Monday, 30 April 2018

The stars were not literally made on the fourth day. How astronomy falsifies Biblical literalism

 God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years.  They will be lights in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth.” And that’s what happened.  God made the stars and two great lights: the larger light to rule over the day and the smaller light to rule over the night.  God put them in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was.  There was evening and there was morning: the fourth day.  Gen 1:14-19 (Common English Bible)

I have previously noted how a literal reading of this passage cannot be sustained given that it teaches that the Earth is covered by a solid dome above which is water, and in which are embedded the sun, moon, and stars. Evidently, Genesis 1 reflects the cosmogeography of ancient Israel, and represents a concession to a pre-scientific worldview. If Biblical literalists were truly consistent in their literalism, they would insist that the Earth was flat, and covered by a solid dome separating waters above from waters below. [1]
This is however not the only reason why a literal reading of this section is untenable. The passing reference to the creation of the stars if taken literally as YECs insist means that all the stars were created at once six thousand years ago. Anyone familiar with astronomy would immediately realise that this is not an accurate description of the natural history of the universe which far from being static is very much dynamic, with stars being born and dying constantly throughout the universe.

On the 23rd February 1987, the light from a supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy 168,000 light years away reached Earth. Supernovae are perhaps the most emphatic demonstration that stars are not merely distant static lights sources, but are dynamic structures which sometimes end their lives explosively. The problem this and other distant supernovae pose for YEC is considerable. The light from the supernovae, being 168,000 light years distant, took 168,000 years to reach the Earth, a fact that is impossible to reconcile with the YEC belief that the entire universe is only 6000 years old. 
Attempts to explain away the problem by declaring that the light from the distant stars was created in transit instantaneously not only are painfully ad hoc, existing solely to explain away a problem and not flowing directly from a consistent interpretation of the text, but also mean that God created distant stars with a fake natural history. This is easy to demonstrate. Take SN1987A. According to YECs, it was created 6000 years ago, along with a beam of light from it to Earth. That beam of light consisted of a 6000 light-year long visual representation of a normal star, and a 162,000 light year long beam representing an evolving supernova. In what sense does this remotely correspond to an actual event in history? Was the stellar object 168,000 light years away created as a dying star, with a fake history before it? Given the number of distant supernovae, some as far away as 10.8 billion years, [2] the implication of God repeatedly creating many objects with a fake visual history is one that is theologically troubling.

Going to the other end of the stellar life cycle, we can also see stars being born in stellar nurseries. Some of these nurseries are relatively close to earth. Two of them are the Serpens South star cluster, and the Orion nebula, which are 1240 light years and 1340 light years away, respectively.

 NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Allen (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) & Gould's Belt Legacy Team
Given that the light from these protostars has taken little over 1200 to 1300 years to reach us, what we have here is evidence of star creation more than 4000 years after creation, according to YEC dogma.Even within the YEC chronology, we have evidence of star creation occurring after the initial creation event. Put another way, a straight literal reading of Genesis 1:16, which declares that the stars were created on the fourth day, is flatly contradicted by the direct observational evidence of ongoing, continuous creation of stars.

"Heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming his handiwork" - Gen 19:1


1. Fundamentalist Christians who believe in a flat earth are ironically the most consistent of all fundamentalists in interpreting the Bible literally.