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Physicists: The universe had a beginning

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Published: 5 June 2012 (GMT+10)

Physicists: The universe had a beginning

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As an idea, the ‘big bang’ just doesn’t cut it—that is, it is no longer sufficient for its intended task. In fact, it never was.

What was its intended task? To provide a godless means of explaining the origin of the cosmos. However, as we have earlier reported, even diehard atheist physicists are abandoning the big bang, given its increasingly evident failures to fit the known facts of the universe.1

But there’s another reason why “many physicists have been fighting a rearguard action against it for decades”, as a recent editorial in New Scientist explained.2

That is, its alleged “theological overtones”. The New Scientist editorial put it this way:

“If you have an instant of creation, don’t you need a creator?”

The editorial then outlines how cosmologists had, over a number of years, come up with “several different models of the universe that dodge the need for a beginning while still requiring a big bang. But recent research has shot them full of holes (see page 6). It now seems certain that the universe did have a beginning.”2

‘All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.’—Cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin, Tufts University, Boston (USA), January 2012

The ‘see page 6’ article referred to is by Lisa Grossman and soberly titled/subtitled: “Death of the eternal cosmos—From the cosmic egg to the infinite multiverse, every model of the universe has a beginning.”3

The article relates how physicists such as Stephen Hawking “tend to shy away from cosmic genesis” in order to avoid “the thorny question”, i.e. the need for, a supernatural creator. They had relied upon models designed to dodge the origins problem, such as an eternally inflating or cyclic universe, which give the appearance of time continuing indefinitely in the past as well as the future.

Counter-intuitively these models had been constructed to be compatible with the big bang. I.e. the big bang was not the beginning. However, as cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University in Boston explained earlier this year, hope in these ideas “may now be dead”.3 Vilenkin showed that all these models still demand a beginning. They do not stretch back in true infinity; rather, there is still a “start of everything.”3

Of the eternal inflation model, Vilenkin says that, “You can’t construct a space-time with this property”—the equations simply don’t work. “It can’t possibly be eternal in the past. There must be some kind of boundary.”3

And Vilenkin said that while cyclic universes have an “irresistible poetic charm and bring to mind the Phoenix” (quoting the late Belgian astronomer and priest Georges Lemaître), the model was hopelessly wrong in its predictions of the universe’s level of order today. If there had indeed already been an infinite number of cycles, the universe today should be in a state of maximum disorder. As the New Scientist article pointed out:

“Such a universe would be uniformly lukewarm and featureless, and definitely lacking such complicated beings as stars, planets and physicists—nothing like the one we see around us.”3

The attempted rescue suggestion, viz. that the universe just gets bigger with every cycle, therefore isn’t yet at maximum disorder, also fails on the same point as the eternal inflation model. I.e., “if your universe keeps getting bigger, it must have started somewhere.”3

And as for a third idea that the cosmos previously “existed eternally in a static state called the cosmic egg”, which later ‘cracked’ to create the big bang, Vilenkin and research associates have ‘cracked’ that notion, too. Their work showed that quantum instabilities would force such an ‘egg’ to collapse after a finite amount of time. And even if it cracked beforehand, leading to the supposed big bang, then this must have happened before it collapsed, and therefore also within a finite amount of time. “This is also not a good candidate for a beginningless universe”, says Vilenkin. “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”3

And so in that light, as the editorial of that issue of New Scientist muses, physicists must answer the problem: “How do you get a universe, complete with the laws of physics, out of nothing?”2

The One who really is eternal, who exists “from everlasting to everlasting”,4 and whose creation of the space-time construct presents such a conundrum to cosmologists who would deny Him,5 has already spoken much about the beginning—for those willing to listen. Sadly, even some Christian apologists (such as Hugh Ross and William Lane Craig) have naively been duped into advocating ‘God used the big bang and other godless origins ideas’—untenable on all counts.6 The only way to avoid such error is by believing God’s Word—from the very first verse.

Related Articles

Further Reading

References

  1. Lerner, E., Bucking the big bang, New Scientist 182(2448)20, 22 May 2004. See also the book by Alex Williams and Dr John Hartnett, Dismantling the big bang. Return to text.
  2. Editorial: In the beginning … , New Scientist 213(2847):3, 14 January 2012. Return to text.
  3. Grossman, L., Death of the eternal cosmos, New Scientist 213(2847):6–7, 14 January 2012. Return to text.
  4. E.g. Psalm 106:48. Return to text.
  5. For which they have “no excuse”—Romans 1:20. Return to text.
  6. See Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise [updated and expanded] a biblical and scientific refutation of progressive creationism (billions of years) as popularized by astronomer Hugh Ross, Creation Book Publishers, 2011. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments
Jim M., Australia, 5 June 2012

The numbingly complex yet logically absurd explanations of a universe without a beginning, or of cyclic existences without loss of energy, bring to my mind the rhyme by Sir Walter Scott:

Oh what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practise to deceive!

Philip R., Australia, 5 June 2012

Are the scientists who “have been fighting a rearguard action against it for decades” the same ones referred to in the first Related Article (Secular scientists blast the big bang), or a different group?

Jonathan Sarfati responds

The only critic mentioned is Vilenkin, who is not on the list cited in Ref. 1, or even on the expanded list available at An Open Letter to the Scientific Community. This letter is also discussed in Secular scientists blast the big bang: What now for naïve apologetics? in the Related Articles section.

jeff M., United Kingdom, 5 June 2012

Dear David

This is surely wrong. The Big Bang theory never had a task. It certainly didn’t aim to substitute a Divine creation with a Godless one. It was simply an attempt to explain the apparent expansion of the universe.

Yours sincerely

Jeff

Jonathan Sarfati responds

As I write in Refuting Compromise, ch. 5:

The Encyclopædia Britannica states:

‘The big bang is based on two assumptions. The first is that Einstein’s general theory of relativity describes the gravitational attraction of all matter. The second assumption, called the cosmological principle, states that the observer’s point of view of the universe depends neither on the direction in which he looks nor on his location. This principle applies only to the large scale properties of the universe, but it does imply that the universe has no edge, so that the big bang occurred not at a particular point in space but rather throughout space at the same time. These two assumptions make it possible to calculate the history of the cosmos after a certain epoch called the Planck time. Scientists have yet to determine what prevailed before Planck time.

Another assumption the Britannica failed to mention, one which should ring alarm bells for Christians, is naturalism. I.e. the universe today is the result of entirely natural processes—though some people (like Ross) assert ‘God started it’, unlike most big bang theorists. The big bang model posits that all the cosmic structure, stars, galaxies, and planets evolved by natural processes, and were not (at least directly) created by God. So the big bang is definitely an evolutionary cosmogony. This also means that attempts to use the big bang as evidence for a Creator are misplaced, especially because mainstream big bang cosmologists reject a creator.

Alex C., United States, 5 June 2012

Hello. The article says that the big bang was developed to provide a godless explanation of the origin of the cosmos. In fact, the developer and first proponent of the theory was a roman catholic priest and physicist by the name of Georges Lemaître who thought the initial big bang was the moment of creation. Atheist cosmologists of the time even questioned his motives for developing the theory and preferred the eternal steady state model over the big bang. That way they could avoid a creation moment. An we see even now how they are still hard at work trying to come up with a viable eternal model of the universe but all the evidence keeps pointing back to a beginning and creation moment where physical reality just didnt exist, not even their preferred way out, the primordial quantum vaccuum. The big bang is not the atheists friend which is why they have been trying very hard to supercede it but have failed.

Jonathan Sarfati responds

I also answered this in Refuting Compromise, ch. 5:

From reading Ross, one would think that the big bang cosmologists are all Christians, or at least theists. [William Lane] Craig, too, wrote:

When I was at the 16th World Congress on Philosophy in Düsseldorf in 1978, I found that the only scientists who opposed the big-bang theory were Marxists from communist nations. [Apologetics: an Introduction, Moody Press, Chicago, p. 91, 1984.]

This may well be true, and indeed the steady state theory was motivated by antitheistic bias. But Craig’s implication that the big bang is somehow theistic fails miserably―by the same reasoning, one could argue that Darwinism must be theistic because the only opposition at an evolution conference came from the Stalinist biologists led by Lysenko, the neo-Lamarckian! Indeed, most big bang theorists are likewise atheists, although some are agnostic or possibly pantheistic.

Narindra R., Madagascar, 5 June 2012

You say that the intended task of the Big Bang theory is “[t]o provide a godless means of explaining the origin of the cosmos”, making it look like this was the goal of the creators of this theory in the 1st place, but the very belgian canon you're citing, Georges Lemaître, was the 1st to emit this idea.

I’m not arguing over the fact that the Big Bang is an anti-God idea, but Lemaître was a Catholic, and even if Catholics are very prone to compromise, they still believe in God. Or am I missing something?

Jonathan Sarfati responds

See above. Many Christian scientists have mistakenly swallowed the dogma of “methodological naturalism” even for origins, and Lemaître was a good example, as he made clear.

Brian S., United States, 5 June 2012

I have always thought that the Big Bang and the Bible go hand in hand. God spoke and bang it happened. I am sure it was a very Big Bang although not as we have defined it. Do we understand what happened at that moment, no, can we understand it, no. Does it fit our rules and laws, no. God, as Creator, did not need to follow these laws; he created them.

Jonathan Sarfati responds

However, the big bang theory contradicts the Bible in both the time frame and order of events. For example, the big bang teaches that the stars and sun formed before the earth; the Bible teaches that God created the earth on Day 1, and the sun and stars on Day 4. See the table in Two worldviews in conflict.

About natural laws and miracles, it would also be worth checking the articles Miracles and science and Is evolution allowed by scientific laws?

D. A., Canada, 5 June 2012

To avoid the argument, “Everything that has a beginning has a cause. Our universe has a beginning , therefore it has a cause,” they replied as follows:

With the big bang there is no beginning, rather, there is a tendency towards a beginning that we do not reach. Time 0 is never reached.

Jonathan Sarfati responds

This assertion (called asymptotic) would be news to most cosmologists …

Chuck J., United States, 5 June 2012

I believe it to be short sighted for Christians to think that God needs an intermediary process to create anything. Doesn’t the Bible say that He said “… let there be … .” That doesn’t sound like the chaos of a bang to me.

Jack C., Australia, 5 June 2012

As a retired scientist with a Ph.D. in Physics, I am a strong believer in the creation story highlighted in the Bible. Most secular scientists mock at such a belief when their own beliefs about how the Universe came about are in fact far less plausible and are also based purely on faith. What’s worse is they can’t come up with a consistent story as to how matter, energy, time and space came about. The various theories they suggest contradict each other. Is it any wonder that there are a few astrophysicists and the like who do believe in the creation story? It’s the only logical and plausible theory available, even if one doesn’t like to believe in God. If atheists were honest about all this they would have no choice but to agree with such a conclusion, until they can come up with a better theory. God believers all know that will be never.

Stuart H., United Kingdom, 6 June 2012

The Big Bang is real. I believe in it. It's Scriptural. People should prepare for it. It will be a cosmic fireball:

"But the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise [BIG BANG], and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up" (NKJV).

Douglas B., United States, 6 June 2012

The “Big Bang”—Shrinking by the second.

Dawnelle T., Canada, 6 June 2012

It seems obvious to me (of course I’m no physicist or mathematician) that time must have a beginning. Everthing in our physical universe has a beginning, even a circle. (I would challenge someone talking about cyclic systems to draw a circle without starting somewhere, even if the starting point can’t be seen once the circle is drawn.)

I do believe I know enough about physics to know that the amount of useable energy is decreasing. If there was no beginning and the universe is a closed system, would that not mean that all the useable energy would already have run out? Unless of course it was not closed and there was something beyond supplying more, but then we’re back to the question of first cause again.

I don't think that they'll ever be able to make a coherent model without admitting a first cause, because in reality there was a first cause for the entire physical realm. Not admitting it is just more of the same rebellion against God.

Jonathan Sarfati responds

Indeed. One point made in the article was:

The attempted rescue suggestion, viz. that the universe just gets bigger with every cycle, therefore isn’t yet at maximum disorder, also fails on the same point as the eternal inflation model. I.e., “if your universe keeps getting bigger, it must have started somewhere.”

Jeff T., New Zealand, 15 June 2012

It is very misleading, and in fact incorrect, to state that the intended task of “big bang” cosmology is “to provide a godless means of explaining the origin of the cosmos.” You may as well say that of the entire scientific enterprise just because science does not explicitly invoke God as Creator and sustainer of the universe. Science does not have an atheistic agenda. Some scientists do of course but there is a huge difference there.

The risk you run is to disengage Christians from science which is a God-given gift to humankind. The intended task of science, and big bang cosmology in particular, is to determine what is true about the universe (and, yes, God’s created universe). It is truly astounding that we have been able to push back to the earliest moments of the Universe through a combination of theory and measurement. But of course there are wobbles in this journey.

And as a physicist I reckon that inflation is worse than a wobble, and dark matter is not necessary. But that doesnt destroy the general picture that has emerged from particle physics and cosmology that the universe had a singular beginning along the lines of BB physics. The standard model of particle physics which underpins a good deal of this has been validated in the large hadron collider to incredible accuracy and over a range of a million-billion-fold in energy density.

And you have to remember that many components of these theories were theoretically predicted in considerable detail long before they were “discovered” experimentally. Many are natural (inevitable) outcomes of the astonishing symmetries that exist in this wonderful universe that God has created. I am afraid that you are presenting a very jaundiced view of science and scientists. God created the Universe. Science is the study of God’s created universe and is the means by which we discover in detail how He did it. We should not be afraid of what we discover because ultimately it is the truth as to how God has acted.

Jonathan Sarfati responds

[NB: Dr T. is well known in New Zealand as both a leading scientist and an outspoken genuine Christian. We have met personally and even once co-authored a scientific paper (with others). We evidently don’t agree about the details of biblical creation though].

We are very much in favour of real science. After all, many of our writers, including me and the author of the main article, have earned Ph.D.s in science from accredited secular universities. Every issue of Creation magazine has an interview with a creationist Ph.D. scientist.

But this science which might be called operational or experimental science. This indeed should use ‘natural’ explanations rather than supernatural. What we object to is theories of origin that conflict with biblical data. After all, this includes not only that He created the universe, but how long ago, over what time frame, and in which order of events. And indeed, the big bang really does that (see response to Brian S. above), and really does presuppose that the cosmos and its components arose by natural means (see response to Jeff M. above). We explain these two types of science, and what we believe is the soundest Christian view of them, in Naturalism, Origins and Operational Science.

About big bang evidence, it’s not that simple. The modern big bang theory can’t survive without the fudge factors of dark matter, dark energy, and the inflaton field.

Also, it’s moot whether the evidence was really “predicted”. First, invoking verified prediction commits the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent. Second, the cosmic microwave background radiation with a blackbody spectrum of 2.7 K was widely touted as a Gamow ‘prediction’, but he had predicted values as high as 50 K. Third, this cosmic background temperature was already known before this ‘prediction’ from McKellar's microwave spectra. See for example Nobel Prize for alleged big bang proof.

As a final note, what you have asked us to remember has been addressed on our site, as well as by the books on the top right. Some are authored by physics professor Dr John Hartnett, who has published on big-bang related topics in astrophysical journals.

Hans G., Australia, 15 June 2012

Response to Jack C. Australia: The first sentence in the Bible deals with matter,energy,time and space. God needs only one sentence!

Jamie R., Canada, 16 June 2012

The universe had to have a beginning since time and space are interwoven. God on the other hand has no beginning because He exists outside the realm of time and space and thus is not subject to time. In a way God proves the string theory that all is connected since everything is connected through/by God.

Kenny H., United States, 21 July 2012

Dr. Sarfati claims (in the response section) that the Big Bang and Gen. 1 disagree on the timing of the sun, stars, etc. In his book he agrees that "heavens and earth" is a merism meaning the entire universe "not just the earth and its atmosphere, or our solar system alone." He follows that by stating that Gen. 1:2 begins with a waw disjunctive. Therefore, Gen 1:1 is a merism describing the first action, the creation of the entire universe with all of its stars, galaxies, just as the Big Bang describes. All six "days" are to be seen from the surface of the earth and therefore are not describing things happening in the universe, but on and in earth's land, sky and seas.

Jonathan Sarfati responds

Let's put that in context (from my book Refuting Compromise):

It [the gap theory] contradicts the Sabbath command of Exodus 20:8–11, which is based on the creation of the ‘heavens, earth, sea and everything in them’ in six ordinary days. In the Old Testament Hebrew, whenever the words ‘heaven(s) and earth’ are conjoined, it is a figure of speech called a merism, in which two opposites are combined into an all-encompassing single concept. , Throughout the Bible (e.g. Genesis 14:19, 22; 2 Kings 19:15; Psalm 121:2), this means the totality of creation, not just the Earth and its atmosphere, or our solar system alone. It is used because Hebrew has no word for ‘the universe’ and can at best say ‘the all’.

Yes, the sun, moon, and stars were created in the six-day creation week. But Genesis 1 clearly states they were created on Day 4. The finer details are explained in the same book:

So they must explain this teaching away. Some assert that what really happened on this fourth ‘day’ was that the sun and other heavenly bodies ‘appeared’ when a dense cloud layer dissipated after millions of years. This is not only fanciful science but bad exegesis of Hebrew. The word ‘asah means ‘make’ throughout Genesis 1, and is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘create’ (bara’)—e.g. in Genesis 1:26–27. It is pure desperation to apply a different meaning to the same word in the same grammatical construction in the same passage, just to fit in with atheistic evolutionary ideas like the big bang. If God had meant ‘appeared’, then He presumably would have used the Hebrew word for appear (ra’ah), as He did when He said that the dry land ‘appeared’ as the waters gathered in one place on Day 3 (Genesis 1:9). We have checked over 20 major translations, and all clearly teach that the sun, moon and stars were made on the fourth day.

See also How could the days of Genesis 1 be literal if the Sun wasn’t created until the fourth day?

P. B., Korea, Republic of, 21 August 2012

I had an athiest ask me how do we know that the laws of physics always applied to our universe and weren’t different at the very start, or in a previous one? To me it seems obvious that the laws had to start at the same time as our universe (God does not change), but would be interested in CMI’s responce.

Jonathan Sarfati responds

Anyone who asserts that the laws of physics were once different has abandoned science, which presupposes constancy of natural laws. There is no way to test this alleged change, because all our tests work under current laws. So this is a metaphysical position not a scientific one. Ironically, they affect to reject creation because it postulates a Creator beyond the laws of science!

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