscuring gas and dust that would block our view. 

The Sun and the Earth

It is actually very significant that our star, the Sun, is an “average” star.  It is not too large or too hot.  It is not a variable star or part of a double or triple star system, which are quite common in the universe.  All these other types of stars would create dangers to living things.

Our planet Earth is obviously specially made for life.  This clear from the study of other planets and moons in our own solar system.  It is also shown by recent findings regarding planets orbiting other stars.  Water is very necessary for life in many ways and Earth is the only body we know of that is able to have liquid water on its surface.  Scientists debate whether Mars may have had liquid water in the past, but Mars is not nearly so comfortable an environment for life as Earth.

Earth has enough mass to hold gases such as carbon dioxide and oxygen in an atmosphere so they do not escape into space.  Earth’s distance from the Sun is in the right range to make it’s temperatures suitable for life.  Also, if Earth were too close to the Sun, such as like Mercury for instance, it would be tidally locked so that the same side always faced the Sun.  This would severely restrict life or make life impossible.  Earth’s Moon has a purpose as well.  The tides, caused by the Moon’s pull on the Earth, cause the oceans to be essentially stirred and this has many benefits to sea life and to us.  Earth’s tilt is also very important and the Moon helps stabilize Earth’s tilt.  The seasons are due to Earth’s tilt (23.5°).  If Earth had no tilt it would cause ice to accumulate at the poles and probably make much of the Earth too dry.  If Earth had too much tilt, the temperature extremes would be too great for us.        

Design, the Big Bang, and the Atom

We’ve seen how God has arranged our place in the universe and our place in the galaxy.  God has also intelligently engineered our star and our planet to give us a safe stable existence.  God’s intelligent design of the universe extends further, down to the level of fundamental physical constants and the properties of the atom itself.  A number of physicists and astronomers in recent years have written about the many characteristics of the atom and the fundamental forces of nature that have “turned out just right” to allow for life.  Some of these scientists argue that the properties of the universe and the atom point to an intelligent Creator.  Some of these scientists are also Christians.  However, usually these arguments for design are put into the context of the Big Bang cosmology.  Thus statements will be made to the effect that God controlled the Big Bang, especially in its early fractions of a second, so that the universe would turn out as we find it today. 

Ian Barbour is considered a top scholar on the issue of the relationship between religion and science.  He lists three things as examples of this so-called “fine-tuning” of the universe.7  The first point he makes is about what he calls the expansion rate of the universe.  It has been said that if the expansion rate of the universe were smaller by even a minute fraction, it would recollapse and nothing would form.  If it expanded too fast then the gases would be moving too fast for any stars or planets to pull together. 

This argument presumes the Big Bang.  As we will see more later in this series, the Big Bang does not agree with the Bible and has scientific problems as well.  Thus, the “expansion rate” rather than being an argument for intelligent design, is actually an indication that the Big Bang would not work.  The expansion of the universe in the Big Bang requires a very special rate to work that there is no physical explanation for a process that would cause the rate to be just right.  Yet, scientists either just view this as an insignificant curiosity or they ignore the conflicts with the Bible and suppose that God used the Big Bang.  Neither way of thinking is Biblical.      

Barbour also refers to the Particle/Antiparticle ratio.  This is another problem with the Big Bang.  The Big Bang should produce equal quantities of matter particles and antimatter particles, such as protons and antiprotons, electrons and positrons, and neutrons and antineutrons.  Antimatter particles and the corresponding matter particles completely annihilate each other on contact, giving off radiation.  The problem is why does the universe have almost no antimatter when the Big Bang would produce both types of matter?  Physicists believe that there was just one extra proton (regular matter) for every billion antiprotons.  The same thing would have had to happen for neutrons and electrons in order for atoms to be able to form.  Again, rather than being an argument for design or being just a curiosity, this is a problem with Big Bang theory.

However, Barbour also refers to the formation of the elements as one of the “fine-tuned phenomena.”  There is a force within the nucleus of the atom known as the strong nuclear force.  It essentially holds the nucleus of the atom together.  If the nuclear force were slightly stronger or weaker some elements in the periodic table could not exist.  Carbon, which life and our bodies depend on so much, might not be stable if the nuclear force were slightly stronger.  This I think is a valid evidence of intelligent design, though it is not about the formation of the elements, but about their stability and their beneficial properties.  Paul Davies is an Australian professor of Mathematical Physics.  He makes an interesting observation about the order in the universe.  “It is particularly striking how processes on a microscopic scale–say, in nuclear physics–seem to be fine-tuned to produce interesting and varied effects on a much larger scale–for example, in astrophysics.”8 

This shows that God has thought through all the details from the subnuclear level to cosmological distance scales.  I will let God sum this up in His own words from Isaiah 44:24 (NIV):

    I am the LORD, who has made all things,
        who alone stretched out the heavens,
        who spread out the earth
        by myself.


  1. Bouw, Gerardus D., A Geocentricity Primer, published by Gerardus Bouw, 1999, 4527 Wetzel Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44109.
  2. Sproul, R. C., Knowing Scripture, InterVarsity Press, 1977, pp 73-74; also see Geisler, Norman, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, 1999, p 696.
  3. Astronomy, "Sky Surveys Reveal Regularly Spaced Galaxies," June 1990, p 10; Tift, W. G. and Cocke, W. J., "Global Redshift Quatization," Astrophysical Journal, 287:492-502, 1984; Napier, W. M. and Guthrie, B. N. G., "Quantized redshifts: a status report, Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy, 18(4):455-463, 1997.
  4. Humphreys, D. Russell, "Our galaxy is the centre of the universe, 'quantized' red shifts show," TJ, Vol. 16, Number 2, pp 95-104.
  5. Hawking, S. W. and Ellis, G. F. R., "The Large Scale Structure of Space Time," Cambridge University Press, p 134, 1973.
  6. Ward, Peter D. and Brownlee, Donald, Rare Earth, Copernicus, 2000.
  7. Barbour, Ian G., Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues, HarperSanFrancisco, 1990, pp 204-205.
  8. Davies, Paul, The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis For a Rational World, Simon & Shuster, 1992, p 196.