THE “DAYS” OF CREATION
The Alleged Contradiction
Holy Scripture says that the world was created by God and was completed in six days (Gen 1). Against the Bible story is the story provided by modern science, according to which the universe started as a singular point from which matter, space, time, and the entire cosmos originated. The development of the world began with an explosion, called the “Big Bang,” which triggered not only the formation of everything in the universe – from the smallest sub-atomic particles to the giant planets, stars and galaxies, – but also their outward expansion into space. Empirical data collected from the “redshift” of various stars allowed the calculation of the rate of expansion of the universe. Based on this and the observed position of the stars, scientists were also able to back-calculate the time it took for the world to be formed from the onset of the Big Bang to the appearance of the first humans on earth. The latest estimates give a total time of almost 14 billion years, which is completely different from the six days of Genesis. As in the days of Galileo, many critics of Holy Scripture today claim that science has contradicted Holy Scripture.
Creation of the Sun, Moon and Planets
Painting by Michelangelo (1475-1564)
at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
Image source link: commons.wikimedia.org
Resolution of the Conflict
Some scholars have attempted to brush aside this difficulty by interpreting the word “day” in the story of Genesis as an indefinite period of time, rather than a 24-hour time period. According to this interpretation the six days of creation are six stages of creation where each stage took millions of years to finish. The advantage of this re-interpretation of the word “day” is that it keeps the Biblical account in harmony with Science. But is this really the true meaning of the sacred text?
Genesis reveals that God is the Creator of the world, and that He created the world in an orderly rather than haphazardly fashion. It reveals that the world had a beginning, but whether it took six days or billions of years for the world to be formed is irrelevant to our salvation. What counts for our salvation is not the time and physics of world formation, but the revelation that we, too, had our origin from Him. Remember the lesson gained from the Galileo case. The purpose of the Holy Spirit in Holy Scripture was not to teach or endorse any particular scientific theory, but to reveal religious truth and promote faith in a way that could be understood by the ordinary man. The Holy Spirit used the word “day” to mean a 24-hour period, just as it was understood by the common folk. For the Holy Spirit was not teaching quantum mechanics. He was not teaching how the universe was formed. He was teaching ordinary people the need to sanctify the Sabbath, which is why Genesis said that God worked for six days and on the seventh day He rested. The Holy Spirit was giving the people a pattern of how they should live their lives, and dedicate a day of the week in rest, contemplation and worship. This is the literal sense of the six days of creation. It is not necessary to twist or change the meaning of the word “day” in the Bible just to put the Biblical account in harmony with science, for the Bible was not teaching science.
Actually, it is best to keep theology independent of scientific models and speculations. Many people get excited in knowing that, in complete agreement with Genesis, the Big Bang theory predicts that the world had a beginning in time. But the Big Bang is just one possible model, and it can be replaced by others in the future. It would be a bad fruit of scientific exuberance to think that Genesis means what the Big Bang theory portrays, or that quantum mechanics is to be preferred than the simplicity of Holy Scripture in finding answers to questions about the beginning of the world and man's origin.
There is no conflict between Science and Holy Scripture as long as we keep in mind that Holy Scripture is teaching truths that promote our salvation, not truths that aim primarily at secular advancement or learning. To try to harmonize the Biblical account with the conceptions of modern physics is not only unnecessary, but is also a futile effort at concordism. It doesn't work. The two approaches are in entirely different planes of knowledge. The Bible deals with the visible world of our common experience. But the current scientific theories of world formation are based on hypothetical entities and models that are not in our common experience. Actually, the concepts of modern physics are more mathematical than physical. Much of the Big Bang story, for example, only came out as Georges Lemaître's solution to Einstein’s equations of general relativity, which describes the interaction of entities in an idealized space-time model. The infinitely-dense, infinitely-hot "point of beginning" from which everything allegedly originated, was nothing but a "singularity" in Einstein’s equations. Of course, the space-time model could be used to describe what happened during the first few seconds after the Big Bang. It predicts, for example, that after 1 microsecond to 1 second the electro weak forces combined the quarks to produce the protons and neutrons, and that after 3 to 20 minutes protons and neutrons combined to form the nuclei of simple elements, such as hydrogen, helium and lithium. Atoms did not form until about 240,000 to 300,000 years after the Big Bang. See Timeline of the Big Bang. But these are all mathematical conjectures. There is no way for any scientist to go back 14 billion years to verify what actually happened during the first few minutes or years of that great explosion. No one should assume that the Big Bang model is the final answer to the question of how the universe evolved.
The Fundamental Question
There is a more fundamental question than the question of how the world was formed. And that is the question of why there is a world to begin with. It seems obvious enough that before the world can evolve, it must first be made to exist. The hypothetical "singularity" of the Big Bang model is something scientists don't know much about. It is supposed to be a point where everything, including temperature and energy, becomes infinite, with zero volume. Prior to it, there was absolutely nothing – no space, no time, no space-time. So, where did that super-dense, super-hot "point of beginning" of the Big Bang theory come from?
Science has not given an adequate answer to this question. The Big Bang theory and other theories of world formation merely offer possible descriptions of how the world evolves, but they all fall short of explaining why there is a world to begin with. If the world had a beginning, then an adequate answer should explain how the "singular point" came into existence out of nothing (ex nihilo). But no scientific theory has yet been proposed to answer this question successfully. Even the theory that uses the concept of "quantum fluctuations" fails because it presupposes, as its starting point, a quantum state of zero-universe, which is not nothing. It is a state in a system of quantum laws that would govern quantum fluctuations, if one were to occur. So, it is not really nothing anymore than a credit card account with a zero balance is nothing: it is still a credit card account governed by legal and economic rules. The unavoidable question is, where did that initial system of quantum laws come from? Not all scientists want to admit it, but the inescapable answer is God.
Q & A
1. What are the other current theories of universe formation and why is the Big Bang the one that is widely accepted by many scientists today?
RESPONSE: The current theories of universe formation were actually developed to explain the observed expansion of the universe. The following is a summary of the theories that have been proposed. See also Cosmological Theories.
The Steady-state Theory. The idea was first suggested in 1948 by three British scientists: Sir Hermann Bondi, Sir Thomas Gold, and Sir Fred Hoyle. According to this view the universe is always expanding, but at the same time new matter is also continuously being created to form new planets, stars and galaxies to keep the average density of matter in the universe constant. This idea assumes that the process of "continuous creation of matter" has been going on, without beginning, and will never end. Although once popular, this idea does not sit well with many scientists today because it could not adequately explain the existence of the "cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR)" which was detected in 1964.
The Big Bang Theory. It was the Belgian astronomer and Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître, who used Einstein's general relativity equations to lay the theoretical background for the Big Bang theory. Unlike the Steady-State Theory, the Big Bang theory assumes that the observed expansion of the universe had a beginning. According to this theory the universe started as a "singular point" – a super-dense, super-hot initial state, – which exploded and triggered the great cosmic expansion. In the beginning, perhaps just one second after the Big Bang, all that existed was a large host of hot (10-Billion degree Kelvin) elementary sub-atomic particles (electrons, protons, neutrons, positrons, photons, neutrinos). These particles then continued to cool, eventually producing large numbers of helium, hydrogen, deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen). After 300 million years the first stars begin to form, then the galaxies. It took about 7 billion years to produce the chemical elements necessary for life. The first planets and solar systems were not formed until after 8.5 billion years. Altogether it took 13.8 billion years to produce the universe that we know today. The cosmic microwave background radiation, which was problematic for the Steady-State theory, is easily interpreted as an echo of the Big Bang explosion.
An XDF (eXtreme Deep Field) View of the Universe
Each light speck is a galaxy - Approx. 100 billion galaxies total
Image source link: commons.wikimedia.org
The Pulsating Universe Theory. In the original Big Bang model the universe has two future possibilities: it could either continue to expand forever, or it may reach a maximum size then shrink back toward a Big Crunch. If the universe stops expanding and begins to collapse, then the possibility exists that once it reaches a certain size, then it will bounce back and start a new expansion again. Thus, the cycle of expansion and collapse could go on indefinitely. Einstein himself seems to have seen this possibility since 1930. But could this possibility be realized? Most probably not, because measurements made in 1998 indicate that the rate of expansion of the universe is currently at a level that a reversal is hardly attainable. This fact makes the theory unattractive to present-day scientists.
The Ekpyrotic Universe Theory. This model was suggested by Justin Khoury, Burt Ovrut, Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok in 2002. It uses the concept of two 3D parallel universes that are both expanding, but are also perpetually in a cycle of moving toward each other, colliding, and bouncing back, then moving toward each other again, etc. along a fourth space dimension (which, of course, you can't imagine). A theorem by Borde, Guth and Vilenkin proved that the cycle could not be perpetual and, therefore, had to have a beginning, thus losing its advantage over the much simpler Big Bang model. Very few scientists today still pay attention to this model, except for historical interest.
The Eternal Inflation Theory. This is a much more complicated model suggested by the Russian physicist Andrei Linde. This model assumes that the whole universe is endlessly undergoing an exponential expansion, where it doubles in size every period of time T. But inside this inflating universe bubbles of smaller universes are continually being formed, which also expand but in much slower fashion. Our visible universe is inside one of these bubbles. According to this concept the Big Bang that happened 14 billion years ago was not the start of the entire mega-universe, but merely the beginning of our bubble. Just like the Ekpyrotic Universe model, the theorem of Borde, Guth and Vilenkin shows that the Eternal Inflation theory may be endless in the future, but could not be perpetual in the past. Like the Ekpyrotic Universe model, the Eternal Inflation model must have a beginning in time and cannot avoid the ultimate question of where the mega-universe came from.