A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

The universe started with a bang nearly 14 billion years ago. The solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago. Even the continents have been around for a couple billion years. If, as Christians claim, humanity is so important to God, why did He wait so long to create the first people?

This question has different purposes depending on the person asking. Skeptics usually want to argue that humanity is not central to anything. Instead, people represent the most recent event in a series of purely naturalistic processes (that presumably will continue long after our death). Young-earth creationists (YEC) usually want to argue that such long periods of time are inconsistent with God’s character and therefore didn’t actually occur.

So, how do billions of years fit within a context where humanity plays a central role in God’s creation?

Understanding God’s Physical Laws 

It’s important to remember that if the God of the Bible exists, His sovereign nature means that He gets to set the standards and rules. God reveals through the Bible that He upholds and sustains the universe so reliably (see Jeremiah 33:25–26 for example) that we can describe the processes at work using the laws of physics. This reality brings two consequences. First, as a Christian and a scientist, my job is to study the universe to understand the way God upholds and sustains creation. I don’t get to determine ahead of time what God should have done, but I am supposed to seek comprehension of what He did. Second, the reliability of the laws of physics should provide insight regarding why God waited billions of years to create humans.

Given the laws of physics God chose to use, the universe would not support humanity until billions of years had passed. Four minutes after the universe started, it only contained hydrogen and helium. Life, even the primitive kind, needs multiple generations of stars (that “burn” for billions of years) to form the necessary amounts of carbon and oxygen. The existence of a complex, multicellular organism like human beings requires a planet meeting even more stringent conditions, such as a stable, longlasting magnetic field.

Earth’s Remarkable Magnetic Field

Research indicates that Earth has had a strong magnetic field for much of its existence, but not the strong dipole character seen today (north and south poles closely aligned with the rotation axis). Recent studies indicate some significant changes in the strength and configuration during the last 2 billion years. Around 1.7 billion years ago, the magnetic field transitioned from a configuration with multiple poles to a dipole. Then 1 billion years ago, the field weakened and the poles became highly variable. Finally, 650 million years ago, right before the Cambrian explosion where abundant and diverse multicellular organisms appeared on Earth, it transitioned to the current strong dipole configuration.1 Furthermore, it appears that the transition back to the strong dipole regime may coincide with the formation of a solid inner core.

The variable and complex magnetic field configurations before 650 million years ago had little effect on life because this life resided almost exclusively in the water. After the Cambrian explosion, life appeared on the continents. Until the nucleation of the inner core occurred, Earth’s magnetic field would exhibit too much variability in strength and direction to provide the shielding that advanced, complex life like humans require.

Is Humanity Important?

So, can humanity be of central importance in the context of a 14-billion-year-old universe? Yes! Given the laws of physics God chose to govern the universe, it took 9 billion years to form a planet capable of supporting life and 4.5 billion years to prepare that planet to host humans. Not everyone agrees that Earth represents the only planet capable of supporting human life, but the next few decades of exoplanet exploration will provide a wealth of data that will help answer this question more definitively.

Resources

Just for kicks, here is one of my favorite demonstrations of neat things you can do with magnetic fields: Youtube Video

Endnotes

  1. Peter Driscoll, “Simulating 2 Ga of Geodynamo History,” Geophysical Research Letters 43 (June 2016): doi:10.1002/2016GL068858.

Subjects: Earth's History, Geophysics

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @ Reasons.org

About The Author

Jeff Zweerink

Since my earliest memories, science and the Christian faith have featured prominently in my life - but I struggled when my scientific studies seemed to collide with my early biblical training. My first contact with RTB came when I heard Hugh Ross speak at Iowa State University. It was the first time I realized it was possible to do professional work incorporating both my love of science and my desire to serve God. I knew RTB's ministry was something I was called to be a part of. While many Christians and non-Christians see the two as in perpetual conflict, I find they integrate well. They operate by the same principles and are committed to discovering foundational truths. My passion at RTB is helping Christians see how powerful a tool science is to declare God's glory and helping scientists understand how the established scientific discoveries demonstrate the legitimacy and rationality of the Christian faith. While many Christians and non-Christians see the two as in perpetual conflict, I find they integrate well. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Jeff Zweerink thought he would follow in his father's footsteps as a chemistry professor until a high school teacher piqued his interest in physics. Jeff pursued a BS in physics and a PhD in astrophysics at Iowa State University (ISU), where he focused his study on gamma rays - messengers from distant black holes and neutron stars. Upon completing his education, Jeff taught at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Postdoctoral research took him to the West Coast, to the University of California, Riverside, and eventually to a research faculty position at UCLA. He has conducted research using STACEE and VERITAS gamma-ray telescopes, and currently works on GAPS, a balloon experiment seeking to detect dark matter. A Christian from childhood, Jeff desired to understand how the worlds of science and Scripture integrate. He struggled when his scientific studies seemed to collide with his early biblical training. While an undergrad at ISU, Jeff heard Hugh Ross speak and learned of Reasons to Believe (RTB) and its ministry of reconciliation - tearing down the presumed barriers between science and faith and introducing people to their personal Creator. Jeff knew this was something he was called to be a part of. Today, as a research scholar at RTB, Jeff speaks at churches, youth groups, universities, and professional groups around the country, encouraging people to consider the truth of Scripture and how it connects with the evidence of science. His involvement with RTB grows from an enthusiasm for helping others bridge the perceived science-faith gap. He seeks to assist others in avoiding the difficulties he experienced. Jeff is author of Who's Afraid of the Multiverse? and coauthor of more than 30 journal articles, as well as numerous conference proceedings. He still serves part-time on the physics and astronomy research faculty at UCLA. He directs RTB's online learning programs, Reasons Institute and Reasons Academy, and also contributes to the ministry's podcasts and daily blog, Today's New Reason to Believe. When he isn’t participating in science-faith apologetics Jeff enjoys fishing, camping, and working on home improvement projects. An enthusiastic sports fan, he coaches his children's teams and challenges his RTB colleagues in fantasy football. He roots for the Kansas City Chiefs and for NASCAR's Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon. Jeff and his wife, Lisa, live in Southern California with their five children.

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