A Clay Jar

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Cor. 4:7 NIV)

The Nature of the Creation

The nature of creation can be a contentious topic. Does a literal reading of the first chapters of Genesis best describe the creation of the universe? Or does modern science give a more accurate description? Many contend that there are irreconcilable differences between what the Bible teaches and science has discovered. And at one level, it certainly appears that way. But I believe that there is much we can learn from both positions. And that the answer to these questions is not as clear-cut as some make it out to be.

I initially wrote this article over eight years ago. I have thought much about this topic over the intervening years. And I am more convinced than ever that the Bible and science are not at odds with each other. Instead, they tell the same story but from two dramatically different perspectives.

To be clear, I consider myself to be a faithful follower of Jesus who holds to the inspiration of the Bible. I do believe it is true in all that it is teaching. And that it is an essential guide to living the life God has called us to.

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

A Real and Knowable Universe

The creation we are part of certainly seems to be real and knowable. But is it? Several alternatives have been advanced. And I want to take a quick look at some of them.

An Imaginary Universe

Our universe may be nothing more than a computer simulation run by some super-intellect. And that it does not exist in the real world. And that everything I see is only sophisticated programming. And even my sense of identity and thoughts are nothing but a running program. The creator of this universe may be nothing more than a nerdy computer programmer in an advanced civilization.

If this was the case, is there any way to know? I certainly think I am real, but how could I know for sure; unless I take one of the little pills from the Matrix. The level of sophistication for this simulation is well beyond anything we could do today. But that is not an actual argument against some more advanced civilization having that capability.

The primary reason I have for rejecting this scenario is that it requires me to disbelieve my senses and intellect. If I cannot believe that what I see, hear and touch is real; if I cannot believe that I can rationally consider the world around me and make decisions about it, then why try to make sense of what is going on around me. It is a futile effort and has no chance of success.

A Real but Unknowable Universe

A second possibility is that our universe is real, that it actually exists. But at the same time, the universe is unknowable. We may think we are figuring it out, but in reality, it is not what it appears to be. This may be because we are not as rational and intelligent as we think. Or it could be because the universe creator built it so that we would be unable to discover the truth about it.

Like the imaginary universe, this scenario might be true, and there would be no way to distinguish it from one that was knowable. But I have the same problem with this possibility that I do with the imaginary universe. If I cannot believe my senses, then what can I believe?

A Real and Knowable Universe

The third possibility is similar to the second in that the universe is real. But it differs by claiming that the universe is as it appears to be. What we can see, discern, and experience in the universe is how it works.

For someone like myself, this has a great deal of appeal. I like trying to understand how the universe works, although I admit that my grasp of that is pretty surface. And I want to believe that truth about the physical universe is discernible. If not, then the discovery process seems a bit futile.

And most importantly, it better fits what I believe about a creator. It is certainly possible that the creator produced us for his entertainment. But I believe it was actually for some more noble purpose. An imaginary universe might work well for his entertainment. But it is hard to understand what purpose it might serve beyond that. I also have a hard time seeing a creator producing a universe that is other than what it appears to be. It strikes me as a bit deceitful and for no purpose that I can tell.

I do believe, along with most people, whether they believe in a creator or not, that the universe is real and knowable. We can profitably study it and understand how it functions. I also think that is the proper role for science; studying the creation and learning how it works.

A Knowable Creation

As I sit here writing this, I see a big willow tree across the street with a crow sitting on an upper branch. The gray clouds are slowly moving past. The skyline of Seattle is highlighted in the distance. And a ferry should pass by soon. I believe that those things are there and are as they appear to be. And that is just as true for everything else I see and experience in the world around me.

This is significant for me because I find myself torn between two competing views of the universe. One is the scientific perspective. One that claims the universe is knowable and rational. The other is one held by many Christians and folks of other religions. A claim that what science tells us about the universe is not actual reality.  

Distant Starlight

An example of this is light from far distant stars. When I see that light, I see the star as it appeared when the light left it. I am looking back into history. But is that history real? Did light leave those stars millions, or billions, of years ago? Or was it created in transit only a few thousand years ago? That light certainly appears to have been in transit for a very long time.

This distant starlight issue was, as is, very significant for me. I have a problem with a universe that is only a few thousand years old but created with the appearance of age. It strikes me as being deceptive. I realize that not everyone sees it that way. But I do. And I am unwilling to believe that God is deceptive. Instead, I believe that the witness of his creation is true and accurate.

Some might counter by saying that most scientists are mistaken or pushing an agenda. Without a doubt, science is a human endeavor. And the data science works with is generally not complete. That sometimes leads to false conclusions. But history has shown us that those conclusions are refined and become more accurate as more data becomes available. In the end, I believe that science is a valuable tool to help us to understand creation better.

The Scope of the Universe

How big, and how old, is the creation? I freely confess that the answers to those questions are beyond my training, and possibly intelligence, to discover on my own. I struggle a bit trying to understand the solutions that others have discovered. But I know that many have invested a lifetime in trying to answer those questions. And I am very grateful to them for that.

Age of the Universe

So how old do they say the universe is? Two hundred years ago, the consensus among scientists was that it was eternal; it had always been. But nowadays, the age estimate has dropped considerably, down to around 13.8 billion years old. And that has some pretty tremendous implications. An eternal universe does not need a creator. A universe that had a beginning does need something to have caused it, a creator.

I read with great interest the descriptions of the tests used to determine the universe’s age. But it is a bit much for me to be able to spit it back out in an easily understood form. Instead, I would refer you to a wiki article that provides some background on this.

Size of the Universe

The other half of the opening question for this section deals with the size of the universe. And the answer to this is incomprehensible to me. I can grasp a distance of 3000 miles from here to the far coast of the US. The 98 million miles to the sun is nothing but a vast number, outside my frame of reference. So a universe with an estimated 46 billion light-year radius, and rapidly growing, is mind-boggling. And that’s just the part we can see. We have no idea how big the whole thing is.  

And this observable universe has an estimated 200 billion galaxies. Each galaxy may have a few 100 million to 100 trillion stars. And the evidence is pointing to many, if not most, stars having planets. All of these numbers used to describe the size of the universe are too big for me to grasp. The universe is immense and beyond complete comprehension.

Why So Big and Old?

I find 13.8 billion years to be an awfully long time. But to a creator who sits outside of time, it is meaningless. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder why he would take so long to produce intelligent life. If that was indeed his purpose in creation.

If the universe is only 10,000 years old, I know of no practical reason for it to be so big. The whole creation would not need to be bigger than our solar system. But its size and age become vital if it goes through the evolutionary stages that it reveals to us.

It turns out that if one is going to kick start a universe with just an immense mass of raw materials and operating laws, then it will take a very long time to produce all of the elements required for life. Hydrogen and Helium were produced as the early universe cooled and expanded after the Big Bang. But apparently, all of the other elements are forged within stars. And then, these heavier elements were ejected when the stars exploded. And this cycle takes a very long time. So in a very real sense, we are all made of stardust. Pretty cool!

The Diversity of Life

What is the origin of life? How has it taken such a variety of forms here on earth? Is there life in the universe apart from the planet we inhabit? The Bible says God created life in all its diversity and is silent on life elsewhere. Science has no answer to the origin of life. But it claims that all of the current life forms have evolved from a common ancestor. It also says that life is likely throughout the universe.

Where did life come from? Did the creator produce an initial life form that took shape and diversified into the profusion of forms we see today? Did the creator produce life multiple times, once for each species that has lived on earth? Or did he create the laws that govern the universe in such a way that intelligent life was inevitable?

The Theory of Evolution

It seems most likely that all known life on earth has a common ancestor. The Theory of Evolution does not answer all the questions I have. But it does provide a framework that makes sense to me. And it explains the surprising similarities in so much of life today. Why do nearly all birds, reptiles, and mammals have a bilateral form, four limbs, a head and tail, two eyes, two ears, one mouth, reproduce sexually, have similar circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems?  

To me, at least, the differences between species are not as dramatic as the similarities between them. I would expect that there would be much greater diversity in form and function if each were designed and created individually. I know that if I were in charge of creating the animals, there would be much greater diversity in form.

Arguments Against Evolution

The only arguments I know against evolution are that it is contrary to the traditional interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis. Genesis tells us that God created each according to their kind. But it provides no mechanism for how this occurred, other than “God said.” I believe that God could have easily used some form of evolution.

The second argument is one of time. Evolution takes a very long time. But Genesis has all animal life created in two days. And that is a problem if the days are 24 hours long. It is not anywhere near long enough for evolution to work. This argument was one that I struggled with for many years. But the evidence for an ancient earth is conclusive for me. And that gives plenty of time for evolution to work. But it did require a revised understanding of what the first chapters of Genesis were teaching.

The Origin of Life

As to how life began, I don’t know. I am OK with God’s direct intervention (a miracle) to start life. Or that the laws he put into place at creation made intelligent life inevitable. I am inclined to go with the former but have no strong feelings about it. The answer to that does impact the question of life elsewhere in the universe, though. Life may be limited to this planet if it requires a miracle. Unless, of course, the creator chooses also to perform that miracle elsewhere. If intelligent life is inevitable because of the laws that control the universe, then life is likely reasonably common throughout the universe.

Ramifications

If the universe began in a “Big Bang” 13.8 billion years ago and has then slowly evolved from that time. And if all life on earth started with a common ancestor and then evolved. Then there are some significant reconciliation issues with Christian beliefs that include a recent creation without any evolution. One cannot simply replace a young earth perspective having no place for evolution, with an old universe and evolution, without an impact on other beliefs.

In particular, issues of inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible and the fall of man need to be considered. These topics are covered elsewhere. I have heard the question raised about the possibility of being a Christian and accepting evolution. Some claim they are incompatible, and I have been branded an atheist by some because of that. But as far as I am concerned, those issues have nothing to do with my salvation. I am saved by faith in the one who gave himself for me. Not by specific beliefs concerning the age of the creation. Or the mechanisms God used to form the universe and life.

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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