Mailbag: Time dilation in Schroeder’s biblical cosmology

LH asked for clarification on the biblical cosmology of Gerald Schroeder. There was some question of the nature of the redshift and how to relate that to cosmological time dilation. 

Physicist Gerald Schroeder has written four books on the relation of biblical wisdom to modern science. His book, The Science of God, explains his biblical cosmology in detail. I’ve created an illustrated slideshow here (see also the “Six Days” tab at the top) that covers the basics of his model. The gist is that Schroeder is able to convincingly reconcile a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 –six 24-hour days of creation –with a universe that is billions of years old by invoking the phenomenon known as time dilation. That’s the slowing down of time in one reference frame as observed from another reference frame. It’s a scientifically sound model, but it’s also a bit difficult for the average scientific layperson to understand, because it involves one of the trickiest concepts in science — the nature of time.

Even scientifically-literate people get tripped up by the effect of time dilation, because the effect can occur for different reasons. So, it’s no surprise that one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of Schroeder’s biblical cosmology is the nature of the time dilation effect that gives us six 24-hour days in one frame of reference and 14 billion years in another. It is not due to gravitational effects or comparing two different physical reference frames within the universe. Rather it arises from the following:

  1. God’s reference frame existing beyond space and time, which regards the universe as a whole
  2. the expansion of the universe
  3. comparison of the flow of time between different moments in cosmological history

Schroeder assumes Genesis 1 is told from God’s perspective. God’s reference frame is not any one place within the universe, but from outside the universe, regarding the universe in its entirety. So, to find something to form the basis of the Genesis clock, Schroeder looked for something that takes into account the three points above. He chose the cosmic background radiation (CBR), because it permeates the entire universe, it has existed virtually since the beginning of the universe, and encoded in its properties are the history of the expansion of the universe.

The time dilation for Genesis 1 is based on the expansion of the universe. This is neither special relativity nor a gravitational effect; it is merely a consequence of the stretching of the CBR light waves as the universe expands. This is a well-established effect in cosmology, and one I have to take into account in my own research on distant quasars. For simplicity, if you think of the CBR light waves as a sine wave, then the frequency of the sine wave represents the beat of the Genesis clock. The higher the frequency, the faster the clock ticks off time. If you think of drawing this sine wave on a piece of stretchable fabric representing the fabric of the universe and then stretching this fabric, the length between the peaks on the sine wave gets longer, and hence the ticks of the clock get longer (i.e. slower). So, what’s happening is that as the universe ages and expands, the frequency of the CBR light decreases, and the ticks of the Genesis clock for each moment in time get slower compared with previous moments in time.

That’s how we can measure, from our earthly perspective looking backward in time, 14 billion years, while God measures, from his perspective regarding the universe as a whole looking forward in time, six 24-hour days.

4 thoughts on “Mailbag: Time dilation in Schroeder’s biblical cosmology

  1. A few problems for Schroeder’s view are: “In the beginning” is when God created the universe. Genesis 1:1 uses a merism “the heavens and the earth” which refers to the entire universe. That included everything from the Big Bang to the formation of earth (about 9.2 billion years). The six days deal with earth. Notice that Genesis 1:2 describes earth as unfinished. The point of view from Genesis 1:2 onward is the earth’s surface, not the edge of space-time. Genesis 1:2 says that the Spirit of God hovers over the waters of earth. Likewise, the lights of day four can only function as those types of signs from the perspective of earth’s surface and the winged creatures of day five are said the fly upon or across the face of the sky, which is the cloud layer, as seen from earth’s surface (Matt. 16:2-3 and Luke 12:54, 56). Also, the seventh day is ongoing (John 56:17 and Hebrews 4). It was not 24 hours as assumed by Schroeder’s work.

  2. A few problems for Schroeder’s view are…

    Have you read any of Schroeder’s books? Particularly The Science of God? I ask, because many of his critics have not read his books and are basing their criticisms on what they suppose he says, which is almost always incorrect.

    … “In the beginning” is when God created the universe. Genesis 1:1 uses a merism “the heavens and the earth” which refers to the entire universe. That included everything from the Big Bang to the formation of earth (about 9.2 billion years).

    There is no reason I’m aware that the merism must mean God created the universe with all of its current contents in place. I had been taught that “the heavens and the earth” simply meant “the universe.” And it is true that when the universe was created, it was created with everything it would always have already in it, but not in completed form.

    The six days deal with earth.

    On what do you base this?

    Notice that Genesis 1:2 describes earth as unfinished.

    Not only not finished, but not even formed. Schroeder claims this passage describes the earth as “unformed” and “in a state of chaos” and “filled with the building blocks of matter” (Nahmanides’ interpretation). It corresponds to a point in the history of the universe when the universe would have been filled with the most elementary state of matter — quarks, which are considered to be the building blocks of matter.

    The point of view from Genesis 1:2 onward is the earth’s surface, not the edge of space-time.

    Again, based on what?

    Genesis 1:2 says that the Spirit of God hovers over the waters of earth.

    It does not say “the earth.” Also, the word for water in ancient Hebrew can also be translated as “fluid.” In Schroeder’s biblical cosmology, this corresponds to the time of cosmic inflation, when the universe was filled with the perfect quark-gluon fluid.

    Likewise, the lights of day four can only function as those types of signs from the perspective of earth’s surface and the winged creatures of day five are said the fly upon or across the face of the sky, which is the cloud layer, as seen from earth’s surface (Matt. 16:2-3 and Luke 12:54, 56).

    Yes, the point of view does change to the surface of the earth later in Genesis 1.

    Also, the seventh day is ongoing (John 56:17 and Hebrews 4). It was not 24 hours as assumed by Schroeder’s work.

    From whose point of view? Schroeder claims the 24-hour days are only from God’s perspective.

  3. Sarah,
    Why do your last two points not conflict?
    You said that “Yes, the point of view does change to the surface of the earth later in Genesis 1.” Then you claim that “Schroeder claims the 24-hour days are only from God’s perspective.” Schroeder holds that God’s perspective is for the edge of space-time. If it later changed to the earth, which you seem to agree happened from at least day four onward, then there is no time dilation for days 4, 5, 6 and 7. His model then fails.

    I need to know where in the scriptures does earth mean universe? It doesn’t. The merism “the heavens and the earth” means universe, not the word earth by itself. Genesis 1:2 has earth alone. Genesis 1:2 does not describe earth as a chaos. It says, “Now the earth was unproductive (tohu) and uninhabited (bohu); i.e. empty, and darkness covered the face of the ocean, and the Spirit of God brooded over the surface of the waters.” A detailed study of the etymology of these terms was done by Dr. David Tsumura and can be found here:
    http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=eOQjVxVM6goC&oi=fnd&pg=PA5&dq=Genesis+1:1&ots=a86gjnoout&sig=hZ5UI6MeXOxTvEMBzPVPTZZ-qTs#v=onepage&q=Genesis%201%3A1&f=false

    The point of view from Genesis 1:2 onward is the earth’s surface, not the edge of space-time.
    You asked, “Again, based on what?”
    Based on the Spirit of God being on the earth. He is hovering over the surface of earth’s waters.

    The six days deal with earth.
    You asked, “On what do you base this?”
    Each day’s work changes one of these initial conditions of the earth. Day two is the only exception. Here God made a necessary expanse, but this did not change one of the original conditions. This is why day two does not include the phrase “it was good.”

    As far as your first point about the universe not being complete: God told Job that stars and angels were there when He established the earth and He told job why earth was dark (Job 38:4-9).

  4. God is not described by Schroeder as existing on the edge of spacetime (there is no edge of spacetime); he is beyond our Universe entirely. I don’t see any reason why God cannot describe the events of Genesis from any perspective from within the Universe he chooses.

    Kenny, before I address your other points, it would help me to understand from what position you’re arguing. Are you a Young Earth Creationist? If not, what is your view on the age of the Earth and the Universe?

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