Only a Matter of Time?

In a radio interview I had this morning about On Our Origins, the host asked me how I reconcile the differences in the timeframes proposed for the creation and development of the universe.  I get this question often because many people don’t understand how a person like me, who believes that the creation account of Genesis is true without reservation, can also be a big fan of secular science.  Instead of fearing this question, I love answering it because it gives me a chance to explain one of the major misconceptions people have about time.

 

From the current human perspective, it seems that time keeps rolling along at a steady speed. Our lives are framed by time. Time helps us organize and order our affairs. We are born on a particular date at a certain point in time, live for a period of time, and die on our last days. But Einstein’s theory of relativity, the theory upon which most of our current understanding of the universe is built, has demonstrated that time is not the constant force that humans have long thought it is.

 

You may initially be resistant to the thought that time is not constant, but before clicking on to another blog, consider just one of the ways humanity is forced to deal with the very real effects of time dilation (the “stretching” of time anticipated by Einstein’s relativity as objects approach the speed of light). Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites are programmed to account for the difference in the passage of time between your GPS unit on the ground and GPS satellites in orbit. GPS systems need to be recalibrated constantly, because time itself has actually slowed down for satellites due to the speed of their fall in orbit.

Artist Interpretation of GPS satellite, image ...

Artist Interpretation of GPS satellite, image courtesy of NASA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Time dilation is scientifically proven to be true. It is measurable, predictable and has been observed.  If the cesium clock in a GPS satellite isn’t recalibrated based upon its speed and altitude, it is impossible for your GPS device to pinpoint your exact location.

 

The difference in the passage of time between the surface of the earth and an orbiting satellite is far too small to be perceptible to an observer who watched an earthbound clock and the display of a GPS satellite’s clock side-by-side. But if neither clock was recalibrated, after a few years, you would begin to see the difference in the passage of time. After about seventy years without adjustment, the two clocks would be a whole second different. The real-life application of this concept is that if the clocks on GPS satellites weren’t recalibrated constantly, the real difference in time between satellites and ground-based devices would quickly accumulate to the point that your receiver would no longer be able to triangulate your position, and you would be lost!

 

Science has predicted and calculated the flexibility of time in light of relativity and the Scriptures also testify to the flexible nature of time. The psalmist described the relativity of time from God’s perspective: “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4 ESV). The apostle Peter reiterated this sentiment in his second epistle: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 ESV). Recognizing that the Scriptures testify that time isn’t constant and science has demonstrated the same, Christians should be better equipped to deal with some of the apparent contradictions between Scripture’s timeframe of creation and science’s current best estimates.

 

That being said, there are two wrong ways to attempt to reconcile the time differences between secular and scriptural explanations of our origins. One mistake is to throw away what the Scriptures describe without trying to understand it within its context or frame of reference. The opposite mistake is to dismiss, purely on the basis of religious grounds, any attempt to grow in an understanding of how things could have taken their current shape based upon our best scientific understanding of how the universe operates.

 

As I told the radio talk show host, “If time has slowed down for GPS satellites, who am I to say that it can’t be slowed down for God!?!”  For most, seven days seems like all too short a time for God to bring everything into existence.  But if God is God and time is flexible, time shouldn’t be a hurdle in acceptance of the Genesis account of creation.  We have good reason, scientifically and scripturally speaking, to dismiss time as reason not to believe.

 

Time was born when the eternal Creator formed everything out of nothing.  Time and eternity meet where God meets His people.  This is most especially evident in the creation account and in the incarnation of Christ.

 

In Jesus, the eternal Son of God took on human flesh and was born a mortal human being.  He traded His immortality for our mortality so that death would be swallowed up by life.  Creator and creation were reunited when salvation was won on a cross.  All this was done so that when time fades back into eternity, we will be with Him forever.

 

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