A Biblical Approach to Astronomy, Part 3
The Big Bang Versus the Bible
The idea that the universe expanded from a single point billions of years ago is now a deeply entrenched concept in astronomy. Though the term “the Big Bang” was originally a derogatory term for the concept, the name stuck.
In the Big Bang, the universe begins with what is called a singularity. It is believed that the fundamental forces switched on and fundamental particles formed in the initial moments. A very hot ball of energy and particles expanded outward from a point. This is sometimes described as an explosion, but technically the Big Bang is not an explosion. It is not that the matter exploded outward, rather the concept is that space itself expands outward, carrying the matter and energy with it.
Though Big Bang theory does not include God creating, there have been many scientists who have tried to harmonize Big Bang theories with the Bible. To harmonize Big Bang theories with the Bible, it is the Bible that is reinterpreted to make it not contradict accepted ideas on the origin of the universe. In Part 2 of this series we looked at some problems with intelligent design arguments that are built on the assumption of the Big Bang.
Though the Bible is not clear about many scientific details, it is clear that the creation account does not agree with the Big Bang. First of all, the Big Bang would have other stars forming before our Sun and so there would be stars before Earth. But the Bible indicates Earth was created even before our Sun or the stars. This implies there was some other point light source (likely supernatural) that made the day/night cycle possible for Earth on the first three days. Also, the Sun and stars were created on the same day in the creation week (Genesis 1:14-19).
In Big Bang theory, everything forms by natural processes via known physical forces and effects. Supernatural creation is not involved, though some have essentially tried to add some supernatural to the theory to try and harmonize with the Bible. How does the Bible say creation took place? By what process did it happen, according to Scripture? Psalm 33 answers this clearly:
By the word of the LORD were
the heavens made, their starry
host by the breath of his mouth. . . .
Let all the earth fear the LORD;
let all the people of the world
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.
Psalm 33:6, 8-9 NIV
The God of the Bible does not need natural processes to create, though he can use natural processes for his purposes. Psalm 33 and many other statements in the Bible imply that things came into existence by command and on command. What God created was brought into existence immediately. Genesis 1:3 and indeed even the whole creation account makes this point.
God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Gen. 1:3 NIV)
You might say God created by “God’s will” and not necessarily by “command” in some cases. But there was no long period of time involved. There is no plausible place in the Bible to put long periods of millions or billions of years, either for the universe or the Earth. This does raise many scientific questions about astronomical processes. It is important to remember that the Bible describes things from the perspective of Earth, since Earth is the center of God’s attention. There could have been some natural processes involved that accompanied the miraculous processes of creation. But we must deal honestly with what Scripture tells us and interpret it properly in context. Then we should work within the framework implied by Scripture to deal with the scientific questions as best we can. If some questions do not have complete scientific answers, that should not be threatening to us because we know God acted supernaturally. However, on issues in which Scripture is not clear, potential scientific answers should be fully explored before we assume miraculous intervention. Our study of the universe should motivate us to want to know and worship God more and give us greater confidence in His word. It can also help us to communicate our faith to others.
There are a number of individuals who are astronomers or physicists who have suggested that the Bible agrees with the Big Bang. Though not always the case, there is a tendency for people with a scientific background hold to a view of Genesis 1 that is called the Day-Age Theory. On the other hand, individuals with theological or seminary training tend to hold to another view of Genesis 1 called the Gap Theory, which puts a long period of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
The Day-Age Theory holds that the days described in the Creation account of Genesis 1 are each long periods of time. People of the Day-Age view usually also hold that the seventh day of the Creation week is a “continuing day” of several thousand years in length. Thus by this idea we are still in the seventh day even now. The Creation days by this view are considered to be overlapping periods of time. The overlap is necessary in this view to attempt to deal with how the order of events in Genesis 1 contradicts the order of events from the Big Bang and evolution. One well known proponent of the Day-Age Theory today is Hugh Ross, a Christian astronomer with a ministry called Reasons to Believe.
There are a number problems with both the Day-Age Theory and the Gap Theory, as interpretations of Genesis. Even if Genesis chapter 1 is not clear enough, Exodus 20:11 is unmistakably clear, saying essentially that everything was created in six days. There are several indications in Genesis 1 that the Creation days are literal days. The reference to “and there was evening and morning” and to a numerical adjective with the word “day” clearly point to the days being literal. Also, if the days were long periods of time, how would plants survive from day three to day four, when the Sun is first mentioned? If we can take the term for “day” in Genesis 1 as a long period of time, then it would be possible to take the New Testament the same way and argue that Jesus Christ had not yet risen from the dead since the “three days” he was in the tomb would not yet be completed. This is absurd.
What should Christians think?
When Genesis is not interpreted properly, that can open the door to rejecting other important things in the Bible. Many say that you can be a Christian and believe the Big Bang, or believe in evolution. Henry Morris once made a striking comment about this in a book that is now out of print: “Christians can be inconsistent and illogical about many things, but that doesn’t make them right.” (From the book King of Creation, 1980, p 84.)
John Polkinghorne is a British theoretical physicist formerly at the Queens College at Cambridge and is also an ordained minister in the Church of England. He is also a member of the Royal Society of London, a very elite association of scientists hundreds of years old. Polkinghorne is well-known for his writings on the relationship between science and religion. Polkinghorne says there is no conflict between Christianity and the Big Bang. He wrote:
As far as Christianity is concerned
two things need to be said. The first
is that the Christian is not committed
to believe in the literal truth of
every miraculous event recorded in
the Bible. An understanding of the
role of myth and legend enables us
to accept some stories as just
that, pictorially valuable but not
I have to disagree with Polkinghorne. If we cannot trust all of the Bible, including the miracles, how can we really trust any of it and base our lives on it? It is not “putting God in a box,” as some suggest, to believe in six literal days and a young universe. It is taking God at his word, and that is the calling of every Christian. But there are limits to what science can tell us. Where science ends, or where science is not perfect, we must put our trust in the word of the God who was there in the beginning and who has spoken to us in the Bible. Reinterpreting the scientific data from a creation point of view requires some very creative thinking. The solutions to the scientific issues may be surprising even to creationists. But compromising on our approach to Scripture is not an option.
A Biblical Approach to Astronomy, Part 4
The Age of the Universe and God’s Nature
The Bible says in Exodus 20:11 that everything in the heavens, the Earth, and the sea were created within the six days of the Creation week. The Creation account implies that objects in outer space were created on the fourth day. This makes the universe, our solar system, and the Earth all of essentially the same age, which from Biblical considerations would be about 6,000 to 8,000 years. This goes radically against accepted principles in astronomy today, which hold that Earth is about 4.6 Billion years of age and the Universe is about 15 Billion years of age.
There are many confirmations of the Bible’s account of history from archeology and science, but in astronomy there are questions we do not have complete answers to. The question of the age of the Earth has been addressed extensively by young-age creationists. Problems with radiometric dating (such as Carbon-14 dating or Potassium-Argon dating), which is the primary basis for arguing for an old Earth, have been documented. Geological evidences of a Young Earth have also been documented by creationists. Creationists have published a number of works showing how geological facts can be reinterpreted from a young-age viewpoint. All of this is easier to do in a sense for geological studies of the Earth than for issues in astronomy because for Earth we have more direct and more complete data. Being on Earth, we can collect samples and do other types of direct measurements that help answer origins questions.
In astronomy, we have to get data more indirectly since we cannot travel to distant stars or galaxies. We can send unmanned spacecraft to other planets in our solar system, so in solar system studies we have some data collected directly (such as moon rocks) and the rest is collected indirectly by remote sensing technology. Remote sensing data includes pictures, radar surface mapping, spectra of light reflected off object surfaces, magnetic measurements, etc. In solar system studies there are some indications of a young age. But in the solar system, there is more of an emphasis on remote sensing data.
Outside our solar system, the only source of information we have is the light and other radiation that we receive from space. The entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves, to X-rays, to visible light, to infrared, to gamma rays, is all measured by astronomers and physicists. Much can be learned from the electromagnetic spectrum from stars and galaxies. The light received from space can also be compared to radiations emitted by laboratory sources on Earth. This allows us to identify the elements present in a distant star, for example. But in astronomy, it is often not a simple thing to determine the meaning of what we see and measure. Thus, we should approach astronomy with a lot of humility, since it is easy to build a tall “house of cards” on assumptions that turn out to be wrong.
I believe that where we have better and more complete data regarding the age of things, such as on Earth, we have better evidence for things being young as the Bible suggests. As we consider our solar system, there is evidence of the solar system being young, but it is not as clear as it is for Earth. I hope that the evidence will become more clear with more research. There are times when one can show that old age assumptions lead to problems with current non-creationist theories.
For broader issues in astronomy, such as the age of galaxies and the age of the universe, I see the age evidence as unclear. I say this because we are still at an early stage in creationist astronomy where we are only beginning to work out some of the fundamental principles. I can point to evidence for the Earth being young, but it is difficult to point to specific examples that imply a young universe. In my view, this is due to two things primarily, first, the limited resources that young-age creationists have that has been put into working seriously on the technical issues. Secondly, because in astronomy young-age or old-age assumptions are often inherent in how the data is interpreted. The issue of the age of the universe is tangled into the interpretation of almost every piece of data.
As Christians who hold to the inerrancy of the Bible I do not see how we can accept the concept of an old universe. It just does not agree with Genesis. There are some Christians who hold that the universe is old but the Earth is young. I do not believe this is a legitimate option either. So, for the universe, I believe the universe is young primarily because of my interpretation of Scripture. There have been some things put forward from creationists as evidences of a young universe. It is not the purpose of this article to address these arguments for a young universe. In general, I feel many of these arguments need to be researched better and brought up to date.
God’s involvement with His Creation
Though modern science rejects the possibility of the supernatural, a Christian point of view must acknowledge it as possible. This raises questions about whether God’s supernatural creative work only took place during the creation week or whether it continues to the present in some sense. After Isaac Newton’s success in describing motion and gravity, the concept became accepted in some circles that the universe ran like a mechanical clock that was wound up in the beginning and needed no other input to continue running. This is not a Biblical concept and I doubt that Newton would have held this view.
The Bible does acknowledge the existence of physical laws, but Scripture implies they are dependent laws. See Jeremiah 33:25 and Jer. 31:35-36. The physical laws are a normal mode of operation of things but they are somehow dependent on God. The universe depends on God to sustain and hold it together in an ongoing sense (see Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:17). Also, God can supercede physical laws anytime he has reason to. He is not limited by physical laws because He is not part of the physical universe; He is transcendant and omnipotent. The physical laws themselves exist by intelligent design and have come about by God’s command. God thus has complete authority and control, though nature seems to run with a very machine-like predictability. This predictability allows us to do experimental science and use our knowledge of nature for mankind’s benefit.
We should bear in mind that when God intervened supernaturally at the time of creation, this could produce effects that we cannot explain by the laws of physics. There may be mysteries that are a result of God’s supernatural actions. We do not know for instance the exact initial conditions at the time of creation. Thus we do not know the exact composition of a star one minute after it was created. However we can measure the composition of a star using spectroscopy. In doing this, are we measuring its initial composition at the time of creation, its composition today, or of some time in-between? This is not a simple question. Yet this type of question comes up again and again in trying to understand many things in astronomy.
Starlight and the Age of the Universe
The concept of a young universe as implied by the Bible has been challenged frequently by skeptics and individuals in science who believe evolution and the Big Bang. This challenge is put in one of two ways. One is to ask how Adam and Eve could see stars during the creation week when it takes from a few years to billions of years for light to reach Earth from outer space. Another way to present the issue is in terms of modern measurements made today. Astronomers measure changing processes in space and objects in motion. How can scientists today detect objects millions of light-years distant if the universe is only 6 or 8 thousand years old? Remember that one light-year is the distance that light travels in one year and the speed of light is over 186,000 miles per second.
Young-age creationists have put forward several explanations for how we are able to see distant objects in a young universe. One argument, now over 20 years old, was that the distances to the stars and galaxies used by astronomers were not accurate, but were much too large. Today distances to objects in space are determined by a number of techniques. Though there are always uncertainties in measured distances, there is no way that distances can be off enough to explain the starlight issue.
It has also been proposed that the speed of light was much much faster in the past than it is today (called “cdk”). Though this might answer the starlight issue in some ways, the implications of this in physics and astronomy are very problematic. This was proposed by Australian creationist Barry Setterfield first in 1987. After much discussion, most of the creationist community came to a consensus against the 1987 model. Setterfield then proposed a new reworked model of cdk in 2002-2003. Most creationists I know with backgrounds in physics do not believe this model is credible either. There are also Big Bang scientists, not Christians or creationists, who have proposed that light speed was higher in the past, in the early moments of the Big Bang. The idea of the decay of the speed of light continues to be very controversial. At this time, I do not consider it an option because the physics of it just doesn’t seem plausible. It is a very technical issue that will probably continue to be debated by creationists.
Today there are two models for answering how we can see distant objects in a universe only thousands of years old which have become relatively well known. One is referred to as “Mature Creation” or “Appearance of Age” and the other involves an application of time dilation effects in General Relativity in a model from Dr. D. Russell Humphreys. General Relativity can be thought of as a theory about gravity and space that came from Albert Einstein. However, there are a number of possible mathematical approaches that can be used to apply General Relativity to theories about the universe. The creation account in Genesis implies that God created many things mature and fully functional in the creation week. Thus, Adam and Eve would have looked like young adults when they were only a day old, for instance. This has been sometimes referred to as “Appearance of Age.” I prefer to call it “Virtual Age.” In relation to astronomy, it has been suggested God created the light waves stretched out from stars to Earth, at the time He created the stars themselves (maybe even before the stars were created). This would also make it necessary for God to create in the light waves all the variations and changes that would allow us on Earth to see events and processes in space using our telescopes. This view has received a lot of criticism by some on the grounds that it is deceptive because it would make things appear as if there were objects or processes seen in space that do not actually exist. Or we might see evidence of events and processes that may not have really happened. I would say that for this view to be possible it simply cannot be deceptive. What we observe in space has to accurately represent real events, objects, and processes because God is not deceptive. This view requires some supernatural action by God in order to work and it has some implications that are difficult to accept from scientific considerations. But I would not rule it out as an option. However, I prefer a more scientific approach to the problem, if that is possible.
In recent years an attempt at a scientific answer to the starlight question has come from creationist physicist Dr. D. Russell Humphreys. Dr. Humphreys published his cosmology model answering the starlight issue in the popular book, “Starlight and Time.” There has been a mixed acceptance of Humphreys model among creationists. Humphreys model uses principles of General Relativity and applies them to our universe in a way very different from Big Bang theories. He says the universe has a finite size and a center, which is different than Big Bang theory. The general idea is that in the beginning space was rapidly expanded as God stretched out the universe. While space was rapidly expanding, there was an effect on time. So during the expansion, many years of time would go by at the outer edge of the universe while time essentially stopped at Earth. Time would have stopped (or nearly stopped) at Earth because Earth was close to the center of the sphere of matter that made up the universe.
With Humphrey’s cosmology, the farther away from Earth an object is, the more the time dilation effect. Time was only affected during the creation week while the universe expanded rapidly. The result is that measured from Earth today, objects at great distance would seem much older than objects at Earth. After the creation week, time proceeded normally everywhere. Humphrey’s model is still controversial and there could yet be refinements to details of how it works out. Some of the Humphrey’s mathematics received some criticism for a while but I feel he adequately answered those criticisms.
Humphrey’s cosmology is a promising model for answering some tough questions in astronomy. At the present time, I feel it, or something similar to it, is the best answer we have to how we can see distant objects in a young universe. Further research can always change the picture as our understanding grows. In fact, in 2003 creationist physicist John Hartnett proposed an intriguing new model somewhat similar to Humphrey’s. There have been many exciting discoveries in astronomy in recent years. These discoveries tell us about what God made. We must hold onto our Biblical convictions and also deal honestly and carefully with the scientific evidence. We still have much to learn about doing this in the exciting field of astronomy.
A Correction Regarding Job 38:31
In the article, “A Biblical Approach to Astronomy, Part 2" I referred briefly to Job 38:31. I'm afraid I must correct an error. In the NIV, this verse says, “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?” I made the following statement in the above article which I now am convinced is not correct:
“This seems to accurately acknowledge the difference between a gravitationally bound star cluster and a constellation, whose stars are not gravitationally bound together.”
In a recent issue of the journal TJ, creationist physicist John Hartnett writes an excellent paper about the Pleiades cluster and this verse from Job (see Vol. 18, Number 2, 2004). Though in the past it was believed that the Pleiades star cluster was gravitationally bound, modern astronomy has shown it to be unbound. The Pleiades cluster (which contains about 500 stars) is expanding, but it will not break up in the future as far as we can tell. The stars in it are just near each other and moving in the same direction. The Pleiades and some other constellations are mentioned in several passages in the Old Testament.
The Orion nebula is found in the night sky in the constellation Orion. This constellation is the familiar "bow-tie” like group of stars. The Hubble Space Telescope discovered a number of stars in what is now known as the Orion Nebula Cluster, or ONC. This is a cluster of about 1000 stars and research indicates it is gravitationally bound. Hartnett points out that naturalistic theories from astronomers are currently not able to explain the origin of bound star clusters like this.
So, the Pleiades is actually technically unbound and there is a significant bound cluster in the Orion nebula. Thus the facts from astronomy do not support what I was implying. I had read and heard differing opinions on the Pleiades cluster but I think Hartnett’s paper provides the proper documentation.
John Hartnett in the above article also makes some Biblical arguments for Job 38:31 not addressing specifics about these star clusters. This verse is apparently a difficult one to translate from the Hebrew. The point of the verse in context is about God’s complete sovereignty. Though I always understood this, I thought that it was also incidentally giving some astronomical information that Job would not have known. Though I meant well, this was actually taking Scripture out of context in a minor way. I regret this mistake. We must be careful about reading more into the text of Scripture than is warranted.
Hartnett, John, The heavens declare a different story!, TJ 17(2) 2003 AIG, pp 94-97.
Hartnett, John, A new cosmology: solution to the starlight travel time problem, TJ
17(2) 2003 AIG, pp 98-102.
Hartnett, John, Pleiades and Orion: bound, unbound, or . . . ?, TJ 18(2) 2004 AIG, pp 44-48.
Humphreys, D. R., Our galaxy is the centre of the universe, ‘quantized’ red shifts show, TJ 16(2) 2002 AIG, pp 95-104.
Humphreys, D. R., Starlight and Time, Master Books, Colorado Springs, 1994.
Norman, T. And Setterfield, B., The atomic constants, light, and time, SRI International Invited Research Report, Menlo Park, 1986. To read more about Setterfield's work, go to http://www.setterfield.org.