The Age of the Universe

Referring back to our ongoing conversation on the bible and my problems with it, I’ll respond to the objections on the rational problems I have with a literalist interpretation of, in this case, Genesis 1-3.

The Rational Problem – “the age of the universe and the age of the Earth invalidate a literal reading of Genesis, as does the current evidence supporting multiple points of origin for human species and our ancient ancestors interbreeding with Neanderthals.” I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but such scientific statements are just as much a matter of faith as believing a literal interpretation of Genesis one. How could anyone on the face of the planet, no matter the number of scientific degrees one holds, possibly know the age of the universe?

Using the constant of the speed of light, parallax from nearby astronomical objects, the Hubble constant, and secondary distance indicators to calculate the distance of other galaxies, we have calculated the farthest object from Earth to be 13.3 billion light years away. Meaning that the light from that galaxy had to begin travelling towards our current location 13.3 billion years ago to be visible to us via our telescopes.

Here is an additional link to a NASA article going over additional ways in which we have calculated the age of the universe. And while there is a divergence in the range of numbers, none of them come close to the 6,000 years associated with conservative evangelical theology.

Which means the universe is quite older than 6,000 years by our observations and measurements or God has deceived us by making it all appear much older than it actually is and making any of our astronomical or scientific observations completely unreliable. Indeed, once we cede that we can no longer trust our observations or mathematical calculations, we have crossed into a universe where we can no longer be certain that God did not create the universe yesterday and all of our history, knowledge, and memories are simply fabricated. It becomes rather difficult to even trust our observations about the bible or what it says at all.

Therefore it is simply impossible for any of us to know precisely what happened.

If we took that approach to our everyday life, we would be helpless in solving accidents or crimes. Investigators observe and examine physical evidence and using our common knowledge of science, math, and the physical universe can reconstruct events that have happened or theorize about what kind of event best fits the available evidence.

If you’re talking about carbon dating as a guideline, that’s sketchy at best. Here’s an article showing some of the fallacies of it, and you might dismiss it because it’s from a Christian Apologetics website. You might say it’s skewed in the believer’s direction.

No, I would say that I find it difficult to believe that if such measurements were so grossly flawed and so easily proved so that the entire scientific community would continue to use them to date objects. Here are some articles on carbon dating and the supposed problems with it.

Scientists use multiple methods to attempt to determine the age of an object on the Earth including other radiometric methods that allow for more distant measurements.

Radioactive isotopes are useful in dating geological materials, because they convert or decay at a constant, and therefore measurable, rate. An unstable radioactive isotope, which is the ‘parent’ of one chemical element, naturally decays to form a stable nonradioactive isotope, or ‘daughter,’ of another element by emitting particles such as protons from the nucleus. The decay from parent to daughter happens at a constant rate called the half-life. The half-life of a radioactive isotope is the length of time it takes for exactly one-half of the parent atoms to decay to daughter atoms. No naturally occurring physical or chemical conditions on Earth can appreciably change the decay rate of radioactive isotopes. Precise laboratory measurements of the number of remaining atoms of the parent and the number of atoms of the daughter result in a ratio that is used to compute the age of a fossil or rock in years.

Age determinations using radioactive isotopes have reached the point where they are subject to very small errors of measurement, now usually less than 1%. For example, minerals from a volcanic ash bed in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, have been dated by three independent isotopic methods (Baadsgaard, et al., 1993). The potassium/argon method gave an age of 72.5 plus or minus 0.2 million years ago (mya), a possible error of 0.27%; the uranium/lead method gave an age of 72.4 plus or minus 0.4 mya, a possible error of 0.55%; and the rubidium/strontium method gave an age of 72.54 plus or minus 0.18 mya, a possible error of 0.25%. The possible errors in these measurements are well under 1%. For comparison, 1% of an hour is 36 seconds. For most scientific investigations an error of less than 1% is insignificant.

This isn’t simply a methodology that scientists have invented out of nothing. It’s a reliable test based on what we know of the physical properties of radioactive elements and how they decay.

Using current day methods of science to try to prove what happened 6,000 years ago, let alone hundreds of thousands of years ago, just can’t be done. These are both issues of faith.

Again, not to harp on this, but no they are not. As with any investigation, we examine the facts we have and build the theory that best supports the observable evidence. As such, the evidence currently points towards a very old universe.

And there is nothing that needs to be anti-biblical or anti-Christian about it. Catholicism, Orthodoxy (IIRC), and many mainline Protestant denominations have all managed to accept an old universe and evidence of the evolution of life from single cell organisms without closing up shop or leaving the Christian fold.

Ultimately, I would agree with this Catholic explanation:

The Church does not have an official position on whether the stars, nebulae, and planets we see today were created at that time or whether they developed over time (for example, in the aftermath of the Big Bang that modern cosmologists discuss). However, the Church would maintain that, if the stars and planets did develop over time, this still ultimately must be attributed to God and his plan, for Scripture records: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host [stars, nebulae, planets] by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6).

Concerning biological evolution, the Church does not have an official position on whether various life forms developed over the course of time. However, it says that, if they did develop, then they did so under the impetus and guidance of God, and their ultimate creation must be ascribed to him.

Concerning human evolution, the Church has a more definite teaching. It allows for the possibility that man’s body developed from previous biological forms, under God’s guidance, but it insists on the special creation of his soul. Pope Pius XII declared that “the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God” (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36). So whether the human body was specially created or developed, we are required to hold as a matter of Catholic faith that the human soul is specially created; it did not evolve, and it is not inherited from our parents, as our bodies are.

Based on the observable evidence, the universe and mankind evolved over time, the creation process was ongoing, and at some point, God place in our earliest ancestors the capacity for higher reasoning and the ability to recognize and relate to Him and one another as sentient, moral beings.

Science and religion do not have to be an either-or.


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