God’s mighty expanse1
Published: 26 February 2009(GMT+10)
Psalm 150:1, the first verse of the last psalm, contains a phrase that has always intrigued me:
Composition of images from wikipedia
Figure 1. Rolling up the heavens like a scroll (Isaiah 34:4).
… Praise Him in his mighty expanse. (NAS), or
… praise him in the firmament of his power. (KJV)
God made the expanse (firmament) on the second day and called it “heavens” (Genesis 1:8, plural from literal Hebrew). Later, on the fourth day, He populated the expanse with the sun, moon and stars (Genesis 1:14-19). So the expanse is not the heavenly bodies, but rather the space that contains the heavenly bodies. Normally people think of interstellar space, and also the space in which we ourselves exist, as an empty nothingness. Saying that an emptiness is strong would be rather odd. Praise God in His mighty nothing? So what does God mean here?
Scripture itself gives a clue: it looks like the expanse (firmament, heavens, space) is an actual material that we cannot perceive as we move through it and it moves through us. For example, it can be stretched out (Job 9:8 and 16 other Old Testament verses as discussed in reference 1), torn (Isaiah 64:1), worn out like a garment (Psalm 102:26), shaken (Hebrews 12:26, Haggai 2:6, Isaiah 13:13), burnt up (2 Peter 3:12), split apart like a scroll (Revelation 6:14), and rolled up like a mantle (Hebrews 1:12) or a scroll (Isaiah 34:4), see Figure 1.
Many physics theories and experiments seem to require that space be a real material:
The observed “displacement” electric current of James Clerk Maxwell, the greatest theoretical physicist (and a fine creationist) of the 19th century. (Maxwell based his theory on the experimental work of another great creationist scientist, Michael Faraday.) With that idea he was able to predict the existence of radio waves, and to lay the foundations of all 20th-century devices using electricity and magnetism.
Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity not only stem from Maxwell’s work, but at bottom they only make sense if space (and time) is some kind of “stuff,” as Einstein finally acknowledged in a little-known speech in 1920.2 The famous limit for the speeds of light and particles, c, could only work if there were a real material to enforce the speed limit. (Why should there be a limit if space were completely empty?) Space could be “warped” or “bent” only if it were actual solid matter.
The esoteric but well-verified quantum field theory starts with the premise that space is filled with the particles of a non-perceivable material (the “quantum vacuum”) that is very dense. According to the theory, this material exists in and around all visible-matter particles and transmits the forces between them, thus enabling visible matter to exist. Experiments stemming from quantum field theory show that electrons in atoms influence the space around them and in turn are influenced by it (“vacuum polarization”). In the 1930s, quantum theorist P.A.M. Dirac correctly predicted the existence of antimatter on the basis of his theory that required all space to be filled with a “sea” of electrons. The quantum theory of solids offers a way to understand how space could be very dense but not felt or seen, in the same way that free electrons can move through a perfect crystal without any hindrance.
These and other physics clues suggest that the material, which from the biblical clues I call the “fabric” of space, is an elastic solid, like a very rigid and enormously massive crystal. That could be why the Hebrew word for the expanse (raqia), and the Greek and Latin translations of it (stereoma and firmamentum) all have some connection with solidity and firmness, as does the English word, “firmament” used (coined?) by the King James translators.3
Strangely, academic materialists have tried to ignore the physics clues that space is a material, probably for religious and philosophical reasons. They even ignored Einstein’s 1920 recantation (see second item above) of his 1905 denial of the 19th-century idea of an “ether” (or “aether”) meant to propagate light waves. The academics have made the word “ether” politically incorrect.
Now that it looks as if the ether idea merely needed a bit more sophistication, physicists use many code words for it, such as various combinations of: “spacetime,” “continuum,” “manifold,” “quantum vacuum,” “the Vacuum,” “substratum,” “Dirac sea,” “plenum,” and “medium,”—all to avoid using the word “ether.” This verbal beating-around-the-bush amuses me. It prevents academics from explaining relativity and quantum mechanics in simple, visualizable terms that solve the various paradoxes. I suspect the academic experts on relativity and quantum theories prefer to keep them arcane and perplexing (to other academics as well), because the mystery makes them the high priests of a secular religion for which the public needs interpreters.
Putting aside the foibles of academia, my main point is that the expanse (firmament) is a real material that God made early in Creation Week. It is invisible and very clear, since we can observe through it for cosmic distances. Though we can’t perceive it directly, our new knowledge of its massiveness and strength shows forth the glory of its mighty Creator.
References and notes
- You can find more details about the ideas here, along with scientific references, in pages 66–68 and 84 of my little book on creation cosmology, Starlight and Time [Master Books, 1994], available from the CMI online bookstore. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 84. Return to text.
- Probably derived from the Latin Vulgate’s word for the expanse, i.e. firmamentum. Return to text.