The Dialogue of Science with Religion: God Did Not Create the Universe in Six Days--or Did He?
Genesis, the Bible’s first book, starts with a creation story that portrays God as creating the universe in six days. The thirty-six-verse account constitutes a theological mini-treatise on divine sovereignty, and not on scientific origins. It portrays “the origination and ordering of all that is by the sovereign, initiating will of the Creator”.1 It underscores the power of God’s word. Although remarkably simple, this creation story is far more sophisticated than most other ancient creation accounts. Quite noticeable is the absence of monsters being slain or gods arising from slime. There is no manual shaping of existing materials. “Instead, the divine action is simply one of speaking, of command. Yahweh’s word is the power at the heart of the world’s existence.”2
God Created the World Good
This word is good, creating only good. The everyday experiences of the ancient peoples seemed to support the notion of dualism, the idea of perpetual conflict between the forces of good and evil. Even their perspective on creation reflects this conflict. For them duality is built into the substance of reality. Yet the theological teaching of this opening Genesis story of creation rejects duality. “It is very likely that the repeated affirmation that the work is good, said of individual works and the whole, is a denial that the evil principle of dualism is a constitutive element of creation.”3 When God looks at the totality of what he made, he pronounces it collectively to be “very good”. This occurs in the climactic, seventh, and final divine pronouncement (Gen. 1:31). “There is no evil, only beauty in the world that God makes.”4
Priestly Author Writes Introductory Creation Story
Genesis is generally thought to have been composed by several authors. Working independently, each one collected traditions that formed part of the consciousness of the Hebrew people and wrote his own pre-history of Israel. An editor interwove the three pre-histories into a consecutive narrative. The three authors were the “Yahwist”, so named because he constantly refers to God as Yahweh, the “Elohist”, who prefers Elohim, 5 and the “Priestly author”, who demonstrates a preoccupation with the worship of Israel.6
Modern biblical scholars have attempted to separate the writings of these three authors. They attribute the introductory creation story, which offers a day-by-day account of the creation of the universe, to the Priestly author. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep and God’s spirit hovered over the water. God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day,’ and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came: the first day” (Gen. 1:1-5).7
The author does not fancy himself an astro-physicist. He does not envision billion- or million-year days, or even thousand-year days, as we find in Psalm 90:4 (“To you a thousand years are a single day . . .”). The Priestly author has in mind twenty-four-hour days, because he constantly mentions evenings followed by mornings: “Evening came and morning came.” He repeats this refrain six times, once for each of the six days of creation. In Judaism a day begins with sunset. This is important for Jewish holy days and for the observance of the Sabbath. “The Jewish Day of Rest always starts with the preceding evening.”8
Priestly Author Preached a Homily
Since the Priestly author presents God as creating the universe in six calendar days, does that mean he thinks that that is what literally happened?—probably not. Some “fundamentalist” Christians take Genesis literally and hold that God actually did create the cosmos in six calendar days. But this was not likely the Priestly writer’s view. A Hebrew priest, he was deeply concerned about the worship of Israel. He wished to remind the Hebrew people of their obligation, spelled out in the Commandments, to rest on the Sabbath day and worship the Lord. To dramatize this duty, he depicts God as providing the example of rest.9 Preaching a powerful, dramatic sermon, the Priestly author portrays God as working for six days, then taking a day off. “God’s Sabbath is . . . the climax of the story…”10
“Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he had rested after all his work of creating” (Gen. 2:1-4).11
For homiletic reasons it was important for the Priestly writer to portray God as creating the universe in six days. But did God really do so? Did the creation of the cosmos actually occur in a six-day time period?—apparently not. Current astrophysical theory posits that some fourteen to sixteen billion years ago the sum of the energy and matter that constitutes our current universe was mind-bogglingly condensed into a ball the size of a cherry. This tiny bit of matter, therefore, had a mass equal to that of the entire universe. “The density was so great that its energy made it explode, scattering outward, spinning and crashing and expanding on and on until today.”12 (The Christian can translate this condensed-ball scientific explanation for “creation” into a creative explosion from nothing brought about by God’s intent and power. “Something from nothing”, however, does not fit in with scientific categories.) The universe results from that cosmic explosion, with Cro-Magnon man appearing 50,000 years ago. God did not create the universe in six calendar days – unless six days equal fifteen billion years.
Six Days May Equal 15 Billion Years
Actually, they just might – depending on one’s perspective. This conclusion can be drawn from Einstein’s teaching on relativity, according to Dr. Gerald Schroeder, physicist and author of The Science of God, who is the authority behind the remainder of this article.13 In 1915 Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity, according to which gravity and velocity alter the rate at which time passes. This theory has now been upgraded to the Law of Relativity because it has been tested and verified thousands of times. It can be applied to the story of creation.14
When scientists today attempt to determine the universe’s age, they calculate backwards from the present, thinking in terms of Earth-time as experienced by us. They obtain a figure of roughly fifteen billion years.15 This number is correct but not absolute. Normally, the Bible uses the Earth-time perspective, but not for creation, Dr. Schroeder suggests. “The Bible’s clock before Adam is not . . . tied to any one location. It . . . looks forward in time from the creation, encompassing the entire universe, a universal clock tuned to the cosmic radiation at the moment when matter formed. That cosmic timepiece, as observed today, ticks a million million times more slowly than at its inception. The million millionfold stretching of radiation . . . caused that million-million-to-one ratio in this perception of time.”16
According to Dr. Schroeder, the passage of one minute on the cosmic clock is equivalent to a million times a million minutes of Earth time. At that rate, the one hundred and twenty million calendar years during which dinosaurs ruled the Earth are reducible to one hour on the cosmic clock. Likewise, the age of the universe is reducible to six days. “In terms of days and years and millennia, this stretching of the cosmic perception of time by a factor of a million million, the division of fifteen billion years by a million million reduces those fifteen billion years to six days.”17
What does this mean? “Genesis and science are both correct. When one asks if six days or fifteen billion years have passed before the appearance of humankind, the answer is ‘yes.’” So says Schroeder. 18 (Dr. Gerald Schroeder taught several years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, after earning three physics degrees there including the Ph.D. Currently, he teaches at the Weizmann Institute in Israel.)
The Need for a Deep Understanding of the Universe
Reaching the conclusion that six calendar days equals approximately fifteen billion years requires a deeper understanding of the universe than routine experience conveys. To illustrate, you may consider how fast you are travelling as you read this article. If you are at the equator, you are moving at a thousand miles an hour. Why? Because there the Earth is roughly 24,000 miles in circumference, and spins around completely every twenty-four hours. If you are in the United States, where the Earth’s circumference is smaller, you might be travelling only eight hundred miles an hour—more or less, depending upon your exact latitude.
But that is only one dimension of your current travelling. The Earth not only spins, it travels continuously around the sun, completing one journey in roughly 365 days. To achieve that, it needs to move twenty miles a second or 72,000 miles an hour. How does it feel to be moving that fast?
There is more. “[T]he entire solar system . . . is hurtling around the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, at ten times that speed.”19 That means we are racing through space at 720,000 miles an hour. (And you felt motionless in your chair.)
A deep understanding of our physical universe teaches us, contrary to appearances, that everything is relative except the speed at which light travels: 180,000 miles a second. Weight, for example, is relative. A man weighing 150 pounds on Earth would weigh 25 pounds on the moon and hypothetically (burning hot!), 4,500 pounds on the sun. Why? Because gravity on the moon is one sixth as strong as it is on the Earth, but on the sun 30 times stronger.
Time is relative. “Just as gravity affects the weight of mass, it also affects the flow of time, but at a much less dramatic rate.”20 That is why it took someone of Einstein’s intellect to uncover this law of nature. The greater the gravity, the more slowly time passes. A year on the sun is 67 Earth seconds longer than a year on Earth. This can be determined by checking waves of light coming from the sun. They pass by a tiny bit more slowly than identical light waves generated on Earth. While the sun-generated waves travel at the same speed as Earth-generated ones, the space between their peaks is longer.21 Hence, they pass a given point less frequently. This is critical because the universe has its own clock: the frequency of light waves22 generated—light pulsations.23
If gravity affects the passage of time, so does velocity. Time passes more slowly in a place experiencing higher velocity than in one experiencing lower velocity. As a result the duration between heart beats, or the time it takes for a tomato to ripen, in a high gravity or high velocity environment is longer than it is in a low gravity or low velocity environment. “These differences in time’s passage are known as time dilation.”24
Time Dilation is the Key
Because of time dilation, six days can equal fifteen billion years. Looking backward toward the Big Bang from the vantage point of 2009, one realizes that the farther back one goes, i.e., the closer to the moment of the Big Bang, the faster the “ticks” of the cosmic clock are generated. Light/radiation waves shrink as the universe becomes smaller and smaller. Eventually the ticks cannot be separated. They just blur together. Counting them up mentally one realizes that ten to twenty billion years have elapsed from our vantage point between the present moment and the Big Bang. But from the perspective of the Big Bang looking outward and forward, only six days have passed. We are now in the seventh.
Looking outward and forward, the “ticks” of the cosmic clock were “heard” less and less frequently. As the light/radiation waves became more “diffused” or “dilated,” elongated with the expansion of the universe, 25 their peaks drifted farther apart. If one could add them up from the Big Bang perspective, one would notice that only six days have passed.
The duration of day one of creation (post Big Bang), from the perspective of Earth in 2009, was about eight billion years; successive days were shorter. Day two was about four billion years, day three about two billion, etc. Together, the six days of creation equal approximately fifteen or sixteen billion years.26
Scientific Proof of Equivalency
It is easy to claim that fifteen billion years equals six days. But, how do we really know? Dr. Schroeder explains that when the building blocks of matter first appeared, the moment of quark confinement, 0.00001 seconds after the Big Bang, the universe was extremely small: about a million million times more diminutive than it is today. Since that time radiation “has been stretched a million-millionfold . . . . That stretching of the light waves has slowed the frequency of the cosmic clock – expanded the perceived time between ticks of that clock – by a million million.”27
What scientific proof is there that light/radiation waves have stretched a million million times? There is laboratory evidence. When physicists contrast the currently measurable temperature of the universe in the black of space with the known temperature at which the building blocks of the universe, protons and neutrons were formed (the moment of quark confinement) through highly advanced lab experiments, they observe that the black of space, at minus 270 degrees Celsius, is a million million times cooler. Since there is a correspondence between temperature and radiation frequency, they conclude that the radiation waves in the dark of space are stretched out approximately a million million times.28
The radiation in question here is Cosmic Background Radiation (C.B.R.), which constitutes the ultimate clock of the cosmos.29 Its light has been preserved in the universe since its origin in the Big Bang, and is a remnant or echo of the Big Bang. It currently “fills the entire universe, unrelated to any particular source . . .” (such as stars).30
This constitutes scientific proof that the Bible is “literally” correct. Looking forward and outward from the moment of creation, the universe was created in six days. In portraying God as creating the universe in six days, the Priestly author may not have intended to issue a scientifically accurate statement. Yet it would seem that, in a certain sense, he did.31
1Bernard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 1975), p. 428.
2Bernard Cooke, Power and the Spirit of God (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 128.
3John L. McKenzie, A Theology of the Old Testament (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1974), p. 189.
4Richard J. Clifford and Roland E. Murphy, “Genesis”, in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, et al. (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 1990), p. 11.
5In his creation story, the Priestly author also uses the name “Elohim”. “Elohim is the supreme ruler of the world, not merely the private god of a small group of people.” H. Keith Beebe, The Old Testament: An Introduction to Its Literary, Historical, and Religious Traditions (Belmont, Calif.: Dickenson Publishing, 1970), p. 367.
6The Priestly account may have been the last of the three Genesis pre-histories to be written, finished perhaps “in the 5th century B.C. when Israel was re-established in Canaan following the Exile”. Cf. Bebe, p. 117. The Priestly creation story is replete with sonorous refrains and stately rhythms, suggesting many years of liturgical usage. It shows “intense theological reflection over a period of many generations”. Cf. Anderson, p. 426.
7Alexander Jones, Gen. Ed., The Jerusalem Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1966). All my scripture quotations are taken from this version.
8Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life (Belmont, Calif.: Dickenson Publishing, 1966), p. 157. “Traditionally the Sabbath is ushered in at sunset.” Ibid., p. 158.
9“God keeps the sabbath, establishing the divine order that Israel will observe by its sabbath. This day is hallowed because God made it so.” Cf. Clifford, “Genesis”, p. 11. “The arrangement, evidently artificial, of the picture of creation as six days of work (for eight works) with a seventh-day rest is simply an imaginative way of expressing the fact that the Sabbath observance also is willed by God.” Cf. Edward Lovely and Howard Sorenson, “Creation: In the Bible”, New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. (Washington, D. C.: Gale, 2003), vol. 4, p. 340. The Jewish people must repeatedly consecrate their lives to God and do so by regular worship on the day of rest. Pope John Paul II writes: “Genesis gives us the first ‘gospel of work.’ We should imitate God in working and resting, created as we are in the image of God.” Cf. On Human Work: Laborem Exercens, no. 25, in The Encyclicals in Everyday Language, ed. Joseph Donders (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996), p. 67.
10Clifford, “Genesis”, p. 10.
11By portraying God as resting on the seventh day, consistent with the institution of the Sabbath that occurs during the Mosaic period, the Priestly author suggests that the many days of human life are meaningful. They are “embraced within God’s purpose, not only for Israel but for all mankind. God claims this one segment of time as holy, and thereby endows all time with ultimate meaning.” Cf. Anderson, p. 429.
12Michael Barnes, In the Presence of Mystery, 3rd ed. (Mystic, Conn.: Twenty-Third Publications, 2003), p. 72.
13Gerald L. Schroeder, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom (New York: The Free Press, 1997), p. 47.
14Biochemist Professor Michael J. Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, writes on the jacket of Dr. Schroeder’s book: “Using Einstein’s theory of relativity, Schroeder demonstrates the surprising compatibility of the ancient universe revealed by science with the six-day creation timetable of Genesis.”
15The universe is anywhere between ten and twenty billion years old. Cf. Schroeder, Science, p. 42.
16Ibid., p. 58
19Ibid., p. 44.
20Ibid., p. 48.
21Ibid., p. 50. “Waves of sunlight reaching the Earth are stretched longer by 2.12 parts in a million relative to similar light waves generated on Earth. That stretching of the light waves means that the rate at which they reach us is lowered by 2.12 parts per million . . .The 2.12 parts per million equals 67 seconds per year . . .”
22“[V]isible light is only one particular band of wavelengths in a nearly infinite range of electromagnetic radiations all of which travel at the same speed: the speed of light (c = 300 million meters per second in a vacuum).” Ibid. p. 52. Light can be viewed as both particles and waves. The wave aspect of light allows scientists to measure time over cosmic distances.
23The clock of the universe is the light of the universe. Each wave of light is a tick of the cosmic clock. The frequencies of light waves are the timepieces of the universe. Ibid., p. 50.
24Ibid., p. 47.
25The universe has stretched out enormously since the Big Bang, mind-bogglingly so. This carries with it implications for the cosmic clock. “Waves of radiation that have propagated in space since the early universe have been stretched, expanded, by the same proportion that the universe has expanded. For example, as the universe doubled in size, the distance between wave crests (and hence the time between ticks of its clock) also doubled as the wave was stretched by the expanding space. For that clock, time would be passing at half the original rate.” Ibid., p. 54.
26Ibid., pp. 66-9.
27Ibid., p. 57.
28“We know the temperature and hence the frequency of radiation energy in the universe at quark confinement. It is not a value extrapolated or estimated from conditions in the distant past or far out in space. It is measured right here on Earth in the most advanced physics laboratories and corresponds to a temperature approximately a million million times hotter than the current 3 degrees K of black space. That radiant energy had a frequency a million million times greater than the radiation of today’s cosmic background radiation.” Ibid., p. 57. Elsewhere Dr. Schroeder writes: “The frigid (-270 degrees Celsius) cosmic background radiation observed in all directions of the sky is the stretched radiation left from the immense heat of the big bang when the universe was tiny.” Ibid., p. 54.
29“Its wave frequency is the rate at which the cosmic clock ticks.” Ibid., p. 61. “CBR frequency forms the basis of cosmic proper time . . .” Ibid., p. 53.
30Ibid., p. 53
31Romano Guardini tries to convey the idea of eternity. He points out that mechanical or clock time is different from the time experienced or not experienced in the living out of momentous or rapturous events. He states that if the unfolding of an endless series of events were compressed into a flash and all the timeless moments of great content were intensified so that all activities were simultaneous and no boredom was ever able to enter, then one would have eternity. “Eternity, then, would be a state of life in which nothing just passes by, but all is simultaneously present in which there is no succession of moments and events, but simultaneous happening only, yet which on account of the momentousness of the content and the intensity and perfection of experience precludes tedium.” Cf. Romano Guardini: The Last Things, trans. Charlotte Forsyth and Grace Bronhan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1954), p. 104. Just as Guardini’s reflections provide a little insight into eternity, though not much, so Dr. Schroeder’s underscoring of the relativity of time also perhaps offers a little light.