Thursday, 1 December 2011

Starlight and creation week

Many people find the following objection amongst the hardest to overcome in accepting the Bible's chronology:
"If we can see starlight from millions of light years away, then how can the universe not be millions of years old?"
The question needs sharpening. Written as above, it begs the question; i.e., it asserts the conclusion that is under dispute. Whether starlight has been travelling for millions of years or not, and whether there is an alternative possibility, is the issue at hand. The question should be re-phrased something like so:
"Given the speed that we measure light travelling at, and our calculations of the distances of stars from us, and extrapolating the calculations, it would appear that some starlight has been travelling for millions of years - how can that be so if the universe is not millions of years old?"
Re-writing it more accurately like so points towards possible resolutions. The Bible's teaching on creation is that creation was a miraculous event, accomplished without mediation by the word of God. To what extent the same processes as are observed today were operative during creatin week, and to what extent extrapolations can be made on measurements taken today and extended back into creation week, is an open question. The Bible is indeed not a science text book. It tells us that God created and formed in those six days in a supernatural manner. What the precise physical events that were correlated with his actions were, and what other miraculous processes might have been at work during those six days, we are not told.

Creationist scientists can and do spend time trying to consider these issues and propose models to satisfy the requiremenst of the data we observe today. Yet since these models are dealing with unobservable and unrepeatable events, they cannot be empirically verified. It remains an open question and also incapable of verification given our limited data as to whether any model is possible, and creationists recognise this too. That is, it is not clear if the miraculous events of creation week are even open to this kind of analysis. By definition, supernatural interventions do not follow descriptive models which are based upon the expectation of uniform behaviour.

But what is clear from this analysis is that the question, when phrased as an objection to creationism, does not carry the weight it needs to. It is only when you assume that the physical universe operated according to the same regular principles during creation week as subsequently, that it has force. And that is the very assumption which Biblical creationism denies. To hold that the Bible's teaching is uncertain, whilst believing that our extrapolations back into creation week are solid facts, is to make ourselves wiser than God and is not a valid Christian option.

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