“I feel fine, I’m talkin’ bout
peace of mind, I’m gonna
take my time, I’m gettin’ the good sign…
Draggin’ the line.”
(Tommy James, “Draggin’ The Line”, c1971 Roulette Records)
This song first appeared on Tommy James’s sophomore album, entitled “Christian of The World”. The irony of this is that I’ve employed it within the context of an article that, with some characteristic pragmatism and nimble wording, will attempt to shed light on the chasm that lies between science and religion. Yes, my fine young readers, I’m “going there” yet again…
One aspect of religion that continues to puzzle me, is the dogged adherence of some of the more literalistic, conservative denominations to the concept of “Young-Earth Creationism”, especially in the face of proven science. For the uninitiated among you, please allow me to explain; young-Earth creationism dictates that everything in existence…us, the earth, the sun and moon, indeed the entire universe, is only about 6k to 7k years old. Several theologians in Judeo-Christianity have performed calculations on the ages of the patriarchs, the earliest of which included Jose ben Halafta in 160 A.D., within the “Seder Olam Rabbah”. Several centuries later, Church of Ireland Archbishop James Ussher published a timeline, dating the moment of creation to the night preceding Sunday, October 23rd, 4004 BC. Even such well-known early astronomers and scientific observers, such as Johannes Kepler and the venerable Sir Issac Newton, the father of gravity himself…were young-Earth creationists!
Young-Earth creationism should have met its demise in 1922-1923, when Edwin Hubble, looking through the newly-installed 2.5 meter Hooker Telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory in southern California, observed that there were in fact a plethora of other galaxies out in space, and that they were moving away from us. Hubble knew this, because of something called “Redshift”, which is a visual expression of what’s called the Doppler Effect.
For those who are unfamiliar with this term, I can provide a simple example which is very easy to reproduce on your own. Have you ever stood on a street corner, and listened as a police car or ambulance passed by with its siren running? Did you notice how the pitch of the sound seemed to rise as the vehicle got closer, then fall as it sped away from your location? That’s the Doppler effect. As distance increases between yourself and the sound source, the length of the sound wave increases and the pitch decreases. The same goes for observable light. As the distance between our point of observation and the light source increases, so does the length of the light wave, which causes it to shift into the red end of the spectrum.
We have also known for quite some time, that the speed of light through a vacuum is roughly 186,000 miles per second. (Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the speed is 299,792,458 meters per second.) We know this because we’ve quantified it scientifically, we’ve measured it time and again in the laboratory. Couple this with being able to observe distant stars and galaxies, and one should, if they’re paying attention and believing what they’re seeing, reach the conclusion that this little (ah, but ever expanding!) universe we live in must be far older than a mere six thousand years!
So, we have to ask ourselves this question; why do some Christians doggedly adhere to the concept of young-Earth creationism, aside from the fact that their Bibles tell them that that’s the way it is? Why do they maintain their stranglehold on such a literal interpretation of scripture? Is it because they fear what they don’t or can’t understand? Try explaining things like the Doppler effect or the speed of light in a vacuum to a young-Earth creationist within the context of this argument, and the reaction one gets is akin to the “three monkeys” scenario. They’d rather remain willfully ignorant of scientific fact, than to endanger their long-held (albeit misguided) belief in a six thousand-year-old universe.
I think I should clarify something at this point, before we go any farther. I’m not trying to attack religion or faith overall. What I am trying to do is to illuminate whoever might be reading this piece, with regards to just one of several areas where science and faith diverge, and to do my humble part to kill off an outdated dogma. That being said…
“The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
(Galileo Galilei, quoting Cardinal Cesare Baronio, circa 1598.)
The Bible also says to “fear” God, which is fine and dandy. I would suggest however, that for people of faith to live in unnecessary fear of something that can be known and understood, and otherwise only adds to the grandeur and intrigue of existence, is folly. It’s giving one’s self over to that most basal of human instincts; to fear what we do not or cannot know or understand. If one follows this line of logic, then one arrives at a conflict where the young-Earth creationist is intimating that it’s fine to give one’s self over to that basal instinct, but then turn around and preach against giving over to other basal desires and instincts, such as the desire for physical pleasure. In short, it’s hypocrisy…not only is it hypocrisy, but also intellectual laziness. (If I’m not mistaken, laziness, also known as “sloth”, (“Acedia” in the Latin) is one of the “Seven Deadly Sins”!)
In closing, I would strongly suggest that the person of faith who honestly wants to grow in both a spiritual and intellectual way, avoid looking at matters of science through the prism of religious stained glass. Instead, try verifying and accepting these facts, and then take them back to the scriptures, and seeing those scriptures in a new way. In the meantime, the stars in the sky will continue to race away at breakneck speeds, and there’s nothing that the young-Earth creationist can do to reign them back in…that line can no longer be dragged, especially when illuminated by the light of knowledge.