Table of Contents
A handbook for students, parents, and teachers countering the latest arguments for evolution
First published in Refuting Evolution, Chapter 7
It may be surprising to see a lot of material about astronomy in a book about evolution. But evolution is not just about ape-like creatures turning into humans. Evolution is a philosophy trying to explain everything without God. Thus, it must be applied to the origin of the universe and solar system. Thus, Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science presents the prevailing evolutionary view on astronomical origins. Also, Teaching about Evolution hopes to diffuse opposition to evolution by a misleading comparison to opposition to heliocentrism (a sun-centered solar system). This chapter critically analyzes typical evolutionary ideas about the universe and solar system, as well as the Galileo controversy.
The big bang theory
Teaching about Evolution, page 52, states:
The origin of the universe remains one of the greatest questions in science. The big bang theory places the origin between 10 and 20 billion years ago, when the universe began in a hot dense state; according to this theory, the universe has been expanding ever since.
Early in the history of the universe, matter, primarily the light atoms hydrogen and helium, clumped together by gravitational attraction to form countless trillions of stars. Billions of galaxies, each of which is a gravitationally bound cluster of billions of stars, now form most of the visible mass in the universe.
Stars produce energy from nuclear reactions, primarily the fusion of hydrogen to form helium. These and other processes have led to the formation of the other elements.
We should first note that even under their perspective, the authors admit that the universe had a beginning. When combined with the principle of causality, ‘everything which has a beginning has a cause,’ it logically entails that the universe has a cause.1
Many Christians support the big bang theory because it implies a beginning of the universe. However, other Christians, based on the teaching of the Bible, reject the big bang.
The big bang teaches that the sun and many other stars formed before the earth, while Genesis teaches that they were made on the fourth day after the earth, and only about 6,000 years ago rather than 10–20 billion years ago. The big bang also entails millions of years of death, disease, and pain before Adam’s sin, which contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture, which is thus unacceptable to biblical Christians. Also, the big bang theory has many scientific problems as outlined in the next section, and quite a few secular astronomers reject it.
Although the above quote from Teaching about Evolution rather simplistically moves from the big bang to the formation of galaxies and stars, it is not so simple. Dr James Trefil, professor of physics at George Mason University, Virginia, accepts the big bang model, but he admits that there are fundamental problems:
There shouldn’t be galaxies out there at all, and even if there are galaxies, they shouldn’t be grouped together the way they are.
He later continues:
The problem of explaining the existence of galaxies has proved to be one of the thorniest in cosmology. By all rights, they just shouldn’t be there, yet there they sit. It’s hard to convey the depth of the frustration that this simple fact induces among scientists.2
The creationist cosmologist, Dr John Rankin, also showed mathematically in his Ph.D. thesis that galaxies would not form from the big bang.3
Stars supposedly condensed out of vast clouds of gas, and it has long been recognized that the clouds don’t spontaneously collapse and form stars, they need to be pushed somehow to be started. There have been a number of suggestions to get the process started, and almost all of them require having stars to start with [e.g. a shockwave from an exploding star causing compression of a nearby gas cloud]. This is the old chicken and egg problem; it can’t account for the origin of stars in the first place.4
Another problem is cooling a gas cloud enough for it to collapse. This requires molecules to radiate the heat away. But as Teaching about Evolution points out in the quote earlier, the big bang would produce mainly hydrogen and helium, unsuitable for making the molecules apart from H2, which would be destroyed rapidly under the ultraviolet light present, and which usually needs dust grains for its formation—and dust grains require heavier elements. The heavier elements, according to the theory, require pre-existing stars. Again, there is a chicken and egg problem of needing stars to produce stars.
Abraham Loeb of Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics says: ‘The truth is that we don’t understand star formation at a fundamental level.’5
The big bang is actually based on a non-scientific assumption called the cosmological principle, which states that an observer’s view of the universe depends neither on the direction in which he looks nor on his location. That is, the earth is nowhere special. However, there are alternatives to the big bang that reject this assumption. One has been proposed in the book Starlight and Time6by Dr Russell Humphreys, a physicist working with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has developed a new cosmology which uses the same theoretical foundation as all modern cosmologies including the big-bang—Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
This results in a cosmology which allows for the formation of the universe in the biblical time-frame, as well as the traveling of light to earth from stars billions of light years distant. This plausible solution to a commonly raised skeptical problem works because general relativity shows that time is different in different reference frames with different gravitational fields. So the universe could have been made in six ordinary days in earth’s reference frame, but the light had ample time to travel in an extraterrestrial reference frame. However, as with all scientific theories, we should not be too dogmatic about this model, although it seems very good.
The solar system
Teaching about Evolution, page 52, states:
The sun, the earth and the rest of the solar system formed from a nebular cloud of dust and gas 4.5 billion years ago.
As usual, the book’s authors are dogmatic about what happened, although they weren’t there. However, this nebular hypothesis has many problems. One authority summarized: ‘The clouds are too hot, too magnetic, and they rotate too rapidly.’7
One major problem can be shown by accomplished skaters spinning on ice. As skaters pull their arms in, they spin faster. This effect is due to what physicists call the Law of Conservation of Angular Momentum. Angular momentum = mass x velocity x distance from the center of mass, and always stays constant in an isolated system. When the skaters pull their arms in, the distance from the center decreases, so they spin faster or else angular momentum would not stay constant. In the alleged formation of our sun from a nebula in space, the same effect would have occurred as the gases contracted into the center to form the sun. This would have caused the sun to spin very rapidly. Actually, our sun spins very slowly, while the planets move very rapidly around the sun. In fact, although the sun has over 99 percent of the mass of the solar system, it has only 2 percent of the angular momentum. This pattern is directly opposite to the pattern predicted for the nebular hypothesis. Evolutionists have tried to solve this problem, but a well-known solar system scientist, Dr Stuart Ross Taylor, has said in a recent book, ‘The ultimate origin of the solar system’s angular momentum remains obscure.’8
Another problem with the nebular hypothesis is the formation of the gaseous planets. According to this theory, as the gas pulled together into the planets, the young sun would have passed through what is called the T-Tauri phase. In this phase, the sun would have given off an intense solar wind, far more intense than at present. This solar wind would have driven excess gas and dust out of the still-forming solar system and thus there would no longer have been enough of the light gases left to form Jupiter and the other three giant gas planets. This would leave these four gas planets smaller than we find them today.9
Heliocentrism (aka geokineticism)
Science versus religion?
Like much secular literature, Teaching about Evolution presents a rather simplistic and even misleading account of the Galileo controversy. It was certainly not a simple case of science versus the Church (p. 27–30).10 However, Teaching about Evolution, to its credit, does not promote the common skeptical canard that the Bible teaches that the earth is flat and that this belief was widespread in medieval times.
Isaiah 40:22 refers to ‘the circle of the earth,’ or in the Italian translation, globo. The Hebrew is khûg (חוּג) = sphericity or roundness. Even if the translation ‘circle’ is adhered to, think about Neil Armstrong in space—to him, the spherical earth would have appeared circular regardless of which direction he viewed it from.
Also, Jesus Christ’s prophecy about His second coming in Luke 17:34–36 implies that He knew about a round earth. He stated that different people on earth would experience night, morning, and midday at the same time. This is possible because the spheroidal earth is rotating on its axis, which allows the sun to shine on different areas at different times. But it would be an inconceivable prophecy if Christ believed in a flat earth.
The idea that Columbus had to disprove that the earth was flat is a myth started by Washington Irving in his 1828 book The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. This was a self-confessed mixture of fact and fiction. The historian J.B. Russell has documented that nearly all Christian scholars who have ever discussed the earth’s shape have assented to its roundness.11
As many historians of science have noticed, the first to oppose Galileo was the scientific establishment. The prevailing ‘scientific’ wisdom of his day was the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic theory. This was an unwieldy geocentric system; that is, with the earth at the center of the universe and other heavenly bodies in highly complex orbits around the earth. As Arthur Koestler wrote:
But there existed a powerful body of men whose hostility to Galileo never abated: the Aristotelians at the Universities … . Innovation is a twofold threat to academic mediocrities: it endangers their oracular authority, and it evokes the deeper fear that their whole laboriously constructed edifice might collapse. The academic backwoods-men have been the curse of genius … it was this threat—not Bishop Dantiscus or Pope Paul III—which had cowed Canon Koppernigk [i.e., Copernicus] into silence … .
The first serious attack on religious grounds came also not from clerical quarters, but from a layman—none other than delle Colombe, the leader of the [ardent Aristotelian] league … .
The earthly nature of the moon, the existence of sunspots meant the abandonment of the [pagan!] Aristotelian doctrines on the perfect and unchangeable nature of the celestial spheres.12
Conversely, at first the church was open to Galileo’s discoveries. Astronomers of the Jesuit Order, ‘the intellectual spearhead of the Catholic Church,’ even improved on them. Only 50 years later, they were teaching this theory in China. They also protected Johannes Kepler, who discovered that planets move in ellipses around the sun. Even the Pope, Paul V, received Galileo in friendly audience.
If there were a real proof that the Sun is in the centre of the universe, that the Earth is in the third sphere, and that the Sun does not go round the Earth but the Earth round the Sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and we should rather have to say that we did not understand them than declare an opinion false which has been proved to be true. But I do not think there is any such proof since none has been shown to me.13
This shows people were allowed to state that the heliocentric (sun-centered) system was a superior hypothesis to the earth-centered system. Also, the leading theologian was prepared to change his understanding of Scripture, if the system were proven—i.e., to correct his misunderstanding that Scripture taught the Ptolemaic system of astronomy. The misunderstanding arose because people failed to realize that biblical passages must be understood in terms of what the author was trying to convey. As shown below, passages referring to the rising and setting sun (for example, Eccles. 1:5) were not intended to teach a particular astronomical model like Ptolemy’s. Rather, they are describing events in understandable, but still scientifically valid terms that even modern people use, so any reader will understand what is meant.
Another problem was that some of the clergy supported the Ptolemaic system using verses in the Psalms. However, the Psalms are clearly poetic, not historical like Genesis.14 Thus, they were never intended to be used as a basis for a cosmological model. This can be shown by analyzing the context of Psalm 93:1: ‘The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.’
We should understand the terms as used by the biblical authors. Let’s read the next verse, ‘[God’s] throne is established of old,’ where the same word Hebrew כּוּן (kûn) is translated ‘established’ [i.e., stable, secure, enduring, not necessarily stationary, immobile].
Also, the same Hebrew word for ‘moved’ (מוֹט môt) is used in Psalm 16:8, ‘I shall not be moved.’ Surely, even skeptics wouldn’t accuse the Bible of teaching that the Psalmist was rooted to one spot! He meant that he would not stray from the path that God had set for him. So the earth ‘cannot be moved’ can also mean that it will not stray from the precise orbital and rotational pattern God has set for it. Life on earth requires that the earth’s orbit is at just the right distance from the sun for liquid water to exist. Also, that the earth’s rotational axis is at just the right angle from the ecliptic (orbital plane) so that temperature differences are not too extreme.
From a scientific point of view, Bellarmine was right to insist that the burden of proof belonged to the proposers of the new system. Certainly, the heliocentric system was more elegant, which is what appealed to Galileo and Kepler, and the geocentric system was very unwieldy. But this was not the same as proof. In fact, some of Galileo’s ‘proofs’—for example, his theory of the tides—were fallacious.
Did Galileo disprove the Bible?
Galileo was shocked at the thought—he accepted biblical authority more faithfully than many Christian leaders do today. It’s ironic that the four heroes of heliocentrism mentioned by Teaching about Evolution—Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton—were all young-earth creationists! But, of course, Teaching about Evolution does not tell its readers this fact!
Galileo and his opponents would have avoided all trouble by realizing that all motion must be described with respect to a reference frame. Think about travelling in a car at 60 mph. What does this mean? It means that you and the car are both moving at 60 mph relative to the ground. But relative to the car, you are basically not moving—that’s why you can read the speedometer, and talk to other passengers. But imagine a head-on crash with another car moving at 60 mph in the opposite direction. As far as you’re concerned, it would be as if you were standing still and a car drove into you at 120 mph—which is why head-on collisions are the worst. Crashing into a stationary car isn’t nearly as bad. And colliding with a car in front moving at 50 mph would be like colliding with a stationary car if you were traveling at only 10 mph. In physics, one is free to choose the most convenient reference frame, and all are equally valid.
Some skeptics have asserted that biblical passages such as Ecclesiastes 1:5, saying that the sun rises and sets, are errors. But the correct understanding of the Bible’s descriptions of motion is determined by the reference frame it is using. It should be obvious that the Bible is using the earth as a convenient reference frame, as we often do today. So the skeptics’ accusations are absurd—modern astronomers also refer to ‘sunset’ and ‘sunrise,’ without any suggestion of error. And when drivers see a speed limit sign of 60 mph, they know perfectly well that it means 60 mph relative to the ground, not the sun! So the Bible is more scientific than its modern critics. And although even Psalm 93:1, cited above, is not teaching about cosmology, it is actually scientifically accurate—the earth cannot be moved relative to the earth! [See also Galileo Quadricentennial: Myth vs fact]
References and notes
- J.D. Sarfati,
If God Created the Universe, Then Who Created God? Journal
of Creation 12(1)20–22, 1998. Return to
- J. Trefil, The Dark Side of the Universe (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1988), p. 3 and 55; see also W. Gitt, What about the big bang?Creation20(3):42–44, June–August 1998. Return to text.
- J. Rankin, Protogalaxy Formation from Inhomogeneities in Cosmological Models, Ph.D. thesis, Adelaide University, May/June 1977. Return to text.
- ‘He made the stars also …’ interview with creationist astronomer Danny Faulkner, Creation 19(4):42–44, September–November 1997. Return to text.
- Quoted by Marcus Chown, Let There Be Light, New Scientist 157(2120):26–30, (7 February 1998). See also Stars could not have come from the big bang, sidebar, Creation 20(3):42–43, June–August 1998. Return to text.
- Russell Humphreys, Starlight and Time (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, Inc., 1994). Return to text.
- S.F. Dermott, editor, The Origin of the Solar System, The Origin of the Solar System, by H. Reeves (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978), p. 9. Return to text.
- S.R. Taylor, Solar System Evolution: A New Perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 53. Return to text.
- W. Spencer, Revelations in the Solar System, Creation 19(3):26–29, June–August 1997. Return to text.
- R. Grigg, The Galileo Twist, Creation 19(4):30–32, September–November 1997. Return to text.
- Jeffrey Burton Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus & Modern Historians (Praeger, 1991). Prof. Russell can find only five obscure writers in the first 1500 years of the Christian era who denied that the earth was a globe. But he documents a large number of writers, including Thomas Aquinas, who affirmed the earth’s sphericity. See also Creation 14(4):21; Creation 16(2):48–49. Return to text.
- A. Koestler, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (London: Hutchinson, 1959), p. 427. Return to text.
- Ibid., p. 447–448. Return to text.
- Principles of biblical interpretation, clearly contrasting the historical Book of Genesis with the poetic Book of Psalms, are discussed in detail in R.M. Grigg, Should Genesis Be Taken Literally? Creation 16(1):38–41, December 1993–February 1994; also footnote 11. Return to text.
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