Years ago, I read Albert Einstein’s book, “The General Theory of Relativity.” More recently, I read Gerald Schroeder’s book, “The Science of God.” Quite frankly, Einstein was a little easier to understand than the astrophysicist, Schroeder. However, the latter really caused me to think hard about the concept of time, and how it relates to the account given in Genesis Chapter One.
Most of us human beings are locked into “earth time” so it can sometimes be difficult to understand, but Einstein taught that “time” is elastic depending on one’s position, perspective, and velocity. I am merely a mechanical engineer and do not fully understand all the physics or all the mathematics, but I do understand the concept as follows. As we increase our velocity, we reduce the difference between our own speed and the speed of light. This is insignificant unless our velocity is extremely high. As we approach the speed of light, “time” slows to a standstill (and apparently, even “matter” takes on different shapes and densities). A year is not necessarily a year under all conditions, and a day is not necessarily a day under different conditions. These are not necessarily the types of thoughts my brain is accustomed to thinking, but scripture even drops us a pretty good hint when it suggests that from a different perspective, a day can be something as different as a thousand years.
I am locked into “earth time” because it is all I have ever known. I am stubbornly anthropocentric by nature, but we all have a legitimate excuse: none of us have had the opportunity to go out traveling near the speed of light, and then return to earth only to discover that decades or hundreds or thousands of earth years have passed.
The Bible states that “God is light” and, although I know this is a metaphor on many levels, I believe that is one explanation of why time does not touch him. He is not bound by time. Is this because his normal state is to be traveling at the speed of light… or faster? Just wondering. If Genesis Chapter One was written from God’s perspective (before there was a man consciously standing on the earth looking at his watch), what does “time” mean in this context? Maybe it was written from the anthropocentric position of man standing on the planet earth. From that perspective, it has been several thousand years since God breathed a soul into Adam. Maybe Genesis Chapter One was written from the perspective of some intermediate galaxy where it has only been a couple weeks since Adam walked the earth. Remember that special Christmas holiday you remember so well from 20 years ago? From the perspective of some remote star zooming away out there, that Christmas was only last night.
But what are we to expect? Some of us even have trouble with daylight savings time, and much more trouble when we cross the International Date Line. Perhaps the first chapter in the Bible was written from the viewpoint of the edge of the expanding universe, a perspective from the very edge of the physical world. From that position, as calculated by Gerald Schroeder, the universe is currently about six days old. That number sounds strangely familiar.
“Time” is not just measured by the consistent ticking of the clock on my particular wall. Some people get all bent out of shape insisting that time is rigid, when in fact it is time itself that truly can be “bent out of shape.”
There are those who have never traveled beyond the shores of North America, and have never had the opportunity to love and appreciate those whose culture is in many ways different than ours. Some have difficulty understanding international events with any perspective other than that of a well-indoctrinated “patriotic American.” In the same way, many of us who are earth-bound also have difficulty understanding time and cosmic events with any perspective other than a well-indoctrinated “patriotic Earthling.”
In the early 17th century, Galileo correctly observed that the earth orbited around the sun (heliocentrism), implying that the earth was not the immovable center of the universe (geocentrism). By threat of death, the church of his day forced him to recant his “errors and heresies” on June 22, 1633. Presumably, correct Biblical doctrine taught that the earth was the center of the universe – the sun and all the starry host revolved around us.
Later that century, Newton gained insights into the nature of gravity, invented calculus, used it to calculate the orbit of planets and discovered their path to be elliptical. The church of his time considered this heresy because, rather than gravity, they claimed that God supernaturally caused things to fall. Their preconception was a God that would have made planetary orbits that were perfectly round (and a moon that was perfectly smooth). Perhaps there are some who understand the intricacies of theology better than I, but I fail to see the issue here.
Regardless, Newton was forced to recant his gravity and elliptical orbit theory because it was considered heretical. There are a few contemporary theological philosophies that gravitate toward actual heresy (antinomianism, the name-it-and-claim-it material prosperity gospel, neo-Calvinism, post-millennial dominionism, to name a few that are readily accepted in certain circles), but some of the other ones, the so-called “heresies” throughout history have always been my favorite bits of truth. The elasticity of time is another one of those “heretical truths” with which I am particularly fond.
Our mastery of elementary mathematics (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) has perhaps made us presumptuous enough to disregard higher math (Fourier transfers, and the like) that are used to calculate relative time. We think we have it all figured out because we can multiply twenty-four hours by six sunsets and sunrises, even though, according to Genesis One, the sun hadn’t been created until the fourth “sunset.” Add another complicating fact that at the north and south poles, there is only one sunrise and sunset per year. A further complication is that on the planet Mercury, there is less than one sunrise and sunset per year – i.e., a day (one complete rotation of a planet around its axis) is longer than a year (one complete revolution of a planet around the sun). From which of these perspectives would you like to define time, or our neat little package called a day?
Science is our attempt to understand the physical world around us. It is our grasping at truth about material substance and natural phenomenon. It generally does a very good job at this, but it is important to note that science has absolutely nothing to say about the immaterial world and supernatural forces. For example, I chuckle at some of the presumptuous materialist assertions made by Carl Sagan in Pale Blue Dot (e.g., in the Hubble photos, he points out that we cannot see God — yes, the invisible God). Science can provide all the answers as long as we dismiss half the questions. But thanks to science, our understanding of cosmic physics now enables us to more fully appreciate the creation of the universe.
A couple generations ago (in the 1950s), the general consensus of the scientific community agreed with Aristotle’s ancient presumption. They believed that the universe had no beginning; it has always been here. “In the beginning…” was complete nonsense. This was partly because admitting a beginning implies that there was someone who had to begin it. (From where did that dense particle come that exploded into our universe?) The scientific community is coming around. They now acknowledge the truth contained in the first three words of the Bible. Acknowledging what we call the “Big Bang” was indeed a big step, and a step in the right direction. Why should we bar their way to the Bible’s fourth word with our rigid perception of time?
I firmly believe that history will look upon the church of the early twenty-first century and view us the way we roll our eyes and wonder what was wrong with the church of Galileo’s time. Why did they choose that particular hill to die on (or in some cases, to have “heretics” die on)?
One definition of a heresy is something that, if believed, will cause the eternal damnation of the one who believes it. I have been told that if one does not “believe in” the literal six-earth-day-creation, how can they believe anything else in the Bible? I do believe that if one does not believe anything else in the Bible, they will likely not want to spend eternity with the author of the Bible. However, our interpretation of the creation account should not hinge on our earth-bound perception of the “six days.” What some seem to say regarding Genesis One is this: “If you do not hold to my limited perspective of time, well then, damn you!”
The question at stake is this: what happened during this “time?” Darwin’s theory relied heavily upon gradual mutations. There have been indeed many gradual mutations (micro-evolution) that have shaped the form and function of living beings, but the fossil record is somewhat lacking when it comes to intermediate species… the so-called “missing links.” Scientists now refer to a phenomenon termed “punctuated equilibrium,” which simply means long periods of equilibrium (not much changing) punctuated with brief periods when a lot changed (brand new species through macroevolution). This is another good step in the right direction, just as realizing that there actually was a “beginning.” Maybe the punctuations occured when God “spoke” with his acts of creation. Who knows?
A HILL TO DIE ON?
From my understanding of history, the Christian Church was much more compassionate toward unbelievers and “the world” prior to the 1920s Scopes-Monkey trials. Because that was perceived as a globalized attack on faith in general, and Christianity in particular, the Christian community drew itself inward and become much more suspicious and self-protective in defense. This is similar to how America became especially paranoid and self-protective after the attacks on September 11, 2001. At some point, the Christian community adopted this strategy and decided that the best defense was a good offense. The adversarial relationship with “the world” that we take for granted today grew out of this attempt at self-protection. Ironically, love and redemption are no longer the hallmark of the church.
Is the six-earth-day creation issue so strategic and pivotal that we should defend it at all costs? Is this really a hill we want to die on, especially at the risk of alienating all those intelligent scientists who have a different understanding of time and creation? Are we causing them to throw out the entire Bible because of our limited view of time when we read Genesis Chapter One? Maybe it is just a game – a competition of logic… Christian faith and biblical evidence verses atheistic science and physical evidence. “Our team is better than your team.” That is what we were taught in high school, and for some, that is all we seem to remember.
It seems many Christians have somehow made the six-earth-day-creation discussion “a hill to die on.” Actually, it is no longer a discussion or an intelligent dialog. It is nothing more than an emotional monologue. Since the Scopes Monkey trial in the 1920s, the Christian community at large has become increasingly conservative, self-protective, and argumentative. I suppose this is understandable, given the aggressive attacks they were under at the time, but that is probably when it was decided that this issue would be worth dying over, or at least throwing away all credibility.
I know of some who are standing at the back door of their mind with the washtub in their hands peering into the dirty bathwater to see if there might really be a baby in there somewhere before they throw it all out. I know many more who have already pitched it all off the back deck just to be rid of that dank bathwater. There are many who dismiss the entire Bible (including the life-changing gospel), often with uproarious laughter based on the traditional Christian interpretation of a six-earth-day creation.
There are some who demonstrate a fierce drive to win arguments at any expense, regardless of the truth. Should anyone be stubborn enough to stick with a rigid perception of “time” at the expense of friends or loved ones teetering on the edge of a fatal conclusion about their creator?
I would hope not.
 We may laugh, but it is interesting to note that, although we can now predict and measure gravity (in a vacuum at sea level on earth, gravity accelerates objects at 32.174 ft/sec2), and know that it correlates with large bodies of mass, no one really understands the actual mechanism of this mysterious force, or even, for that matter, why opposites attract.