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

Eternalism and Darwinism (The Age of the Earth Part 5)

(For the discussion on Creation vs. Eternalism, see Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4)

During the 19th-century, while Christians were dealing with the notion of an ancient earth, non-Christians explored the ramifications of an eternal universe. Eternalism played a crucial role in the arguments made for Darwinism by its early advocates. Darwinists conceded that the odds of something as complex as living beings coming about by random chance were extremely low, even minuscule. However, if the cosmos is eternal, then it does not matter how unlikely an event may be. Given an infinite amount of time, if an event has any possibility of happening at all—no matter how remote—then inevitably it will happen. In an everlasting universe it does not matter how many multiplied trillions of years it might take. Eventually every possible scenario will get its day. We are here; so obviously our existence is possible. Therefore, concluded the Darwinists, as absurdly improbable as it is, an eternal and infinite universe renders our evolution inevitable.40 questions creation evolution

19th century Germany would see some of the most vociferous advocates of Darwinism take eternalism to its logical conclusion. In his The Riddle of the Universe, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) would argue that an infinite and eternal world means that humanity must abandon the outmoded “ideals of God, freedom, and immortality.” Perhaps Fredrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) saw most clearly where eternalism led. He argued for what he called “the eternal recurrence theorem.” An infinite universe does not just render our improbable existence inevitable. It means that we have occurred again and again in the past, and we will recur in the future ad infinitum.

“In infinity, at some moment or other, every possible combination must once have been realized; not only this, but it must once have been realized an infinite number of times. . . .If all possible combinations and relations of forces had not already been exhausted, then an infinity would must lie behind us. Now since infinite time must be assumed, no fresh possibility can exist and everything must have appeared already, and moreover an infinite number of times.”

We are caught in an endless loop. Life has no purpose, nor can it have any. Nietzsche embraced nihilism, the view that “life leads to nothing” and that existence is “useless, empty, and absurd.” However, discoveries and advances in physics and astronomy at the beginning of the next century would overturn both steady-state cosmology and eternalism. The 20th-century would welcome the “Big-Bang” hypothesis. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution)

Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

Acceptance Of An Ancient Earth Among Christians Of The Victorian Era (The Age of the Earth Part 4)

(Part One)(Part Two)(Part Three)

Even before Darwin published the Origin of Species, most Christian scholars and scientists had come to accept that the cosmos was ancient. Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) for example, the influential 19th century British physicist and devout Christian, calculated the cooling rate of the earth’s core to arrive at the conclusion that the planet was 20-60 million years old. In America, Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield (1851-1921), who coined the term “biblical inerrancy,” accepted the antiquity of both the world and humanity. He argued against using the biblical genealogies to attempt to determine the age of the universe, declaring, “[N]othing can be clearer than that it is precarious in the highest degree to draw chronological inferences from genealogical tables.” Warfield concluded, “The question of the antiquity of man is accordingly a purely scientific one, in which the theologian as such has no concern.” Both Kelvin and Warfield embraced some form of theistic evolution. According to some sources, by 1850 only 50% of American Christians believed in a young earth.40 questions creation evolution

Christian geologists offered a number of alternative explanations to the traditional reading of Genesis in order to allow for the longer ages the geological evidence seemed to require. The two most prominent approaches were the gap theory (also known as the ruin-restoration theory) and the day-age approach. Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), a Scottish minister and amateur scientist, proposed a gap of indeterminate time between the first two verses of Genesis. Several prominent 19th century geologists such as William Buckland, Adam Sedgwick and Edward Hitchcock, became advocates of the theory. The great Baptist pastor, Charles Spurgeon, appealed to the gap theory in his preaching:

Can any man tell me when the beginning was? Years ago we thought the beginning of this world was when Adam came upon it; but we have discovered that thousands of years before that God was preparing chaotic matter to make it a fit abode for man, putting races of creatures upon it, who might die and leave behind the marks of his handiwork and marvelous skill, before he tried his hand on man.

Over the course of the 19th century Christian geologists became less enthusiastic about the gap theory and turned increasingly to the day-age theory, with Scottish geologist Hugh Miller (1802-1856) as its leading proponent. Other geologists who held to the day-age position included Princeton’s Arnold Guyot (1804-1887) and Yale’s James Dwight Dana (1813-1895).

One other significant concordist theory was developed in the 19th century. Though it received little support at the time, it has become perhaps the dominant approach among current young-earth creationists. In 1957, Philip Henry Gosse published Omphalos. The title is the Greek word for navel, and it referred to the question of whether or not Adam possessed one. Gosse argued that Adam indeed had a belly button, because he was created as a fully functioning adult male. This functionality gave Adam as appearance of age that he did not in reality have. Similarly, reasoned Gosse, the universe was created fully mature, and this quality gives the world an appearance of age. Practically all current young-earth creationist theories employ the mature creation argument in one way or another. It is worth noting that Omphalus was published two years before Darwin published Origin of Species, which demonstrates that the age of the earth had already become an issue before the challenges of evolution came to bear. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution.)

Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com