From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Where did the universe come from? Part 1

Allow me to tell you how I'm approaching this post. In part 1, I thought I was setting up a straw man argument. I will be arguing against a position - the biblical story of creation - that is held by strict creationists like Ken Ham. We encountered Mr. Ham and his Answers in Genesis site in an earlier post - Your Elementary School Teachers Were Right. I don't think I know any people who hold this view. Later, in part 2, I will discuss the notion of the Prime Mover or First Cause, and what roles god may play in the universe.

First I will describe what young Earth creationists - Biblical literalists - say about creation. When I started thinking about writing this, I had hoped that this position is truly a minority opinion among the religious, but I since have found a 2010 Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans believe in this version.

The Book of Genesis (1:3-2:4) says that on the first day, he created the heavens. the Earth, and light.(1) The firmament is created on the second day. This means that the sky is like a tent over the Earth. Land, sea, and plants are created on the third day.(2) God on the fourth day puts lights in the firmament; these would be stars including our Sun plus the Moon.(3) On the last two days, he creates life, first sea life and birds, then land animals, and finally humanity.

Furthermore, through the analysis of Biblical chronology, young Earth creationists arrive at the age of the universe at about 6000 years.

What is the scientific consensus? (N.B. here I am only describing the results of science. I leave a general description of how scientists have arrived at these results for a later post.) The universe is 13.75 ± 0.11 billion years old. About 10-37 seconds after the Big Bang, the universe entered a period of inflation in which it expanded exponentially. This lasted for about 10-32 seconds. The universe then consisted of an extremely hot plasma consisting of quarks, gluons, and electrons. Through a process not yet understood, matter began to dominate over anti-matter.

A billionth of a second after the Big Bang the universe cooled enough so that quarks started to be bound and protons and neutrons were formed. At the one minute mark or there abouts, hydrogen and primordial helium formed. Finally, after a few hundred thousand years, the universe became transparent. The light left over from this time forms the cosmic microwave background.

Galaxies began forming in the first million years. The oldest known galaxy, IOK-1, formed about 750 million years after the Big Bang. Our Milky Way galaxy formed between about 9 billion years ago.

Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago from the accretion disk of the Sun. Life appeared about 3.8 billion years ago; 2 billion years ago is when eukaryotic cells evolved. One billion years later, life became multicellular. Lots of stuff happens, and then around 2 million years ago, our Homo ancestors come onto the scene. Anatomically modern Homo sapiens arise in Africa 200,000 years ago.

Now here's the thing. Science completely conflicts with a literal interpretation of the Bible. I'm not an expert in cosmology or in evolutionary biology, but I can back up everything I wrote with evidence - tons of it.

(1) The image to the right is a T-shirt popular with physics students
(2) In Genesis 2:5, plants came after the creation of man.
(3) Notice the Moon is included as a source of light. Maybe I'm being picky, but the Moon is not a source, but only reflects the Sun's light.

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