Harmony of Bible and Science Presented in a Series of Articles
03 Something from Nothing
Bible and Science – Something From Nothing
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. Genesis 1:3 (KJV)
Is it possible to get something from nothing? The Bible certainly appears to teach exactly that principle. “God said…” and it was done. The prophet Isaiah quotes the Lord as saying: I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded (Isa. 45:12). This creative power of God is mentioned many other times in the scriptures, but, as always, the mechanistic details are not supplied. It is hard to imagine, for example, what would have happened if instead of saying let there be light, the Bible had written out Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism. Even if the Bible had given us the formulas explaining the physical details, no one in ages past would have understood them, or if somehow they could have achieved comprehension, they would surely have abused the information!
Earth created long ago
In a previous section, we attempted to answer the question of “when” the universe was created. We submitted that both science and scripture came up with the same unambiguous result, namely, in the beginning (Gen. 1:1). Now let us look more specifically at just the earth in contradistinction to the universe as a whole. Careful reading of the text makes it clear in Genesis 1:2, where the tense of the verb switches from passive to active,[i] that when God started in motion the present order of things the earth was already created, although it was without form and void. It is entirely possible that a very long period of time transpired between verses one and two of Genesis.
Such long period transitions are actually quite common in the scriptures. A well-known example occurs when Jesus quotes to the Pharisees the words of Isaiah 61:2 but stops his discourse in the middle of the verse. Obviously, the Lord Jesus came to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, but it has been 2000 years and the latter part of the verse, the day of vengeance of our God, has not yet happened. There are many other examples in the Bible: the Apostle Peter tells us that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (II Pet. 3:8).
Whatever else one may believe, reading the text of Genesis 1 leads to the conclusion that the heavens and the earth definitely existed prior to the creation of Adam and Eve.[ii] That is, the earth existed before the six day creative life-forming work of the Elohim specifically mentioned in the rest of the chapter was accomplished. Why the earth was without form and void is not discussed in Genesis or anywhere else in the scriptures, as far as I can tell.
We can speculate many things, perhaps other creation(s) were made upon the earth, and this planet may be a zoological and horticultural garden used before by the angels for other forms of animal life in ages past, which may be evident in the fossil records. Nevertheless, whatever the reason for the earth being without form and void does not really matter from the viewpoint of scriptures. Prior life of whatsoever nature is of no consequence to God’s plan and purpose with our present dispensation. If we were morally and spiritually fit to know the details, perhaps they would have been revealed to us; all that need concern us for the present discussion are two powerful principles. First, the Bible leads us to the conclusion that the power of God created the universe ex nihilo, i.e. from nothing and secondly, it happened instantaneously at some point in the very distant past prior to establishing the present life forms that inhabit this planet.
The Greek model and original creation
What does science say about the nature of the origins of the universe?
At first scientists sought to keep alive the ancient Greek idea of the eternal indestructible nature of matter. One such model envisaged alternating eras of expansion followed by contraction of the universe. This model pictured all the matter in the cosmos eventually condensing due to gravity then, when it had all crunched together, going unstable and exploding once again. The universe would then expand again until the velocity of expansion was ultimately exhausted by the mutual gravitational masses of all the matter in the universe. At that point the universe would start contracting and in due course reverse the expansion until all the matter collapsed into yet another big crunch. These cycles would alternate eternally.
Doesn’t this viewpoint sound like just another form of the pagan idea of the eternal nature of matter? It also appears to be consistent with other pagan ideas of cyclic reincarnation, albeit of matter rather than spirit.
The only problem is this model doesn’t work! If all the matter in the universe had collapsed into an enormously dense mass it would have constituted a “super black hole.” The gravity of such a black hole is so immense that nothing can escape it, not even light! What was the mechanism that could have exploded this primeval black hole? Scientists could not come up with anything believable let alone provable. Other data, including the universal microwave background, do not appear quantitatively consistent with the alternating big bang/big crunch model of matter, alternately expanding and contracting to form infinite eternal cycles of birth-death-rebirth of the universe from the same eternal matter ad infinitum. Finally, measurements aimed at finding out whether or not there is enough mass in the universe to sooner or later stop the expansion and reverse it have been inconclusive. Another model was sought. This other picture of our origins has come to be known as the “standard model.”
That which does not appear
Some scientists have called the universe the ultimate “free lunch”! As puzzling as it may seem to the layman, over the past several decades, a whole body of work on the physics of the origin of the universe has come to the conclusion that it was indeed created ex nihilo, that is, from essentially nothing. By “nothing” I mean without substance.
Matter is not eternal and, in fact, the very existence of matter is a key scientific puzzle receiving much attention. Even though there is wide acceptance among physicists of the basic tenets of the “standard model,” there is at its core several startling conclusions that are incredibly mystifying. First, as we have said, the physical universe appears to have initiated from nothing, in other words matter simply did not exist before the creative event. Secondly, the initial starting point of the universe may have been confined to a region tinier than the dot at the end of this sentence. Third, the standard model is not able to go completely back to square one, that is, one simply cannot tell from the currently known laws of physics what started it all.
Sometimes I hear people say the Bible version of creation is too farfetched and requires an incredible amount of faith, therefore they dismiss it. A companion to this type of thinking is the assumption that science provides a path that is always clear-cut and without any element of faith whatsoever. If either of these modes of thinking describes your feelings then you are in for a surprise.
Indeed the “standard model” predicts that the universe started with a gigantic burst of energy confined to an incredibly small volume of space. Scientists weren’t there at the beginning and don’t have any direct observational evidence, but they do have faith in their model. This faith isn’t blind, it is being continually subjected to extension and computation to see what the consequences imply on the present universe we can observe today. In the beginning was perfect symmetry and what has followed has been a succession of symmetry-breaking landmarks, which has led to the known laws of physics being separated from what was initially one perfect unifying principle. This unified theory has not yet been found, but physicists believe it exists and that all the four currently known forces, strong, weak, electromagnetic and gravity, should be capable of being melded into this grand unifying principle.
The ensuing history of the universe, to this day, has involved the cooling of the initial energy blast allowing the condensation and precipitation of all the matter in the universe. This matter eventually agglomerated via gravity into gaseous nebula, galaxies, stars, planets, and so on. A number of physical problems had to be dealt with to get a consistent picture that correlated with the observations of the universe as we now see it. Working backwards and trying to condense all the observable matter in the universe just didn’t give a consistent picture.
How did mass come about in the first place, why not just cooler and cooler energy? We can visualize that if we heat up a horseshoe in a blacksmith’s forge, it will get white hot if we provide enough charcoal and forced air. When we take it out of the forge and let it cool, the heat energy doesn’t start condensing out into matter, but simply becomes cooler and cooler by itself until you can eventually touch the horseshoe. Obviously, the horseshoe is not hot enough to form a universe, but what about the initial conditions of the universe? To get the universal microwave background we get today and to have the amount of observable matter (and presumably the unobservable dark matter and energy) in the cosmos, the initial energy eruption must have been billions upon billions of degrees hotter in relative temperature.
Where does mass come from?
Even if this model is correct we are still left with nothing! After all, energy doesn’t automatically mean mass. You cannot put a light beam on a scale and weight it.[iii] Regardless of how hot the initial creative energy event may have been, all we would have been left with is heat energy that got cooler and cooler, but there is no reason to presume automatically that physical mass would magically occur. Thus, given this scenario there would hardly be a universe, just a brief hot flash of light that would have flickered out long ago. Something had to make mass happen and, as long as perfect symmetry continued, energy would remain energy in spite of Einstein’s famous equation.
While we are all somewhat familiar with the idea of nuclear energy, which can be in the form of fission (atomic bomb) or fusion (hydrogen bomb), these processes convert mass into energy. No one has ever yet accomplished it the other way around, that is, converting pure energy into mass, at least not on earth. Again we go back to the question of how this spike in energy came about out of nothingness and, once this energy anomaly occurred, why did it eventually condense into matter and not simply become cooler energy? The answer may lie in the breaking of perfect symmetry by a field that permeates all of space.
The Higgs theory
In 1964 a theorist named Peter Higgs at Edinburgh University first expounded the idea of a field mechanism that made it possible to convert energy into mass. At first his idea was treated with a great deal of scepticism. His initial paper outlining the symmetry-breaking loophole that allowed energy to become matter was rejected by one of the world’s most distinguished scientific journals. Higgs persisted, refined his ideas and rewrote his paper and it was accepted elsewhere. Physicists now have almost universally accepted the Higgs field as the mechanism that allowed matter to convert at some point into a dense plasma of charged particles. This idea is part and parcel of the “standard model.”
The Higgs field and its associated particle, the Higgs boson, are so fundamental to there being a universe from the physicists point of view that the Higgs’ boson has been called the “God Particle” by one leading high energy physicist[iv], because without it there would be no matter in the universe and hence no us! The search for the associated Higgs boson, which is a particle capable of being found in high-energy accelerators, has been under intense effort by perhaps as many as 5000 scientists at laboratories around the world over the past decade. Finding this particle would confirm the Higgs field (which cannot be directly measured) and would confirm the mechanism of how energy became mass and formed the physical universe. This search has been called the Holy Grail of physics.[v] Isn’t it curious how terms in physics are getting more and more to sound like religion? But that is another story.
There is still a point that eludes physicists and again the issue is one of transference. Where did the Higgs field come from in the first place? Before the postulate of Higgs, we didn’t know how energy could condense into mass. But before we pat ourselves on the back too hard, let us realize that our ignorance still remains; it has just been transferred to the meaning of the existence of the Higgs field.
Science remains puzzled
The Higgs idea may be able to tell us how mass came about, but there still remains the question of why the energy spike, burst, explosion, or “big bang”if you’d prefer, in the first place? Where did all that energy come from?
It is important to realize that the matter and vacuum of the universe really exist together and both were created at the same time. We don’t really know what the nature of anything was before time t = 0, i.e. before the beginning. It is a mistaken idea to think that the vacuum of free space (which is not really an absolute vacuum, anyway) is what fills everything to infinity. The vacuum is no more eternal and infinite than matter. Matter and vacuum are expanding together in the cosmos as we observe it. We have no idea what it is expanding into and while some scientists think possibly other universes, nevertheless so far that idea appears beyond proof. To me, at least, multiple universes seem like just another concept raised that hopes to do away with the uniqueness of our universe and steps backward to the pagan idea of the eternal nature of matter!
Is it really possible for enormous energy singularities to erupt and form a universe(s)? If that is possible where did this energy come from in the first place and how was it confined before it erupted? Such an enormous amount of energy confined to such a small region of space could not have been stable for very long at all and no known physics can be invoked to understand the mechanism, let alone explain why this singularity occurred.
Some scientists consider that the answer may reside in quantum mechanics and this is something that we will reserve for discussion in a later chapter; it will suffice to say here that if that is the pathway to an answer the end of the road has not yet been found. While the quantum view envisages virtual energy as underlying the apparent vacuum of space, nevertheless the energies of such virtual states are miniscule compared to the energy of the universe.
The idea of energy seething, somehow hidden from the observable fabric of the universe, randomly erupting to form new universes is daunting to say the least. If such a random statistical view holds merit, then we could wake up some morning to find another universe exploding and expanding in our back yard (of course, if such a thing happened we wouldn’t be waking up)! From the point of view of the Bible I know this is not going to happen so why worry about it. Further, from what we know about the observable cosmos, which appears to be stable for billions of years, it is extremely unlikely that any other energy spike can occur, because if they were the usual course of things, we would have observed another one by now!
Physics is essentially left without a first cause no matter how you add it up. Somehow the universe all started from a first cause, which the Bible calls the word of the Lord and which scientists presumably call “an initial event.” When the present universe was created, the laws of physics had to be created concurrently. God is assuredly the creator of the laws of physics and in a very real sense the first physicist. This in itself presents several interesting enigmas that will to be considered in due course.
By John C. Bilello, Ann Arbor, Michigan
[i] Strong’s Concordance makes it clear that the switch in tense in the English Translation is a correct interpretation of the original Hebrew.
[ii] The wording of Genesis also does not preclude a different beginning time for the universe as distinct from the earth. Christadelphians had no problem with this idea from the very foundations of our community; see Elpis Israel, by John Thomas, 14th edition, pub. The Christadelphian, Birmingham, UK, (1990), pg. 10.
[iii] For those who know quantum mechanics you will realize that light (or any other form of electromagnetic energy) does have momentum as expressed in the de Broglie relation, but momentum is the product of mass times velocity, but the mass cannot be independently determined for light energy.
[iv] Leon Lederman in his book (with Dick Tere) called, “The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer What is the Question”, Houghton Mifflin, (1993).
[v] Anjan Ahuja, London Times, Monday, June 25th , 2001, section 2, pg. 10.