Posted by jlwile on July 16, 2009
In my previous entry, I mentioned two options for the person who believes in an ancient earth and still wants to interpret the days of Genesis as 24-hour days. The first is that God created with the appearance of age. However, that goes against God’s nature, because God would have to lie to create the earth with the appearance of age.
The other option is both more interesting and does not conflict with God’s character. That option is to believe the days in Genesis are not given in earth’s frame of reference. Instead, they are given in a completely different frame of reference. This idea, proposed by MIT professor Gerald Schroeder, is probably not correct, but it is incredibly interesting.
Dr. Schroeder relies on the fact that general relativity tells us quite clearly that time passes differently in different parts of the universe. Where gravitational fields are weak, for example, it passes quickly. Where gravitational fields are strong, it passes slowly. This might sound odd, but it is confirmed every nanosecond of every day by the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. We know that time passes more quickly on the GPS satellites than it does here on earth. If the GPS did not take this difference in time passage into account using the equations of general relativity, the GPS would not work properly. In other words, your Garmin can tell you where to go because the GPS takes into account the fact that time passes more quickly on the satellites than it does on earth. For those who know what I am talking about, special relativity also plays a role for the satellites because they are moving quickly, but its effect is smaller and opposite that of general relativity.
General relativity also tells us something else that is important to this discussion. It tells us that time and space are intimately linked. In fact, they make up spacetime, a four-dimensional continuum in which a physical object is located. Don’t worry if that makes no sense. It doesn’t make sense to a lot of PhDs. However, it is both demonstrated by experiment and backed up with some hefty mathematics.
So…in modern physics, you cannot simply say, “a day has passed.” You have to tell me where that day has passed. When 24 hours have passed on earth, more than 24 hours have passed on the GPS satellites. Thus, if you want to believe that a “day” in Genesis means 24 hours (even though there is no reason to insist that it does), you have to decide where that 24-hour day was. In physics terms, we say that in order to define the passage of time, you must choose a reference frame in which the time passes. While 24 hours pass in the reference frame of the earth, more than 24 hours pass in the reference frame of a GPS satellite.
What is the reference frame for the days in Genesis, then? That is an interesting question, since Genesis 1:2 says that the earth was “formless and void” on day 1. Thus, it didn’t exist. Depending on exactly what the “expanse in the midst of the waters” and “separate the waters from the waters” really mean, it is possible that earth didn’t even exist on day 2 of creation. Nevertheless, since the earth was formless and void on day 1, it is hard to understand how the days of Genesis could be in reference to the earth.
Dr. Schroeder thinks that the reference frame for the days in Genesis is the universe as a whole. If this is the case, it would produce an interesting effect. You see, virtually every scientist agrees that the universe is expanding. In fact, the Bible even indicates this in Job 9:8 and Psalms 104:2. Most astrophysicists agree that this means space itself is stretching. Well, because space and time are intimately linked, as space stretches, time in the reference frame of the universe as a whole would dilate. This would mean that 24 hours in the reference frame of the universe as a whole (let’s call it “universe standard time”) would pass very slowly compared to reference frames within the universe.
Using some basic parameters related to the universe as a whole, you can actually calculate how much time dilates as the universe expands. Initially, the universe is assumed to be small, so the expansion has a strong effect on time. However, as the universe gets bigger, the effect gets less important. As Dr. Schroeder calculates, here is what happened:
During the first 24 hours in “universe standard time,” 8 billion years would have passed where the earth would eventually be.
During the second 24 hours in “universe standard time,” 4 billion years would have passed where the earth would eventually be.
During the third 24 hours in “universe standard time,” 2 billion years would have passed on earth.
During the fourth 24 hours in “universe standard time,” 1 billion years would have passed on earth.
During the fifth 24 hours in “universe standard time,” 500 million years would have passed on earth.
During the sixth 24 hours in “universe standard time,” 250 million years would have passed on earth.
In Dr. Schroeder’s mind, then, the earth is billions of years old, but the Genesis days are 24-hour days. Thanks to general relativity, those ideas are not mutually exclusive.
Now Dr. Schroeder actually goes a bit further than this. He says that if you follow his calculations, you will find that they mesh nicely with the standard views of astronomy and paleontology. Remember, for example, that the first Genesis day encompasses 8 billion years in the vicinity of earth. Well, during this time, the Big Bang model says that galaxies were beginning to form in the universe, but the earth had not formed yet. That is consistent with what the Book of Genesis says about day 1. During the second Genesis day, the next 4 billion years are passing in earth’s vicinity. This is the time period astronomers think the Milky Way (our galaxy) and our sun formed.
During the third Genesis day, oceans and dry land appeared. Well, at this point, somewhere between 12 billion and 14 billion years would have passed in earth’s reference frame, and that’s when geophysicists say the earth cooled and liquid water began to appear. During the fourth Genesis day, the sun, moon, and stars appeared in the heaven. Well, at that point, somewhere between 14 and 15 billion years would have passed in earth’s reference frame, and that’s when geophysicists think that earth’s atmosphere became transparent so that the sun, moon, and stars would be visible.
During the fifth Genesis day, a total of between 15 and 15.5 billion years would have passed on earth. That is when the first animal life appears in the Genesis account, and this is when paleontologists say that animal life appeared on earth (in the oceans). Finally, During the sixth Genesis day, a total of between 15.5 and 15.75 billion years would have passed. This is when land animals appeared in the Genesis account, and it is when paleontologists say the “higher” mammals and reptiles (in other words, land animals) evolved.
Thus, Dr. Schroeder claims that this view of the Genesis days actually explains both the Genesis account and the standard interpretation of both earth and evolutionary science. Now I personally think that standard earth and evolutionary science are incorrect. Thus, I think that by making this analysis, Dr. Schroeder has actually made the Genesis account less consistent with science. However, if you want to believe that the earth is billions of years old and that the days in Genesis are 24-hour days, I think this is the better of your two alternatives.