Science, a Friend of Faith
By Morgan Downing
Editor's Note: The Does God Exist? program offers scholarships to high school graduates. This money is not from the program itself, but is a memorial scholarship paid for by and in memory of Edith Lawson, mother of Phyllis Clayton of the "Does God Exist?" program and Constance Parsons, John Clayton's aunt. To be awarded a scholarship, these young people must have graduated from high school and be going on with their education. They also must write an essay on the theme that science and faith are friends, and not enemies. Our 2004 winner of the $1000 scholarship is Morgan Eve Downing who is attending David Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. This is her winning essay.
Earlier this year, one of my classmates confronted me about my views on recent creationism. She was very upset and said that I could not possibly be saved. Her comments troubled me, because as a Christian who believes the Word of God, I have come to different conclusions than she has about the age of the earth. The question of the age of the earth has nothing to do with salvation. Whether you believe in an old earth or a young earth has no influence on your relationship with Christ and where your eternity will be spent. There is no reason for Christians with different views on the age of the earth to attack each other and engage in verbal warfare.
It is indeed possible for Christianity and science to agree. The underlying principles in Genesis 1 can neither be proven nor disproven by the scientific method. Science can only validate or reject interpretations of the text. Many Christians are still faced with the apparent conflict between science and their Bibles. Many Christians "satisfy their scientific curiosity through articles in the popular press and then assume they can evaluate the validity of scientific discoveries"1. We need to be careful that what we are reading and believing as truth is not just an interpretation of either the Bible or science. This information could have just been written to fit an agenda. The Bible is not a science textbook, and science cannot be bent to fit the young earth model.
Genesis 1:1 says "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". This verse does not go into any detail about how He did it; it just says He created. The Big Bang theory is controversial among many Christians. The Big Bang produced, from nothing, everything. I had a conversation with the student mentioned earlier that went something like this:
Friend: "So Morgan, I heard that you believe in the Big Bang theory."
Morgan: "Yes I do."
Friend: "How can you believe that? It is obviously an attempt by scientists to destroy the God of the Bible!"
Morgan: "Do you know what the Big Bang theory states?"
Friend: "I think it says something like everything in the universe came from this giant mass of atoms that exploded in space."
Morgan: "Well actually, the Big Bang theory says that there was a point when time and the universe were created and was infinitely small and dense, and then expanded from that point."
Friend: "But I thought God made the universe."
Morgan: "He did-- I believe that too. Ok, so if you don't believe in the Big Bang, do you believe in the theory that preceded it?"
Friend: "What was that?"
Morgan: "That the earth and the universe and everything else have always been. There was no start, and no finish, and what is will always be. Everything will simply keep recycling itself and keep on being. Do you accept this?"
Friend: "Oh no--that is completely wrong!"
My friend had a poor understanding of scientific principles. The Big Bang Theory is important because it is one of the biggest proponents for creation and for a beginning, and yet its significance to Christian faith is misunderstood.
The apparent conflict between science and religious dogma is not one that is unique to our century. In 1500 A.D. Nicolaus Copernicus concluded that the sun was the center of the universe. This went against the Church's position at that time, which may have been based on a verse which says "O Lord my God, Thou art great indeed...Thou fixed the earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever"2. The Church believed this to show that the earth was stationary, and that the sun moved around it. In the face of mounting evidence, the Church held to this one verse taken out of context. Copernicus was forced to keep his views secret for thirty years for fear of persecution by Church authorities.
Galileo began where Copernicus left off, and claimed that the earth was not the center of the universe, but revolved around the sun. "For this, Galileo came under intense criticism and persecution from the Church. Pope Urban VIII personally gave the order in 1633 that Galileo, then an old man of seventy, should be threatened with torture if he did not renounce the heresy that the earth revolved around the sun"3. Today we accept that the earth revolves around the sun without sacrificing our faith. Both science and religion changed their views and found an agreement. The same is possible today.
The Church did not lose any important ground by rejecting formerly held views. Believing in the sun going around the earth or the earth going around the sun really had nothing to do with faith. Going against science simply for the sake of disproving it accomplishes nothing. Taking verses out of context changes the Bible's message to meet our own doctrines. Genesis shows us that we have a God who is all-powerful and who is the Creator.
One of the biggest misunderstandings between science and Christianity is the age of the earth. Young earth proponents like my friend will say that God created the earth ten thousand years ago, at the most. Scientists have ways of proving that the earth is in fact billions of years old. Stratigraphy is a method used by scientists to determine the relative ages of sedimentary rock layers. This system uses a concept called the Law of Superposition which states that the oldest rocks form at the base of a rock sequence, and the layers continue up from oldest to youngest, or most recent. Scientists use other factors like average rates of deposition of rocks, their composition, the width and extent of the strata, the fossils they contain, and the periods of uplift and erosion before the geological history is reconstructed. In the different rock layers are different kinds of organisms, many of which are extinct today. Extinction helps scientists tell time since those animals are only seen in certain positions within the rock layers. These various methods are independently arrived at using different subdivisions of science (chemistry, geography, hydrology, and geology). When several lines of evidence lead to the same conclusion it is hard, if not impossible, to reject that conclusion.
Young earth advocates use the argument of moon dust to disprove an old earth. In 1989, young earth creationist Walter Brown calculated that in 4.6 billion years, 2,000 feet of cosmic dust should have accumulated on the moon. This theory has since been disproved by Alan Hayward, a respected physicist and "old earth" Christian who gave an average of 48 tons/day. This is only enough to cover the earth in 1.5 inches of dust during those same 4.6 billion years! Hayward used The Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) satellite, rather than the outdated estimates used by Brown. The LDEF, which spent six years in orbit, made actual measurements of the cosmic dust influx at different points in the earth's atmosphere4.
Why would God try to trick us into thinking that the earth is older than it truly is? I believe that my God is the author of truth, not lies as John 14:6 states. Young earth advocates are making believers look ignorant when they argue against science that supports an old earth. The harder they push a literalistic view of Genesis, the worse things get, and more people are likely to reject Christianity. If God had said in the Bible that the earth is six thousand years old, then there would be no problems. Instead He said "in the beginning". Holding to a young earth view is not necessarily "defending Christianity" as much as it is a twisting of science to an individual's interpretation.
An interpretation of Genesis 1 is that it describes literal twenty-four hour periods of time, while science maintains that the age is somewhere in the billions. Both of these figures are right, because time is relative. Relativity says that time and space are intimately linked. On this subject, Gerald L. Schroeder states in his book The Science of God, "In our relativistic universe, the condition of the observer relative to the events being observed strongly affects the perception of those events"5. A good example of this would be a spectator sitting in the upper row of a stadium during a baseball game. The spectator will see the batter hit the ball before they actually hear the crack of the bat on the ball. This is because light travels faster than sound does. Everyone knows about relativity in regard to space. This is why we have time zones. When it is 3:18 a.m. in New York, it is 3:18 a.m. the next day in Singapore. How can this be possible to have two events occurring in the same moments occur at different times? The answer is location. No one thinks it is impossible for a person in New York to call a person in Singapore and discover that the local times are not in agreement. What most people have a problem comprehending are the other factors that affect time such as speed and gravity.
In his book, Schroeder gives an illustration of relativity affected by gravity by making up an imaginary planet so massive that its gravity slowed time by a factor of 350,000 relative to earth's rate of time. While two years would pass on earth, a mere three minutes would go by on this planet. Now suppose someone was sent to this planet for three minutes--they would only age three minutes while we on earth would age two years. From earth's view, relative time to us would say that everything on this planet happened very slowly. To the person on the planet, everything on earth would have been passing very rapidly, although their actions and watch would have been normal. There was only one sequence of events that occurred, so did three minutes pass, or did two years pass? Both are right, because time is relative.
According to Einstein's theory of special relativity, "the observed time for events is dependent upon the speed of the observer relative to the speed of the reference frame in which the events are occurring. For objects moving at relativistic speeds, there is an observable stretching out of time relative to the observer in a stationary reference frame"6. Another factor that has to do with relativity is time dilation. Time dilation says that the faster you go, the slower time gets for you, because of the fact that "time is elastic and relative, not constant"7. Einstein tried to explain how time and space are connected and how this "space/time" could be stretched and shrunk8. In 1971, two physicists, Joe Hafele and Richard Keating, took accurate atomic clocks and put them in airplanes, which they flew in opposite directions around the world. They then compared the readings of those clocks to an identical stationary clock on the ground. The eastbound clock lost 59 nanoseconds and the westbound gained 273 nanoseconds, which was exactly the difference predicted by Einstein's theory9.
So did creation take six days or millions of years? God is in a different time frame than we are. Location and speed affect how we view the world around us. Christians and scientists can both be correct without compromising facts or faith. "We measure the age of the universe to be some fifteen billion years old. That is our earthly perspective looking back from the present to the past. But the Bible's perspective is one that looks forward from the beginning...Genesis used the absolute cardinal form for day one because it is viewing time from the beginning of time, a perspective from which there was no other time for comparison"10. Science and God only appear to be conflicting. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of his hands"11. Christians need knowledge to help them understand the things they believe in without conforming anything to their interpretations.
Science itself helps Christians prove that the earth did not come about by chance. Some believe that our world is just a haphazard accident. The Anthropic Principle, which was formed by physicists, states that the laws, constants, and basic structures of our universe are not chance accidents. If some of the finely balanced properties of our universe were a little different, there would be no earth and no life, as we know it. Fundamental constants are just right to support life. "With the universe we did not just win one lottery. We won at the choice for the strength of the electromagnetic force...we won at the strength of the strong nuclear force...the strength of the weak nuclear force and the strength of gravity...the mass and energy of the big bang, the temperature of the big bang, the rate of expansion of the universe, and much more"12. If any one of these factors had not been exactly as it was, our world would not be here. We are not a chance accident, and science supports that. On the same note though, science should not be looked down upon for reaching this conclusion later than Christianity. Scientists are people who look for clues in the world around us to confirm where we came from and how we got here. They form an idea and a hypothesis first, then look for data and determine if their hypothesis fits what they have found. Starting in the exact opposite way and trying to fit data into certain interpretations of Scripture is not good science. The information scientists find can be used by Christians to help strengthen their beliefs, but it should never be taken out of context and misquoted against scientists.
Both scientists and Christians are on the road to searching for the ultimate truth about the origins and age of our universe. Science and Christianity can peacefully coexist in harmony.
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