By Paul Priest | 22 February 2021 |
The evidence for an old earth, old life, and an old universe contradicts the traditional model of a six-day creation occurring about six thousand years ago.
I find this troubling, since the God who created the universe also inspired the Bible, and both the Bible and science witness to the same creation event. They should agree. Science is the study of nature: rejecting science is rejecting part of God’s witness. Job counsels us to “speak to the earth, and it will teach you…” (Job 12:8). Isn’t this what science is about: understanding nature? A true understanding of creation requires an agreement between scripture and science.
Scripture’s description of creation begins with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen.1:1). It ends with “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array” (Gen. 2:1). Between these two texts is a description of God’s actions in creating the earth, though not the universe.
However, there are many other texts that apply to the creation of the whole universe, not just to the earth. The creation of the solar system and earth is but a continuation of the creation of the universe. This essay presents a Bible-based understanding of the creation of the universe, rather than just the earth and the life upon it, that in my view shows harmony with science.
A biblical model of creation
Scripture is clear that the universe was spoken into existence. “…the universe was formed at God’s command….” (Heb. 11:3). “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made” (Ps. 33:6). “He spoke and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:9). Commanded, spoke, and word all say that the universe was spoken into existence.
The key to understanding these texts is the “word.” God’s word, says the Bible, is the seed from which everything springs (Lk. 8:11).
If you split open a bean seed you can see the embryo of the bean plant: the plant is contained in the seed. An embryo oak tree is in the acorn. Similarly, God’s action is in the command itself. The universe was contained in God’s command. He “calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17 RSV). When God commands them, they are. Even though they may not exist at the moment, their existence is guaranteed because it is embedded in God’s command.
The seed doesn’t just pop into a mature plant; it requires years for an acorn to become a mature oak tree. “First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear” (Mk. 4:28). The universe didn’t just pop into existence when God spoke, either. It took 13.77 billion years for the universe to reach its maturity as seen today. (This age is based on recent measurements made by the WMAP satellite.)
The scientific model of creation
In the scientific view, the universe began as a singularity, a point of pure energy smaller than a period. That singularity was the embryo. Within it were the physical laws and energy sufficient to build a trillion galaxies. Einstein’s theory of general relativity, published in 1916, predicted that the universe was either expanding or contracting. Its expansion was measured by Edwin Hubble in 1929.
Reversing the expansion, one arrives at the singularity: an expanding universe implies a beginning. (The idea that we are part of a multiverse is popular. However, there is no way this idea can be tested, so in my view, it is not science.)
Immediately after its formation, the singularity began to expand and cool. This initial expansion event is called the Big Bang. These are confirming evidences for the Big Bang:
- The evident expansion,
- The measured background radiation which is the remains of the energy of the singularity,
- The relative abundance of the elements hydrogen and helium which resulted from the formation of the first atoms and
- The existence of galaxies
Any model of creation must account for these four measurable facts.
Cosmologists, using the laws of physics, have worked out the evolution of the universe from the singularity to the present. These laws were contained in God’s command—the seed, or singularity—that grew into the universe.
God “established the laws of heaven and earth” (Jer. 33:25). God is the author of natural law, so everything that happens in the universe does so according to natural law. It is impossible for any event in nature to violate natural law. These laws and forces are the same everywhere in the universe or else the universe could not have formed.
Consider the rule of law within the immensely hot dense particle soup of quarks and electrons that made up the universe a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.
Einstein discovered the equivalency between energy and matter in E = mc2. Applying this equivalency to the singularity, the pure energy was immediately converted to a quark/electron soup. Quarks gathered into threes: two “ups” and a “down” formed a proton, and two “downs” and an “up” formed a neutron. The charge on the “up” quark is +2/3, and a -1/3 on the “down” quark, giving the proton a +1 charge and making a neutron neutral. The charge of the proton is exactly opposite of the charge of the electron (-1), making the formation of neutral atoms possible.
Protons are hydrogen nuclei, and by fusing two protons and two neutrons helium nuclei are formed. It takes a temperature of 10 million degrees plus to fuse hydrogen into helium (called nucleosynthesis), which occurred shortly after the formation of the singularity.
For the first 300,000 years this particle soup consisted of a plasma of protons (+1), neutrons (0), electrons (-1) and helium nuclei. When this plasma soup cooled to about 3,000 degrees, the protons, electrons, and neutrons coupled to form atoms.
Notice the pattern: first a shoot, then the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. Creation is progressive:
God speaks—> singularity—> particle soup—> plasma—> atoms.
This is the pattern of creation that science portrays, and it is the natural law that God established. The biblical assertion that God’s word is seed fits this pattern.
When the temperature was right, a proton and electron coupled to form hydrogen, the first atoms to exist in the universe. By adding a proton to hydrogen, helium—a new element—is formed. These two elements form 99% of the universe. 90% of the current universe is hydrogen and 9% is helium. The heavier elements were formed later in stars and star death. Only in stellar explosions at a star’s death are the temperatures and pressures high enough to build the heavy elements.
The continual addition of protons builds a series of elements. There are 92 natural elements on earth—their difference defined by the number of protons. As protons are added, so are electrons. The electrons are arranged in a cloud of electron shells about the atom. The outer shell determines the chemical behavior of the element. If the elements are arranged by increasing the number of protons, a repeating pattern of chemical behavior emerges. Helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon all exhibit similar chemical behavior because they all have similar outer shells and all are inert gases: all have 8 electrons in their outer shell with the exception of helium, which has 2.
Arranging the elements into a periodic table shows that other groups of elements have unique behaviors that are similar. Hydrogen, lithium, sodium, and potassium have similar behavior because each has only one electron in their outer shell. It is the differences between the outer shells of the elements that makes the formation of molecules and life possible.
Combinations of atoms
The way elements behave is also determined by the laws contained in God’s initial command. Only certain combinations of elements are possible. Iron pyrite crystals, FeS2, have a cubic shape because of the way iron and sulfur bond due to natural law.
What is true on earth is true everywhere in the universe. The atoms on planet X in the Andromeda galaxy are the same as the atoms on earth, and so are the chemical compounds found there. Iron pyrite crystals will have a cubic shape on planet X as they do on earth.
If it were possible to rerun the creation of the universe would the chemical composition of the universe be entirely different? No! God doesn’t change (Mal. 3:6), nor does the natural law he created. If creation were replayed, the universe would still contain the same elements and compounds.
God’s dynamic design
The creative events outlined above are powerful evidence for God’s existence. Where did the energy of the singularity come from? Why did 1 down and 2 up quarks couple to form a proton? Where did the force causing their coupling come from? How is it possible that the charges of the quarks make the protons having a +1 charge precisely match the opposite charge of the electron, allowing atoms to form? Why do adding protons to hydrogen result in new elements? Where did the forces that allow coupling of the added proton come from? Why do the different numbers of electrons in the elements cause a convergence of similar properties allowing for the formation of only certain molecules?
Indeed “The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims the work of his hands” (Ps. 19:1). The truth of these three creative events is inseparable from God’s glory. “for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).
The universe wasn’t created to remain in a changeless state. It was created dynamic. Again, Mark 4:28: first a shoot, then the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. Everything is in a constant state of change governed by natural law. Galaxies are moving apart. Stars are born, burn up their fuel and die. Our sun, a third-generation star, formed from the material produced in the death of first- and second-generation stars. The evidence of the death of stars is seen in novae and supernovae and the heavy elements on earth today. Their evidence is spread throughout the universe and speaks to continual change. To change is to evolve. Everything known about the universe speaks to an evolving, constantly changing universe. It speaks to evolutionary creationism.
Presented here is a model of creation of the universe—both biblical and scientific. I believe there is no contradiction between them.
Paul Priest earned an Ed.D. from Loma Linda University with emphasis in science education. He taught for 22 years in Adventist academies, and 22 years in public school. He lives in southern California.