Pushback Question #2 – Doesn’t the Big Bang theory contradict what Genesis says about how long it took God to create everything?
At Westminster, I’m leading us through a 3-part series called “Does God Even Exist? – The 1 Question That Changes Everything.” [Click here to link to a 45-second video intro.]
Each Sunday, I’ll present an argument for the existence of God. But since we only have a limited amount of time during my message (sermon), I don’t have time to respond to possible counter-arguments (or “pushbacks,” as I call them).
So, to deal with this, what I’m going to do is respond to some of the most popular pushbacks to the arguments for God’s existence in blog form the following week.
On September 17 for Part 1 I debunked the myth that science and faith are opposites. I did this by explaining what science actually is (and what it isn’t). Then I launched into an argument for the existence of God.
It was the argument from the stars (or cosmology). [To listen to the full 28-minute podcast click here.] Basically, when it comes to logic and the scientific method, a key idea is this: Something can’t come from nothing. If you hear a knock on the door, something had to cause that to happen. Similarly, if a baby is sitting there on the floor, it didn’t just appear. Something had to cause it to be conceived and born. (Wink, wink.) It’s simple cause and effect.
When you apply the same logic to the universe, it begs the question, what caused the universe to come into being? For a long time, many people speculated that it has simply always been there—that the universe itself was, and is, eternal.
However, many things changed in 1929 when Edwin Hubble started exploring the stars with his incredible and ground-breaking telescope. He found that the universe was massive—and expanding. He traced this expanding movement back to one moment in history—a big explosion; a “big bang”—when all physical matter, space, energy and even time came into existence.
This was estimated to be 15 billion years ago.
When it comes to logic and the scientific method, remember our central idea: Something can’t come from nothing. The evidence, therefore—and as I argued on Sunday—points to an intelligent mind, a Creator, outside of the physical matter of the universe who created it.
With that in mind, here’s our second “pushback question.”
Some people look at the timeline of 15 billion years as the birthday of the universe, and the idea that it took a very long time for life and humans to develop, and push back against the book of Genesis which seems to say that God created everything less than 10,000 years ago in six days.
“So,” someone might say, “even if the Big Bang theory is evidence of a Creator God, doesn’t it rip apart the credibility of the book of Genesis?”
A lot of ink has been spilled about the creation story in Genesis. There, God creates the heavens and the earth, and everything in them, in 6 days. Then he rests on the seventh.
Before I get to an exact answer, let me highlight a few things we need to keep in mind.
First, the opening chapters of the book of Genesis (where the creation story is found) are not a science text book. It was originally written in Hebrew, and some argue that it contains evidence of an ancient kind of poetry. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true; it simply means that we need to look closely at this ancient document, consider its nuances, and ask what it originally intended to do.
I believe that Genesis was written to help us understand the origins of the universe, world, and humanity. And I believe it was originally written to an ancient people in a way that they would understand and relate to.
Another reason why it wasn’t written to be read or understood as we might read and understand a science textbook today is because of internal clues. For example, it says in Genesis 1:3 that God created light on day one. But then we read that God didn’t create the sun until day four (verse 14). Ancient people weren’t idiots. They knew light came from the sun. So why is this significant? Because it tells us that the original intent wasn’t to give us a scientific account of things.
So what was it intended to do?
The Genesis creation story describes the divine order of the universe, culminating in the special creation of man and woman, and a day of rest. It does this by using a standard week of time (7 days), so that humans were (and are) encouraged to pattern their own lives and use of time on this divine order.
“That’s all very well and nice, Matthew,” a challenger might say, “but I’m still stuck on the 6 days of creation. Are those literal days, or not?”
I don’t think they need to be literal days. And I don’t say this willy-nilly. I’ve thought about it a lot. The reason I say this is because of how we use the word “day”—and, more importantly, how the Bible uses it as well.
You and I use the word “day” differently. When I say “It’s day” or “It’s daytime” I’m referring to when the sun is in the sky. But a “day” is also, technically, a 24-hour period. To use the word “day” in either context isn’t wrong.
There are also times when we say “a new day has dawned.” Are we just referring to a new day of the week? Not really. We mean that a new era of some kind has started—perhaps in a new relationship, a new job, new government, or new chapter of our lives. In other words, the word “day” has various uses.
But can we apply that line of thinking to whenever the Bible uses the word “day”?
In short, it depends on the context. (If someone says it took a day to ride to Jericho on a donkey, surely they don’t mean that it could have taken them thousands of years!) So sometimes it means a literal day, and sometimes not. To figure out which is which, you have to dig a bit deeper.
What I find particularly significant is that, in the creation story, the word “day” initially seems to indicate a 24-hour period. (However, it’s a bit ambiguous because the original Hebrew in which the passage was written uses cardinal numbers (and not ordinal numbers). So instead of it being translated “the first day” and “the second day” etc, it could also be translated as “day one” and “day two,” therefore making it a bit more ambiguous.)
But for me, a key detail is in chapter 2, verse 4. There we again find the word “day” in Hebrew. But when it appears that time it is used differently. It comes as a part of a summary sentence at the end of the creation story where it says,
“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” (ESV translation)
Here is why I think this is significant. Initially, “day” seemed to be a short period of time. But then “day” refers to the entire process of creation. In the creation story itself, therefore, the word for “day” is variously used to summarize a period of time when something significant occurred in God’s created order.
So, to summarize, when Big Bang theorists say the universe and world started 15 billion years ago, I don’t think this undermines the credibility of the creation story in the book of Genesis.
Here are my reasons:
First, the book of Genesis wasn’t written as a science text book. Instead, it served a different function to describe the divine order of the universe, culminating in the special creation of man and woman, and a day of rest, and did so by using a standard week of time (something ancient people—and modern people—would understand), to encourage them to pattern their own lives and use of time on this divine order.
Second, the word “day” is used in different ways. When looking at its use in chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis, it can signify a longer period of time when something significant occurred in God’s created order.
As a final word on this one, I like what astrophysicist Robert Jastrow says when considering how the Big Bang theory points to a divine Creator:
“Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements and the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same; the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”
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