Harmony of Bible and Science Presented in a Series of Articles
04 How Did The Beginning Begin?
Bible and Science – How Did the Beginning Begin?
Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? (Job 38:33)
How did the universe form in the first place and what existed before there ever was a universe? While we may feel that the answers to these questions shouldn’t concern us, I have found that giving some thought to these issues and being able to give a reasonable response to people can be very helpful in preaching work and also in dealing with the inquiring minds of our Sunday school scholars.
When the 17th century theologian James Usher first formed his biblical chronology dating the beginning of creation at 4004 B.C., he was supposedly asked by one brave soul “And pray, Holy Father, what was God doing before He created the Universe?” To which Usher thunderously replied, “Creating hell for those who ask questions such as that?”[i] Modern science still cannot answer the question, What initiated the universe, though many scientists around the world are pursuing the answer. Some of the aspects of this quest will be presented in this article.
The rhetorical question posed by the Lord to Job (38:33) still presents a challenge to our understanding of the beginning of space/time. Obviously, we weren’t there either before, or at the time, the universe was created. As we have stated in an earlier article, the known laws of physics have not been able to help us either, because they break down at the exact moment of creation.[ii] This is called a singularity in physics, which is a point in space/time where all the known equations of physics lead to infinities and cannot be renormalized to get a meaningful solution. Nevertheless, we know that the energy to create the Universe had to come from somewhere and physicists are currently trying to construct models which make sense in terms of providing a framework that rationalizes the universe as we currently find it.
One thing that has shown some promise is the attempt to unify the laws of physics in what has become known as “string theory.” The details are very complicated, but the underlying principle is that the mathematics of vibrating infinitely short strings of multiple dimensions may lead to a fundamental understanding of the Universe. This leads to some very astonishing ideas, the strangest being that we really do not live in a four dimensional (three spatial and one time dimension) world, but rather one made up of ten or eleven dimensions. It is presumed that at the time the universe was created the six or seven “hidden” dimensions folded in on themselves and wrapped themselves into such small dimensions of space that they can no longer be observed (but they still influence the laws of physics).
Illustrating a multi-dimensional universe
How can we imagine this multi-dimensional universe? We can get a picture in our mind of dimensionality by thinking about space in the following way: in general, if we consider a flat surface — say of this sheet of paper — then we are in a two-dimensional world. We can locate any point on this piece of paper by knowing only two coordinates, x and y.
We can extend our thinking to four coordinates by considering the following example: Suppose you are asked to meet a complete stranger in the Empire State Building in New York. To make the meeting actually occur you would have to know exactly where to meet the stranger and also at what time. You convey back to the stranger a message via e-mail that the building is on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street and you will meet them on the 86th floor observation deck at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, October 15, 2003. You have provided all the space/time information required, three location dimensions and the time dimension. Yet when you get to 86th floor you find that there are several hundred people on the observation deck and you haven’t a clue which one is the stranger! Clearly as the space shrunk to the neighborhood of the 86th floor more information was required to satisfy your rendezvous.
You resolve to try again on another day; this time you ask the stranger for his/her gender, and you tell him to wear a blue suit. When you again ascend the elevator to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, you find that out of the hundreds of visitors approximately half are men (the gender you are looking for) and two dozen are wearing blue suits. Obviously, you could approach each one of them and find out if he is the one you are seeking, but being a physicist you know you have to do this the proper way by identifying all the dimensions to the problem!
You finally meet your stranger after one more e-mail clarification: By now you know that it will be at (1) 34th Street and (2) Fifth Avenue, on the (3) 86th floor, (4) at 3 p.m. Wednesday, (5) north side of building, (6) a male, (7) with brown hair, (8) wearing a blue suit and (9) with a yellow carnation in the lapel (limiting it to three people) and the stranger would be (10) standing on his head! The solution to definitely meeting the stranger required 10 dimensions and the closer you got to the meeting point the more the dimensions wrapped into themselves so that the last (standing on his head) was limited to only the space occupied by the stranger.
Scientists struggle with the beginning
Solving the multi-dimensional nature of the universe has analogous elements to the Empire State building meeting problem. It appears that it may take as many as ten dimensions to get solutions to the problem of the grand unification of all four known forces and to understand the perfect symmetry that existed at the moment of creation. So far, however, exact solutions have eluded scientists and what seemed a tractable problem only a few years ago has run into many difficulties. The question remains: Did the energy required to create our universe spring out of infinitely small dimensions, which we are incapable of observing?
To obtain the answer to this question scientists have conjured up a model that has been called the Big Foam. We can try to picture this concept by assuming that space is infinite and that at the level of extremely small dimensions, below what we can directly observe, it is filled with an agitated “Big Foam” of energy fluctuations. From time to time one particular fluctuation is large enough to nucleate a Universe![iii] Obviously this doesn’t happen very often, since scientists estimate that our universe is some 20 billion years old. Whether or not physicists can ultimately mathematically construct from this Big Foam model a universe that becomes the one we live in and observe all around us today remains to be seen. Of course it also begs the scientific question: where did the Big Foam of roiling energy fluctuations come from in the first place? However, from the point of view of the Bible student there are some hints in scripture of unseen dimensions and hidden energy in the universe. In scripture the solution to the problem of what initiated the universe is easily explained. We will turn to evidence for these assertions below.
Multiple dimensions in the Bible
There is the famous incident in the life of the prophet Elisha, when the King of Israel sought his life at Dothan. The record in II Kings 6 says that an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city intent on doing harm to Elisha and his followers. The young servant of the prophet cries out: Oh, my lord, what shall we do? At this point, Elisha reveals a very startling scene as the prophet answers: Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them (v. 16). And Elisha prayed, ‘O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (v.17)[iv]. Was it simply a vision or were Elisha and his servant somehow allowed to peer into other dimensions? If it were simply a vision, Elisha would have been sore embarrassed if he actually had to call on the chariots of fire to fight the very real forces of the King of Israel that had encompassed them. I suggest that the incident was real and that the Lord God can make things materialize out of other dimensions that we do not have the ability to observe.
God dwells in unapproachable light
The model of the Big Foam is just another attempt at a model, which assumes an inherently eternal structure that created the universe without requiring divine intervention. This is no different from the pagan belief in the immortality of matter, now transferred to the immortality of energy, albeit at a sensitivity level we can never hope to observe. If creation did not happen by random fluctuation from the Big Foam how did it occur? We can gain some insight by recalling the statement about the Lord God that the apostle Paul made to Timothy: Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen (I Tim.6:16).
“Light” is pure energy and light does not comprise just the visible spectra, but a whole range of energies including everything from x-rays to infrared heat, and more. When the Bible says God dwells in the light, I do not believe this is merely a metaphor, but is the apostle’s way of telling us (in first-century language) that God dwells in a realm of pure energy. Hence, according to this picture, the Lord God is the source of all energy not only in the universe we can perceive, but also in dimensions unseen.
It is entirely within the realm of what is revealed in scripture to say that God supplied all the energy that created the universe in one instant at some time in the distant past. This was a unique event that has led to everything we now see in the heavens and on earth. And what was there before the beginning? The Bible answer: Before the beginning there was God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. He could have been involved in other works before the establishment of our present universe, and someday, if we are worthy to be in His kingdom, we may have the answer to such questions (Rev. 3:4–6).
Scientists object to idea of “God”
Scientists don’t like to invoke God as a first cause. An example of this occurred a few years back when there was an exchange of letters concerning an article that Professor Stephen Hawking[v] wrote for the magazine the American Scientist. A letter to the editor asked Dr. Hawking: Why are we scientists afraid to admit the existence of a Supreme Being whenever the subject of the universe arises?[vi] Dr. Hawking replied: I thought I had left the question of the existence of a Supreme Being completely open in my article. It would be perfectly consistent with all we know to say that there was a being who was responsible for the laws of physics. However, I think it could be misleading to call such a being “God,” because this term is normally understood to have personal connotations which are not present in the laws of physics.[vii]
It is clear from this exchange that many physicists would prefer to uncover rational laws, which define the state of the universe as we have found it, without invoking “God” while at the same time acknowledging that there is something incredibly unique about our universe that makes a very good case for a Supreme Being. Such a quest has had moderate success in explaining many things about the nature of the present universe except how it started in the first place! If our universe was the result of a pure chance energy fluctuation then we are extremely lucky, because even the smallest change in the physical constants that scientists have uncovered would make our universe completely uninhabitable for man. At best, according to this model, the universe would have been unstable to the point of being suddenly created followed by almost immediate extinction.
Overwhelming evidence for God as the creator
The physical laws do not appear in any way to be mere random chance, and calculations that have tried to modify them in even the smallest way (say, by much less than one part in a trillion trillion trillion!) lead to disaster for our universe. Thus not only does the singularity that created our universe seem unique, so do the physical laws, which govern it.
Michio Kaku, a physicist at Columbia University has written, Most scientists, it is safe to say, believe that there is some form of cosmic order in the Universe.[viii] The physicist Freeman Dyson, commenting on the remarkable coincidences by which the laws of physics follow precise limits that make our universe possible, has said, As we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and the astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.[ix] For the Bible student there is no ambiguity, the message is clear: Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Heb. 11:3).
By John C. Bilello, Ann Arbor, Michigan
[i] Cited from article by Marcia Bartusiak, Before the Big Bang, the Big Foam, Discover, September, 1987, page 77.
[ii] Actually, calculations on the nature of the Universe using the known laws of Physics are useful down to a very small fraction of a second after the creation event. According to some estimates down to a time of t = 10-42sec., which is one over 10 followed by 42 zeros!
[iii] The Physicist Edward P. Tryon, quoted in Discover: “In answer to the question of why it [i.e. the universe] happened, I offer the modest proposal that our universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.”
[iv] All references this paragraph taken from the NIV©.
[v] Professor Hawking is the Lucasian Professor at Cambridge University, the same Chair once held by Isaac Newton.
[vi] Cited from letter to the editor by James J. Tanner, American Scientist, Vol. 73, pg. 12.
[vii] Extracted from reply to Tanner by Hawking, American Scientist, Vol. 73, pg. 12
[viii] Michio Kaku, Hyperspace, Oxford University Press, New York, 1994, pg. 331.
[ix] Ibid., page 258.