The Rise of the Big-Bang Hypothesis (Age of the Earth Part 6)

(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4)(Part 5)

The 20th century will see the rise of two completely different paradigms for understanding the age of the earth: the big bang hypothesis and young-earth creationism. Actually, the time can be pinpointed even more closely. Both paradigms will ascend during the 1960’s.

In 1916 Albert Einstein presented a paper in which he applied his general theory of relativity to the universe as a whole. The results implied that the universe had a beginning—a conclusion that Einstein himself resisted. In the 1930’s, astronomer Edwin Hubble demonstrated that the universe appeared to be expanding. He noticed that the light from all neighboring galaxies is red-shifted, which indicates that those galaxies are rapidly moving away from us. The galaxies appear to be like dots on an expanding balloon. As the balloon fills with air, the surface becomes larger and the dots move farther and farther away from one another. Hubble concluded that something similar appears to be happening to all the galaxies. Evidence was building that the cosmos is not eternal. 40 questions creation evolution

In 1965 Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered that the universe is bathed in faint, background radiation. This radiation indicated that there was a universal fiery explosion that was calculated to have occurred 13.7 billion years ago. For most astronomers and astrophysicists, Penzias and Wilson’s discovery provided the crucial evidence which confirmed the big bang hypothesis. From the 1960’s on, the big bang theory has been the reigning paradigm within the scientific community.

In his book, God and the Astronomers, Robert Jastrow recounts how most physicists and astronomers initially were hostile to the big bang theory. In fact, the expression “big bang” was a term of derision coined by astronomer Fred Hoyle, who remained a lifelong proponent of eternalism. Astronomer Arthur Eddington declared in 1931, “[T]he notion of a beginning is repugnant to me.” Chemist Walter Nernst argued that adherence to eternalism was necessary when he wrote, “To deny the infinite duration of time would be to betray the very foundation of science.” Jastrow points out that such opposition was motivated by philosophical presuppositions rather than scientific evidence. He ends his book on the subject with the now well-known observation:

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

Many who accept the big bang theory have not given up on eternalism. A number of cosmologists now suggest that our universe is part of a multiverse (i.e., reality is made up of an infinite number of universes, of which our universe is just one). We will look at the rise of young-earth creationism in the next post. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution.)

Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

  2Comments

  1. Ken Gordon   •  

    Thank you for these lessons. I have some concern though that those who study or read these may come to believe that there are choices that one can decide on. Do you think you need a ‘Part 7’ that reveals what God’s word says. An example is found in Exodus 20:11 were God makes it clear that it was done in six literal days not to be misunderstood and also Mark 10:6 Jesus Himself makes it clear that Adam and Eve were created fully human from the beginning and as described in Genesis. Many other such scriptures can be studied. I have taught and studied these things for over 40 years and these times we live in we have scientific definite answers of a recent creation many of these new evidences are not known today but are readily available. Please! understand that many of the young minds that your school is growing will need to be on track and getting the Creation story correct is vital to a watered down version now preached.

  2. Ken Keathley   •     Author

    Hi Ken, thanks for your comment. Indeed, there will be a part 7. The blog series surveys the history of attempts to understand the age of the earth, and hopefully sheds some light on how the discussion arrived at its present stage. Stay tuned!

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