Saturday, May 4, 2013

Creation and the Big Bang

The Big Bang is a fairly well established scientific theory that describes the beginning of the universe.  According to this theory, some 13.8 billion years ago, our universe began to exist, initially as an extremely dense and hot point.  That 'singularity', began to rapidly expand and cool, eventually forming simple atomic elements which gravity clumped into stars and galaxies, ultimately producing the universe we see around us today.  The link above provides a decent description, while this one offers a much simpler overview.

While the Big Bang does have pretty strong scientific support, how compatible is it with the Genesis accounts, and what response should I make to it as a Christian?  Those are questions I struggled with for some time, and I know that many still do.

The Days of Creation

In the Genesis account we see creation divided up into 6 'days', followed by a 7th day where God rests.  How long are these days of creation.  The word used there could mean either a 24 hour day, or a longer period of time.  That the days are numbered, and included the formula "evening and morning" with the first 6 days would indicate the author likely indicated 24 hour days.  However, the 7th day does not mention a start or stop, and Hebrews 4:1-11 can be taken to demonstrate that we are still in the 7th day.  This is sometimes used as proof that the first 6 days should probably be considered as longer periods of time.

Which is right.  Does Genesis have creation occurring in 144 hours?  Or in 6 long periods of time?  There is no way for me to know for sure, but I suspect that the vast majority of people who read this account up until recent times took it to mean 6, 24 hour days.  And there was really no reason for them to believe anything else.  And I also suspect that that was the intent of the original author of the account.

A Literal or Figurative Account

Is the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis a literal account, or is it figurative?  I have heard this debated many times, usually with considerable passion.  One one hand you have those who believe that this account is historically and scientifically accurate; that it all happened exactly the way the account lays it out.  At the other extreme are those who dismiss this account as nothing more than an ancient myth that the Hebrews borrowed and modified.  And in between are any number of different positions that people have taken.

Because of the symmetry of the passage, with the first three days creating the realms of light, water, atmosphere and dry land, and the second set of days populating those realms with the appropriate items whether they be stars, fish, birds or land animals; I have a tendency to view the passage as a non-literal account that is more concerned with ease of memory and magnifying God rather than giving a scientific accounting of creation.

Regardless the original intent, it does appear though that most people, at least during the Christian era, have likely accepted it as being a literal accounting of events.

Are Things As They Appear?

Can I believe that my eyes tell me?  Sometimes, but not always.  My eyes tell me that the sun and moon both are sources of light; but the moon actually is only a reflector of light, not a source.  But when we combine all of our senses, the instrumentation we are able to build, and our intelligence, we are able to know that the moon itself produces no light.  But can we really know that is true, and that we are not being deceived?

While that question may not seem like it has anything to do with creation, for me it was pretty significant.  What do I do with reports from scientists that light from some of the stars I can see overhead has been in transit for millions, and sometimes billions, of years?  If I were to believe that we are truly capable of knowing the creation as it really is, then it would seem like I would need to accept that light has been traveling from some of the more distant stars for billions of years.  Only if I held that we could not truly understand our universe could I explain away the apparent very old age of the universe.  Either that or God has created the light already in transit, only making it appear to have been traveling for millions or billions of years.  But that is really just another version of the argument that we cannot really know our universe as it actually is.

Because I ultimately chose to accept that we could understand and know the creation that God had put us into, I was forced to accept that the universe was roughly 13.8 billion years old, and that the planet we live on was roughly 4.5 billions years old.  I have looked at the considerable amount of evidence supporting those ages and have been able to draw no other reasonable conclusion.

Reconciling the Two

A literal reading of the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis most easily supports a relatively young earth that was created as is.  The Big Bang argues for a very old earth, and even older universe, that took its present shape over billions of years.  I have read many attempts to reconcile the two, and have explored some of them for myself.  But none of those attempts have really satisfied me.  In the end I am left with the belief that the universe is knowable, and that what it says about its origins is best described by the Big Bang Theory.  As for the Genesis account, I still love this account, and the way it glorifies the God of creation.  But I am unable to picture it as an literally accurate accounting of the details of creation.

Inspiration of the Scriptures

One of the arguments some Christians make in rejecting the Big Bang in favor of a literal interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis is that the Genesis account, like all of the Bible, is inspired by God, and thus could not be wrong.  But take a closer look at the passage that teaches the Bible is inspired by God.
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17 HCSB
Yes, scripture is inspired, or God-breathed.  But notice its purpose.  To fully equip me for every good work, to be a mature believer.  It is not intended to teach me biology, geology, physics, or cosmology.  I believe the Genesis account can be useful to me as a believer, so long as I do not get hung up on its scientific failings.  Just like the account of Jesus temptations in the wilderness in Matthew 4 is useful to me without getting hung up over its claim that all the kingdoms of the earth can be seen from the top of any mountain, no matter how high; an assumption that the earth is flat.

Don't try and make the scripture something that its not.  Allow God to speak to you through it, and equip you in his service.  Don't feel threatened when modern science contradicts some of the ancient science found in the scriptures.  Don't forget that God also chooses to reveal himself in his creation as well.

The Big Bang Revisited

The Big Bang Theory affirms that our universe had a beginning.  How and why it occurred are a mystery to science.  Why the operating parameters of the universe are the way they are, making life possible on earth, are often thought of as a happy coincidence.  But it is neither mystery or coincidence to me.  In the beginning, God!  And God said ... and it was so!  The Big Bang is really not all that incompatible with Genesis, or the rest of the scriptures.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. - Hebrews 11:3 NIV

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