Holy shit. Neil DeGrasse Tyson just explained to me why the earth can’t be 6,000 years old, and no one has ever done that before. I am a 33 year old woman, and I had no idea the explanation was this simple. I was taught Creationism, of course, a literal interpretation of the Bible in which God created the heavens and the earth and everything in it in 6 days. Creationism also teaches that the earth is only 6,000 years old, the approximate time span that the Bible covers. The only thing I was ever taught about evolution was why it isn’t true, and I wish I could remember the specifics so I could tell you. But what I DO remember is why the earth can’t be millions of years old, and the reason I was given was that carbon dating is a lie. (I still know nothing about carbon dating, but maybe NdGT will get around to that, too.)
I still struggle to believe that evolution and science are true. I know in my head that the scientists are in all likelihood right about these things–they are scientists, and scientists hold themselves to high standards when it comes to things like facts. Religion on the other hand? Religion has few, if any, standards regarding facts. Let’s just think for a minute about what would happen to religion if it had to hold itself to the kind of standards that science does. It would probably crumble.
So, you want to know how we know that the earth is much older than 6,000 years? Because stars. We measure the distance between our planet and stars in light years, “a unit of astronomical distance equivalent to the distance that light travels in one year, which is 9.4607 × 1012 km (nearly 6 trillion miles).” A light year is a measure of distance, just like a foot or a mile. The stars are so far away, that it takes years for their light to reach earth. And if the earth were only 6,000 years old, the only starlight we would be able to see would be from stars that were 6,000 or fewer light years away from us. Which is a small portion of our galaxy, and a small number of the stars we see.*
It’s so fucking simple.
It’s math. EASY math.
If the earth was only 6,000 years old, the starlight from most of the galaxy wouldn’t have had time to get to us yet. But it has. The oldest light we can see is 13.4 billion light years away.
And all the properly educated folks in the room rolled their eyes and said “Duh” and kind of shook their heads at my ignorance.
But I sat there stunned. I paused the show. I rewound it. I watched it again. And a third time, just to make sure I had heard it correctly. It’s so simple. It makes so much sense. Even a kid could understand it. What the fuck.
I called my old college friend Sarah, and said, “You won’t believe this!” She said she’d had the same reaction when she’d learned about it a few years ago. “I know!” she said, “I couldn’t believe it either!”
So, what is Christianity’s response to this? They have two choices: to incorporate what we now know as fact into their belief system, or to deny, deny, deny and throw in some good old fashioned persecution complex as the cherry on top. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which route they choose when this episode of Cosmos aired a little over a year ago.
Why do God and science have to be mutually exclusive? Is the choice really between belief in God and belief in science? Think about it. If there is a God, and God made us smart enough to figure out how the world works using science, shouldn’t science then lead us back to God, rather than further away? And what if it doesn’t? What is a religious community to do when science disproves long-held religious beliefs?
It seems to me that we have logic and reasoning so that we can understand the world around us. If we go out into the world with questions about the existence of God, and the answers to our questions lead us further away from the idea of God…maybe we were wrong about God all along.
*Neil DeGrasse Tyson does a better job of explaining this in the PBS series “Cosmos,” episode 4.