Science vs. the Bible: Reconciling Genesis and the Big Bang

God created the universe in six days. Science says it took 15 billion years. How to reconcile those numbers? If you're Gerald Schroeder, the answer is simple: Do the math.

The math, however, is not so simple.

Schroeder is a physicist and biblical scholar who teaches at the College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He's one of several scientists trying to reconcile the ancient writings of the Bible with science, starting with the big one: Did God create the universe in six days, resting on the seventh? Or was it born in a fiery "big bang" billions of years ago?

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," reads the story of creation described in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Schroeder, who earned two Ph.D.s from MIT, says those opening chapters are descriptions of the big bang itself. They are, as he says, "identical realities."

His thesis hinges on the fact that time is not a constant: It's relative, at least according to Albert Einstein. Schroeder insists that the biblical calendar begins with the appearance of Adam on the sixth day, not with the creation of the world. "Relativity," he says, "has proven the flexibility of time during those six pre-Adam days of Genesis."

Schroeder is the author of several books, including the just released "God According to God: A Physicist Proves We've Been Wrong About God All Along." But it's his 20-year-old "Genesis and the Big Bang" -- which seeks to reconcile the Bible with physics, cosmology and evolution -- that's still shaking the scientific and religious communities.

Peter Enns blasts the effort, saying it's "absurd that you can actually find physics in Genesis I."

Enns, a senior fellow of biblical studies at the BioLogos Foundation, insists that "it's actually a question that I think we have no right to expect Genesis to answer." Speaking of Schroeder's search for a happy marriage between Genesis and physics, he asks: "On what basis can you assume that they should be reconciled?"

On Einstein, Schroeder says.

Schroeder's theory hinges on Einstein's theory that time and velocity have a relationship. In his model of "general relativity," the faster things go, the slower time moves. You'd have to be going pretty fast to see time affected significantly, however. And the one thing that does move that fast is light, which travels at 186,000 miles per second.

Because light moves so fast, it affects time, meaning one event viewed from two different points in the universe (where light takes more or less time to reach your eyes) is perceived at different rates. So time can't be absolute, because it all depends on your point of reference.

"When the Bible describes the day-by-day development of our universe in the six days following the creation, it is truly referring to six 24-hour days. But the reference frame by which those days were measured was one which contained the total universe," Schroeder wrote -- a universe that was rapidly expanding. Because of the time/velocity connection, that change in perspective changed the meaning of time -- or of, say, six days.

But Karl Giberson, director of Forum on Faith at Gordon College in Massachusetts, doesn't buy Schroeder's theory. "The Bible isn't set up with hidden codes based on 20th century science that couldn't have been understood by the writers of the text," he said.

Giberson, author of "Worlds Apart: The Unholy War between Religion and Science" and "Species of Origins: America’s Search for a Creation Story," says "Relativity can, of course, produce a theoretical 'reference frame,' in which an ordinary day on Earth would appear to be any length at all."

But, he continues, "There is no evidence of any sort -- scientific or biblical -- to suggest that this contrived explanation is relevant to Genesis."

Schroeder's take on creation also does not sit well with Bible literalists like Ken Ham, director of the Creation Museum and the organization "Answers in Genesis."

"The first thing I look at," said Ham, "is to question what is his ultimate motivation?"

Ham and his museum believe that the Bible should be taken literally, rejecting theories of evolution in favor of the Bible's stories. He said Schroeder "has accepted the secular view of 15 billion years as the age of the universe, so his ultimate motivation is to fit 15 billion years into the Bible's account. He then develops this model, to fit that model."

Enns agrees with Ham, but for totally different reasons. He told there's nothing wrong with the biblical view: Science and theology are speaking two different languages.

"Genesis isn't prepared to give a scientific account of the world's beginnings," Enns said. He thinks Genesis was written to be understood by ancient people who had no knowledge of modern science. "I think the theology [in Genesis] is that Israel's God was so powerful He doesn't need the sun and the stars and the moon to make a day ... he only needs his own light."