Interstellar, Relativity and the Age of the Earth
Many of y’all will know that it is “Creation Week” here at Torrey Gazette (#TGCreationWk). Joshua has lined up reviews for several books this week that deal with Christian approaches to creation and evolution. In that spirit several of us regular contributors to here at TG are writing posts this week that tie into the theme.
Conveniently enough I watched the movie Interstellar Sunday night and I thought I would share a couple of thoughts about how the relativity of time might affect conversations about the age of the earth.
The relativity of time is actually a concept that I’ve given thought to for about five or six years. I’ve never written about it but I’ve voiced some thoughts in a few conversations and I’m glad to take the opportunity to share them here.
The relativity of time or Time Dilation is the theory that time is not constant. Time, according to Time Dilation theory, can change depending on certain factors. Factors like gravity and velocity can have an effect on time.
What this means is that time acts differently in different circumstances. The movie Interstellar displays this concept in vivid and agonizing detail at several points. In one of the more intense scenes of the movie Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway’s characters descend to a planet from their space station leaving a crew member (Romilly) behind. The scene lasts but a matter of minutes and it is understood by the audience that their time on the planet totaled something around two hours. When they escaped the planet and returned to the space station the crew member they had left behind had experienced over 23 years of time. The gravity, rotation, and revolution of the planet they visited caused time to move at a faster pace.
Here's a clip of the characters coming back to the space station. It's really quiet so you might need to turn your volume up to hear.
How might such a concept as Time Dilation affect our studies about the age of the earth? The Bible seems to teach that time is a part of the created order. God is not bound by time. Furthermore, the complexities of theoretical physics, one can assume, are in their beginning stages. The summit that we are currently ascending in regards to our understanding of time is likely to offer a view of a range of theoretical mountains unfathomable to our current scientific understandings. This is part of what it means to believe in an infinite God.
That is one of the things I enjoyed about Interstellar. At certain points in the movie you just couldn't really wrap your head around what was happening. But even those things pale in comparison to the infinite God who created time.
Here's another clip where the concept of a wormhole is explained. Again you might need to turn up your speakers to hear it.
I’m often frustrated by debates about the age of the earth from both sides of the equation. I certainly lean more conservative in this arena and sit more comfortably in the Young Earth Creationist (YEC) camp. I believe that God made the world in a “literal” seven days and that the entire history of the cosmos is something like 7,000 years old. But if time is relative how can we really claim to have any certainty in these areas? The time that we are currently using to measure the age of the universe is likely much different from the time at the beginning of creation and even at other parts in the cosmos.
I get frustrated at the fundamentalist crowd for clear anti-intellectualism and fear of scientific thought for sure. But I also get frustrated at Biology 101 professors who tell their students that the Bible is wrong because carbon dating says the world is 10937398203948 years old. Yeah, maybe by the time that we experience now it's that old but time is not constant. The theory of Time Dilation throws both arguments in the trash bin and should honestly lead us to awe in the infinite God who created time.
The Bible gives us God's account of the creation of the world. It took him seven days to do it. Are these days like the days we currently experience? Probably not. Are we even capable of putting the days of creation under our proverbial microscopes? Again, probably not. At this point I think humility is key.
Food for thought.
Editor's Note: This post is a part of the larger Torrey Gazette's "Creation Week."