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By C. S. Davis
Jun 17, 2013
How old is the universe? How long has life inhabited the Earth? These questions trouble scientists and theologians alike. These questions can also raise a lot of contention within religious circles, with devout believers arguing on both sides of the old vs. young debate.
What does modern science say about the age of the universe?
The latest release of data from the Planck mission has caused an upward revision in the age of the universe. The universe is now believed to be 13.8 billion years old. This results from observation of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation that has been studied by many spacecraft and Earth bound experiments. The CMB is a uniform radiation that emanates from all directions in space. It is a left over relic of the big bang. Its properties help determine the rate of the universe's expansion over time, yielding its age.
What does the Bible say about the age of the universe?
This has been debated among theologians. Many theologians rightly point out that the Bible does not say how old the universe (or the Earth) is. The bible was not meant to be a science book. But the Bible does tell us some important details about how the Earth and universe came to be.
For one, the Bible states that the universe and even time itself has a beginning. Big bang theory also predicts this, with time being a property of our universe so the two were born at the same instant. The Bible also describes the universe as being stretched out, which is another tenet of big bang theory.
Now there are some who link the Bible to a very young age of 6000 years for the Earth, and sometimes also the universe. This is based on an analysis of the genealogies given in the Bible, tracking back to Adam. The problem is many assumptions have to be made, to arrive at this conclusion. (There are many places in the creation account where unspecified periods of time could have occurred. In these cases it makes sense to consider the possibilities. Especially with science having found many very good reasons to conclude that the universe and the Earth are extremely ancient.)
We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Remember that in the middle ages the church made the claim that the Earth was the center of the solar system, citing theological reasons. Though there is no case for an Earth centered universe in the Bible, they attached the (out-of-date) science they understood to theology. When Galileo observed with his telescope that the sun was in fact the center of the solar system, the church would not accept it for some time. This only harmed the integrity of the church, as evidence continued to support the sun-centered solar system.
There is nothing wrong with making assumptions to fill in our world view for what is not clearly specified in scripture, but we must recognize these assumptions as speculative or conditional. Old earth creationists also make assumptions, such as the earth being old. This is not a religious view but scientific, subject to change if new information reveals itself. This is just the case with the latest revision in the age of the universe. No cause for alarm for old earth creationists, because the age of the universe is not a religious view, it is a scientific one.
How long has life inhabited the Earth?
Fossil plankton have been found up to 3.4 billion years old. Several fossils from diverse places around the world have been found. This is taken as evidence that the Earth already hosted a world-wide ecosystem by this time. Therefore the origin of life would have occurred much earlier.
Such findings of ancient organisms are not a problem for old earth creationism, since this view allows for creation by God to have occurred over long periods of time. The common occurrence of ancient fossil finds are gladly accepted into our knowledge of how God accomplished creation.
Now the topic of ancient fossils often leads to the topic of evolution. There are old earth creationists that support "theistic evolution" and there are old earth creationists who do not (often supporting "progressive creationism" instead). There is ample latitude in the fossil record to align with either viewpoint, but again this is really a scientific or philosophical question, not a religious one. The Bible states that God created the universe, matter, time, the Earth, and life, but it does not say exactly how He did it. (Some may disagree with that comment, but I would ask them, "then how did He do it?" You can't generate a scientific description of what took place on the molecular level from scripture. The Bible is not a science textbook, and was not intended to be.)
We know that God uses the forces of nature to accomplish his will from the numerous examples in scripture. Winds, floods, rains, earthquakes, crop yields, etc. were all employed at various times to fulfill Gods desire. There is no reason that nature was not used and controlled by God during creation as well. (the big bang, planet formation, etc.) We also know that God controls everything, even now. Yet natural forces can be seen at work in the world today, even measured and predicted to some degree by science. For God to be in control and for the natural forces to be at work concurrently means that God must be in control of these forces and even use them as tools.
So science need not be at odds with theology, since the discoveries of science amount to discovering the acts of God.
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posted Jun 17, 2013
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