Monday, April 14, 2008

The Universe in One Year

Here is a little thing I did some time ago regarding the age of the universe. The idea comes from Carl Sagan who did it first. The most current estimate of the age of the universe according to secular scientists is 13.7 billion years. I know that some in the group agree with and most probably disagree with this estimate. Please feel free to use this information to argue either for or against the idea. But because 13.7 billion years is such a long time, it is difficult to get a sense of the relationship of early to current history. So I overlay the 13.7 billion on top of a year to get a proportional sense. Please feel free to correct the math if I made a mistake.

Assuming that the earth is 13.7 billion years old:
Then January first at 0:00 midnight begins the time period.

37,534,246.6 years is equivalent to one day.
1,563,926.9 years is equivalent to one hour.
26,065.4 years is equivalent to one minute.
And 434.42 years is equivalent to one second.

In the standard version of universal history, the earth was formed roughly 4.55 billion years ago. On the one-year calendar, that would mean that the earth was formed on September 1st.

Larger than microscopic animals arose just before the Cambrian period some 542 million years ago, which in our calendar begins on December 18th.

The dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, which would be during the day on December 30th.

Jesus died on the cross roughly at 30 AD. On our calendar, that would be on December 31st at 11:59:55 PM.

Augustine lived on that same last day at 11:59:56 PM, and the Reformation was at 11:59:59 PM.

Well, there's a lot here. The most fascinating bits are, of course, that the earth doesn't even arrive on the scene until 8 full months have passed, and anything resembling animals doesn't show up until well into December. People don't show up until around the last 10 to 20 minutes of the last hour of the last day of the year. Crazy.

What would the theological implications of that "empty" time be if this were the true account of creation? Or does this simply show how that this version of the history of the universe cannot possibly be true according to the Bible and Christian theology?


Matt Morgan said...


Glad to finally reconnect with you. Sorry we missed each other over the last year in Texas.

I onced asked Bruce Waltke (early 2005, I think) how old he thought the World was. His answer went something like, "I don't know, and I get suspicious of someone who thinks they do!" Knowing Waltke, I suspect that was his own double-edged swipe against those demanding a young earth OR postulating billions and billions of years.

Even with all the post-Enlightenment advances of science, I frankly don't know that we're in any better shape to answer these kinds of questions than Calvin, Aquinas, or even Augustine. Part of me can't help but wonder if all of these modern debates about time/age/chronology are because we are reading things into (or even asking questions about) the text that were never meant to be answered. I think of something like Psalm 90 -- Moses seems unmistakably to be alluding to creation in vs. 3-4. And yet notice his conception of "time". The same could be said about Proverbs 8. It's just a different way of thinking about 'time' than we're typically accustomed to thinking.

Since I'm still not convinced the text demands an old earth OR a young earth, it seems to me this is one of those questions (at least with respect to time and duration) that science is free to investigate.

Hope things are well. Drop me a line when you get a chance.


Mark McD said...

Hey Matt, it is good to hear from you. I too was disappointed that we didn't get to talk. As far as the age of the earth question, I am interested in an integrated and productive epistemological program. That is, if we simply take the text, say from a 15th century world-view, the text clearly supports the Ptolemain universe (cf. Luther's disdain for Copernicus). But now, only Gerardus Bouw and Marshall Hall believe in geocentricity. It wasn't the text that turned people away from that view, it was the science. Now, obviously science does not give all answers, nor does it give absolute answers. At the same time, although the Bible gives absolute answers, the Bible requires interpretation by people who sometimes yield fallible results (the geocentricity above). And the Bible does not give exhaustive information about the any subject (I am sometimes amazed how few actual verses there that specifically deal with child-raising. Most of the books about 'Biblical' child-raising have very few verses in them, and many of the verses they do have refer to general principles and are not specifically talking about child-raising). And yet we generate knowledge everyday from the Bible, science, experience, wisdom, reason, the internet, etc. I agree that there is no way to get a 13.7 billion year universe from the Biblical text. The 'plain' (hat-tip to Ryrie) reading of the text gives a universe less than 10,000 years old. But is that the end of the story? Is there nothing more to be learned? 500 years ago the 'plain' reading of the text yielded geocentricity and a solid dome (yes, I read Paul Seely). Perhaps we should just stop, but I would still like to have an integrated, consistent way of knowing that gives Scripture primary place, and integrates other ways of knowing.

Alister said...

Thanks for the Sagan statistics, Mark - got me thinking especially as I had an upcoming Doctrine of Man course...

I just posted the following comment at Mark's Tabletalk - so forgive the re-post, but it seemed somewhat relevant to the more specific age subject here too. And I'm interested to get Eric's apologetic input too since I thunk he may have taught on these matters:

My brief thoughts (have spent about a month studying up on Gen 1-3 and the Creation Days debate)...

Honest YECs seem to admit that they believe their exegesis requires a young earth and 24-hr days and so seek to make the science 'fit'. (Some YECs have been quoted as admitting that no scientist they know would ever arrive at a young earth position on just the scientific evidence available.) IF the Scriptures do require such positions then, they are to be commended for their position - they are right that the the inerrant Word of God will ultimately stand any comparison to (uninspired/errant) theories from whatever source - however IF the Scriptures do NOT require a young universe or 24-hr days (which I believe they don't - there may be a long time between Gen 1:2 and Gen 1:3 and all the days of God's creation are related by analogy to man's work days (just like all admit that Ex20:11 requires an analogy between God's resting and ours (by the nature of the fact that God doesn't get sleepy - the rest cannot be identical with man's) and not identity), then the quirky science (as concensus seems to put it amongst most scientists, including believers) of the YECs in not actually doing anyone with a high view of Scripture any favours.

Of course any form of (macro)evolution or abiogenesis must be rejected as utterly incompatible with the whole of Gen 1-2 (2:7 by itself would be enough refute them), but when it come to the age of the universe, the Scripture does not give a figure though the creation of man cannot reasonably be much more than about 10-20,000 years according to the genealogies.) Likewise, for the length of the creation days - its hard to require days 1-6 to be 24-hrs when day 7 is everlasting (Heb 4:3-11) because his creation work is finished (Gen 2:1-2).
I think the analogical-days and Framework views (latter best on why you have a repeat of the separation of light and darkness on Day 4) offer the best explanations of the Creation week, though I don't completely rule out a 24-hr day view taken with the idea of a mature universe (which is possibly even strengthened by mainstream science's concept of the anthropic principle).
Most helpful on the subject for me have been Jack Collins' Science and Faith, (also available in Russian) and (even better I think) my own former professor's fairly new book: Vern Poythress' Redeeming Science (which is not only excellent but available free from his website He holds the analogical-day view like Collins but gives a strong case for mature creation.)

Anyway, this is such a big topic, and I may think differently next months on it! Input? What am I missing, brothers?