Evolution, Creationism and the Physical Universe
We Actually Live In

by
Robert A. Little

 

 

If I were to engage in conversation with an atheist and a conservative Christian, both would probably accept the concept that it requires roughly 1.5 seconds for light to reflect off the moon and travel to Earth; they would both probably calmly agree that it takes that same light – whether in the form of a photon or as a ray –about 8 minutes to travel from the sun to the moon.

That calm acceptance starts to break down, however, if I were to state that it takes light about 4.2 years to travel from Proxima Centauri, our closest solar neighbor, and bathe Earth in its’ wan light. If I should mention that the physical universe is somewhat akin to a balloon, with the roughly 200 billion galaxies situated on the surface and with a diameter of at least 156 billion light years (the apparent conflict between the age – 13.7 billion years - and size may be attributed to the fact that it took time for stars to develop), the conservative Christian will probably dive into the Bible, looking for relief from my heresy.

Concepts such as dark matter and energy, the number of dimensions, quarks, string theory, and of course, evolution drive strictly literal interpreters of the Bible into a frenzy of denial. Since gravity bends light, there was speculation – since disproved - that if one had a large enough telescope, he could peer clear around the universe and see the birth of Earth.

Conversely, if I were to mention that the universe has a Cause, or that man has been created to know God and to worship Him, the atheist might bang me over the head with a telescope, and ask me to show him where exactly this bearded guy resides.

We live in a world where people pass their daily lives in unconscious acceptance of the increasingly better understood world revealed to us by science. On the other hand, many Americans spend Sunday mornings denying the most basic scientific truths, and Sunday afternoons yelling excitedly as highly paid professional quarterbacks throw long passes, thereby proving that gravity exerts a constant pressure of 9.8 m/s2, and groaning as running backs smash into defensive tackles, painfully illustrating the laws of Newton.

It requires a bit of mental gymnastics on the part of a state superintendent of schools to publish school textbooks that teach creationism, yet those books are the reality for students in Texas and, as a result, a number of other states.

I believe that creationists blindly reject scientific truths because they won’t believe their own eyes, and atheists are missing an equally obvious truth, merely because they can’t see it with their physical eyes.

So, let us briefly examine the positions of both sides, and see if there is a way to reconcile them.

Current Scientific theory of the birth and evolution
of the physical universe

The dawn of the space age has almost literally exploded our store of scientific knowledge of the universe. Orbiting telescopes peer ever deeper into the depths of space while the Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border looks in the opposite direction, seeking the “god” particle, otherwise known as the Higgs Boson, the basic building block of the physical universe. In July, 2012, researchers claimed success.

The sheer volume of observed discoveries has given physicists and theoreticians severe headaches as they try to adapt their theories to what they are actually measuring. The quest to understand what our universe is, and it’s size and age has long been a sort of holy grail for the scientific community, although now that we have begun to explore our own solar system, the quest to find life on other planets has assumed increasing importance.

The theory that best describes our universe is called the Big Bang, and a brief synopsis is as follows: a small (a relative term, since, without a physical universe, there is no way to measure size) ball of proto matter reached a sort of critical mass and exploded. A portion of the scientific community believes this is a cyclical process, while others look at it as a one-time event. To a certain degree, it would not matter, since if it is cyclical, the resulting collapse of the physical universe into a steadily smaller number of black holes would lead eventually to the effective end of time, which would restart with the next explosion. Either way, no more Starbucks Venti Drip.

There may also exist parallel universes, but you don’t have the time and I don’t have the education, so….

Within an immensely short period of time, this explosion created matter, including the physical laws of the universe, with gravity and time, both being inalienable parts and/or functions of matter.

Over a period of this newly created time, the expanding cloud of matter began to separate, and clumps began to form balls of mostly very simple atoms, mainly hydrogen. These balls began to revolve, turning the cloud of matter into disks – the future galaxies. These immense disks continued the process, fragmenting into billions of smaller clumps of matter that began to revolve, and also became disks, with nearly all of the matter concentrating at the center.

Eventually, the pressure of gravity at the core of this ball of matter grew so great that it went nuclear, became a sun and began radiating energy. These suns also subsequently produced all of the heavier elements found in nature.

This process presumably swept the system of dust and hastened the formation of the remaining matter into a series of planets, with the heaviest elements such as iron, concentrating in the inner planets.

Depending on their mass, the inner, heavy planets might create a molten core and either retain or lose an atmosphere. In our solar system, Venus, Earth and Mars possess that molten core, while the outer planets may or may not have a core at all.

One writer (Arthur C. Clark) has speculated that Jupiter has at its’ center an immense diamond roughly the size of Earth. Mr. Clark was not a crackpot, he was the first to hypothesize the possibility of geo-synchronous satellites (24 hour orbits), and he wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey”. His early works were written on typewriters but he was one of the first writers to send a manuscript in digital form to his publisher.

Over time, these suns will consume all their fissionable material and either collapse or explode.

In just the last handful of years, our growing arsenal of scientific instruments has determined that extra-solar planets are common, and in fact are probably an integral part of every solar system.

In the one solar system we know a little about, as the inner planets cooled and developed atmospheres, some retained their water (Earth and Mars) while others lost it (Venus). At some point, probably in the oceans of Earth, complex chemicals married and an extremely simple living organism formed. It had the unique ability to replicate, and over time, mutated into multiple forms, which became steadily more complex and widespread. Really widespread.

Gold miners in South Africa have found Halicephalobus mephisto – a
form of worm – at a depth of 2.2 miles below the surface, and life flourishes in the deepest trenches of our oceans, some of it entirely independent of the light, heat and energy from the sun.

There is a fish (Cyprinodon salinus salinus) that lives in Death Valley, where air temperatures have been recorded as high as 134 degrees (7-10-1913), and ground temperatures as high as 201 degrees (7-15-72, Furnace Creek*). Moss, worms and shrimp live at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake, fed by geothermal vents.

In the Himalayas are found jumping spiders (Euophrys omnisuperstes) at elevations of twenty-two thousand feet. They feed on tiny insects that are swept up to these extreme elevations by prevailing winds.

Human beings are hosts to literally thousands of forms of life, living on our skin and in our digestive tracts.

Despite the clear evidence that life on Earth is astonishingly prolific, some scientists have speculated that it may have piggybacked from Mars to Earth. This speculation is plausible as Mars at one time did have an extensive atmosphere with large amounts of liquid water on the surface.

The United States currently operates two separate rovers on Mars (Curiosity, and Opportunity, the latter of which had a life expectancy of ninety days and is now in its’ tenth year), both looking to prove that life exists elsewhere in our solar system. Opportunity is now a bit arthritic, yet it continues to move about and generate new data.

The process of evolution is both complex and utterly simple, and is only recently beginning to be amenable to human understanding. Charles Darwin is known as the father of the modern theory of the evolution of life (“On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life," 1859), and the publication of his research caused an immediate and continuing revolution in western society.

Another naturalist from Great Britain, Alfred Russell Wallace, independently conceived the concept of evolution by natural selection. Time has not been particularly kind to him, but he deserves to be studied and remembered.

Traditional Christian Beliefs Concerning Creation

A key belief system of these (fundamentalist) faith groups is their belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. Since Genesis 1 describes how God created the universe, and in a certain sequence, there is no doubt that (H)e did exactly that. Rev. Jim Harding of the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention commented: "We were created by God, we didn't just evolve by accident. It was not a process of moving from one animal form to another, but rather, as Genesis teaches, that each was made in its own order. In fact, [humans and animals] were made on different days."

A debate exists with conservative Christianity over the length of each "day" in Genesis: i.e. whether the word "day" means an interval of 24 hours, or an era of indeterminate duration. Some theologians believe that the Hebrew word "yom" has multiple meanings in various locations in Genesis. A number of competing theories have been formulated by Christian creation scientists in an attempt to harmonize Genesis and the fossil record. 

Most conservative Christians are particularly insistent on the literal truth of the creation stories in Genesis. If those passages were shown to be false, then the Garden of Eden story, the fall of humanity and the alienation between God and man would all be in doubt. Some feel that this could negate the need for Jesus' execution and resurrection. Some believe that the entire conservative Christian message would collapse like a deck of cards, if Genesis is shown to be a fable. One writer has said: "Overthrow Genesis and you destroy the whole foundation of Christianity. Evolution is just a modern version of the old Pelagian heresy. If Genesis is not historically accurate, then there was no Fall of man and no need for a Savior. Man is then free to exalt himself and even to take Christ's place on earth!!"  Calvin stated that those who disagree with the literal truth of Genesis' creation stories "basely insult the Creator." After death he predicted they will meet "a judge who will annihilate them." (www.religioustolerance.org)

Over the two thousand plus years since the death of Jesus, Christian beliefs have fragmented, and today many ‘liberal’ Christians have gradually accepted the theory of evolution, putting them at odds with conservative Christians who avowedly accept only a strictly literal interpretation.

In both cases, Christian beliefs in the Bible run counter to scientific discoveries concerning the creation of the universe, the evolution of human beings and their societies, and the nature of man, creating a tension that has not only not gone away, it has actually increased in recent years.

Baha’i Teachings on Evolution and Creation

Baha'u'llah teaches that the universe is without beginning in time. It is a perpetual emanation from the Great First Cause. The Creator always had His creation and always will have. Worlds and systems may come and go, but the universe remains. All things that undergo composition, in time undergo decomposition, but the component elements remain. The creation of a world, a daisy or a human body is not "making something out of nothing"; it is rather a bringing together of elements which before were scattered, a making visible of something which before was hidden. By and by the elements will again be scattered, the form will disappear, but nothing is really lost or annihilated; ever new combinations and forms arise from the ruins of the old. Baha'u'llah confirms the scientists who claim, not six thousand, but millions and billions of years for the history of the earth's creation. The evolution theory does not deny creative power. It only tries to describe the method of its manifestation; and the wonder ...” (Baha’u’llah and the New Era, J. E. Esslemont)

As I understand it, this statement may not invalidate the concept of the Big Bang Theory, or the possibility of cyclical Big Bangs. It would – to me – hinge on the definition and understanding of the word ‘always’, which is predicated on time, which has no existence prior to the advent of the Big Bang.

“‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:—

Know that it is one of the most abstruse spiritual truths that the world of existence, that is to say this endless universe, has no beginning. …

… Know that … a creator without a creature is impossible, a provider without those provided for cannot be conceived; for all the divine names and attributes demand the existence of beings. If we could imagine a time when no beings existed, this imagination would be the denial of the Divinity of God. Moreover, absolute non-existence cannot become existence. If the beings were absolutely non-existent, existence would not have come into being. Therefore, as the Essence of Unity, that is the existence of God, is everlasting and eternal—that is to say, it has neither beginning nor end—it is certain that this world of existence … has neither beginning nor end. … it may be that one of the parts of the universe, one of the globes, for example, may come into existence, or may be disintegrated, but the other endless globes are still existing. … As each globe has a beginning, necessarily it has an end, because every composition, collective or particular, must of necessity be decomposed; the only difference is that some are quickly decomposed, and others more slowly, but it is impossible that a composed thing should not eventually be decomposed.” (Some Answered Questions, pp. 209–210. 

These statements, and numerous others, give rise to the understanding that science does reveal the handiwork of God. The tension between free will and obedience to the laws of God in the world of man have their counterparts in evolutionary mutation (change) and natural selection (stability) in the physical world. Gravity is an attractive force without which there could be no physical universe; love is an attractive force, without which there could be no human civilization.

Evolution has a divine Purpose and is not blind; and Genesis does in fact describe the divine process of creation, just not in a strictly literal fashion.

To a Baha’i, the issue of traditional Christian beliefs represent an opportunity to present the Teachings of Baha’u’llah, which in my opinion finds agreement with the Bible and with science.