Dark Energy, Dark Matter, and the Bible

By Dr. Christopher Plumberg

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Let me illustrate this idea with an analogy. Suppose that you are watching a car drive away from you, and that you know exactly how bright the car's taillights are. As the car drives away, the taillights appear to get dimmer (because they are getting farther away), and you manage to figure out a mathematical equation to relate the car's distance to how bright its taillights appear, and use this to calculate the car's distance from you. Now imagine doing this once every 5 seconds (say). What would happen when you measured the car's distance? If the car were driving at a constant speed, the distance would change by the same amount every 5 seconds: 100 feet, 200 feet, 300 feet — a constant increment of 100 feet every 5 seconds — and so on. Now imagine that the car is accelerating; what would you expect to see? You would start observing larger and larger changes in distance: say, 100 feet, 250 feet, 500 feet, and so on. In short, you would be using only the brightness of the car's taillights (and your clever mathematical equation) to measure the car's speed and acceleration.

This is exactly the same sort of thing that cosmologists have measured with respect to the universe's expansion, and the conclusion has been that the universe is in fact speeding up. Now, in the analogy above, the acceleration of the car could be explained by the fact that the driver might be pressing on the gas pedal, leading to more energy (and therefore motion) being produced by the car's engine. Cosmologists, on the other hand, have no such "gas pedal" to explain the universe's expansion, so instead they have posited an otherwise unknown "dark energy" to do the explanatory work. The "dark" part, in this case, only indicates that we do not know what the energy is or where it comes from; it really has nothing to do with the energy being "dark," i.e., invisible to our telescopes.

So how do the concepts of dark matter and dark energy line up with the creation account given in Genesis? In fact, neither concept poses any significant difficulty for a literal, six-day understanding of God's creation. First, dark matter is simply a theoretical concept invented to resolve some otherwise difficult problems in cosmology. This sort of thing happens regularly in science, and normally with great success. Although the true nature of dark matter is not yet well-understood, I suspect that the next few decades will help to clarify it quite a bit, and it should pose no problem for Christians who understand Genesis to describe the literal account of how God created the universe. The notion of dark matter does nothing to undermine our understanding of how God described His own creative activities in Scripture.

Although dark energy also poses no real difficulties to a literal reading of Genesis, its relationship to Genesis is slightly more complicated. The most obvious connection involves how the idea of dark energy came about in the first place: the prediction of dark energy originated from the expectation that the universe has been expanding since its creation in the Big Bang. If the universe was not actually formed in the Big Bang, however, then it is simply unclear how the apparent acceleration of the universe's expansion should be interpreted. Dark energy may or may not exist; the Big Bang theory indicates that something like it should exist, while the Genesis account is simply agnostic about its existence. In other words, if dark energy were discovered directly, although it would certainly fit with an account of the universe's history which denied the literal understanding of Genesis, it is far from clear that the evidence itself would contradict the Biblical account. Thus, dark energy should likewise not be understood as a hindrance to accepting the Biblical record, even though exactly how the two would fit together is still an open question in creationist research.

Both dark matter and dark energy are theoretical concepts which have been posited by modern cosmologists to help resolve various problems or tensions in the current standard model of the universe. At the time of writing, there has still been no decisive verdict as to which of these, if either, actually exist. Fortunately, whether or not dark matter and dark energy reflect genuine aspects of God's creation, their potential existence poses no threat to the Christian's understanding of Scripture and creation. They are, rather, just one more opportunity for us to worship the Creator.

Image Credit: Hans; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Controversial-Issues  | God-Father  | Science-Creation

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Published 3-13-17