Fitting the Bible to the Data (1998)
Victor J. Stenger
Review of The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom by Gerald L. Schroeder. New York and London: The Free Press, 1997.
How can both the Bible and science be right? Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder says he can show us how. Let's start with cosmology. The Bible says God created the universe in six days and indicates the passage of only about 6,000 years since then. Science currently estimates the visible universe to be about 13 billion years old, give or take a few billion. Schroeder reconciles the two, explaining that the six days of the Bible refer to a different measure of time. He explains: "there is no possible way for those first six days to have an Earth-based perspective simply because for the first two of those six days there was no Earth" (51).
Instead, time during this six day period was measured on a cosmic clock. And what else could be used for that clock but the vibrations of light (electromagnetic waves)? Today the light from creation appears as the cosmic microwave background. This is now redshifted by a factor of a trillion (1012) from the period of "quark confinement" when matter as we know it first began to form. Thus the cosmic clock at that epoch ran off a trillion days for each of our modern days. The six cosmic days of creation thus took about 15 billion years earth time, give or take a few billion. So, according to the author, Genesis is not only consistent with cosmology, it gives the correct age of the universe!
Each of the six days in Schroeder's Genesis actually takes a different length of earth time. The duration D, in earth days, of each cosmic day t is calculated from the formula D = (Ao/L)exp(-Lt), where Ao = 4x1012 (the ratio of the frequencies of the cosmic microwave background at quark confinement compared to now) and L = 0.693 (natural log of 2). More simply, cosmic day one is 8 billion earth years long and you divide by two to get the duration of each succeeding cosmic day.
Cosmic day one starts 15.75 billion earth years ago and covers the creation of the universe, the "breaking free" of light as electrons bind to atomic nuclei, and the beginning of galaxy formation. This is described in Gen. 1:1-5 as the creation followed by light separating from the darkness.
Cosmic day two starts 7.75 billion earth years ago and lasts four billion earth years. During this period the stars and galaxies are born. This corresponds to Gen. 1:6-8, the formation of the heavenly firmament.
Cosmic day three starts 3.75 billion earth years ago. During two billion earth years, the earth cools, water appears, and the first life forms appear. In Gen. 1:9-13, vegetation first appears during the third day.
Cosmic day four starts 1.75 billion earth years ago and lasts a billion earth years. The earth's atmosphere becomes transparent and photosynthesis produces an oxygen-rich atmosphere. Schroeder says that this corresponds to Gen. 1:14-19 when "the Sun, Moon, and stars become visible in the heavens" (67).
Cosmic day five starts 750 million earth years ago and lasts 500 million earth years. During this period, the first multicellular animals appear and the oceans swarm with life. Gen. 1:20-23 says the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures and "birds fly above the earth" (94).
Cosmic day six starts 250 million years ago and ends at the time of Adam. During this period we have a massive extinction in which 90 percent of life is destroyed and then repopulated with humanoids and humans. This, Schroeder says, corresponds to what is described in Gen. 1:24-31.
Technically, Schroeder's formula gives the present as the end of the sixth day. However, it could just as well have ended a few thousand years ago and not affect the rest of the calculation where things are rounded off at hundreds of millions of years. Schroeder argues that after the six cosmic days of creation, Genesis switches its focus over to humanity and starts measuring time in human terms. The rest of the Bible concerns itself with the 6,000 earth years since Adam and Eve, estimated from the Bible in Bishop Ussher fashion.
Schroeder does not deny the existence of hominid creatures before Adam. He talks about Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, and accepts that they had developed tools, pottery, and many human-like qualities. In Lev. 11:33 the Bible talks about pottery. But, Schroeder argues that since it never mentions the invention of pottery, that event must have pre-dated Adam (130).
According to the author, the Bible has no interest in these pre-Adam hominids because they were not yet fully human and had no souls. Thus they are never mentioned. Adam represents the quantitative change to a large brain, but more important, the qualitative change that makes us different from all other forms of life: "our soul of human spirituality" (133). God breathed this into Adam, the first real human, 6,000 years ago.
Schroeder's attempt to connect 31 lines of Genesis to big-bang cosmology and earth paleontology makes entertaining reading, but will convince no one who is not already convinced or totally lacking of critical facilities.
Let us return to the beginning. Schroeder's use of quark confinement as the defining moment for his cosmic time scale is completely arbitrary. He seems to have chosen it for no better reason than it gives the answer he wants. The redshift from quark confinement to the present is of the order of 1012. Multiplying this by six days gives 15 billion years, which is consistent with our current estimate for the age of the universe.
Alternatively, Schroeder might have chosen the moment in the early universe called "decoupling," which represents the point where radiation separates from matter. Indeed, he relates this event to the separation of the "light from the darkness" described in Genesis day one. But the redshift from decoupling to the present is only of the order of 1,000, which would give an earth time interval of only fifteen years for the six cosmic days of creation. If he had chosen some other moment, he would have obtained yet a different time scale.
Furthermore, by Schroeder's own formula the universe creation corresponds to the time of quark confinement. Blueshifting back from that point rather than redshifting ahead, the events prior to quark confinement would recede infinitely into the past, in earth time, and we would have no creation at all.
Schroeder's use of an exponential function to give different earth periods for each cosmic day is not justified by his argument that earth time is simply redshifted cosmic time. While an exponential relationship would apply for the inflationary epoch in the early universe, that has ended by the time of quark confinement. Afterwards we have the almost linear Hubble expansion in which the redshift varies as a power law with time, not exponentially. By having each cosmic day half as long as the preceding one in earth years, again a completely arbitrary, unjustified procedure, Schroeder is able to vaguely relate events known from cosmology to those described in Genesis.
In cosmic day two the "firmament" is created. Note that Schroeder excludes from the "firmament" all galaxies more than 7.75 billion light years away, of which there are many. Furthermore, he sees no problem with calling the expanding universe a "firmament." Like all apologists, he selects his data carefully, accepting only those which agree with his hypotheses and discarding those which do not.
Primitive life first appears in cosmic day three. Here again it takes some mighty stretching to associate what is described in the Bible for the third day, including fruit trees, with the primitive life described by paleontology for that epoch.
Schroeder has the sun, moon, and stars becoming visible in cosmic day four. In fact, Genesis seems to say the that sun, moon, and stars are created at that time - well after the earth was created.
Cosmic day five has the waters teeming with life. But the biblical verses imply birds as well. Schroeder says that "birds" is a mistranslation and that the Bible here is referring to water insects instead. Translation is so easy when you know what you want a passage to say.
Cosmic day six contains the mass extinctions of life that occurred 65 million years ago. The biblical verses referenced make no mention of mass extinction. The Biblical Flood occurs well after Adam, but Schroeder needs to end the six days of creation with Adam for other purposes. This is one event he simply cannot make fit, although he is not honest enough to say so and leaves the impression that everything is consistent.
At times you get the impression that this book is a parody, with quite a few good chuckles when read in that context. However, the sections on evolution soon convince you that no parody is intended. They are just too unfunny, too dull. Schroeder trots out all the old, tiresome arguments about why "life could not have stared by chance" and how the simplest forms, even viruses, are "far too complex to have originated without there being an inherent chemical property of molecular self-organization and/or reaction enhancing catalysts at every step of their development" (85). He applies the usual creationist deception of calculating chance probabilities as if chance is the only operative mechanism, and then saying this "proves" that God intervenes along the way when they come out very low. And, of course, the "staccato aspect of the fossil record" refutes classical evolution. "These rapid changes cannot be explained by purely random mutations at the molecular-genetic level" (87).
Notice how often theists tell us that something cannot be explained except by God? They never seem to learn from history.
Victor J. Stenger is emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and the author of Not By Design: The Origin of the Universe (Prometheus Books, 1988), Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses (Prometheus Books, 1990), The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (Prometheus Books, 1995) and Timeless Reality : Symmetry, Simplicity, and Multiple Universes (Prometheus Books, 2000).