Sunday, October 26, 2014

Happy Birthday, Universe!

Back in the mid-Seventeenth Century there was a fellow named Bishop Ussher who was quite the little thinker.  By a close study of the revealed literature of Judaism and other religions, plus secular sources that were earlier, he calculated that the moment of creation happened at 9:00 a.m. on October 27th, in the year 4004 BC.  Many people actually took him seriously.

Happy 6,018th Birthday to all that exists!  

The good bishop, and others, tinkered with this calculation over the immediately following years.  So now you will find that date variously reported as the 26th of October; the 23rd of October; “the night immediately preceding October 23rd;" and even “sunset in Jerusalem on October 22nd.”  Martin Luther felt like a little bit of precision would go a long way in this matter, so he just ballparked it as “the year 4000 BC.” 

Before you think that all of this should seem ridiculous to us in the modern world, recall that America is currently awash in “Young Earth Creationists” who take the good bishop at his word. 

Science, of course, has something to say about all of this.  The light, they say, that can now be seen coming from the edge of the universe has taken some thirteen billion years and change to reach us, so the universe must be at least that old.  The believers are having none of it. 

In their favor, they do believe in a God that is omnipotent, and omnipresent, and all-knowing and all the rest.  So this God could easily have made the entire thing to only seem to be thirteen billion years old.  That would be an interesting trick, but I have never read of the reasons for God doing such a thing being addressed.   

It would reinforce the greatness of their God if it were true, because only a lavishly omnipotent God could create a universe that so perfectly mimicked having existed for thirteen billion years.  It would speak to the mind of God too, because to pull that wool so far over the eyes of the world’s scientists such a creator-God would need to be not only supremely powerful, but also extremely clever and very mischievous.  Those scientists are pretty clever themselves. 

Bishop Ussher lived in a world that did not know the age of things, so six thousand years could seem reasonable to them.  Six thousand years was a long time to them, it represented a time before history as they understood it.  They knew something of the scale of the heavens, but they still believed that the earth was located at the center.  They knew the approximate age of the pyramids, but of things older than the pyramids they were in the dark.  Things like Gobekli Tepli, and the cave paintings, and dinosaurs, were either not known or were improperly understood.  So they could have calculated the date of creation without considering the mind of God.  We no longer have that luxury.  We know that if God created the universe to appear older than it is, God’s reasons for doing so must be considered. 

I was convinced as a teenager that it was a mistake to speculate about the mind of God.  I still feel that way, and I would add that it is a waste of time too.  If God is merely mischievous, you’ll get away with it, but if God still has that vengeful, proud streak, you’re just asking for trouble.  It may be an affront to God. 

Science is a useful pursuit, but even religion may have a place in our earthly lives.  Better though, if we just let God be God, with a smile and full respect for the mystery, and concentrate on making life on earth a less terrible thing than we found it.  

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