If the first talking snake had kept shtum, we wouldn't be here. Eve wouldn't have eaten the forbidden fruit. But she listened and was curious. So she fell into humanity, thank God. Good old snake, say I. I celebrate its independence of mind. Satan? Neh, that's a later interpretation. The snake was part of the divine purpose. God allowed it into the garden, aware of its linguistic abilities. He knew what would happen. Jesus commended dove-like innocence. AND the wisdom ... of the snake.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Twinkle twinkle little star though you're not that little really

Young earthers have more than battle on their hands: it’s not only Darwin they have to discredit. Other sciences as well as biology are also part of the conspiracy to prove that Genesis 1 isn’t literally true, therefore the whole Bible is worthless. No, I don’t think it follows either, but creationists do.

Standard, sane cosmology estimates the age of the universe in billions of years, which clearly contradicts the young earthers. It also creates a problem when interpreting Genesis; on the fourth day of creation stars were made, it being implied they could be seen instantly. Now, you and I know that stars are huge and distant; that light has a finite speed and thus even the nearest star, created on day 4, would not have been seen on earth for more than four years. We would still not be able to see the distant reaches of the universe even today. The human scribes of Genesis 1 could not have been expected to know any of this and presumably took the commonsense, pre-scientific view that stars are tiny, relatively close by and in any case that light needs to time to get from A to B. But for creationists as for fundamentalists in general, the Bible was not written by human scribes but by God, who must have got the science right.

Problem, which used to be resolved through the declaration that when God made the stars on day 4, he created their light already reaching the earth. I remember laughing out loud when I read that in a creationist book while reading up for an essay during my theology degree, back in the 1970’s. If there is one experience that determined me at some point in my life to deal with all this codswallop, it was that moment of hilarity; which makes me rather disappointed to discover that creationists don’t use this argument any more. Frankly, I don’t see that it’s any more ridiculous than all the other proposed solutions to the problem of apparent age; my current favourite anomaly (I’ve been gardening a lot recently) is humus. Present in soil, it consists of decomposed organic matter; plants need it to thrive and was thus, one assumes, kicking around on Day 3 of creation when plants were made - so where had the decomposed organic matter come from ...???

Creationist arguments tend to outstay what welcome they may have ever enjoyed. You can still read on websites that there should be much more dust on the moon than there is if the universe is as old as scientists say, that the earth’s rotation should be much slower and its population much greater; plus if I read one more reference to Robert Gentry’s polonium haloes and how these prove a young universe I shall scream. In the eyes of all normal people these arguments have been put forward, considered and demolished but creationists don’t give up easily. However, on the "light created in transit" argument, they have. As a useful article in the Free Dictionary puts it

"as the idea relies on a supernatural conspiracy to create the appearance of a material reality that is different from actual reality, it is an epistemologically impossible to refute idea.... one bizarre implication ... would be that supernovae that occur in the distant universe would have had to have been manufactured optical effects at the time of creation. In other words, in this idea distant supernovae never really happened even though we see them."

However, the alternative theories are considerably more technical, and needless to say unacceptable to mainstream science. Creationists seem to be pushing two at present, although with a certain tentativeness that suggests even they realise they’ve got their work cut out on this one. Naturally, they do all they can to try and rubbish the Big Bang theory, where their arguments take the familiar form: here’s a scientific theory that presents certain difficulties, therefore it’s completely wrong, therefore the Bible is the only possible alternative.

But if not the Big Bang, then what? Step forward Russell Humphreys, whose name is likely to come up sooner rather than later in any creationist account of cosmology. He has proposed an unashamedly supernaturalist theory - don’t tell me that’s a problem for you? To quote the Free Dictionary again

Humphreys refers to Isaiah 40:22, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. To Humphreys, this is an indication that God side-stepped the laws of physics, to drag spacetime out of its own black hole and force the universe to expand, in what Humphreys calls a "white hole cosmology".

So that’s going to play well among mainstream astronomers. The alternative is the view that the speed of light may have been higher at the time of creation than it is now. I believe that Big Bang theory itself requires this, certainly in the early moments after the primal singularity when it is calculated that the universe must have been expanding faster than the speed of light. Other, sensible, physicists have speculated that c may have varied over time. But the huge levels of increase in light-speed required to bully the universe into making sense on a creationist interpretation generate all sorts of other problems to which only creationists are convinced they have answers.

Houston, or rather Kansas, we have a problem. The universe keeps on looking like it’s older than it says in Genesis, but since we know that can’t be true we will have to keep on searching for facts to fit the theory - just like we always accuse evolutionists of doing ...


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