When we consider the universe, does its age matter? We understand that wine, cheese, pickles and cast iron pans get better with age. But does that apply to the universe? Well, for one, if bigger is better, than the universe is definitely getting better–it continues to expand. And it is just that feature that has led cosmologists (people that study such things) to calculate just how old the universe is.
It is also that aspect of the universe that creates disagreement between some in the “universe age” dispute. You see, there is a serious question: Is the universe we are looking at today with great technology such as the Hubble Telescope, moving at the same rate that it was moving say 10,000 years ago? And do radioactive isotopes degrade at the same rate as in centuries gone by? Yes, those kinds of questions are important but they are not “deal breakers” in terms of the basic premise.
The science of the universe has several significant hurdles to overcome to be completely consistent. Neither science nor Scripture has a complete certifiable answer about the age of the universe. Does this claim move you to stop reading? I hope not. At least be open to reading why such a statement is valid for both sources of information. Neither one is complete.
Let’s begin on the science side of the house. A foundational measurement for scientists is the speed of light. At today’s readings, light travels at 186,000 miles per second. That means that a beam of light traveling around the earth could go around the globe about 7.5 times in one second. In like manner, reaching the earth from the sun, 93,000,000 miles distant, takes much longer. When you are looking at a sunset, for example, the sun had already dipped below the horizon some 8 minutes before its image disappeared from your sight. (These times and distances are all approximate that can be checked out on many websites.)
Why is any of this important? It is and has become significant because of tools like the Hubble telescope. It’s common understanding in the world of science that the speed of light is a constant—it’s a reliable way to measure great distances no matter when it is done.
There can be some variables depending on the medium through which light is traveling. But that gets into detail not truly essential for our consideration. It is the general assumption that light has traveled at the same speed since the time of the “big bang,” regardless of when you date it. That is a reasonable assessment.
Who or What Caused The Big Bang
The “creation” of the Big Bang idea was an unanticipated plus for both sides of the creation equation debate. No, we’re not talking about the television sitcom! It was a less than serious phrase thrown out by a respected cosmologist, Fred Hoyle, in the 1940’s. But these two words formed a platform on which the idea of a moment in eternity when everything started could stand. It brought some agreement between science and Scripture about a past event that each group could point to and accept.
For those identified with a theological foundation from Scripture, it signaled support for what they saw in Genesis 1:1 in the Old Testament: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”Developing that statement will come later after we briefly detail some scientific positions.
For scientists, the Big Bang was an easy way to explain that the universe began at a distant time past in an explosion of incredible force and heat. All the “matter” of the universe went from a highly compressed grain of “matter” (the size of a match head in a teaspoon) to expand eventually into what the Hubble and other telescopes are seeing today: A universe of space filled with billions of galaxies.
Here we are in the 21st century discussing what scientists say happened something like 14 billion years ago. A lot has taken place, right? But what brings us to the table is our ability to watch the sun set over the western horizon while realizing the sun went past the horizon more than 8 minutes earlier. That is a fact. We are observing an event, which happened earlier in time. The sun’s light is reaching us even though its enormous mass has already disappeared from human sight.
This is where the speed of light and the reality of distance come together. Light becomes the signature component of stars and galaxies. While these huge generators of light are no longer in the position from which the light started, our tools of enlargement (telescopes) can spot where they were. For example, we can identify our sun and our moon and determine that the sun is further away (93 million miles) than the moon (239 thousand miles). We can all agree on that.
While there are billions of galaxies in our universe, cosmologists have not studied nor even photographed most of them. However, those close to our own Milky Way have had their time in the limelight. Mentioning just one should bring a degree of recognition—the Andromeda Galaxy. At one time, it was considered to be part of our own Milky Way, but with better instruments, it has been catalogued as a separate galaxy.
Now, between Andromeda and the most distant galaxies are an uncountable number of other galaxies. And in a similar manner through which we know the difference in distances between the moon and the sun and the earth, these observers of the nighttime skies can find out something else for us: They can determine the approximate distance—and the time—when the light of those giants began their flight into our telescopes in our lifetime. Could their calculations be off somewhat? Yes, without doubt. With the instruments of today, the time and distances calculated have changed from just a few decades ago.
However, the changes have been in small fractions, not huge jumps. Could, for example, the timing of the Big Bang be 13.5 billion years rather than 14 billion? I can imagine that. Could the age of the earth be 3.5 billion years rather than 4? Most definitely. The jump from a small fraction to almost no time, however, would turn our physical observations into questions of what games a creator might be playing with our minds. But are there significant and valid questions that remain outside the range of our telescopes, microscopes and scientific investigation? Of course!
The Who, What, When, Where, Why Words
If you had a teacher in grade school anything like some of mine, you remember the hand with all fingers held up. “Your story has got to tell me about all five of these!” Those were important instructions for story writing. We could also add the “h” word, how. After being warned, no one dared ignore the five words in our heading when writing a story.
As we check our thinking to this point regarding science, we probably can largely agree about what and when and where: Science can be helpful there. That doesn’t mean that you fully agree with every position. And that’s all right. From a religious or theological point of view, those issues may not even be entirely necessary.
Maybe what matters most to the religious and serious person are the two missing words: Who and Why. It is interesting and enlightening to look at what the scientific community has brought to the table. These brilliant thinkers with magnificent instruments have dazzled us with astounding photographs of the nighttime sky. We are truly impressed and amazed at what they have found in our skies. And more interesting discoveries regularly continue to come to us via the Internet.
But the impressive display and thoughtful analysis have excluded the two questions that sometimes keep us awake at night: Who made all this happen? And: Why am I living on this globe? Yes, the history and dynamics of creation, if you will, are important to my understanding of where I am. But if I can’t find answers to the questions that reveal the essence and purpose of life, I feel like the orphans we talked of earlier. So we return to that question: Has the Creator cut us adrift as orphans? Would he not tell us what it’s all about?
Perhaps a story will help.
Have you ever read in a newspaper or seen on the Internet a story of a stray or abandoned baby animal that was “adopted” and raised by a totally different species? Let’s say it’s a chick adopted by a duck family. The chick joins in with the little ducklings in scratching every day for grubs and seeds. Naturally, all was going well until one day the ducklings head toward a pond. Right up to the edge of the water, it had been a successful adoption. The water revealed irreconcilable differences.
Just so regarding creation: The scientific world leaves us with questions without answers. The wonder of stars and galaxies, stretching for trillions of miles is mind-boggling; but who did it? Where did the first grain of “matter” come from? And who set off the explosion that generated 10 billion degrees of heat?
These are not trivial or fleeting questions. It’s the answers to these questions that drive history and create purpose and dignity to civilizations. Without answers to these, are we any better off than animals in a zoo or characters in a movie? They are of interest in a moment of time, but individuals move quickly to the next cage or play, looking for a more permanent stage. We all crave ultimate reality.
This is not to demean the scientific community—they have and are doing brilliant work. And we agree they should not be called on to reply to questions that are out of their primary study area. While as observers, we may recognize these limitations, it seems that there could be an effort on their part to admit to their peers, “This didn’t just happen by itself! There must be some magnificent being who planed all this and brought about what we are only now discovering.”
For the present, though, we’ll shift from the perspective of science to that from Scripture. For now, we’ll just open the door, so to speak. We will use what is arguably one of the most important statements found in the entire Bible. Without this declaration, most of what is critical to Jewish and Christian faith wouldn’t matter. In a later section, we will complete the topic we are opening here.
Scripture’s God of Creation
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That is the Bible’s first announcement. I like it! There is no hedging or debating. The very first disclosure about God and the world is made clear: God is responsible for everything you see: He made it and he owns it. And based on what we know today about the universe, that is an enormous claim and worthy of thoughtful investigation and discussion.
To make a relevant connection, let’s return momentarily to the opening paragraphs of this book. You recall you were having a dream in which you found yourself adorned with the mantle of deity: You are God. As you read Genesis 1:1, this would make you responsible for what cosmologists tell us happened—a massive explosion from just a grain of super-compressed matter, reaching somewhere around 10 billion degrees temperature. This “big bang” has continued to expand over a period of around 14 billion years, growing into a gigantic universe with trillions of stars.
Now if you were God, how could you explain to humanity, plainly and briefly, what took place? Here, in the simplest and most direct manner, the text says, God created everything and there was a day (a time) when it all began. So if you are indeed God, would you not want to just lay it out by saying, I am accountable; I am the “who” that is responsible for everything (including you) that you see? That statement should catch our complete attention. In our current vocabulary, we’d say, “That’s awesome!” As indeed it is!
Remember, we are only at the beginning of Scripture. There will be more to follow, but this helps put to rest the ultimate question: “Who did this?” At this point, the writer of Genesis makes no excuses or other claims or arguments to support the statement. And we can’t forget that in your dream, you are God. Would you not be pleased with what was indicated by the statement, “In the beginning, God . . .”?With this announcement to humankind, not only are you declaring that you did it, but that more is coming; it’s just the beginning.
As the author, of course I have tipped my hand. Yes, I like the opening verse because it clears the way for further dialogue. God is introduced as Creator. Right away, it clarifies most of the truly important issues about life. Even though we pretty well sided with cosmologists on the what, where and when of the universe, you recall that science can never answer the question about the Who of creation: To whom am I responsible?
For humanity, the nagging, sleep depriving questions are really not about when and where and what. It has always been the who and why of existence that has kept philosophers and everyone else puzzling through the ages. You see, we can debate and argue about the age of the universe, how and where it took place. Those questions are open to human discovery.. We can figure them out. But someone else has to tell us who did it and why. And unless they tell us, we’ll never know.
Yes, having the key about who and why about life takes the mystery out of many critical and important issues. It prepares us to be ready to listen to what follows. So as we sift through the evidence of scientific discoveries, we soon realize that only the architect of the universe can resolve the ultimate questions: Who is responsible for everything we see? Why have we been placed on this planet? Is there a plan? Does it involve humanity? Does it include me? The Creator has to tell us. So, then, what do we find in Scripture?