When science caught up with the Bible
The universe had a beginning
The pagan Greek philosophers thought the physical universe had no beginning. To Plato (428-348 BC), the universe was perfect and unchanging. And Aristotle (384–322 BC) argued that the world (matter) must have existed from eternity. If the universe could never have gone from nothingness to somethingness, it must always have existed. For this and other reasons, time must stretch eternally into the past and future. Aristotle taught that the world was eternal.
Medieval philosophers also wondered whether the universe is eternal or had a beginning. And medieval authors debated that point in light of the Christian creation story.
The concept of an ancient cosmos was promoted by deists and atheists during the enlightenment (18th and 19th century). In the 19th century, many scientists also assumed that the universe was eternal. If that was the case, there was no mystery about the origin of matter since matter had always existed.
In the past scientists often assumed that the universe was eternal and so didn’t have a beginning. As a result of this belief, they didn’t need to consider the origin of the universe because they thought there was no such thing.
20th century science
In the middle of the 20th century, two competing theories proposed different answers for the origin of the universe. The “hot big-bang” model said the cosmos had a beginning – it began extremely small, hot and dense and then cooled and spread out over time. The “steady state” model held that the universe had existed in the same form forever. Here is some background to this debate.
In 1929 Edwin Hubble discovered a relationship between the redshift (to longer wavelengths) in light from galaxies and their distance from the earth which was interpreted as meaning that the universe was expanding (or had expanded). This was the first clue that our cosmos may not be static but was expanding all the time (However, there may be other explanations of the redshift). If the universe keeps getting bigger, by extrapolating backwards in time it is inferred that it must have started sometime in the past. This means that the universe can’t be eternal in the past; it must have had a beginning. This is the basis of the big-bang model.
On the other hand, the steady-state theory of the universe assumed that the universe was eternal without a beginning or an end. In this model the universe is expanding, but matter is being continuously created to keep the mean density of matter in space constant. So instead of a beginning, it has continual creation of matter. The steady-state theory was attractive to atheists because it had no “creation event”.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that observations of the cosmic microwave background forced the steady state theory to be discarded for the big-bang theory, which included a beginning of the universe. Also, the steady state model was not consistent with the second law of thermodynamics. Nevertheless, Disney (2000) said that “some of the recent claims for cosmology are grossly overblown” because it rests on a very small database. And cosmology requires us to extrapolate what physics we know over huge ranges in space and time. So he suggested that cosmological inferences should be tentatively made and skeptically received. In fact, I’m skeptical of both of these models of the universe.
21st century science
In 2003 Arvin Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe which has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary. This theorem holds regardless of the physical description of the very early universe. For example, if it was a quantum vacuum state (which is not “nothing”), it cannot be eternal in the past but must have had an absolute beginning. And their theorem implies that even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called “multiverse” composed of many universes, the multiverse must have an absolute beginning. Vilenkin concludes, “With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past eternal universe, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning”.
In 2012 Vilenkin showed that models which do not meet this one condition still fail for other reasons to avert the beginning of the universe. Vilenkin concluded, “None of these scenarios can actually be past-eternal”. “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning” (Grossman, 2012).
So in the past 60 years most scientists have come to believe that the universe had a beginning.
Although most scientists believe that the universe had a beginning, many still cling to the ideas of naturalism. For example, Paul Davies a physicist of Arizona University said, “The fact that the nascent [initial] cosmos was apparently devoid of form and content greatly eases the problem of its ultimate origin. It is much easier to believe that a state of featureless simplicity appeared spontaneously out of nothing than to believe that the present highly complex state of the universe just popped into existence ready-made.” What an amazing statement! He believes that nothing created the universe rather than a powerful God! How can nothing be creative? This shows the extremes of the proponents of naturalism – in order to support their atheism, they believe that nothing created time, space, energy and matter!
To many physicists, the “nothing” before the big-bang is a wave-function or a quantum field or a false-vacuum. For example, Lawrence Kraus postulated that space could be created by quantum mechanics and gravity. The hypothesis is that unstable fluctuations in a quantum state could produce space-time and matter. But “nothing” means not anything–the complete lack of anything. So they are fudging when they use the word “nothing” to describe something before the big-bang. And where did the wave-function or a quantum field or a false-vacuum or physical laws come from? They are claimed to exist before the universe began!
What the Bible says
The Bible makes clear statements about the beginning and creation of the universe. Some of these are given below.
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (NIV).
Isaiah 45:18 “For this is what the Lord says—He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited—He says: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other’”.
Proverbs 8:22-23 “The LORD brought me [wisdom personified] forth as the first of His works, before His deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be”.
John 1:1-3 “In the beginning was the Word [Jesus Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
John 17:24 “Father, I want those you have given me [Jesus Christ] to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”
1 Corinthians 8:6 “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live”.
Colossians 1:15-17 “The Son [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
1 Peter 1:20 “He [Jesus Christ] was chosen before the creation of the world but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
2 Timothy 1:9 “He [God] has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…”
Titus 1:2 “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…”
Revelation 4:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
From this we see that the Bible says that our universe had a beginning when God created everything and time began. The implication is that God is the only uncreated being.
Since Moses compiled the Pentateuch (~1450 BC) until about AD 1800, Jewish and Christian scholars believed that the universe was created at God’s command about 4,000 BC. Since AD 1800 some have deviated from this belief in response to the theories of naturalism.
Did God use the big-bang theory?
According to the Bible, the creation of the universe is described in Genesis 1:1-2:1. In this passage God speaks the universe into existence by a series of commands. Creation was rapid – it was all done over a 6-day period. The whole creation (inorganic and organic) came into being during this six-day period (Ex. 20:11).
One of the reasons the Hebrew account didn’t need to mention long periods of time was that God created a functionally mature universe. Adam and Eve began life as adults, not babies. They were commanded to “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). The same command was given to Noah and his sons after the flood (Gen. 9:1, 7). The fruit trees were already producing fruit. All natural processes and cycles were operating in equilibrium, not in their initial phases. There was no need for evolutionary development from the simple to the complex. It’s easy for God to create complexity. He can do it instantly. Stars and galaxies were positioned in the universe as they were about 6,000 years ago. It was a huge creation, not a small one!
According to Scripture, the earth did not begin as an incandescent fireball but was created in the beginning with a surface covered with water (Gen. 1:2). And there is no indication that the universe came about as a result of an explosion.
So, God didn’t use the big-bang model to create the universe. There is a huge difference in timing. God created everything in 6 days, whereas the big-bang model takes 13.8 billion years to create everything!
The big-bang explanation was invented as a philosophical alternative to biblical creation. It did not come from a study of Scripture. The big-bang model is a mechanistic or naturalistic explanation. It is an anti-supernatural explanation of origins – an atheistic creation story.
Imagine a detective investigating a crime where there are no eye-witnesses, but a video-camera filmed what happened. If the detective refuses to accept the video evidence they are like the big-bang model. In this illustration the video camera is like the Bible.
The big-bang theory and the Bible both state that the universe had a beginning; it is not eternal in the past. But this is the only similarity between the Bible’s account and the big-bang theory. How long will this similarity last?
However, because the big-bang theory is so flexible, I think that this similarity will probably have a limited lifetime. Like the theory of biological evolution, the big-bang theory can be adapted to explain almost anything.
WordPress is a content management system that is used to construct websites. Plugins are available to add new features to a WordPress website. WordPress plugins are like apps on your phone. You can download or purchase them to add or enhance the functionality of your WordPress site. For example, a sitemap plugin (like Google XML sitemaps) will help ensure your posts get indexed faster by the major search engines. The big-bang model has received the “plugins” of hypothetical dark matter, hypothetical dark energy, and hypothetical cosmic inflation.
The philosophical implications of a finite universe with a beginning do not seem to be compatible with naturalism or pantheistic worldviews. That’s why some scientists still envisage an eternal universe that extends from the infinite past to the infinite future. So I will not be surprised if an external-infinite existence plugin is added to the big-bang model! In fact, the big-bang theory already presupposes the existence of the laws of nature before the beginning of the universe! As mentioned previously, the word “nothing” is redefined to include laws of nature and perhaps some kind of quantum field or false vacuum.
The big-bang theory and the Bible both state that the universe had a beginning; it is not eternal in the past. This agreement between science and the Bible over the past 60 years was preceded by thousands of years of disagreement.
But God didn’t use the big-bang model to create the universe. There are major disagreements between the two creation accounts – the Bible describes a rapid creation (over a few days), while the big-bang theory takes 14 billion years!
Disney M J, 2000, “The case against cosmology”, General Relativity and Gravitation, 32, 6, 1125-1134.
Grossman L, 2012, “Death of eternal cosmos: From the cosmic egg to the infinite multiverses every model of the universe has a beginning”, New Scientist, 213, 2847, 6-7.
This post benefited from helpful discussions with Tom Murphy.
Written, February 2021
Also see: A functionally mature creation