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Today: 17 September 2019


Challenges to faith: creation of the universe

First published 30/06/2019

From the Ancient Greeks onwards, philosophers — and, since the nineteenth century, scientists — had largely argued for the universe being eternal, or at least not having a beginning. In the midst of this, Christians and Jews, on the basis of what the Bible says from the book of Genesis onwards, argued for a beginning of everything (including time itself) in a creation event ex nihilo: ‘out of nothing’.

And there things stayed until 1915, when Einstein applied his general theory of relativity to the universe as a whole, with a shocking result! His equations predicted that the universe must be either expanding or contracting, but could not be standing still.

Then, in the 1920s, a Russian mathematician and a Belgian astronomer developed models of the universe (based on Einstein’s theory) that showed that it must be expanding. That meant that if you run the model backwards in time, the universe would go back to a single point of origin before which it didn’t exist. No space, no matter, no time.  

The model implied an explosive moment of creation so dramatic that, just 3 minutes after time began, 98% of the matter there is, or ever will be, would have been been created.

So far this is all very theoretical, and the question could be debated endlessly, just like the ancient Greeks liked to do.  However, much to the discomfort of scientists who were atheists, the physical evidence for a moment of creation began to pile up for what was later to be called the Big Bang. Some examples:

  • In 1929, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that light coming to us from distant galaxies appears to be redder than it should be, indicating that they are moving away from us. (An effect similar to the change of pitch you get when a vehicle with a siren goes past).
  • In the 1940s George Gamow predicted that if there was a Big Bang beginning in the past, then the temperature of empty space should not be absolute zero, but still retain a background a few degrees above absolute zero. This background radiation was subsequently, and accidentally, discovered in 1965 — with a value of 3.7 degrees above absolute zero.
  • Evidence has continued to pile up, and by December 2018, an advanced Gravitation Wave detector in the U.S had clocked up 11 validated detections of such waves, which were a prediction of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and a corollary of the 'Big Bang' theory of the creation of the universe.
The Big Bang theory now has such impressive credentials that Stephen Hawking, director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge, was able to say in 1996 ‘almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang’.

Spare a thought for the Christians of a century ago, who had to maintain by faith in the truth of the Bible that, despite all appearances and the confident assertions of  science to the contrary, the universe was not eternal but was created - out of nothing - a finite time ago.  

We have an easier time today in the 21st century, because the evidence of astrophysics and cosmology increasingly lend support to these simple timeless words from the first verse of the Bible, composed several thousand years ago:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1 NIV)

So did God create this amazing universe? The concept of the Big Bang certainly doesn’t rule out God’s creation — and as a scientist myself, I believe he did. But what do you think?

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Pray: Use these words from Psalm 33 in a prayer of thanksgiving: “The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born… For when he spoke, the world began! It appeared at his command.”

Think about: How recognising God as creator of the Universe affects the understanding you have of him.

Challenge: Many scientists – even some of the most senior and famous – are also Christians, and find there to be no conflict between their faith and their knowledge. Why do you think such a bid deal is made of science supposedly being the opposite of faith?

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