In the Beginning

Genesis Chapter 1 begins “In the beginning.” What beginning is Genesis (Moses, if we accept the common view that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible) speaking of? Is it the beginning of everything or the beginning of the world or the beginning of this universe?

Book of Genesis 1580

Book of Genesis 1580 (Photo credit: Frank DeFreitas)

It seems that Genesis refers to the beginning of the universe, as it goes through the creation of the firmament and the Earth:

And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said Let there be light: and there was light.

We have seen how the Big Bang created a sea of light. We have seen that the universe was empty (void) and without form for millions of years while it cooled and hydrogen and helium and eventually heavier elements formed. On its face, Genesis 1:1-3 appears to be a fairly accurate, if somewhat abbreviated, description of the Big Bang.

We have argued that one view of the string theory leads to a conclusion that there is a God and that He exists outside of this universe. Does scripture provide any support for this conclusion?

The word “heaven” or “heavens” has more than one meaning in the Bible. In one sense it means the earth and the universe around it. It is in this sense that Genesis speaks of God creating the heavens and the earth. In another sense it means the place where God lives. Consider, for example, Isaiah 66:1: “The heaven is my throne.” Acts 7:49 says the same thing, that God’s throne is in heaven. If God created this universe then this heaven must refer to some place outside of the universe, for how could God be in the heavens (this universe) before He created it?

The Revelation of John uses “heaven” in this latter sense. In Revelation 12:7-8, John sees a vision about a war in heaven:

And there was war in heaven: Michael [the archangel] and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels;

And prevailed not; neither was there place found any more in heaven.

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceived the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Satan on his way to bring about the downfall o...

Satan on his way to bring about the downfall of Adam. Gustave Doré’s illustration for Paradise Lost by John Milton. Paradise Lost Book III, lines 739-742 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If “heaven” in these verses refers to the universe, as it does in Genesis, how could Satan be “cast out into the earth,” since the earth is part of the universe? One cannot be cast out into the same place from which he is supposedly cast. “Heaven” as used in Revelation must mean heaven in the same sense as it does in Isaiah and Acts: the place, outside of the universe, where God lives.

Scripture is consistent with the notion that the universe is not everything there is. God was outside the universe when He created it.

The Time has Come

The metric expansion of space. The inflationar...

The metric expansion of space. The inflationary epoch is the expansion of the metric tensor at left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The time has come, I tell you now, to speak of many things.

Of matter dark and giant bangs and theories made of strings.

And how the universe began and what the future brings.

Physics has settled on the theory as to how the universe came to be, which it named The Big Bang Theory.  The theory isn’t without warts.  Remember that the Big Bang predicts a universe that is younger than the planets and stars it contains.  Another unanswered question is why was it so hot right after the Big Bang?  A third question is why is the universe so uniform on a large scale?  Even with billions of stars and galaxies clumped together in local regions, on a very large scale the universe is quite uniform.  Another significant question is why is the rate of expansion so finely tuned?  If the rate of expansion of the universe had been smaller by one part in 1015 just one second after the Big Bang, gravity would have overcome expansion and the universe would have collapsed on itself by now.  Had it been about that much greater, gravity wouldn’t have had a chance to accrete matter to form into stars, galaxies and planets.

We’ve noted several times that the Big Bang Theory smacks of a creator, or intelligent design.  The last question, why is the universe so finely tuned, feeds that notion.  We live in a Goldilocks universe, not too big, not too small, but just right.  Why is that so?  What are the odds of that happening in the absence of some benevolent outside influence?

The way science has responded to these questions is interesting, to say the least.  Consider the Big Bang itself.  How did that happen?  Doesn’t the description in an earlier post of what the Big Bang looked like sound an awful lot like Genesis 1:3 in the Bible?  Can science explain what caused the Big Bang so as to eliminate an outside influence?  One explanation that has been posited is one of Alexander Friedman’s models.  Remember that Friedman said that three possibilities exist for an expanding universe.  The first is that it expands continually at a fairly steady rate.  The second is that it expands continually at an ever-decreasing rate, but never actually stops and contracts.  The third is that the universe goes through cycles of expansion and contraction.  The end of each contractive phase ends in a Big Crunch as all matter collapses in on itself.  This in turn causes another Big Bang.  It’s much like a Slinky going down an endless flight of stairs.  The Slinky expands and pulls itself over the first step then contracts as it hits the second step.  Then it bounces and expands itself over the second step.  This explanation only solves the problem for our particular expansive stage of the Slinky universe.  The question still remains, who or what pushed the Slinky off the top step?

Physics describes the universe by means of two partial theories, general relativity and quantum mechanics, neither of which can fully explain the current universe that we observe, and each of which, alone, give contradictory predictions.  General relativity breaks down as we work backwards.  With all matter squeezed into what scientists call a singularity, general relativity is inadequate for the task.  At that point we have to look at the opposite spectrum of physics, particle physics, the science of particles, the things that make up atoms .  When we enter that realm, we leave the certainty of the real world behind.  Nothing is at it seems.

Stay with us; things are about to get very weird.

The Ultimate Question

The sun-centered solar system model began to attract converts and the Church started to realize that it would look foolish if it continued to oppose what a majority of the world viewed as reality.  In the Eighteenth Century it relaxed its position on scientific inquiry and a new era of intellectual freedom opened.  Despite advances in biology, chemistry, mathematics and even physics, one question remained the elephant in the room that everyone ignored: how was the Earth (and, by extension, the universe) created?  There were two main reasons for avoiding this question.  First, science confined itself to explaining natural phenomena and the creation of the Earth was widely viewed to be supernatural and therefore beyond the ken of science.  Secondly, poking around in this area might, it was thought, upset the mutual respect and relatively stable truce that existed between science and religion.  No one wanted a return to Galileo’s time.

Actually, the question was even narrower than how the Earth was created.  Most scientists still accepted the Biblical version of creation by God, reducing the question to when did God create the Earth, not how or even did He.  Scholars combed through the begats of Genesis, counting years trying to set a precise time for In the beginning.  The markers in the Bible are sufficiently vague that differences of a few thousand years showed up.  Alfonso X of Castile determined a date of 6904 B.C. while Johannes Kepler found a more recent date of 3992 B.C.  Probably the most thorough search was made by James Ussher who later became Archbishop of Armagh.  He used agents in the Middle East to search out and obtain ancient Biblical texts so as to reduce errors caused by translation.  He made a huge effort to link Old Testament chronology to that of the secular world.  Eventually he discovered that Nebuchadnezzar, who is mentioned briefly in Second Kings, is also mentioned by Ptolemy in a list of Babylonian kings.  He was thereby able to anchor at least one Biblical date to a non-Biblical historical record.  Ussher arrived at an age of 4004 years for the Earth.  He went even further and declared that the creation began at 6:00 p.m. on October 22, 4004 B.C.  His date was accepted by the Church of England and was included in the King James version until into the Nineteenth Century.

Science was generally happy to accept Ussher’s date mainly because there was no evidence to the contrary.  However, when Charles Darwin proposed his theory of evolution by natural selection, it soon became apparent that this theory could not fit into a world that was only a few thousand years old.  Natural selection is an agonizingly slow process, one that could not possibly have resulted in the complex life forms found on Earth today in less than 6,000 years.  Science could not afford to ignore Darwin’s theory.  Yet it couldn’t accept the theory and the age of the Earth, so it turned to a scientific examination of the age of the Earth.

Victorian geologists used what they calculated the rate of sedimentary deposits to be to arrive at an age of several million years.  Lord Kelvin assumed that the Earth began as a molten ball and calculated it would take 20 million years for the Earth to cool to its present state.  A few years later John Joly began by assuming the oceans started out pure and calculated how long it would take to arrive at their present salinity, resulting in an age of about 100 million years.  In the early 20th Century scientists were able to use radioactivity to estimate the age to be 500 million years.  Refinements in this technique led to an estimated age of over a billion years by 1907.

The dating game was on.