Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Creation In All Directions

Not too long ago, in this exact same galaxy, there was a debate. It was a widely publicized event that filled my news feed on Facebook with comments for quite a while. This debate pitted Bill Nye, of Science Guy fame, against Ken Ham, young-Earth creationist extraordinaire, in order to answer the question, "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era?" In case you missed all the excitement, you can watch the debate here on YouTube. I never watched it.

The debate itself really isn't that important for the purposes of this post. I only bring it up because it caused a lot of discussion about the question of creation. And, while I tend to stay away from any topic that might even remotely be described as "hot", I do actually have some views on this one. Interestingly, very little of the discussion that I witnessed really matched these views. So, since other people are failing to talk about my thoughts about creation on their own, I guess I'm kind of obligated to speak up. Like when the teacher asks the class a question and I'm the only person who knows the right answer. Because, obviously, my view of the origin of the universe is right. Duh.

So, without further ado, I'll start by stating that I am a creationist. I believe that the universe was created by God as described in the book of Genesis, in a literal six days. I believe that this creation occurred sometime within the "recent" past. (The most popular age seems to be about 6,000 years, which I will use for the sake of argument. However, my own beliefs on the exact time of creation don't get much more specific than "recently".)  For me, these beliefs are a matter of faith. They aren't based on any particular evidence, scientific or otherwise, beyond a trust in the Bible's description. And, as far as I can reason, they also can't be disproved by science or any other evidence that I've seen.

No... really. I'm serious.

Let me explain...

In general, there are two major positions involved in this debate. Christian young Earth creationism claims that the world was created by God 6,000 years ago. On the other side, the predominant scientific theory claims that the universe began with the big bang, 13,800,000,000 years ago. In case you were wondering, those two numbers are fairly different.

Now, one day, I was sitting in a chair somewhere thinking about stars, the universe, and the unimaginable sizes and distances associated with them. I do that a lot. I was thinking about how the Milky Way galaxy is estimated to be somewhere around 100,000 light-years across. At some point during that thought, it occurred to me that, as a result of that immense size, it must take light somewhere around 100,000 years to travel from end to end. Obviously. Then I was presented with a conundrum. If the universe were only 6,000 years old, then the light from anything beyond 6,000 light-years away couldn't have reached Earth yet. We wouldn't be able to see anything beyond that distance. This was a problem for the creationist leaning of my beliefs.

As a demonstration of how drastic this problem is, I've put together this neat image. Use the two buttons to switch between a beautifully rendered conception of what our galaxy might look like and that same image limited to an area with a radius of 6,000 light-years from Earth.


Image taken from Wikipedia - Milky Way

I kept thinking about it for a few minutes, and I reasoned that a recent creation could still be possible if, instead of light only starting to shine at the moment of creation, the universe were created with light already in motion. Problem solved. Since then, I've heard this brought up on occasion in discussions as validation for a 6,000 year-old universe. However, after continuing to think about it for a while, I found that this didn't quite work out.

The problem I saw was that, when we see the light from a distant object, we are seeing that object as it was when the light left it. We are essentially seeing back in time proportionally to the distance of the object. For instance, the M80 star cluster is about 32,600 light-years away. Therefore, the light that we see now left the cluster 32,600 years ago and, by looking at it, we are essentially seeing 32,600 years into the past. That means that there was stuff happening in the M80 cluster that long ago. But, if history started 6,000 years ago, then how could it extend many thousands of years before that?

I continued thinking about it a lot and ended up coming up with a conclusion. Since I'm not really interested in writing an entire book on the subject, I'll skip over the rest of the sequential thought process and jump straight to explaining that conclusion.

I continue to believe (again, as a matter of faith) that God created the universe sometime in the "recent" past. But, in light of the issues I had found, my view of creation was forced to change significantly. I now believe that, when the universe was created, it was created with a history. With a back story, if you will. Much like when an author writes a stage play, the characters don't suddenly appear out of nowhere at the beginning. Even if it's never mentioned in the story, it's assumed that there were things that happened before the story began. Like that author, God is also writing a story. Except, being as infinite and omnipotent as He is, He has made His story reality. The show started fairly recently, but there is an entire realm of history before that point which is no less real than anything that happens after. It's all part of the same story. God didn't just pick a starting point and create everything after that. He created both forward and backward in time. He created in all directions.

Therefore, if someone shows me a rock and asks me how old it is, I consider there to be two answers. Both are equally correct, depending on your perspective. I could say that the rock is 6,000 years old because that's when it came into existence, i.e. when the play began. However, the story goes back much, much longer than the beginning of the play. So I also have no problem saying that, according to the best efforts of science, that rock is millions, or even billions of years old. If asked whether I believe in a young, intelligently-created Earth or an old, naturally-formed Earth, I can confidently answer, "Yes".

It occurred to me to ask, "What would happen if we traveled backwards in time past the point of creation?". I've concluded that nothing special would seem to happen. We wouldn't find ourselves in some void next to God as He prepared to begin His creation. Instead, time would just keep flowing backward. We might not even know that we had crossed the exact moment of creation. If we kept going, we could eventually see the natural formation of the universe, because that's the story that God has written. As part of the story, we could not on our own step outside the realm of the story. Back to the Future didn't exist in the fifties. But when Marty McFly traveled thirty years into the past into that decade, he didn't find himself on the Universal Studios lot. He stayed within the realm of the story in the town of Hill Valley. For us to go back to see God creating would be like Marty going back to see the sets being built. Of course, as a character in the story, Marty doesn't even know that he's on a set in a movie. God has chosen to reveal that fact to us, His characters, as part of His story. The director has stepped into the story and interacts with it, giving us hints of what it's like behind the scenes. That's why we know, and the only reason we can know, that there even was a creation event or anything else beyond the reality that we see.

I believe that this is important in the Christian's view of the universe and the One who created it. Many creationists do their best to refute, or even ignore what science says about the history of our universe. But, by denying that such a history occurred is to deny an important part of God's story. When I look up at the stars, I can't help but be awed by the God who created them. I believe that God expects the same response when we look back through His creation's history. Rather than ignoring the story, we should long to learn more of it. And that's why this post exists.