The age of the universe

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 28th of May, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: the age of the universe.

Scientists thought they knew about its origins. But now a new study published by a Nobel Prize–winning astrophysicist is shaking things up.

The study centers on what’s known as the Hubble constant. That’s a measurement used to calculate how fast the universe is expanding. And it turns out, it’s expanding faster than previously thought.

REICHARD: Why is that important? Well, mainstream scientists say that means the universe is younger than they believed. And that has implications for a whole lot of other scientific theories.

Joining us now to talk about why it matters is Jake Hebert. He’s a physicist with the Institute for Creation Research.

Good morning!

HEBERT: Good morning!

REICHARD: Let’s start with the idea that the universe is expanding.  From where did this idea arise?

HEBERT: Well, actually, it basically came from Edwin Hubble and some other people who were looking at distant galaxies and when you examine the light from those distant galaxies, it exhibits what we call a “red shift” where the spectra for those galaxies, those dark lines are moved a little bit closer to the red part of the spectrum. And that’s usually interpreted to mean that they’re moving away from us.

But most people would argue that it’s not so much that the galaxies are moving through space away from us. Most people would argue that means that space itself is expanding. And that’s where that idea comes from.

REICHARD: How does that relate to the Big Bang theory that most of us are familiar with?

HEBERT: Right. Well, once they concluded that the universe was expanding, they needed some explanation for that. And so after that, it was not too long after that that a priest, actually, a Catholic priest came up with the idea of a big bang. So, basically, the idea of the expanding universe actually came first and then they came up with the big bang to try to explain it.

REICHARD: I see. OK. So, in your best layman’s terms, tell us what this Hubble Constant is and how that figures into the expanding universe idea?

HEBERT: Right. Well, the Hubble Constant, it’s really not a constant. It’s more accurately called the Hubble Parameter. It’s measured in what we call kilometers per second—that’s speed—and these very large units of distance called megaparsecs—really huge distances. And basically what that means is that if you have a galaxy, the further away the galaxy is, the faster it’s moving away from us. And that’s basically what that number means. It’s just—they call it constant but really it’s supposed to be just the value at the present time in the universe’s history. They think that the expansion rate changed in the past, but that’s what it is today, supposedly.

REICHARD: I understand this research isn’t new. It’s been percolating in the scientific community for a while. And here this theory of a younger universe seems to be confirmed by the scientists. But it has some people upset. Why do you think that is?

HEBERT: Well, when they say younger, they’re talking maybe a billion years younger than what they were saying. That’s still awfully old, you know. But here’s the interesting thing: I don’t know if it’s got people all that upset, actually, although I think they should be. The problem is that there are two different ways of inferring this Hubble Constant. One is a direct method where you basically measure distances to objects in space and you figure out their speeds and it’s essentially a direct calculation. The other way they do it is they assume that the Big Bang is true and they interpret this to be an afterglow from a time about 400,000 years after the Big Bang. So they assume the Big Bang is true and they find what they think are the best fits to the data. Well, once they’ve done that, they can calculate the Hubble Constant. Well, when you do it that way, you get a number that is lower than what you get from the direct measurement. And the uncertainties are small enough that there’s an actual contradiction. The methods are contradicting each other.

They’re using a flawed model to try to interpret the data. And so not surprisingly they’re getting a contradiction.

REICHARD: Do you think scientists, then, will start moving away from the theory in the future?

HEBERT: Probably not. And the reason for that is that they’re so invested in it that I don’t really see that happening. And, like I said, this—you asked the question, are they alarmed by this—they really aren’t. Because if you listen to them, they say, “Oh, this is so exciting, this is evidence of new physics,” and it’s interesting the way that works. Data are never allowed to count against the Big Bang. I think they should abandon it because I think it’s a flawed model, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

REICHARD: What’s the take-away for Christians? How should people who believe God created the universe view this news?

HEBERT: Well, I think it’s obvious that we scientists don’t have it all figured out. So, I think the takeaway is that they don’t understand things as well as they think they do, and I would hope that Christians who maybe have felt compelled for some reason to accept the Big Bang would be willing to question it and say, you know, there’s data here that are contradicting this model. They can’t get all the data to fit their model because there’s something wrong with their model. 

REICHARD: Jake Hebert is a physicist with the Institute for Creation Research. Thanks so much for joining us today!

HEBERT: Well, thanks for having me. It was my pleasure.

(Photo/National Geographic)

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6 comments on The age of the universe

  1. Kathy says:

    Please ask a Christian astrophysicist who believes in biblical creation and keeps up with the current literature. He offers a different response. Try either Dr. Jeff Zweerink or Dr. Hugh Ross. Both have been interviewed in the past for World magazine articles. Marvin Olasky is familiar with them and their credibility.

  2. This was dreadful. Was this really the best astrophysicist you could find?

  3. WORLD Radio: Mrs. Mary Reichard,
    In light of the news in astronomy about the Hubble constant, I am surprised that you would select a physicist who to my knowledge has no personal experience in astronomy or has ever written anything about that subject. In contrast, inside the evangelical community we have a physicist who specializes in this work, doing research at CERN, the big particle collider in Switzerland. He is Dr. Michael Strauss, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, and has written a book about the Bible and the universe: “The Creator Revealed, A Physicist Examines the Big Bang and the Bible.”

    I strongly recommend that WORLD review this book and that you interview Dr. Michael Strauss, a conservative Christian with personal knowledge and research experience in this topic.

    If you wonder about my credentials and involvement in the faith and science discussion, please ask Joel Belz. He knows me, and my wife and I have visited with him.

    Ken Wolgemuth, PhD
    Founder, Solid Rock Lectures
    I am a geochemist, so please do not ask me about astronomy. You may ask me about geology and geochemistry, and about the age of the earth.

  4. Tim Boyle says:

    As someone who works at (and presumably holds to the perspective of) a young-earth creationist organization, Hebert also is heavily invested in a particular model of origins. I would agree with him that scientists don’t have everything figured out, but to conclude that the “Big Bang” Creation of the universe is itself a false model — in spite of its great successes in explaining what astronomers detect and the strong evidence it provides for “Creation Ex Nihilo” and the basic tenets of the Bible — is a bit premature to say the least. How about interviewing a physicist with an old-earth creation model to see how they understand this new development?

  5. I do want to state how much I appreciate TWAEII. Let me add how grateful I would be if you would include the organization Reasons to Believe ( when it comes to issues regarding the age of the universe. I know it would be of interest for World’s listeners to know that 99% of Christian physicists/astronomers believe the universe is billions of years old. Even ICR’s Jake Hebert admits that the Hubble Constant would still point to a 13 billion year old universe in this interview. It is important to recognize that the term “big bang” was coined by pantheist Sir Fred Hoyle in order to disparage the concept that the universe had a beginning. He hoped his colleagues would embrace his steady state theory of the universe. Using the term didn’t dissuade his colleagues from embracing the big bang. Ironically, atheists hate the big bang concept because it points to a beginner and young earth Christians seem to think it points toward evolution. Fred Hoyle was successful in dissuading Christians from accepting the theory in spite of the fact that Genesis 1:1 and Hebrews 11:3 describe just such a beginning. Out of nothing came the universe by God’s hand. Please, consider presenting Dr. Hugh Ross’s interpretation that the age and “big bang” beginning of the universe is one of the strongest evidences from scripture that God created everything from seeming nothing. Jack Hebert is in the 1% of Christian physicists that deny the age of the universe. Hugh Ross is in the 99% of Christian physicists who see the miraculous hand of God in the creation of the universe.

  6. Thomas Rothrock says:

    The take away for a Christians is that this is just one more of many, many examples where the secularist says “I know I’m right about bb cosmology” then later says “I’m changing my answer because of new information, but I’m still right.”

    And we know this type of logic would never be allowed in the real world.

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