“Why does God need fourteen billion years to make the universe? Why couldn’t he have just done it in six days like he said he did?” the young-earth creationist asks.
I can think of at least three reasons.
God Is Not Bored By the Passage of Time
There’s an old, probably apocryphal story about a young boy who asked his pastor (or maybe priest), “So what was God doing for all of those billions of eternities before he created the world?”
“He was preparing Hell for people who would ask such questions!” the pastor is said to have answered.
Of course, the question assumes that time itself is an absolute, brute reality that even God is subject to. Therefore, if eternity stretches into both the past and the future, God must have been waiting around for an eternity, twiddling his divine thumbs, before creating the universe. But this simply isn’t the case. Time appears to be an emergent property of our universe–in fact, only being able to move forward in time may be a property of our consciousness.
However, if God is truly the Creator of the entire universe, and if God is truly transcendent from the universe, then this means that God is the creator of and transcendent over time itself. Therefore, God is not trapped in time. For him, time is just another dimension of space-time, and having an old universe is no different than having a big universe. He doesn’t have to wait a billion years for a planet to form. He can just subtly nudge the particles and then glance a billion years up the timeline to see the results.
The visible universe is some 93 billion light-years across, and by some calculations, is less than a tenth of the whole universe. If the three dimensions of space are that large, should we really be surprised that the dimension of time is in the same range? Such an old universe attests to God’s “eternal power” (Rom. 1:20).
The Universe May Have More than One Purpose
Secondly, we don’t actually know that humankind is the only reason that God created the universe. YECs assume that to be the case, when in fact the Bible only describes humankind as being God’s pinnacle of creation on the earth.
So much of the universe is forever hidden from our sight, and so little of it visible in anything close to real time, that we simply cannot know what other projects the Eternal Creator has going on. The Bible tells us that there are other intelligent beings that God created. It does not say that humans and angelic beings are the only two orders of sapient life that God created, though we are the only two that it describes. So far, the evidence is that the earth is very unusual, perhaps unique, in its perfect placement and history to provide a stable environment for advanced life and civilization, but the jury is still out on whether biological life exists on other planets.
Even if it doesn’t, in just a few short years and at an extremely short range, we’ve already discovered so many fascinating exo-planets (planets outside of our solar system) that defy our expectations. An old, vast universe would be a palette and canvas suitable for the Eternal Artist to enjoy his work.
An Old Universe Enables Us To Explore It
Thirdly, having the universe develop over a long period of time under consistent laws of nature and with a finite speed of light is important to us. It proves that the universe had a beginning and that it is fine-tuned to create us. As Robert Jastrow famously wrote in God and the Astronomers:
“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
Jastrow made an even bolder statement in The Enchanted Loom:
“Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the Biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and Biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”
As Hugh Ross noted in his debate with Kent Hovind, the problem with YEC is that it requires us to toss out all of that incredible evidence on the basis of a questionable interpretation of Genesis chapter 1.
The universe being so incredibly old and having a finite speed of causality (and light) opens the window to let us backwards-engineer how God went about doing it. The same is true of the earth: Long, steady processes that have left behind a record in the rocks and fossils give us enormous insights into the process of creation–insights that would be lost if God had simply popped everything instantly into existence. For just one example, here’s an article from Reasons to Believe that points out some of the long processes needed to sustain life. The fact that those processes are so finely-tuned testifies to the Creator’s care.
From the very beginning, God gave man a commandment: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over” all of its life-forms (Gen. 1:28). While we can speculate that before the fall, Adam and Eve were in various ways superior to modern man, they were nevertheless physical creatures with physical limitations, like the need to eat (v. 29). So how exactly would they be able to fulfill their mandate to “subdue” the earth and rule over all of its creatures? Wouldn’t they have to learn the laws of nature so that they could exploit them, aka develop technology? And what better way to enable them to do that than to set up the universe so that they and their children could backwards-engineer the processes that their Creator had used to make it?
This brings us to science and the scientific method. In my next post, I’m going to lay out a case that more than just working, the scientific method operates on entirely Biblical principles.