Galileo Rises: Evolution, the Age of the Universe, and Cedarville University
Cedarville University's creationist approach to scientific study is unique, even among the 100+ Council for Christian Colleges and Universities to whom it belongs, an institution whose mission statement reads “To advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth.” Advertisements for Cedarville University in magazines, such as the conservatively-oriented WORLD, flaunt the young-earth mindset embraced by our school. Recently, Answers in Genesis held a conference at Cedarville where Ken Ham and other speakers advocated young earth beliefs. Meanwhile, professors at CU are required to sign a doctrinal statement affirming their belief that the earth was created in six literal days. The suggestion that such beliefs may be misplaced with the intended reading of Scripture results in the scrutiny and/or dismissal of faculty, as seen with the unfortunate treatment of Dr. Pahl in August.
These events, and the dogmatic stance with which the 6,000-10,000 year perspective on earth history is embraced on campus amidst a scientific and academic community that wholeheartedly rejects the concept should prompt a fresh evaluation of creationism and modern science. Do the tenets of this belief fall in line with basic observations of the world around us and the continued findings of the scientific community? And do science and the Bible clash over this issue, or do young earth interpretations of Scripture lead to a place of decided unreason, much like the church in Galileo’s day?
To begin, let us note that the scientific community estimates that the age of the Universe stands at nearly 14 billion years old, while the age of the earth stands at 4.5-4.6 billion years old. In no uncertain terms, these numbers strongly contradict the young earth model, which states that God created the universe roughly 6,000-10,000 years ago.
The scientifically accepted age of the universe rests (mostly) on two concepts, cosmic background radiation and Hubble's Law. Hubble's law states that all objects in space have a Doppler shift proportional to their distance from earth and other observable bodies. Hubble's Law, in short, establishes that space is expanding and that objects are receding from each other. This was both the first step in establishing that the universe had a beginning and discovering its age. After all, if the universe is expanding at a measurable rate, discovering the age of its birth is as simple as reversing the clock until all observed matter winds down to a single point in space. For further research on this topic, I would recommend looking into the topics of Red Shift and the Doppler Effect by logging a search in Google.
Using a young earth interpretation of scripture as a scientific basis, one would believe that the resulting date using this process would fall somewhere between the 6,000 to 10,000 year range. However, using the actual rate of expansion, one finds that the age of the universe is in the billions of years. Creationist website Answers in Genesis responds to this by claiming that the actual measure of the rate of expansion is a point of some contention among cosmologists, with dates for the age of the earth approaching nine to twenty five billion years old using differing values for the rate of expansion. Notably, both of those dates are much older than six to ten thousand years old. AiG then ascribes an arbitrary rate for expansion, admits it is completely untestable, and calls it a day—noting that "Because of the singular nature of the creation event, there is no easy way [read, no way] to verify this alternative history for the Hubble constant." (1)
Light from cosmic bodies is an immediate testament to the age of the universe. Unseen by the naked eye, however, is cosmic background radiation. The existence and discovery of cosmic background radiation is a testament to the power of the scientific method. First predicted by astronomers in the late 1950's, and promptly discovered in the following decade, cosmic background radiation is the "heat" leftover from the "baking" of the universe many years ago. Its existence and temperature give us another way to gauge how long it’s been since the creation of the universe by measuring the rate at which it is cooling. Again, the dates derived from such measurements do not measure in the thousands of years. They measure in the billions. AiG responds to cosmic background radiation not by questioning its existence or the validity of its measurements; oddly enough, AiG challenges how exactly the temperature of the body became uniform, a challenge which effectively does nothing to back up the position of a young earth, nor challenge the validity of dating the universe based on CBR! (2)
Taken together, these separate measurements for the age of the universe arrive at remarkably similar dates--roughly 14 billion years old. While these measurements will undoubtedly grow more accurate as the precision of the tools used to measure them increase, they will remain much older 6,000-10,000 years old. The accuracy and common sense underlying these measurements are precisely the reason why the Big Bang model remains, by far, the most scientifically accepted model for the creation of our universe. (3)
The field of geology and its research into the fossil record and the formation of strata also offer overwhelming evidence that the earth is billions of years old, and a basic knowledge of such sciences is what convinced me, coming from the young earth perspective taught to me in both college and high school, that my beliefs were undeniably wrong. For example, the types of strata found in the Grand Canyon (which is often used by creation scientists to “refute” concepts held by evolutionary scientists) contain an organization of fossils and a diversity of rocks that make its formation in a singular flood event—the only method proposed by young-earthers to form these phenomena--impossible. North America has layers of ash between strata from volcanic and meteoric activity that could not have been formed in a flood event. Sadly, an elaboration of these topics is beyond the scope of this article. However, basic research on any of these topics is widely available in accredited journals and articles on the internet.
The resistance, singularly from small conservative Christian circles in North America, to the concepts of Evolution and the Big Bang bear an uncanny resemblance to the Catholic Church’s denial of the Heliocentric model of our solar system advocated by Galileo in the 1600s. Using a literal interpretation of Scripture as their basis for scientific thought (Psalm 93:1, 96:10, 104:5; 1 Chronicles 16:30; and Ecclesiastes 1:5), the Church arrived at the conclusion that the earth was the center of the solar system and stationary. To them, the thought that such an interpretation of Scripture was wrong was heresy, and treated as such.
Galileo was able to determine that the earth was, in fact, not stationary, and rotated around the sun. He advocated the idea that such scriptures were to be interpreted from the human author’s point of view—and indeed, to our view, from this small orb in space, the sun does move around our planet! The Church was unwilling to accept his research and put Galileo under house arrest for the rest of his life. They attempted to remove his ideas from public and scientific discourse. Today, we recognize the podium of ignorance from which the Church judged Galileo for what it is. Yet, Christianity’s credibility in the scientific community was irreparably damaged.
Conservative circles’ vocal protests against the teaching of Evolution and basic science stand alongside the Church’s treatment of the Heliocentric Theory four hundred years ago. Dr. Pahl is dismissed for suggesting that certain portions of Genesis shouldn’t be read literally. Fundamentalist-backed lawyers take school systems to court for solely teaching Evolution. AiG fights tooth and nail against scientific progress. Yet, there is no verse in the Bible that teaches that the earth is thousands of years old. Ideas—evidence, basic observations of the world around us—to the contrary are labeled as unbiblical and falsely refuted by a few propagators of ignorance, whose teachings of pseudoscience are consumed by a choir eager to hear their message.
Will we learn from the Church’s treatment of Galileo and accept reasoned scientific research and basic observations of our Universe, or will we stand in judgment of the scientific community, the same way the Church did four hundred years ago? Our ability to learn from the past will affect our testimony to a scientifically-enlightened world.