Sunday, May 1, 2022

Outer Space, Religion, and the Bible

One doesn’t normally think of outer space as having anything to do with religion and the Bible, and it may seem rather strange at first to connect the two. Nevertheless, it seems to me they are related. Outer space, commonly shortened to space, is the expanse that exists beyond earth and its atmosphere and that which exists between celestial bodies. Outer space does not begin at a definite altitude above the Earth's surface. The Karmen line, an altitude of 100 km (62 miles) above sea level, is conventionally used as the start of outer space in space treaties and aerospace records-keeping. The framework for international space law was established by the Outer Space Treaty, which entered into force on 10 October 1967. This treaty precludes any claims of national sovereignty and permits all states freely to explore the vast reaches of outer space.1

Outer space is the newest frontier of the human spirit beckoning explorers. We denizens of mother earth, who have lived into our majority in the 20th and early 21st, centuries belong to a first generation of Star Trek travelers whose fate it has become to explore our own solar system in preparation for interstellar space journeys. For a people whose destiny is the stars, the Bible has become, in part, only an interesting relic of our human past. It is a collection of texts accumulating part of the wisdom of our species in its childhood.

            There appears to be no concept of outer space in the Bible. The romantic biblical view of the cosmos is restricted to the earth and its atmosphere.2 Briefly, the ancient view of the universe in the Bible may be reconstructed as follows: Initially God created a bit of firmament (the heavens) around which swirled the waters of chaos (Gen 1:6-8; 8:27-29). The earth appeared at God’s command (Gen 1:9-10), mounted on pillars (1 Sam 2:8; Job 9:6; Ps 75:3) over which there stretched a vaulted or arched (Isa 40:22; Job 22:14; Prov 8:27) canopy or tent (Ps 104:2) from which the “lights” and stars in the vaulted canopy shined (Gen 1:14-18). Around this protected cocoon swirled the waters of chaos (Ps 104:5-9).

            The best that can be said for this biblical concept of the cosmos is that it is seriously flawed. The poetic theory that God created all things by a word (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 14-16) is not as logically convincing as the scientific theory of the “Big Bang.” The “Big Bang” theory avers that the universe exploded into existence in all directions from a singularity, and as a result of the explosion the edge of the universe continues to expand and recede outward from the earth at tremendous speeds that can be measured by changes in light rays (the Doppler effect).3 The farther away one goes in space from the earth, the farther back in time one moves toward the origin of the universe.4 Peering through the Hubble telescope involves one in time travel; one actually sees into the past to earlier stages of the universe’s formation. Of course. that is true of the Bible as well. Reading the Bible is a kind of time travel which allows one to peer into the past of our species. The Bible’s seriously flawed view of the cosmos disqualifies it as a reliable resource; nevertheless, the founders of the Flat Earth Society used the Bible as a resource for their understanding of the universe.5

Here is the point of this essay: If God created the cosmos (and s/he surely might have6), it is obvious from the existing cosmos that outer space came into existence at the same time or later, as scientists postulate.7 And this datum exposes one serious inadequacy in the biblical record.

The clash between the Bible and the challenge of space travel is only one of the Bible’s many limitations. Its failure to acknowledge outer space is a graphic illustration of its limitations. The Bible loses the how-of-creation argument to modern science, and that should make one wonder what other inadequacies exist in the Bible?8

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1These two statements are slightly adapted from Wikipedia:

For the treaty see:

2See “The Biblical View of the Universe” in C. W. Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019), 13-15. An artist’s rendering of this scheme may be found at T. H. Gaster, “Cosmogony,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (4 vols.; Abingdon, 1962), 1:703.




6See Hedrick, “Matter and Spirit: Making Sense of it All” in Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade: 2019), 174-77.

7Scientists postulate the age of the cosmos at 13.77 billion years,

And the age of the earth is calculated at 4.54 billion years, Thanks to PaulYR for this correction. See the comments below.

8I address another category of discrepancy in the following: C. W. Hedrick, “Introduction, Superstition, Faith, and the Marginal Relevance of the Bible” in Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 1-12.


PAULYR said...

Charles, age of cosmos is 13.77 billion years, ; age of planet Earth is 4.54 billion years, . "Outer space" existed long before our planet. How can you say they "came into existence simultaneously?"

Bob Fowler said...

As always, thanks, Charlie! Thinking about space, I'm a fan of the movie, Interstellar, which is based on the premise that earth becomes uninhabitable, forcing humankind to seek a way to emigrate to somewhere, anywhere out there in space, where a new home might be found. A story with deep humanity, great special effects, and haunting music.

Charles Hedrick said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Bob! I have not seen the film yet, but will check it out

Charles Hedrick said...

Lack of information on my part. Thanks for the correction. See my adjustment to the blog essay.

PAULYR said...

Hi Charlie, thanks for making correction. I agree with you that Bible has limitations. Yet science itself has limits. We are ignorant of many things in universe. Science is trying to expand our knowledge, day after day. Our view of Bible has changed much with the centuries, but it still bears witness to almighty God.
Paul Rizzuto

Anonymous said...

You have written another interesting essay that stimulates thought. I’m not sure I can agree with everything, though.
Your assessment of the biblical concept of the cosmos as seriously flawed, disqualifying it as a reliable resource seems to assume our modern scientific concept of the cosmos as a less flawed, more reliable concept.
We can only designate a concept as unreliable or flawed if we evaluate it according to some standard. Your critique of the ancient biblical cosmology considers it less logically convincing than modern scientific cosmology. I submit that we cannot measure both cosmologies using the same metric, because the two cosmologies were crafted to achieve entirely, even opposing, understandings.
Premodern cosmology starts with a story of how things came to be in order to answer the question of *why* they came to be, whereas scientific cosmology starts with the existence of things as a given, in order to craft a story answering the question of *how* they came to be.
Since they function to accomplish very different purposes in human awareness, I’m not sure we can conclude that the cosmology assumed by biblical writers is flawed relative to our modern one.

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Afternoon Bill,
Thank you for weighing in on the issue.
I would describe the modern scientific view of the cosmos as limited. It is a narrative created around what can be known of the cosmos. But I would not describe it as seriously flawed.The standard that I am using to compare the two is What Is. The Biblical narrative measured against what can be seen of the cosmos is seriously flawed, if not completely incorrect.
Why am I not able to "measure both cosmologies using the same metric"? The bible may be arguing for "who" created the cosmos, but it is also describing What Is and its description is seriously flawed when compared to What is.

Anonymous said...

Hi Charlie,

Do you have an opinion about what the chances are that 3000 years from now someone will be writing a blog and conclude that "the modern scientific view" of the cosmos was "seriously flawed if not completely incorrect?"

Also, do you have a source and interpretation for the phrase "edge of the universe." To my way of thinking there is no way to experience those words. If there is nothing on the other side of the edge, humans cannot experience "nothing," and if there's something on the other side of the edge, then its only a relative edge, but humans have no way of experiencing what it would be.

Gene Stecher
Chambersburg, PA

Charles Hedrick said...

Hi Gene,
I think that people do experience "nothing" in various specific ways. "nothing" is the absence of everything. And we can experience absence or lack. For example, silence is the absence of sound and we do experience silence; absolute darkness is the absence of light and we do experience darkness. Following the death of a loved one, we experience their absence or the lack of their presence.
Cordially, Charlie