Memphis Belle

The Bible and the Big Bang
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by Fred Heeren


A Skeptic’s Questions

How am I supposed to take you Bible believers seriously when so many of you say that the universe was created within the last 10,000 years, in obvious contradiction to the facts of science?

A Believer's Response

The fact that so many Christians believe that may be more of a cultural phenomenon than any sign of what the Bible actually teaches. I won’t deny that there’s a conflict between science and traditional beliefs among many Christians, but as I can show, there’s no conflict with the Bible itself.


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Conflict with Recent Creation Tradition

For Jews, Christians, and Muslims who wish to pay attention to science, science has brought them good news and bad news. The bad news, for some, is that the universe appears to have been created billions, not thousands, of years ago. The good news is that it was created .

For the healthy skeptic, the consensus of science is open to question and independent examination, since it is based on the tradition of human beings, who are never infallible. But if the consensus of scientists is open to question because of their susceptibility to human error, might not the tradition of many Christians also be open to error – particularly when Bible-believing Christians disagree with one another – and most particularly when their traditional opinions are not based on the clear teachings of Scripture, but on a personal interpretation?

I have mentioned scientists who, because of their theological biases, did not accept the idea of a beginning for the universe; but to the credit of most, when the evidence became overwhelming, their desire for truth won them over to what was for them a new way of thinking. This sums up the complete turnaround of science in this century from a belief in an eternal universe to a universe with a creation event. My own theological biases long included the idea that God created, not just transcendently, but recently . For many of us, our unwillingness to even consider a theory that suggests otherwise is based, not on scientific evidence, and not on our own diligent study of this matter in Scripture, but on our faith in an interpretation of certain Christians.

The Source of Recent Creation Tradition

Recent creation tradition stems especially from James Ussher (1581-1656), Irish Archbishop of Armagh. Genealogies of Genesis and other portions of the Bible led him to the conclusion that there were 4,036 years from the creation of the universe until the birth of Christ. Not satisfied with this, scholar John Lightfoot (1602-1675) took it upon himself to refine the calculations, and he decided upon a creation date of October 18, 4004 B.C. Adam was created on October 23 at 9:00 a.m.

Creation critic E.T. Brewster wryly comments: "Closer than this, as a cautious scholar, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University did not venture to commit himself."

These chronologies were based on the mistaken notion that the Bible’s genealogies always included every generation. Neither Ussher nor Lightfoot recognized the fact that, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew words for father ( ‘ab ) and son ( ben ) can also mean forefather and descendent. Bible scholars (including even the staunchest recent creationists) now recognize that "telescoping" was a common practice, serving as an aid to memory and as a means of emphasizing the more important ancestors. The practice becomes especially obvious to any scholar who examines passages such as 1 Chronicles 26:24, Ezra 7:2, or Matthew 1:8.

But this date for creation quickly became a part of Protestant tradition when it was included as a margin note, and sometimes even as a heading, in the early printings of the authorized King James Version of the Bible.

Explaining a Young Universe

These dates, or at least the general time periods, became ingrained into much Christian thinking, but they posed no real problem until conflicts arose with geological findings in the early 19th century. Today, the young earth position is in direct conflict with practically all the sciences. Recent creation advocates must explain how we can see galaxies that are billions of light years away (meaning their light took billions of years to get here). Fossil evidence and radioactive dating of the rocks themselves have rendered any recent creation theory increasingly unreasonable.

Philip Gosse, a Christian geologist who found himself confronted with undeniable evidence for an ancient earth in the 1850s, resolved his dilemma by proposing that God had created everything with an appearance of great age. The actual age of the earth might be eight or ten thousand years, but the "ideal" age (the age which God simulated at creation) could be millions of years. Ancient fossils, according to this view, never existed as plants or animals but had been created as fossils . In His exhaustive job of "antiquating" His universe, God had even simulated the half-digested food found in many animal fossils.

Of course, an omnipotent God has the ability to do such a thing. But the question arises, Would the God who encourages us to delight in and study His great works create false histories (Psalm 111:2)? Are His creative wonders deceptive, or do we appreciate Him more the more we learn of His lengthy preparations for humankind?

The "creation-with-apparent-age" hypothesis is still held by most recent creation advocates today. According to it, we see starlight, not because the stars were really there billions of years ago, but because God created the starlight in situ , as if it had been traveling for billions of years. Such a situation would mean that events that we see in distant galaxies, such as supernovas, never actually happened, but that God is sending us false stellar reports by light. Alternatively, some propose that the speed of light has actually changed. Perhaps light used to travel with much greater velocity, quickly bringing us the light from billions of light-years away, and then God slowed it down to its present velocity.

Such reasoning, of course, is based on questionable presuppositions, not on evidence. Even science writer Paul Steidl, a recent creationist who prefers this view, admitted, "To be honest, there is little or no evidence for a change in the speed of light." There is, however, much contrary evidence. More than fifty experiments to measure the speed of light, beginning over three hundred years ago, indicate that this constant has not changed during that time (at least, not as far as we can tell, considering the imprecision of data used in the past). More importantly, astronomers who measure the spectral lines of hydrogen report no change in the light waves arriving from even the most distant galaxies. The spectral line of hydrogen at 21 centimeters should vary with the speed of light, but this line remains constant, whether the measurement is made on nearby galaxies or those billions of light-years distant.

Another early idea of the recent creationist advocates, called the "tired light" hypothesis, calls into question the whole concept of determination of distances by redshifting. According to this idea, redshifting may be due to the light’s loss of energy rather than the Doppler effect. But careful measurements show that identical redshifts are observed even at greatly disparate frequencies; any loss of energy from distant starlight would show increasing amounts of blurring across spectral lines. In spite of the fact that the "tired light" hypothesis was tested and proved groundless years ago, recent creation advocates continue to promote this hypothesis today.

Those who question the whole idea of redshifting and an expanding universe should understand that gravitational lensing independently confirms that objects with higher redshifts truly are more distant. Massive objects like galaxies are known to act as crude lenses, bending the light from objects that lie behind them so that we can see them. Gravitational lenses thus distort the images of these objects, magnifying them or producing multiple images of the same object. In every case where a gravitational lens has been located, the object behind the lens always has a higher redshift, confirming that the redshift does indeed indicate greater distance.

Other factors do contribute to the degree of an object’s redshift besides the Doppler effect (like gravitational effects). But even if new evidence suddenly came along to show that the redshifting now attributed to recession velocity should be attributed in great degree to something else, we still know that the farthest observable galaxies are at least some millions of light-years distant, and so we know that the universe is at least some millions of years old.

How can we be so sure? Given the distances we have determined to our nearest stars by fool-proof parallax methods, and given a minimum amount of spacing between stars, we know that our own galaxy’s size must be close to the 100,000 light-years that we have determined by other methods. Even if we suppose that there is very little space between galaxies, we have to account for the space required by the millions of observable galaxies themselves (to be extremely conservative, over a million have been observed and plotted on maps – astronomers say there are actually billions). Even if we assume that galaxies are spaced apart by only 10 galaxy diameters (though science tells us this is much closer than typical spacing), and even if we assume there are only one million galaxies, we find our observable universe must be at least 62 million light-years across.* To be able to receive light coming from such a distance obviously requires that the universe be at least 62 million years old.


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*The computation treats the universe as a sphere and stacks one million galaxies within spaces that are cubes with sides that are one million light-years each (keeping each galaxy about 10 galaxy diameters apart above and below, and on all sides). The volume for a sphere = 4 r 3 /3, where r = the radius. So the volume of 1 million cubes = 10 F 24 cubic light-years. And r = 62 million light-years.


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Even recent creationist Paul M. Steidl writes:

"There is no doubt that there really are objects greater than 10,000 light years away. Ten thousand light years still leaves us well within the Milky Way Galaxy, and other galaxies are thousands of times farther away than this. No arguments or revisions of the distance scale can change this basic fact."

To accept the idea that God created starlight "in transit" and rocks with radioactive elements used up in order to give them the "appearance" of billions of years of age is to accept the idea that God is deceptive. At best the appearance-of-age hypothesis presumes that God has some hidden agenda, some reason to misrepresent the universe as much older than it is. Even Einstein’s notion of God was above this; he refused to believe that there was anything deceptive about the way He created the universe: "Subtle is the Lord," said Einstein, "but malicious He is not."

To accept the idea that starlight has slowed down over the years or that its light has become "tired" over distance is to ignore laws of physics and observational tests. To seriously cling to any of these ideas is to put preconceptions (which are based more on tradition than on Scripture) above evidence. *

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* Other proposals have been offered in recent years in an effort to explain how light from stars can travel billions of light-years to reach us in the short time that has allegedly passed since creation. One of these ideas, though coming from a recent creationist, acknowledges the fact that billions of years have passed "out there" among the galaxies, but proposes that only thousands of years may have passed here on Earth. In his book, Starlight and Time, Christian physicist Russell Humphreys shortens Earth-time through use of general relativity. He proposes that Earth was surrounded by an enormous gravitational field, slowing down time here relative to the rest of the universe. However, observational evidence clearly contradicts this idea: for example, our observations of pulsars and Cepheid variable stars whose cycles do not vary with distance. A more interesting proposal comes from Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder. In his books, Genesis and the Big Bang and The Science of God, he proposes that, indeed, the universe has had a 15-billion-year history as we look back at it from our spacetime coordinates. But according to general relativity, an observer at the beginning would look forward to a future when time, as well as space, would stretch out. What appears as 15 billion years from our spacetime would be condensed a million million times from that early viewpoint – into just six days.

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Christian philosopher of science Bernard Ramm says: "Such a scheme as Gosse propounds, clever as it is, is a tacit admission of the correctness of geology. Better sense will state that the ideal time is the real time."

The Other Christian Tradition

For those who feel the need for support from Christian tradition, I should point out that Augustine said that the creation "days" were not sun-divided days, but rather, God-divided days. Others who believed that the creation days were not necessarily solar days include Irenaeus, second century apologist and martyr; Origen, third century apologist; Basil, 4rth century bishop of Caesarea; and Thomas Aquinas, 13th century theologian. This tradition even goes back to ancient Jewish thinking, for the position that the days of Genesis were not to be taken literally was also held by first-century Jewish writers, Philo and Josephus. Obviously, these early opinions cannot be said to have been formed in order to comply with the discoveries of modern science.

More recently, the ancient universe view was held by conservative theologian C.I. Scofield, whose Reference Bible helped publicize the famous "gap" theory (which proposed an age-old earth before Adam). Scofield wrote: "The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geologic ages. . . . The frequent parabolic use of natural phenomena may warrant the conclusion that each creative ‘day’ was a period of time marked off by a beginning and ending."

An ancient world is also defended by conservative Bible scholar A.H. Strong in his Systematic Theology . And in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties , Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer points out that "it would seem to border on sheer irrationality to insist that all of Adam’s experiences in Genesis 2:15-22 could have been crowded into the last hour or two of a literal twenty-four-hour day."

This Christian tradition would demonstrate an open attitude toward the big bang theory – not putting it before the Bible, and not necessarily claiming that it is the only theory that could ever fit the facts – but, for the reasons below, accepting it as a reasonable theory that accords well with the bits of information that the Bible gives us about the beginning of the universe.

The Harmony of Modern Cosmology with the Bible Itself:
The Bible’s Harmony with an Old Universe

The theological theory of a recent creation rests, in great measure, upon a single word used in the first chapter of Genesis – the word "day," the Hebrew word yom, a word whose intended meaning is open to dispute. Each category of creative acts is described as taking place in one day. The fact that the word can refer to a great period of time rather than a solar day is clear from its nearby use in Genesis 2:4, which speaks of the "day" that all this creation activity took place. Here the word yom is intended to mean a general period of time, since it includes all the "days" of creation. Most versions do not even translate the word as "day," so that it will not be confused with a solar day. The New International Version simply states "when they were created," rather than "in the day that the LORD God made." But in the original Hebrew text, the word "day" is there as clearly as it is in each of the "days" of creation.

Even solar-day proponent Henry Morris admits, "There is no doubt that yom can be used to express time in a general sense." He goes on to mention that the word is translated as "time" 65 times in the King James Version, but as "day" almost 1,200 times, and draws conclusions from this fact. However, later he confesses that many of those 1,200 cases also refer to a more general period of time, even though they are translated as "day."

Gleason Archer, an authority on ancient Semitic languages, points out that, in the Hebrew, Genesis 1 omits the definite article before each of the creation days. Rather than saying "the first day," it literally reads, "day one." Says Archer, "In Hebrew prose of this genre, the definite article was generally used where the noun was intended to be definite; only in poetic style could it be omitted." This would also lead us to believe that a figurative meaning for the word day is intended.

The author of the Genesis creation account may have had a 24-hour day in mind, or he may have used the 24-hour day as a fitting picture to describe the stages of creation. Scripture is filled with examples showing use of this word as a figure for longer time periods, as in "the day of the Lord," "in that day," etc.

It is also possible that the author was not thinking so much of ages but of the literary structure of his narrative. Today a growing number of conservative Bible scholars hold to this position, since the writer casts the creation days within a parallel framework. The order and symmetry of this structure stands in stark contrast to other ancient creation accounts, where the world is created during violent conflicts between gods. In the Bible, however, care and design are stressed even in the literary structure. Charting the days reveals the symmetrical beauty of days that correspond to one another both horizontally and vertically.

Days 1—3 correspond to one another vertically, each speaking of formation, while days 4—6 also correspond to one another vertically, each speaking of filling. Moreover, placing these two lists side by side reveals that each day of formation corresponds horizontally to a day of filling: day 1 corresponds to day 4 (light), day 2 corresponds to day 5 (sea and sea creatures), and day 3 corresponds to day 6 (land and land creatures). It is also possible to accept this overall framework as an artful use of a real sequence of creative events, since the geologic record’s agreement with Genesis 1, in my view, is difficult to explain by coincidence alone. Volume 3 deals with this subject in great detail.

Whether one accepts the day-age interpretation or the literary framework hypothesis (or some combination of both), the inerrancy of Scripture is not violated. The Scriptures allow for the geologic ages that science reveals. Some would even say that the Bible’s most natural interpretation necessitates long periods of time before the creation of humans.

Notice, for instance, the use of the word "generations," again in Genesis 2:4 (usually translated "account" in modern versions). The verse literally translates as "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day of their making." In Hebrew the word "generation" ( toledoth ) means the number of years between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring, or a period arbitrarily longer. The fact that it is used in the plural obviously suggests a long period of time for the creation of the heavens and the earth; it is difficult to reconcile these "generations" with the idea of only six solar days.

The rest of the Bible certainly gives us the general sense that creation was a time-consuming, monumental process, involving ages (Proverbs 8:22-31, Psalm 104, Micah 6:3, Habakkuk 3:6). Genesis, the book of beginnings, only devotes one chapter out of fifty to describe creation, and the rest of the Bible is far too general to satisfy the curiosity of a scientist. Why doesn’t the Bible give us more specifics? Why, after all, doesn’t Genesis tell us about each phylum and class and give us the specifics of all the processes God used to bring them about, along with their exact dates?

Obviously these facts, interesting as they would be to scientists, are not the reason for God’s communication. They would not satisfy the greatest need of the human heart, the need to know not just when or how the universe was created, but Who created it. It is not the Bible’s intention to teach science. Like the teacher/king in Ecclesiastes, we have to work for our knowledge of God’s natural order. But His gift through His Word is the revelation of Who He is, which we would know only imperfectly apart from special, supernatural revelation. Supernatural revelation tells us Who created and why . Natural revelation tells us how and when .

God’s purpose through Genesis 1, for readers today as well as in Moses’ time, is certainly to magnify Himself as sole Creator and to let it be known that all creation serves Him and His purposes. Nature is not to be worshipped. Only the Creator is worthy of that honor. Bible-believing science philosopher Bernard Ramm writes: "This is more effectively brought out by an absence of reference to all secondary causes. God speaks and it comes to pass! Expositors have been mistaken in assuming that (i) this cannot involve time, and (ii) this cannot involve process."

The Bible’s Harmony with Our Findings From Nature

Some people, however, feel that the Bible must be the only source of revelation for all truth. This single revelation position leads to the view that science is of the devil, that everything we need to know is in God’s Word and to try to gain knowledge from other sources is sin. Such a position runs contrary to Scripture itself, since Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:19-20 clearly tell us that God also speaks to us through creation. Above the entrance to the old Cavendish Laboratory in London is engraved Psalm 111:2: "Great are the works of the LORD; they are studied by all who delight in them."

Even though it is not the Bible’s purpose to teach science, its brief account of creation in Genesis 1, sketchy and unsatisfying as it is from a scientist’s viewpoint, is the only ancient text that accurately describes certain geologic truths. As we’ll see in future articles, the theologians who advocate a young earth view must confront another difficult question: If Genesis cannot allow for a creation that took place over billions of years, why does the account fit the general descriptions of the geologic ages so well?

Both the Bible and geology testify to a progressive creation: the world was not created in an instant with everything in its place. Both tell us that the earth was once "formless and empty," and that this condition was followed by a "primitive universal ocean," which in turn was followed by the appearance of dry land (or as Eric Lerner puts it, "a gradual retreat of shallow seas from all the continents") Both agree that darkness covered the earth in its earliest history (required by the early opaque debris cloud in all theories of planet formation). Both agree that animal life first inhabited the sea. Both agree that plant life preceded land animals, and that birds preceded mammals. And now (after 150 years of studying the fossil record), both are even beginning to agree that each life form appeared abruptly, often with no transitional forms between them. Both testify that mammals, and finally humans, were the last to appear.

Other ancient creation accounts, filled with accounts of battles and sexual encounters between mythical gods of sea, sky, and earth, explain creation in very different terms. These match neither the order nor the substance of events, according to science.

In other articles, we already discussed how the Bible harmonizes with the theory of relativity ("With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day") and with the laws of thermodynamics ("the heavens will all wear out like a garment"). Like the Bible, both of these fundamentals of science clearly point to a creation event. The current scientific view that this beginning must have taken place between ten and twenty billion years ago is a bigger embarrassment for science than for theology, since this simply does not give the processes of random selection anywhere near the amount of time natural selection and mutation requires to produce the purposeful complexity that is life. We will look further into this in other articles.

Die-hard recent creationists find themselves on the same side as the atheists who continue to reject the big bang’s evidence for philosophical reasons. To some dissenting scientists and science writers, the big bang is especially unattractive because of its close correlation with biblical creation. Science writer John Boslough criticizes big bang cosmology, calling it "the scientific model of Genesis." He denounces it for its inability to account for the lack of ripples in the microwave background radiation (since he was writing in 1992, just before their discovery); but notice how he phrases his concluding criticism:

For the time being, the big bang remains a scientific paradigm wrapped inside a metaphor for biblical genesis , a compelling although simplistic pseudoscientific creation myth embodying a Judeo-Christian tradition of linear time that led to Western ideas about cultural and scientific progress and which ordained an absolute beginning" (emphasis added).

Unlike other ancient religious texts, the Bible teaches that God is transcendent and that the universe is not eternal. In this century science has come to agree. The very existence of certain atoms shows that the elements themselves cannot be infinite in age. Science historian Owen Gingerich explains: "If the atoms were infinitely old, then radioactive uranium and thorium would have turned to lead. Their very existence tells us that they were formed at a finite time past."

Even recent creationists accept the fact that the universe is expanding, but they say that God created an already-expanding universe, rather than a big bang, for the sake of the universe’s stability. If the galaxies were simply created without this outward motion, gravity would bring all the galaxies crashing together into a "big crunch." Either way (big bang or creation in an already-expanding mode), God’s care and wisdom are shown in this expansion that establishes a stable universe.

Does the Bible even hint at an expanding universe? At least one astronomer has recognized a possible correlation. In Steven Beyer’s The Star Guide , Beyer notes an interesting fact about the word used in the Hebrew Bible to describe the heavens in the context of creation (e.g., Genesis 1 and Psalm 19). Long before scientists had proposed any theory of an expanding universe, Hebrew lexicographers (in 1762) described this word, raquia, as expressing "motion of different parts of the same thing, at the same time, one part the one way and the other, the other way, with force." In 1821, John Reid translated the word as "expansion, the heavens, from their being stretched forth." Young’s concordance defines the Hebrew noun raquia as "expanse" and the verb raqa as "to spread out or over." Strong’s concordance defines raquia as "an expanse, i.e. the firmament" and raqa as "to pound" or "to expand."

To describe God’s activity in stretching out the heavens, the Hebrews used both the verbs raqa and nata , as in the many cases in which the Bible says that God "stretched out" or "spread out the heavens" (e.g., see Job 26:7, Isaiah 40:22, 42:5, 45:12, Jeremiah 12:12, Zechariah 12:1). Of course, we have no way of knowing whether these words were purposely used to describe the expansion of the created heavens. But once again, unlike any other ancient creation account, this one certainly does not contradict the lessons science has recently taught us about the origin of our universe.


The Big Bang’s Harmony with Your Witness


For Christians, talking about the stability produced by an expanding universe and the tremendous time and care God took to prepare the world for us can be a natural way to bring God into a conversation. However, advancing the young earth view poses a serious stumbling block to many who fear they must subscribe to it in order to believe the Bible. Reasonable people who have some knowledge of science will tend to dismiss your gospel along with your geology. How much better it is to present facts that witness rather than private interpretations that scare unbelievers away.

Conclusion:
The Story from Science: "In the Beginning . . ."

The conclusions drawn from classical thermodynamics, from general relativity, and from the observations of astronomy all unite to tell the same story. This century has seen the convergence of these three fields, resulting in what is probably the greatest discovery of modern science: the finding that the universe must have had a beginning – a beginning that was highly ordered and purposeful.

British theorist Edward Milne concluded his mathematical treatise on relativity with the statement: "As to the cause of the Universe, in the context of expansion, that is left for the reader to insert, but our picture is incomplete without Him."


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Shocking Summary Statements and

Stimulating Conversation Starters

• There is a solution to the young earth/old earth controversy: tag team wrestling. A fair match would be to let Duane Gish, Ken Ham, and Henry and John Morris champion the young earth side – and to pit them against Hugh Ross, the champion for old earth creationists, who is tough enough to take on all four by himself.

• There is a conflict between modern science and some traditional beliefs among Christians, but there’s no conflict with the Bible itself.

• Recent creationists need to think about what they are seeing when they look up into a star-filled night. If the light from many of these stars and galaxies is coming to us from millions of light-years away (as recent creationists admit), and if God created the heavens and the earth just ten thousand years ago, then how do we see this light that took millions of years to get here? When we see a supernova in a distant galaxy, is this an event that never really happened? Is God sending us false stellar reports by light?

• Is the ancient universe view only held by liberal Christians who wish to accommodate the discoveries of modern science? Actually, pre-modern Bible believers such as Josephus, Philo, Augustine, Irenaeus, Origen, Basil, and Thomas Aquinas all held that the creation "days" were not necessarily meant to be taken as literal, solar days. In this century, the ancient universe position has been held by such conservative Bible scholars as C.I. Scofield, A.H. Strong, and Gleason Archer.

• The writer of the Genesis creation account may have had a solar day in mind, or he may have used the solar day as a fitting picture to describe the stages of creation. Either interpretation is legitimate; so don’t let anybody bully you into thinking it’s his way or no way. Anybody who feels he has to bully you in order to convince you shouldn’t be taken too seriously anyway.

• Old and young earth creationists generally agree that the universe is expanding – they just differ about how far back we can follow the process in reverse until we come to the moment of creation. Leaders in both groups agree that this outward motion provides stability; without it gravity would act to pull all the galaxies together. Thus, whether God created the universe in a big bang or in an already-expanding mode, God’s wisdom and care are displayed by astronomical observations.

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For end note documentation, see the chapter titled "The Bible and the Big Bang," in the book, Show Me God.
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Science journalist Fred Heeren writes for The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, Insight magazine of The Washington Times, The American Spectator, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, New Man magazine , Weekly World News, and any other publication that will give him a platform to make the latest discoveries in science understandable and relevant to the general public. He has an agenda, he says: and it is to encourage people to stop their trivial pursuits long enough to think about life’s big questions. He is the author of the book, Show Me God (subtitled What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God), Editor of Cosmic Pursuit magazine, and president of The Day Star Network.

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