Science vs Creationism: Let’s refer to it as the beginning of things. Be that the first beginning, or the beginning of this particular cycle of existence (otherwise known as the multiverse theory). In science it is usually referred to as “The Big Bang”. In religion it may be called creation, genesis or many other names. It remains one of the most fundamental disagreements between scientists and many of the global mainstream religions. The debate usually comes down to the role of a “creator” (or god), the age of the universe and the origins of life. The debate also rages on about the way in which life has changed to the point where humanity, as we know it, came about. I will explore the religious and scientific views on creation and determine if any common ground exists between the two.
What does religion say about creation?
Monotheistic religions tend to have more defined beliefs on the origins of the universe than their pantheistic counterparts. Pantheisms by their nature contain the teachings of many gods and are often less prescriptive when it comes to doctrine. They allow followers some flexibility in the construction of their base principles.
We will start with Christianity and Judaism because the Pentateuch (or first five books of the old testament) are essentially the same for both. They are also the primary sources of information on the biblical genesis. According to Genesis, the first book of the Bible and the Torah, which is attributed to Moses, the universe was created in 6 days. The 7thday was a day of rest for the creator (who wouldn’t be exhausted after so much labor?).
- Day 1: god separates light from darkness.
- Day 2: he creates the heavens (firmament) and the oceans.
- Day 3: god creates land.
- Day 4: it’s the sun, moon and stars (it begs the question about what was holding the earth in place before the sun was created).
- Day 5: god creates the fish and birds.
- Day 6: god creates the land animals and man.
- Day 7: he pops open a beer (I’m assuming these shortly followed creation – that’s what I would have done) and he kicks back to watch the show.
In Islam, the Quran is based on the same texts although interpreted slightly differently. Again, the Quran refers to a creation which occurs over 6 days with no detail of what happens on which day. It does, however refer to god giving life to an earth that is dead. Man is created in paradise and subsequently banished to earth.
Within Islam, Christianity and Judaism there are sects that believe in everything from the extreme of a creation in 6 days, to those who align themselves with science (apart from how everything began) and all the variations in-between. There are also those religions that have tried to suggest that the Bible/Torah/Quran referred to gradual creation and evolution all along.
Some contemporary religious leaders from the above monotheisms have this to say about creation:
Pope Frances (the Catholic church): The pope appears to favor evolution and does not discount the big bang as a concept. According to The Guardian, the pope said “The big bang, which is today posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creation; rather, it requires it.” In addition, he referred to evolution by saying “Evolution of nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation because evolution presupposes the creation of beings which evolve.”
Young Earth Creationists unapologetically state that the earth was created around 6000 years ago over six 24-hour days. Their website http://answersingenesis.org supports this view and teaches its followers how to defend it. A high percentage of adult Americans support these ideas. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis says “What I believe about the young age of the earth comes out of taking the bible as written.” See a great debate here between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on creationism.
The Southern Baptist Convention, rejected the theory of evolution in 1982. It stated that “The theory of evolution has never been proven to be a scientific fact”.
In Islam, opinions vary. The likes of Yasir Qadhi maintains that the idea of human evolution is against the Quran. The Ahmadiyya movement on the other hand accepts the processes of evolution (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmadiyya).
What are the scientific theories of creation?
In the ways of science, there are numerous areas of study which have independently provided views on the origin and age of the universe. These studies also delve into how and when life formed and how it progressed to its current stage.
Over the years many scientists have attempted to establish the age the earth. Below are some of those attempts:
- Nicolas Steno (17thcentury) and James Hutton (18thcentury) used deposition and horizontal strata to make estimates of the Earth’s age.
- In the 19thcentury, Lord Kelvin primarily used theories of heat loss to determine both the age of the earth and that of the sun. He fell short in his estimates which ignored heat generated by radioactive decay. His initial estimate of the earth’s age was around 100 million years.
- In the 1920s, geologist Arthur Holmes, used radiometric measurement (uranium-lead ratios) and estimated the earth’s age at around 1.6 billion years.
- Using subsequent attempts at radiometric dating, through improved techniques, the earth’s age settled at the current estimate of 4.56 billion years with a high degree of accuracy.
The age of the universe itself has been determined using radial velocities of observable galaxies (using red-shift). It is now estimated at 13.7 billion years.
In an attempt to show how vast the difference is between the science (13.7 billion years) and creationist (6000 years) views of the age of the universe, I created this image.
How do the religious and scientific views of creation co-exist?
In all main monotheistic religions, there are those who have accepted elements of evolutionary and scientific theory (some only very recently). There are also those more orthodox elements who believe what we see was created in a matter of days, a few thousand years ago. Unfortunately, in almost all cases, the orthodox sects are the more militant believers who insist on enforcing their ideas on all around them (often violently so).
For others, who accept elements of scientific and evolutionary theory, god was instrumental in the creation of life and the universe or has guided creation along the way and continues to do so.
The reality is that the science and creationist (particularly the young earth creationist) views are so vastly different in timescale and scope that they cannot, even vaguely, be reconciled.
This leads to my own conclusion where I have come up with four possible theories:
Science is totally wrong.
Certainly, scientists are not always right. The very nature of science is that theories are put forward and challenged. However, in looking at everything science has done and the predictability thereof, as well as how we use science in so many successful ways (medicine, space travel, prediction, industry, automation and more) it would seem that scientific theory almost always converges on truth over time.
The perverse god theory.
This is the option where god fools us all by faking everything we see around us.
- An instantaneous universe which appears to have been expanding for billions of years.
- A fossil record of creatures that have never existed.
- Biological, geological and chemical traces which have been created as a façade.
God has created a world that looks old, without being old.
The impotent (not omnipotent) god theory.
Creationism, whether it proposes that the universe is a few thousand years old, or suggests god has had to tweak and interfere with his design along the way, is the doctrine of belief in a weak god!
If god is all powerful, surely, he could create a universe from the very beginning, where the laws of nature allow for life and matter to come into existence in the way that it has without interference. Would that not be the ultimate display of godly competence? An interfering god is one who got the initial design wrong!
Science as the best view we have.
This leaves me with the last option in the battle of science vs creationism ,which is that science is the best explanation we have of how the universe came into being and how it has evolved to where we are now. Science does not know all the answers, but it has the only answers we know!
- Skeptic Heretic (2019)