Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Big Bang

There is no way that I could talk about biblical Creation without at least a mention of scientific theories of creation. The conflict between supposedly Bible-based “Creationism” and scientific theory – especially evolution – is, sadly, one of the debates that defines our current era.

Why do I say “sadly”? Because I think those on the extremes of this argument miss the point. I have never found there to be anything irreconcilable about the Bible’s story of Creation and science. Essentially, I see the Bible’s account as a poetic description that aligns quite nicely with more detailed scientific accounts. Yes, there are differences, but on the whole there is a surprising degree of agreement.

Let’s start at the beginning of the beginning, with God’s first words: “Let there be light.” It seems to me that this is a brilliant (no pun intended) encapsulation, in literary terms, of the Big Bang that most scientists would say marks the beginning of the universe as we know it. The Big Bang as I understand it was an event of enormous energy release, something that we can easily understand as expressed through blinding light and/or heat.

And before that event? The Bible says, “The earth was invisible and unfinished; and darkness was over the deep.” That’s fine with me, because to me it again encapsulates a scientific theory: This time, the emerging “ekpyrotic” theory that suggests the Big Bang was triggered by the collision of two “branes,” multi-dimensional bodies of formless mass and “dark energy.” The concept of a brane is difficult, complex and untestable -- in part because to understand it one needs to be able to accept that there are 10 or even 11 dimensions in physics, most beyond of our ability to perceive and demonstrable only through advanced mathematics -- but is part of a set of current concepts in physics (along with string theory and m-theory) that are revising scientists’ picture of our universe. Calling it invisible, unfinished, dark and deep makes perfect sense to me as a way to bring the concept down to a level understandable to a layman.

And what of the origin of life? The Bible describes a succession of days on which first plant life, then sea creatures, flying creatures, terrestrial creatures and finally humans are created. Is there really any major discrepancy between this description and the sequence of life emerging on Earth as described by evolutionary scientists? I think not, although this has formed the kernel of contention between scientists and Biblical fundamentalists over the last century and a half or so.

A lot of that contention has to do with the fact that the Bible refers to creation as being accomplished in six days. But what is a day? The journey from darkness to light and back to darkness? How long does that take? And from whose perspective? How does God define a day?

We know that even on the planets of our small solar system, a day – defined as the time it takes for a planet to spin once on its axis – takes varying amounts of time. And the Bible tells us not once, but twice, that God measures time quite differently from the way we humans do.

Here’s what it says in Psalm 90:
“For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday, which passed,
And like a watch in the night.”
And here is a famous statement in the Second Letter of Peter:
“But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one days is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
So I would suggest that those “young Earth” advocates who attempt to measure God’s time in terms of earthly time need to take a closer look at the book they consider to be without error. Right in its very pages is all the “proof” any of them should need that human time and divine time are not equivalent.

In essence, my view is that any discrepancy between the biblical account of creation and scientific theory has much to do with the language in which they are presented. The Bible gives us creation in poetic/literary terms that allow brief, easily understood summarization of the concepts that science delves into in great detail.

I know that is a vast oversimplification, but nevertheless I hope that it can serve as a starting point for discussion of science and religion in a non-combative manner.

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