Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What we can learn from Adam's bellybutton

Recently, Bill Nye, The Science Guy, accepted a challenge and debated Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis. The topic: "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?"  Reviews of the debate generally award victory to the debater that shared the reviewer's point of view. This is not a review of that debate, but instead presents a point of view that may make the question moot and foster mutual interest in the conclusions of mainstream science, As I Understand It.

There was an old joke about an archaeologist who discovered the mummified remains of a male and female and claimed that he had found Adam and Eve.  How did he know?  Because they did not have bellybuttons.  The question of bellybuttons is actually one that Ken Ham has answered on his website, and he concludes that since they were never attached to an umbilical cord, they would not have the scar associated with one.

from Wikimedia Commons
Brueghel's Creation of Adam
A literal reading of Genesis provides few details and leaves many such questions open to interpretation. However, the details we are given tell of a single week of creation during which plants, land animals, sea creatures and flying birds as well as all the stars and galaxies in the universe were created each on a specific day.  Within the garden of Eden, the animals were paraded in front of Adam and given names and finally Eve was created from Adam's rib as a companion for him.  By exploring the subsequent genealogies in Genesis, these events can be traced to a time roughly six thousand years ago

However, discoveries of modern science point out some apparent difficulties of this account. 
from Wikimedia Commons
Map of Nearby Stars
Astrophysicists can accurately measure the distance to many stars, which range from as little as four light years away to more than thirteen billion . If we take the Genesis account literally, then the skies above Eden should have begun quite dark, with only our sun, moon and five nearby planets visible on the first night.  It would take a little over four years for the light of Proxima Centauri to make its debut in the night sky, as the light given off by that initial burst of fusion in the first week of creation finally completed its journey to Earth. By the end of the sixteenth year of creation, only an additional eight stars would be visible, and even today, we should be able to see no farther than the nearby arm of our Milky Way galaxy.

Clearly, this is not the case.  

NASA Image. Spitzer/GALEX
Helix Nebula
There is another issue with the stars.  Our catalog of heavenly objects includes stars at all stages of their life cycles.  Based on analysis of the light emitted from each star, we can understand the elemental composition of each sun and the nuclear reactions taking place within it. Based on the known rates of reaction, the age and remaining life of each star can be determined.  Some gas clouds are known stellar "nurseries" giving birth to new stars, while others are clearly the remnants of ancient stellar explosions.  How are we to reconcile stars at all stages of their billions-of-years life cycle with a six thousand year old universe?

If we were to take a Young Earth Creationist point of view, we would have to accept that the variety of stars created on the fourth day included some young, some old and some already exploded.  He must have provided a variety of objects representing the entire life cycle of stars, both ready for our enjoyment and available to our analysis.  Despite being only six thousand years old, the stars would tell a story of thirteen billion years of history. This story is written in the heavens.  And since we can see these objects, despite their great distance, then perhaps God also created the beams of light between the stars and Earth, so that they would be visible on that first evening, displaying the majesty of the night sky.

A similar argument could be made for the first plants.  There is no indication in Genesis that the first trees in Eden started as seeds and had to grow to their full height over decades.  On the contrary, we are provided an image of a full grown forest, likely with trees at all stages of their life cycles suddenly appearing. Would those that began their existence full-grown have no growth rings? Or, as we see with stars, would the tall trees contain a growth record for time that did not exist, with rings consistent to their growth?  I don't recall anything in Genesis that would contradict this conclusion.

That which is true for plants and stars would extend to animals.  Young and old created all at once, with the old bearing a non-existent history of time that never existed: Lions with full-grown manes and elephants with well-developed wrinkles as well as fish with growth rings on their scales and shellfish with well-developed layers of calcium carbonate.

Grand Canyon from NASA's Terra spacecraft
Similarly, glaciers would exist at the end of the first week with hundreds of thousands of years worth of annual growth layers, available for discovery by today's scientists studying ice cores.  Mountains would be created with billions of years of sedimentary layers consistent with an old Earth.  Grand canyons could be created within the first week without having to wait for meager rivers to carve their steep banks.  Using this logic, fossils could have been scattered throughout layers of rock telling an evolutionary story of life's origins consistent with the old appearance of the Earth.

And, yes, Adam would have a belly button.

Under this scenario, scientists could continue to look at all the converging lines of evidence and conclude that we live on a four and a half billion year old Earth that in the midst of a thirteen billion year old universe.  At the same time, creationists could look at a six thousand year old earth and universe, but study side by side with scientists to read the rich history written by the hand of God in the details He provided at creation.  In addition to reading the Word of God presented in the Bible, creationists could read the Word of God presented in the universe that tells a story of thirteen billion years of history, including our rich evolutionary past.

There doesn't need to be any conflict.

At least As I Understand It.

1 comment:

  1. "In addition to reading the Word of God presented in the Bible, creationists could read the Word of God presented in the universe that tells a story of thirteen billion years of history, including our rich evolutionary past."

    Really well written. Also very respectful. As someone raised as a creationist, it took me many years to embrace an outlook of life and the universe in line with current science. I'm now a STEM major at a great university, but I've maintained my faith. I tell my atheist and agnostic friends that if they truly want to see people give up young-Earth creationism and other pseudoscience, the most effective thing they can do is simply show respect towards their fellow human beings and not present theists with a choice of 'science or God'. Growing up I always felt this tension and never wanted to explore evolution because I felt I'd eventually have to make this choice. In this cynical day and age, it's more fun to speak in 'bumper stickers' and spout off clever one-liners to 'pwn' our ideological opponents. Yet this slows the progress of good ideas. I'll never forget the feeling I had the day I realized God was the God of science. I no longer had to choose! Reading a geology textbook was suddenly as spiritual as going to church.

    I think we'd be amazed at the rate people (all people) modernized their ideas if we'd simply put down our 'guns' and phrase things the way you have. Well said.