Reasons to Believe

Middle Ground in the Age of the Universe Debate

As many of you are well aware, there is a fierce, seemingly never-ending debate in the Christian community over the age of the universe. For several decades now I have been at the center of this debate, having written three books,1 contributed to a debate book,2 and participated in more than a dozen public debates,3 with more books and debates sure to come.

I have noticed that one way to ameliorate the hostility and bring a measure of resolution and peace to the debate is to show a third alternative and explain the rationale behind that alternative. Thus, in some of my debates and encounters with young-universe creationists, I describe the very real debate in the astronomical research community over the age of the universe that occurred in the first half of the twentieth century.

In the first four decades of the twentieth century, research astronomers were divided into two camps. One camp, the young-universe camp, believed that the universe was only a few billion years old. The second, the old-universe camp, held that the universe was many trillions or quadrillions of years old.

In the young-universe camp, there were cosmologists who were persuaded by Edwin Hubble’s initial measurements of the expansion rate of the universe, which indicated that the universe was roughly 2 billion years old. At that time, radiometric measurements placed the earth’s age at about 4 billion years. Since Hubble’s cosmic expansion rate measurement had both very large random and systematic errors, these cosmologists presumed that the universe was slightly older than Earth.

The two most notable astronomers in the old-universe camp were Sir James Jeans and Sir Arthur Eddington. Jeans, in several papers and books on stellar dynamics and stellar evolution, argued that typical ages for stars are in the trillions of years. Meanwhile, Eddington proposed that the expansion of the universe stopped at some time in the past and then, after a very long time period, started up again. In one of his models, he made the period of halted expansion of infinite duration. Why? In his words, it was to “allow evolution an infinite time to get started.”4

This age-of-the-universe debate was not fully resolved until the beginning of the twenty-first century. Jeans was proven wrong about his proposed energy source for the stars. Rather than stars shining as a result of matter annihilating antimatter, particle physics laboratory measurements and astronomers’ observations conclusively established that the actual energy source of stars was nucleosynthesis. Nucleosynthesis permitted stars to shine for billions of years but not for trillions.

Eddington was proven wrong when astronomers extended their measurements of the cosmic expansion rate from just nearby galaxies to galaxies and quasars all the way back to when galaxies and quasars first formed. These measurements showed no stoppage in cosmic expansion. In fact, they showed that the cosmic expansion rate was remarkably constant and that the age of the universe derived from their expansion rate measurements was consistent with the universe’s age derived from maps of the radiation left over from the cosmic creation event, from radiometric dating, and from the burning history of the oldest stars.

Today, the age of the universe has been measured to four decimal places. Its age is 13.79 ± 0.06 billion years.5 As I documented in my book A Matter of Days, every cosmic age measuring method agrees with this date.6 And if one integrates all 66 books of the Bible, interpreting them literally and consistently, every biblical indication of cosmic age also very roughly agrees with this date.7

I agree with all the scientific and biblical evidence that supports a 13.8-billion-year age of the universe. Old-universe astronomers of the first half of the twentieth century claimed the universe was about a million times older. Young-universe creationists today claim the universe is about a million times younger. Those alternate positions make me a middle-aged-universe creationist. Explaining to young-earth creationist audiences that I am a middle-aged-universe creationist, and that the middle-aged date I hold for the age of the universe rules out evolutionary explanations for the origin and history of life, typically makes them much more receptive to my biblical creation model.

Endnotes

  1. Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy, 2nd ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2015); Hugh Ross, Navigating Genesis: A Scientist’s Journey through Genesis 1–11 (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2014); Hugh Ross, Creation and Time: A Biblical and Scientific Perspective on the Creation-Date Controversy (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994).
  2. Jennings Ligon Duncan III et al., The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation (Mission Viejo, CA: Crux Press, 2001).
  3. The following unedited video recordings of my debates on the age of the universe are available: Danny Faulkner vs. Hugh Ross, How Old Is the Universe? (Chattanooga, TN: John Ankerberg Show, 2012), DVD; Hugh Ross, Terry Mortenson, John Lennox, and Michael Behe, In the Beginning: A Conference on the Days of Creation (Birmingham, AL: Fixed Point Foundation, 2011), DVD; Kent Hovind vs. Hugh Ross, The John Ankerberg Debate: Young-Earth vs. Old-Earth (Pasadena, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2000), DVD; Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana vs. Jason Lisle and Larry Vardiman, A Question of Age: Conference on Creation, the Bible, and Science (Fullerton, CA: First Evangelical Free Church, 2006), DVD; Hugh Ross and Walter Kaiser vs. Ken Ham and Jason Lisle, The Great Debate on Science and the Bible: How and When Did God Create? (Chattanooga, TN: John Ankerberg Show, 2006), DVD.
  4. Arthur Eddington, “On the Instability of Einstein’s Spherical World,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 90 (May 1930): 672, doi:10.1093/mnras/90.7.668.
  5. Planck Collaboration, “Planck 2013 Results. XVI. Cosmological Parameters,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 571 (November 2014): id. A16, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201321591; G. Hinshaw et al., “Nine-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Observations: Cosmological Parameter Results,” Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series 208 (September 2013): id. 19, doi:10.1088/0067-0049/208/2/19.
  6. Ross, A Matter of Days, 145–233.
  7. Ibid., 53–144.

Subjects: Age of the Earth, Cosmic Expansion, Old Earth Creationism, Young-Earth Creationism