The Relativity of Creation
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The one thing that really bugs me is hardcore Christianity’s contempt for science and hardcore science’s contempt for Christianity. it bugs me when science and religion are treated as mutually exclusive topics.
It shouldn’t be shocking to learn that there is a long-standing feud between religion and science. Granted, there are scientist who are religious, and there are religious people who are scientific, but even they occasionally find themselves in a position where they have to sacrifice the one for the other. In those moments adherents to one or the other will have to choose whether they will place their faith in science or in religion. I’ve heard fairly intelligent Christians say that there’s no contradiction between science and the Bible–it’s just that science hasn’t caught up with the Bible yet. I’ve also heard fairly intelligent scientific people speak of religion in such a pejorative manner, it bordered on a dogmatism that rivaled any organized religion. As a result, most subjects that scientists and Christians discuss often devolve into an “either/or” construct. And the “either/or” that I hear about the most (and I apologize to my international readers if this is a purely American sort of argument) is that between Creationism and Evolution.
Creationism is the belief that the entire universe in general, and the earth in particular, are the product of six, literal twenty-four hour days of activity by a divine being, commonly referred to as God. The order of this creationary activity is narrated succinctly described in the Book of Genesis, chapter one with the seven day account of creation (six days of creation, one day off).
Evolution, of course, is the scientific notion that the entire universe in general, and the earth in particular, are the product of billions of years of astronomical activity and earthly activity of natural selection. Hence the argument: is the universe and everything in it a product of six days or billions of years?
Now there have been many attempts at reconciling the two seemingly irreconcilable points of view. These attempts have ranged from saying that the “days” of creation are metaphors and not to be taken literally, to proffering a sort of guided evolution, where God is continually creating. There is even a gap theory that says that there was a world before this one and that the creation of the Bible only talks about this world, not the previous one (that’s why the world is billions of years old, but Christians are correct to say that this world as we know it is only six thousand years old or so). But quite frankly, all of these attempts at unifying Creationism with Evolution have always proven to be less than satisfying.
And remember, it was only about a hundred years ago that a small town teacher found himself in trouble for teaching the Theory of Evolution. Now teachers find themselves in trouble if they teach anything but Evolution. The “either-or” construct determines that either Creationism is right or Evolution is right, but they can’t both be right. So the long-standing feud endures. And it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
This long-standing feud between science and religion goes at least as far back as Galileo. Galileo took it upon himself to champion Copernicus’ Heliocentric model of the universe–the view that the earth travels around the sun, rather than the then commonly held Ptolemaic model that asserted that the sun, and everything else, travels around the earth. The commonly held view is that the church persecuted Galileo for his heliocentric beliefs because the Bible asserts that the earth is the center of the universe. This is completely wrong. Galileo and the church did clash, and that clash was centered around the question of heliocentricity, but what got Galileo and his students in trouble was their encroachment on theological topics when it was felt that they were not qualified to do so.
As the story goes, one of Galileo’s students was having lunch with a wealthy and educated Italian patroness. During the course of that lunch, and at the patroness’ request, the student began to explain the heliocentric model of the universe. After listening carefully, she asked a simple question: If what Galileo says is true, how could the sun have stopped in the sky as described in Joshua. The student responded that the Book of Joshua was wrong in that regard. So, what Galileo in trouble was not an advocation of a scientific theory, but the fact that the theory was being applied in such a way to disprove, or at the very least find fault with, the Bible.
The question that the church asked was “What qualifications did Galileo or any of his students have to make theological or biblical pronouncements?” And frankly, even though many people today would disagree, the church’s point was a valid one. It would the same as if I decided to start practicing medicine, even though I’m not a medical doctor. It’s illegal for me to simply hang a shingle in front of my house and start practicing medicine. Why? I never studied medicine and I’m not qualified. I have the right to disagree with my doctor on a particular diagnosis or treatment; I even have the right to offer any homespun remedies to anyone I can convince to listen to me; but that is not the same as offering a professional consultation, writing prescriptions, or performing operations. If I do, I will get into a lot of trouble for practicing medicine without a license–and almost nobody would accuse the medical profession for oppressing me.
In essence, the church was saying that Galileo and his students were practicing theology without a license. Galileo had the right to have theological opinions, even disagree with his priest, but he did not have the right to present his theological opinions as if they were doctrine or fact. He did not have the qualifications. Just because a scientist may be extremely clever in the field of science, does not necessarily mean that he’s extremely clever in the field of religion.
Now, I said all that about Galileo so that I could say this about Creationism and Evolution: I think they are both right. I believe that the old, long-standing feud is unnecessary and that the “either-or” between science and religion is invalid. This is especially true when it comes to Creationism and Evolution. Both science and the Bible give us a way out from being perpetually ensnared within the confines of this debate. The more valid construct is not that of “either-or,” but “both-and.”
My personal experience tells me that the Ptolemaic model is the correct one. Based solely on personal experience, based upon empirical data which is the basis of science, the sun is moving around the earth. It is the only plausible conclusion. That conclusion is based on sound experiential evidence: (1) Whenever I’m in a moving car, I can feel a sense of motion. I can close my eyes and still know when the car is moving or when it is stationary. Yet, I feel no sense of motion when standing on the earth. My experience dictates that moving objects feel like their moving. (2) Whenever I am traveling in a moving car, I can roll down the window, stick out my hand and feel a wind resistance relative the car’s velocity. I do not feel any sort of wind resistance when I stand on a hill and hold out my hand. My experience dictates that moving objects generate resistance relative to the object’s velocity. (3) The best piece of experiential evidence that I have is that I can see the sun moving across the sky.
So my experience dictates that if I do not feel any sense of motion and if I do not experience any type of wind resistance, then I must be standing still. If I am standing still, any object that is changing its location relative to my position must be moving. Therefore, if I can see the sun moving in the sky, based upon the previous evidence, it must be moving. Yet, the benefit of my nearly four decades worth of experience would be challenged by any respectable third grade science book.
Even though my experience and the third grade textbook appear to be saying two opposite things, we are both correct. How can these two opposite propositions be true? They can both be true because reality is relative. If I’m standing on the earth, the sun is moving around the earth. If I’m standing of the sun, the earth is moving around the sun. If I’m standing on Mars, both are moving around Mars. My frame of reference determines reality.
The optical trickery of astronomical motion is one thing, but can any of this reconcile Creationism and Evolution in a way that takes both of them seriously and claims that both of them are right. Or to put is more simply: How can one hundred-forty-four hours be equal to billions of years? In order to answer that, we need a crash course in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
In 1905 Albert Einstein, in his Special Theory of Relativity, declared that there is no such thing as absolute time. Time is integrally linked with matter and is affected by various factors such as gravity, velocity, and direction. What this means is that time moves differently for two people who are traveling in different directions at differing velocities. A person standing still and a person in motion are in two different space-time continuums. Even though they both may experience the passage of time in the same way, time is flowing differently for each of them.
Here is an example that may help illustrate the point. Let’s say that there are two people–we’ll call them Sue and Bob. Sue is sitting on a train moving at sixty miles per hour and Bob is outside the train, observing it from a considerable distance. For the sake of illustration, let’s also say that the train is transparent, so that Bob can see everything that happens inside the train from his vantage point. Sue is inside the train, sitting in her seat, flipping a coin. When the train passes in front of Bob he can view Sue inside flipping that coin. So both Sue and Bob experience the same space-time event, the flipping of a coin. Nevertheless, both experience it differently. From Sue’s frame of reference, in the span of one second, the coin travels upward in a straight vertical line for the distance of about three feet. From Bob’s frame of reference, however, the same coin travels upward at a steady incline for the distance of slightly more than eighty-eight feet (sixty miles per hour is equal to eighty-eight feet per second). Same coin, same second, same flip, two radically different experiences of that event. So which is it? Did the coin travel three feet per second or eighty-eight feet per second? Did the coin travel upward in a straight vertical line, or did the coin travel upward at a steady incline? The correct answer to all of these questions is a resounding, “All of the above!” How is this possible? It’s possible because frame of reference determines reality. So in this example, three feet is equal to slightly more than eighty-eight feet.
This spacial example is true for time as well. Time moves differently based upon one’s frame of reference. The phenomenon is know as Time Dilation. The effects of the Time Dilation were observed during the 1970s. Researchers placed atomic clocks on commercial airliners that were set to exactly the same time as a stationary atomic clock on the ground. Some of the planes flew east along with the earth’s rotation and some of them flew west, against the planet’s rotation. When the clocks were compared, the clocks on the eastbound planes were fifty-nine nanoseconds (59 billionths of a second) behind the clock on the ground. Westbound planes were found to be 273 nanoseconds ahead of the stationary clock. So time-travel is possible! It occurs every time one flies on commercial aircraft.
Time Dilation effects due to gravity have been experimentally verified as well. It has been discovered that time on the Sun’s surface runs about two parts in a million slower than on Earth because of the Sun's much higher gravity. This was confirmed in 1968 when an American physicist, Irwin Shapiro, demonstrated that the reflection of radar signals from planets were delayed when the Sun was near the path of the signals.
None of us ever travel at velocities that make the Time Dilation apparent in any tangible manner. One would have to approach the speed of light to notice significant effects of the Time Dilation. But the Time Dilation does occur. Time moves differently for any object moving at a high velocity than it does for an object moving at a slower velocity or not moving at all.
So what does all this have to do with the long-standing debate between religion and science in general, and Creationism and Evolution in particular? Well, it means that they both can be right. Because time is not absolute and does move differently in differing situations, it is possible for one hundred-forty-four hours to equal billions of years, just as it was possible for three feet to equal eighty-eight feet Bob and Sue.
The first chapter of the Book of Genesis relays the story of God’s creation activity. It tells the story from God’s frame of reference. God is the one talking. God is the one doing. God is the agent. God’s frame of reference is the context of the creation narrative. So the six days apply to God, but not necessarily to creation.
The common misconception that most people have is that God was static or stationary during creation. The Hebrew says that “the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2), which, to be fair, does not explicitly state motion, but neither does it deny motion. The Greek version implies motion. So there is a biblical citation referring to God’s motion during creation. If God is moving really fast relative to creation (say 99.999999% of the speed of light), then time would have been moving much more slowly for God then it was for creation. So six days for God could be the exact equivalent of billions of years for creation.
I once spent an entire summer attempting to figure out God’s velocity relative to creation until I realized that there is nothing that states that God was moving at a uniform velocity. If God changed velocity, then the whole time frame changes. But the moral of the story is that Christians can finally stop arguing against evolution and getting back to what’s important–persecuting homosexuals and making sure that women stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, cooking a steak for her man. (I’m sorry, was that a bit too honest?) At least they can get back to doing something like, oh I don’t know, feeding and clothing people.
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