15 Billion Years != 6 Days in GenesisAugust 28, 2011
A pet peeve of mine is when people try to take scientific principles and try to somehow force it to match Biblical teachings. Not only is this unnecessary, but it generally only makes that person look like an idiot or crackpot. Today’s crackpot is Gerald Schroeder, and today’s Biblical teaching is Genesis 1.
Countless times people have debated how to reconcile the apparent contradictions between the creation story in Genesis with how scientists now believe the universe came into being. Schroeder is certainly not the first, and won’t be the last. Most of the time, Bible literalists claim some variation of, “a day back then is not the same length as today”. Usually someone quotes 2nd Peter 3:8-9, which reads: ”With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”
Schroeder takes a slightly different approach, invoking Einsteins Theory of General Relativity and time dilation to “prove” that the 6 days of creation in Genesis 1 is literally identical to the approximately 15 billion years since the Big Bang. One reason why Schroeder has been taken serious by many people is that he does have a very nice resume. He has several degrees from M.I.T., and has worked in the Nuclear Physics field. Unfortunately, this does not make him immune to saying silly things. (Another example of “smart” people saying silly things is NASA Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, 6th man to walk on the moon, and believes we’ve been visited by UFO’s and can heal people from a distance using psychic abilities.)
Schroeder uses lots of big words and big concepts, to try to prove his point– but he misses the obvious issues that lots of crazy math cannot reconcile. Fortunately, analyzing the validity of his claims does not require crazy math or intimate knowledge of General Relativity. As a side effect, we can evaluate the validity of ALL claims that 15 billion years equals 6 days in Genesis– regardless of how they justify it.
Genesis 1 lists, chronologically, how the universe was created. It is:
- Day 1: Heaven, Earth, Night, and Day.
- Day 2: ”The Expanse”, a.k.a more Heaven
- Day 3: Land, Ocean, and Fruit/Seed Producing Plants.
- Day 4: Sun, Moon, and Stars.
- Day 5: Sea creatures, and Birds.
- Day 6: Land creatures, and Man.
And here is a rough timeline for the creation of the universe, according to the scientific evidence (Note: bya = billions of years ago, mya = millions of years ago):
- 15 bya: The Big Bang
- 13 bya: Galaxies Formed
- 4.7 bya: Our solar system formed, including the Earth
- 4 bya: Liquid water
- 3 bya: Blue-Green Bacteria
- 650 mya: Jellyfish
- 380 mya: Insects
- 250 mya: Dinosaurs
- 150 mya: Birds
- 40 mya: Cows
- 0.2 mya: Neanderthals
- 0.1 mya: Modern Humans
We must assume that time in the creation story is monotonic, meaning that Day 4 follows Day 3. No time-travel is allowed where day 2 comes after day 5, for example. To allow for a non-monotonic time flow would be the same as magically or supernaturally breaking the laws of physics, which sort of defeats the purpose of comparing Genesis 1 to the scientific evidence in the first place. So, time always travels forward, it just doesn’t have to always travel forward at the same speed.
When comparing these two timelines, Genesis 1 and the scientific evidence, we can see several conflicts. The most notable is that birds are created before land animals in Genesis, while the fossil record shows that Dinosaurs came before birds. Another is that land plants came before sea creatures in Genesis, while the opposite happened in the scientific record. There are others, but you get the point.
Are we to believe that fruit/seed producing plants came before the sun? Plants use the sun’s energy, and cannot function without it. So to suggest that they were created before the sun seem implausible. It is more implausible that night and day were created before the sun, after all it is the sun which defines night and day. You cannot have one without the other. And the moon, which was created from a massive collision with the Earth, could not have been created after Fruit/Seed producing plants, since the plants would have been wiped out in such a collision.
Schroeder tries to hand wave some of these discrepancies away. For example, he says that the sun and moon were not created on Day 4 but that is when the thick primordial clouds disappeared and the sun, moon, and stars became visible from the Earths surface. He also takes a very liberal interpretation of “fruit bearing plants” and “birds of the sky” to mean “blue-green ocean bacteria” and “water insects”. I my opinion a very liberal interpretation of the Creation Story is required, but that negates any need for scientific justification.
Regardless how you map 15 billion years to the 6 days in Genesis, it doesn’t make sense. Just because Gerald Schroeder uses fancy math and physics doesn’t make him any more correct. Worse, it makes him seem desperate to justify his beliefs using science than just admit that Faith is Irrational.
Trying to equate 15 billion years of scientific evidence with a literal interpretation of the 6 days of creation is a fools errand. It can’t be done. The only way to make it “work” is if you either distort the scientific evidence or you depart from a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. Distorting the evidence makes you dishonest. Completely departing from a literal translation of the Bible makes you question the divine authority of the Bible. Schroeder takes the way of the chicken and claims to be a literalist while glossing over the inconsistencies and hoping that nobody notices.
It is OK to for Christians and Jews to admit that Faith is Irrational. Doing so does not take anything away from their belief system. In fact, I would argue that it adds to it! But more importantly, it removes the need or drive to badly use science to justify their ideology– because using science in that way just makes them look like an idiot or crackpot.