Does the Bible really describe expansion of the universe?
Biblical texts which have been used by some creationists to argue that Scripture supports expansion of the universe were reviewed. To suggest that these texts describe cosmological expansion of space, with galaxies being spread out like the often quoted rubber sheet analogy, is not justifiable and is pure eisegesis. The straightforward meaning is God constructing the heavens above and the earth below as a description of His preparation of a habitat for man. Once the stars were placed in the heavens they were to remain as a constant for all time.
Figure 1. Rubber sheet, or in this case rubber balloon, analogy of the expansion of the universe. The idea describes a universe that expanded by at least a factor of 1,000 since creation. Some misguided Christians have even accepted the big bang dogma as a description of the Genesis Creation.1
We have been told, since Hubble’s discovery in the late 1920s, that the universe is expanding. Hubble found a proportionality between the redshift in the light coming from relatively nearby galaxies and their distance from Earth. This relationship has since been strengthened and extended to very great distances in the cosmos. This has been interpreted to mean that the space that contains the galaxies is expanding and that the galaxies are essentially stationary in that space, but being dragged apart as the universe expands. Often, the rubber balloon analogy is used—galaxies stuck on the surface as the balloon is blown up—which illustrates space expanding and the galaxies being pushed apart from each other (and also that there is no centre, no special place uniquely for us in the universe; figure 1). Nowadays, the expanding big bang universe is considered to be established dogma.
Hubble initially interpreted his redshifts as a Doppler effect, due to the motion of the galaxies as they rushed away from our location in the universe. Later he became disillusioned with the recession interpretation: “ … it seems likely that red-shifts may not be due to an expanding Universe, and much of the speculation on the structure of the universe may require re-examination.”2 He said that what became known as the Hubble Law could also be due to “some hitherto unknown principle of nature”,2 but not due to expansion of space—now called cosmological expansion.
After 1994, creationists have developed their own cosmologies, which remain faithful to Scripture but which also try to solve the creationist ‘starlight-travel-time’ problem in a vast universe.3
In support of those creationist cosmologies it has been sometimes contended that the Hebrew text in a range of biblical passages supports the idea that space, or the heavens, are some material substance and that it was stretched out when God created the universe on Day 4 of Creation Week. And then, as a consequence of the physics of this process, theoretical solutions were found to the creationist starlight-travel-time problem.
Direct experimental evidence?
However, to date there is no direct experimental evidence, from any local laboratory experiment, that establishes cosmological expansion as a real phenomenon of nature. Though it can be derived as a consequence of Einstein’s general relativity theory,4 it has been claimed by some as another fudge factor5 to prop up the ailing standard Lambda cold dark matter (ΛCDM) big bang model for the origin and structure of the universe.
I have come to the position that it is not possible to categorically state that Scripture requires that the universe is expanding at all.
All evidence for cosmological expansion comes from the cosmos itself. Supernovae (exploding stars) are among the brightest light sources in the sky. Astrophysicists believe that they have successfully understood their origin using general relativity theory, where a white dwarf star catastrophically collapses in on itself under its own gravity and explodes in a blinding flash of light. The luminosity of the explosion rapidly increases, peaks, and then slowly decreases over days and months. By modelling this, it is believed that one can understand what the intrinsic brightness at the peak of the explosion was and hence one can establish, for a certain class of these supernovae, a ‘standard candle’. This means if you know their intrinsic brightness you can determine their distance in the cosmos. The type Ia supernovae have been used for this purpose and, using the redshifts of their host galaxies, distances are determined from the Hubble law when applied to the standard cosmology. From this, astronomers claim not only that the universe is expanding but also that the expansion is accelerating. However, in order to make their observations fit the standard cosmology, they have had to add two more fudge factors: dark energy and dark matter.6 Without these additions, the model seriously fails to describe the observed luminosities.
So what is the first question we should really ask? Is there any suggestion in Scripture that the universe is expanding or has expanded? From a review of this question I have come to the position that it is not possible to categorically state that Scripture requires that the universe is expanding at all.
What do the Scriptures say?
Psalm 104, in somewhat metaphorical language (after all, it is a song of praise), is describing the Creator and his work of creation of this world. There we read,
It is not a stretchy material like a rubber balloon.
“Which covereth himself with light, as with a garment, and spreadeth the heavens like a curtain” (Psa 104:2; Geneva Bible).
The straightforward interpretation from the context is God created the starry heavens and put them up like you might erect a canopy or a tent. The Hebrew word rendered in English here is natah, meaning to stretch out or incline. For example, in Exodus 10:22 the same Hebrew word is rendered ‘stretched forth’,
“Then Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven … .”
Also we read in Isaiah 40:22,
“He sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers, he stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out, as a tent to dwell in” (Geneva Bible).
Here the Lord is seen from the perspective of the earth. Clearly it is spherical (‘circle’ comes from the Hebrew word chug, which more correctly means ‘sphere’). And then He describes the creation of the starry heavens. They are stretched out (Hebrew word, natah) as a curtain. Curtains are made of a fabric that is constant in size but erected across the windows—they do not expand, nor stretch out like a rubber sheet. The verse goes onto say that the heavens are spread out (Hebrew, mathach) as a tent. Once a tent is erected it remains the same size. Its material does not stretch nor expand, not very much anyway. The Hebrew here has the meaning ‘to spread out or over’ as is the case with beaten metal. This may mean that space has some substance to it, but again once it has been erected it is fixed. It is not a stretchy material like a rubber balloon.
Isaiah 42:5 describes God’s creative act:
“Thus saith God the Lord (he that created the heavens and spread them abroad: he that stretched forth the earth, and the buds thereof: he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein” (Geneva Bible).
And Isaiah 40:22 may also be translated,
“It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in” (ESV).
Figure 2. What do the Scriptures say?
The expression ‘stretches out’ and ‘spreads’ are rendered from the same Hebrew words, natah and mathach, respectively. The clear meaning of this and earlier passages is that God created the earth for humans to dwell on and created the heavens with the stars in them. There is no inference of stretching or expanding space here. God was simply providing a habitat designed and ready for human habitation. The tent can also refer to the atmospheric heavens that support life. To read any more into it is unjustifiable eisegesis.
We read in Job,
“He himself alone spreadeth out the heavens … ” (Job 9:8; Geneva Bible).
Which describes God creating the starry heavens as the next verse describes some of the constellations He created. The same Hebrew word, natah, is rendered ‘spread’ here also. Some translations render it as ‘stretch’. But clearly these verses have no more intent than suggesting that when Moses stretched out his hand, his arm did not lengthen beyond its fixed length.
“Hast thou stretched out the heavens, which are strong, and as a molten glass?” (Job 37:18; Geneva Bible).
Which is also translated,
“Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?” (ESV).
Here the Hebrew raqa is rendered ‘stretch’ or ‘spread’. The context seems to be only referring to the atmosphere. God erected the habitat on Earth for man to live in. The KJV uses the expression “spread out the sky”. The molten glass or cast metal mirror is consistent with the meaning of raqa, but really seems to refer to the transparent nature of the sky and nothing more—not the starry heavens of the cosmos. Other verses sometimes quoted to support the hypothesis that God stretched out the space with the stars and galaxies in it are Jeremiah 10:12 and Zechariah 12:1. Both of these verses use the Hebrew word natah, rendering it as ‘stretch’ in English.
Let’s now read from Psalms 148:
“3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.
6 And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away” (ESV).
A straightforward reading of this passage is that God created the lights in the sky (sun, moon and stars) and possibly this is what the highest heavens refers to. Certainly this is what the Reformers thought (from the footnotes in the Geneva Bible), but also they thought the waters above referred to the rain. The suggestion is there also that the highest heavens God refers to here will not pass away, hence this could be the spiritual heavens, since verses 1 and 2 refer to such places. The Geneva Bible translators used the expression ‘heavens of heavens’. So if God in the Day of the Lord, is going to roll up the heavens, it could mean either the atmosphere or the whole starry cosmos.
“And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down …” (Isaiah 34:4; KJV).
“And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (Revelation 6:14; KJV).
But an interpretation more consistent with these latter two verses is that when God remakes the earth to bring his heavenly city down on it, He remakes the atmospheric heavens. The cosmos endures forever. The meaning of Psa 148:6 is then that He has established the starry cosmos forever. It is part of His enduring creation. The implication, therefore, is that it is a constant (i.e. something that we can always depend upon), like the Creator Himself.
From a review of the above scriptures, which are the main ones used by some creationists to justify expansion in cosmological models, it is not possible to conclude other than that God’s plain, straightforward meaning is that He created the universe with all its stars and galaxies. No stretching out by 10 fold or 1,000 fold is implied, like in the often cited rubber sheet analogy in general relativity for the fabric of space being stretched. There is not a single verse in the Bible applied to the cosmos with the meaning of a rubber sheet, where space might have been stretched by some enormous factor. To suggest otherwise is to read more into Scripture than the Author intended.
- Both Humphreys’ and my models reject the godless notion of no special place in the universe for man. It is possible to construct from General Relativity a finite universe with a centre—a special place—where our galaxy is cosmologically near—and fit to the same observational data that the big bang adherents use, but without dark matter and dark energy. Return to text.
- Hubble, E.P., The 200-inch telescope and some problems it may solve, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 59:153–167, 1947. Return to text.
- For examples see: Humphreys, D.R., Starlight and Time, Master Books, Colorado Springs, CO, 1994; Hartnett, J.G., Starlight, Time and the New Physics, Creation Book Publishers, creationbookpublishers.com, 2007. Return to text.
- It is not sufficient that a theory permits something to exist. Only experimental verification can establish some aspect of a theory to be correct. We are told that the experimental method looks to falsify a theory, but in reality a successful prediction establishes the idea. In cosmology this is not even possible, since we cannot interact with the only universe we have to experiment on. All we can do is provide a model and judge it by the statistics of how often the phenomena is seen to occur etc. Return to text.
- Lieu, R., LCDM cosmology: how much suppression of credible evidence, and does the model really lead its competitors, using all evidence? 17 May 2007, arxiv.org/abs/0705.2462v1. Return to text.
- Hartnett, J.G., Cosmology is not even astrophysics, 2008, creation.com/cosmology-is-not-even-astrophysics. Return to text.
Fascinating article! That said, I'm just the slightest bit confused, and would like just some clarification. You say in this article that the universe is not expanding, that, reading the Hebrew in its intended context, it is in fact, now a constant. You also say that there is little experimental evidence for the creation model of space being a kind of stuff that could be the medium for expansion (please correct me if I am mistaken).
Having read previous articles concerning the matter, Dr. Humphreys hypothesised on the "space is stuff"... umm... hypothesis in a 2009 piece http://creation.com/gods-mighty-expanse . Also, in the first related article here, you state that the present model includes an expansion on Day 4, which, because of relativistic time dilation, appears to still be happening today.
Does this mean, Sir, that Dr. Humphreys has also left the "space is stuff" hypothesis, or is this a matter of differing models between you two? Also, Sir, do you mean to say that in your model, there is no expansion happening RIGHT NOW (as the universe is now set in place), but what we are seeing is most likely the expansion of Day 4?
I do apologise for any misunderstandings, as I am but a lay person. Thank you, Sir, for your time, and may the LORD continue to bless your work as you study His Glory that is declared by the heavens!
Excellent piece. How good it is to see, in 2012 AD, someone allowing God's Word to determine scientific research directions, rather than the latest uniformitarian fad.
I'm all in favour of not reading more into scripture than was intended. So, I prefer to dispense with all theories about how the Universe came about and just know that God created everything, visible and invisible in six literal days. To understand much more than that would imply we can understand in full technical detail who and what God is. We are simply not yet ready to know all let alone understand the details of it all. All we need to do is watch and be amazed at the power of God, which is just the visible side of His creation. The invisible side must be even more amazing.
A wise caution. I have noticed this as well.
Another thing that has occured to me is that if these verses are meant to indicate any literal spreading motion at all in the universe, they do not at all fit with the Big Bang, because when you spread out a tent, the entire tent's material and structure is already there. Yet the Big Bang has matter originating at some point afterwards. This seems to fit with Genesis 1 which says that a formless region of water was the first thing created, not a singularity.
I've run into an argument very similar to the one presented here. However, Job 9:8 is clearly present tense, thereby requiring the universe to be expanding.
Plus, an accelerating expansion automatically disproves the big bang because the big bang requires the exact opposite.
The bible is clear about a young creation, but scripture is not so clear whether God created the galaxies stationary or not.
So does it matter then if galaxies are moving or not and with what speeds? As long as a theory about an expanding universe is not contradicting the scripture's teaching about a young earth.
I would like to know where the author got his definitions for the Hebrew word "chug". I looked it up in some places, but most of them said it meant 'circle', as in line in the sand 2d circle. He says it more properly means 'sphere', is this true? What does he have to back this claim up?
In my school days evolution was the 'stuff' to learn. Being interested in the stars and cosmos as a child fairly soon questions arose about the universe.
Now being a Christian and Creationist I might take it too easy finding out the secrets of the universe; e.g. God created the universe and the stars. We know the stars are moving and the cosmos expands. Who is behind this? Who made the laws for this? Who can make it happen? Every time it is the Lord! For me it is clearly mentioned in the Bible, already from Genesis on.
The same with time (starlight). God invented time and put it to effect. How fast the time runs or how time is effected by gravity...God put the light into place and with all the laws of it's properties.
I have no problem having God as the One responsible for what is happening out there even it is not specific mentioned in the Bible.
To my [limited]understand it, the big problem with Redshift is twofold. It's not always consistent, nor such 'receding' stellar objects necessarily as old as thought, with even very ‘old’ ones seemingly joined to supposedly ‘young’ ones by gaseous links. Astrophysicist, Halton Arp, one-time assistant to Edwin Hubble, realised this - after both realised the earth must be at the centre of space, because of all the Redshifts moving away from the earth - wherever they looked! That's their real, big problem, methinks!! [Later, astronomer, Varshni claimed 7 ‘shells’ of quasars, and Redshifts, arranged perfectly [‘quantised] - all around us, similar to Tifft’s discovery.
Arp, then a highly respected and honoured scientist, then discovered just how badly fellow workers treated any daring to question ‘Big Bang’ faith, banning him from the world’s top observatories. Hubble simply moved the goalposts away from any pre-Galileo ‘Geocentrism’, saying of our ‘unique position in the universe ….like… ’the ancient conception of a central Earth....as a ‘hypothesis cannot be disproved, but is unwelcome….a horror’!
So, although other ‘atheist/experts’ like Stephen Hawking and Paul Davis agreed that "the hypothesis [of earth’s unique, central position] cannot be disproved" and in fact "appears consistent with our astronomical observations’ – they cannot accept it because it is ‘intolerable’ [Hubble] and would be ‘embarrassing’ [Feynman] – simply because it disagrees with their ‘prejudiced’ [Fenyman] philosophical, anti-Biblical ideas! Even NASA use a ‘geocentric’ model for their launches, as it doesn't seem to matter to such calculations what is moving around what, as the current Sloan Digital Sky Survey also shows our galaxy central! Earth created first = central - is the logical answer!
What a pleasant surprise! Yours is my favorite creationist website, so I check it out daily. It's always interesting; but today was special. You see, I too found the claim that the Bible teaches an expanding universe untenable, and wrote the following article about it: [Ed note: Web reference removed as per our feedback rules.] So its great to see this important issue getting some attention!
I'm not sure I draw the same conclusions as the author, one reason being is that he offers no suggestions for other possible explanations for the red shift observations. I'm not saying he's wrong, but he gives me the impression that he's pretty dogmatic about his idea.
When he mentions "curtains" I visualize a theater. Even as the curtains close, there still is enough fabric for pleats to appear, so they could be "stretched" further. In such an analogy, I'd also point out there there's no bigger stage than the universe, so I think it's not unreasonable to allow for some additional "stretching" as the universe has aged an extra few thousand years since creation. It's also within reason to still visualize the "fabric" limitations on stretching by assuming that the universe may not be expanding indefinitely.
Another reference he makes is to the text from Job that says "hard as a cast metal mirror." He then goes on to say this text is referring only to the atmosphere, not the starry expanse. Really? I would think that the atmosphere is the least likely of the two to fit that description. In any event, the first part of that text still suggests that while it may be impossible for you or me, it's still something that God could manage, hardly a reason to believe that it HAS NOT happened.
However, no matter whether the author is on to something or off his rocker, I still appreciate his desire to explore all possibilities and not depend upon secular researches, who may have motives to discredit God for His work. I'd just like to see him go a little further and offer at least an hypothesis for what might be causing the red shifts.
Dr. Hartnett, it was refreshing to read your take on God "stretching out" the heavens. I have always felt that many creationist cosmologies were inferring too much with respect to the verses in question. However, this seems to contradict some of your previous papers and of course Humphrey's papers. Are you laying the groundwork for the possibility that the acceleration of the fabric of space is not a necessary conclusion (and therefore should not be supported by the Bible), especially considering the latest research on Type 1a supernovae as mentioned recently on creation.com? Doesn't Cosmological General Relativity predict the acceleration as you have so nobly proposed in your presentation of Moshe Carmelli's 5-D Theory?
How can one say that this stretching only apply to the atmosphere and nothing else?
Is there anything in Scripture at all which suggest this?
I really don't see how this stretching of heaven apply alone to the the first day of creation.
Thank you first off for the fantastic articles (this goes to all CMI associates) your efforts are reaping results you folk cannot fathom, but will be made aware of when we all meet our Father.
A question popped into mind when I read about the fabric of the heavens being like a curtain; Would such a "fabric" then lend credence to the possibility of space travel by "folding" space/time that I've heard mention of by secular scientists?
Kind of makes sense, thinking about folding the curtains back from the windows.
God Bless all of you, and keep up the incredible work!
BTW, love the infobytes.
I am amazed how many different comments were received over this article. Several though indicate to me that we still have a long way to go in helping people to understand the basic issues in the cosmos.
Really, the article is a sanity check. God made the universe, this we know. But to say He expanded it like a rubber sheet, well, we have all been guilty of reading more in than was there in the first place, me included. Now once he have established the truth of scripture we are free to explore models that remain true to scripture. It does not explicitly rule out cosmological expansion, because scripture does not speak against it—it does not insist on it either. But we should be real careful … that is the point.
In discussing this with Russ Humphreys, he came up with the idea that it is the tension of space, the stiffness of the fabric, that is important. He then started thinking about using that in his cosmological model. In fact, he commented that it might be more useful that the previous notion of expansion.
All the glory to our God alone.