The Beginning of the Universe
Has the universe always existed, or, at some definite point in time, did it have a beginning? It is on this question that much of the argument of a Creator God rests. After all, if the universe has always existed there clearly is no need for a being or outside intelligence to design and create it. On the other hand, if the universe came into being at a precise, specific time, something must have caused it to come into being.
Scientists are not in accord as to whether the universe had a beginning. A few still believe it is possible it has always existed. British physicist Stephen Hawking explains why. "So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be" (A Brief History of Time, pp. 140-141).
But this concept is no longer the dominant scientific view. Most scientists now accept that the universe began suddenly and at a specific point in time.
Discovery of a beginning
In the early 1900s astronomers discovered a phenomenon known as red shift—that light from distant galaxies is shifted toward the red end of the color spectrum. Astronomer Edwin Hubble realized this meant that the universe is expanding. He discovered that galaxies and clusters of galaxies are moving away from each other in all directions.
To envision this revolutionary discovery, imagine dots of ink on the surface of a balloon you are blowing up. As you inflate the balloon, the spots move further from each other in all directions. Hubble and other astronomers found that galaxies throughout the universe are speeding away from each other in the same way. They also found that, the farther a galaxy or cluster of galaxies is from us, the faster it is retreating.
What Hubble had discovered was that the universe is expanding outward everywhere he looked. The discovery was revolutionary, since up until this time most astronomers assumed that any motion by galaxies was simply random drift. Other astronomers and physicists subsequently confirmed Hubble's observations and conclusions. What could this mean?
John D. Barrow, professor of astronomy at the University of Sussex, England, explores in his book The Origin of the Universe the fascinating question of how space, matter and even time began. Of the expansion of the universe, Barrow writes: "This was the greatest discovery of twentieth- century science, and it confirmed what Einstein's general theory of relativity had predicted about the universe: that it cannot be static. The gravitational attraction between the galaxies would bring them all together if they were not rushing away from each other. The universe can't stand still.
"If the universe is expanding, then when we reverse the direction of history and look in the past we should find evidence that it emerged from a smaller, denser state—a state that appears to have once had zero size. It is this apparent beginning that has become known as the big bang" (1994, pp. 3-5).
In other words, what astronomers concluded they were seeing was the aftermath of an unimaginably powerful event that hurled matter and energy outward in all directions to form the known universe—thus the name "big bang." In reality, what they were observing was the fact that the universe had to have a beginning.
The moment of creation
This discovery shook the scientific establishment. Writes Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and former professor of astronomy and geology at New York's Columbia University: "Few astronomers could have anticipated that this event—the sudden birth of the Universe—would become a proven scientific fact, but observations of the heavens through telescopes have forced them into that conclusion" (The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe, 1981, p. 15, emphasis added).
He exclaims: "The seed of everything that has happened since in the Universe was planted in the first instant . . . It was literally the moment of creation" (Journey to the Stars: Space Exploration—Tomorrow and Beyond, 1989, p. 47).
Scientists had made a major scientific discovery that was first recorded in the Bible some 3,500 years ago: The universe was not eternal; it had a beginning. Other discoveries, such as the radioactive decay of certain elements, confirmed that these elements could not be infinitely old or they would long since have turned to lead.
As long as scientists and philosophers assumed the universe had infinitely existed—that it had no beginning and thus no need for a Creator to create it—they could easily leave God out of the picture. Few scientists persist in believing in an infinitely old earth and universe. There is simply too much evidence against it. They have been forced to acknowledge that we live in a universe that had a beginning.
That admission raises questions discomfiting for many scientists. What force, power or laws existed before the beginning of the universe to make it come into existence? Since the universe exists, what was the cause? Our rational minds tell us the universe could not have come from nothing. That defies not only logic but the laws of physics. What—or who—caused the universe? Why was it brought into being?
The point where science stops
It is at this point that science stops in its tracks. As Professor Jastrow explains: "A sound explanation may exist for the explosive birth of our Universe; but if it does, science cannot find out what the explanation is. The scientist's pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation . . . We would like to pursue that inquiry farther back in time, but the barrier to further progress seems insurmountable. It is not a matter of another year, another decade of work, another measurement, or another theory; at this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation" (God and the Astronomers, 1978, pp. 114-116).
Professor Jastrow acknowledges that everything scientists know breaks down at the moment of creation. The known laws of the universe simply no longer apply when the universe leaps into existence from nothing. Science can offer no rational explanation, no means to record, measure or reconstruct an event that defies all scientific understanding.
Some scientists draw incorrect conclusions from these facts, assuming that, since science can't discover what took place before the universe was formed, nothing could have happened before it was formed. This tells us nothing about God's existence or nonexistence, but it does say a lot about the limitations of the traditional scientific approach. We must seek a source other than science to understand who or what existed before the origin of the universe. And only one source offers a truly believable and rational explanation—the Bible.
There is only one alternative to the biblical claim. Atheists must assert that the entire universe came from nothing without a cause. They must insist on this unfounded, insupportable assertion because there is no other way to avoid the existence of a First Cause.
Yet their most basic assertion is fundamentally flawed. The beginning of the universe has been proven to be a specific event. We all know from years and years of experience that one of the most fundamental truths is that events have causes. This fundamental truth underlies the laws that govern energy and matter. Nothing happens without a cause. The beginning of the universe is an event that had a specific cause.
The Bible's claims
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," says the Bible (Genesis 1:1). This is a simple statement, but it answers the most basic and scientific of all questions: Where did we come from?
This verse describes the beginning of the universe. The universe had a beginning caused by a timeless, changeless force outside of this physical universe. When matter came into existence, this was the beginning of time as we measure it. For the origin of the universe, this verse answers the questions of who, what and when. The why comes a little later.
Hebrews 11:3 adds another detail: "By faith [by trusting what God has revealed] we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible" (New Revised Standard Version).
Two things should be noted in this explanation. First, the universe did have a cause; it came from something. What it came from was not visible; that is, it was not preexisting matter. Scripture tells us our universe had a cause—truly a scientific statement.
Second, it tells us that by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the Word of God. But this is not blind faith. We are not asked to believe that it popped into existence without a cause and without a purpose—the tenets of the faith of an atheist. We are asked to believe that the world had its beginning as the free act of a Being who is timeless and powerful enough to bring the universe into being.
Understanding Genesis 1:1-2
During the last 150 years or so, no part of the Bible has come under more rigorous attack than the creation account in Genesis 1. Darwinists have made much of certain indications that the earth may be between five and 15 billion years old. Yet some Bible believers contend the earth has existed for only 6,000 years, based on a careful genealogical study of the scriptural record combined with history. The first two verses of the Bible are critical to this discussion.
This controversy leads to an important question. If the earth should be billions of years old, and if the Bible's direct statements about creation are flawed, then how can you believe the Bible's other claims? This question is valid, and the controversy over it has set the stage for the science-vs.-religion approach prevailing in our educational systems. The claims of science are impressive. But how does the biblical account stack up, and what does the Bible really say?
Several Bible versions, including the New International Version, the Scofield Reference Bible and the Companion Bible, note that the phrase "the earth was without form and void" (verse 2) can be rightly translated "the earth became without form and void." The Hebrew word hayah, translated "was," means "to become, occur, come to pass, be" (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, "To Be").
In other words, God created the earth, but the original Hebrew can just as easily indicate that it later became "without form, and void." It can indicate that something spoiled the original creation described in Genesis 1:1 and caused God to restore order out of chaos—which would have happened during six days of restoration followed by a Sabbath rest day. (For a detailed account of the rationale and reference sources that support this view of Genesis 1:1-2, please request our free booklets Is the Bible True? and Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?)
Suffice it to say here that God does not create by first creating chaos (Isaiah 45:18; 1 Corinthians 14:33). God told the powerful angelic being Lucifer, "You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity [lawlessness] was found in you" (Ezekiel 28:15). God is a being of perfection, order and beauty. Chaos and disorder result from rejection of or rebellion against Him. Scripture reveals that angels already existed before earth's creation (Job 38:4-7). Angelic beings were the first to introduce disharmony and confusion into God's perfect creation.
Other scriptures indicate that an original, earlier creation (Genesis 1:1) preceded the earth being "without form, and void" (Hebrew tohu and bohu, meaning a condition of chaotic disorder and confusion) in verse 2. Isaiah 45:18 tells us specifically that God "did not create it [the earth] in vain [tohu]." The chaotic condition described in Genesis 1:2 came later.
This chaos apparently resulted from a rebellion against God by Satan and a third of the angels (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-17; Revelation 12:4). Later, after an unspecified interval, during six days followed by the seventh-day Sabbath, God could have accomplished a full restoration of what had become chaotic (Genesis 1; Exodus 20:11).
In other words, a time gap seems to be indicated between the original creation described in Genesis 1:1 and earth's restoration in verse 2. This unspecified period could have encompassed billions of years, accounting for the "deep time" that geologists and other scientists seem to have discovered in the last two centuries.
Therefore the Bible itself, when correctly understood, offers a logical solution to this supposed creation enigma and has no inherent conflict with the possibility that the universe may be 15 billion years old. The Bible itself simply doesn't say how old the universe, or earth, is. But it does plainly say: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
A universe governed by laws
What have scientists discovered about the fundamental laws that existed at the origin of our universe? Far from having a chaotic, random structure—as one might assume if no intelligence were involved—the general scientific conclusion now is hat the universe has been expanding in an orderly way since its inception. However, no one should be misled as to the simplicity or randomness of that expansion.
Writes Keith Ward, professor of history and professor of philosophy of religion at King's College, London University: "The universe began to expand in a very precisely ordered manner, in accordance with a set of basic mathematical constants and laws which govern its subsequent development into a universe of the sort we see today. There already existed a very complex array of quantum laws describing possible interactions of elementary particles, and the universe, according to one main theory, originated by the operation of fluctuations in a quantum field in accordance with those laws" (God, Chance & Necessity, 1996, p. 17, emphasis added).
Such scientific discoveries and conclusions again bring us back to fundamental questions: Who created the original laws of astrophysics? Did they emerge by chance or accident? Or were they set in motion by a divine Creator?
Laws without a Lawgiver?
Scientists acknowledge that our astounding universe is governed by precise, exact laws. Professor Davies sums up findings about these laws this way: "Each [scientific] advance brings new and unexpected discoveries, and challenges our minds with unusual and sometimes difficult concepts. But through it all runs the familiar thread of rationality and order . . . This cosmic order is underpinned by definite mathematical laws that interweave each other to form a subtle and harmonious unity. The laws are possessed of an elegant simplicity, and have often commended themselves to scientists on grounds of beauty alone" (The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World, p. 21).
As Einstein put it: "Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man" (The Quotable Einstein, p. 152).
Does the preexistence of the elaborate, intricate system of natural law in the universe mean there had to be a Lawgiver? Or can science demonstrate that the origin of the universe is solely the result of natural causes?
Biochemist Michael Behe writes: "It is commonplace, almost banal, to say that science has made great strides in understanding nature. The laws of physics are now so well understood that space probes fly unerringly to photograph worlds billions of miles from earth. Computers, telephones, electric lights, and untold other examples testify to the mastery of science and technology over the forces of nature . . .
"Yet understanding how something works is not the same as understanding how it came to be. For example, the motions of the planets in the solar system can be predicted with tremendous accuracy; however, the origin of the solar system (the question of how the sun, planets, and their moons formed in the first place) is still controversial. Science may eventually solve the riddle. Still, the point remains that understanding the origin of something is different from understanding its day-to- day workings" (Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, 1996, p. ix, emphasis added).
Many intelligent and learned people believe—and have a religionlike faith—that the complex laws governing the universe came into existence purely by accident or chance. But is this view credible? We know for certain it is not supported with demonstrable evidence. So here is the real question: Does it make sense to believe that a universe governed by a precise system of well-ordered laws came into existence by itself?
The scriptural viewpoint
Here is where we again need to pay much closer attention to what the Scriptures tell us. They present an altogether different viewpoint. ". . . For He commanded and [the heavens] were created. He also established them forever and ever; He made a decree [a law or ordinance] which shall not pass away" (Psalm 148:4-6).
The Scriptures explain that God created laws in the "heavens" that cannot be suspended. "Yes, by my hand was the earth placed on its base, and by my right hand the heavens were stretched out; at my word they take up their places" (Isaiah 48:13, Bible in Basic English).
Some great truths are expressed in these verses. When compared to all other alternatives, this point of view makes sense. It is the only point of view that reconciles all difficulties.
Notice astronomer Hugh Ross's reaction on first reading the biblical account of creation: "The [Genesis account's] distinctives struck me immediately. It was simple, direct, and specific. I was amazed with the quantity of historical and scientific references and with the detail in them.
"It took me a whole evening just to investigate the first chapter. Instead of another bizarre creation myth, here was a journal-like record of the earth's initial conditions—correctly described from the standpoint of astrophysics and geophysics —followed by a summary of the sequence of changes through which Earth came to be inhabited by living things and ultimately by humans.
"The account was simple, elegant, and scientifically accurate. From what I understood to be the stated viewpoint of an observer on Earth's surface, both the order and the description of creation events perfectly matched the established record of nature. I was amazed" (The Creator and the Cosmos, 1993, p. 15).
The evidence that the earth had a definite beginning, with preexisting laws governing all of its functions, is a powerful indication that God is the Creator and Sustainer of this marvelous universe.
Many modern books by scientists are filled with the evolutionary point of view. Most of modern education is grounded in evolutionary theory. But what about other views? Consider this admission from The Columbia History of the World: "Indeed, our best current knowledge, lacking the poetic magic of scripture, seems in a way less believable than the account in the Bible . . ." (John Garraty and Peter Gay, editors, 1972, p. 3).
Science writer Fred Heeren notes that "the actual trend in 20th-century cosmology . . . has been to turn from a view that was inconsistent with the Genesis creation account to one that follows the old scenario very well. In fact . . . Hebrew revelation is the only religious source coming to us from ancient times that fits the modern cosmological picture. And in many cases, 20th-century archaeology and myth experts have also been forced to turn from older views that treated the Bible as myth to ones that treat it as history" (Show Me God, 1997, preface).
It is high time we gave the book of Genesis equal billing.
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