In The Beginning …


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Origin of The Universe.”

At the center of this image made by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is a very young and powerful pulsar, known as PSR B1509-58, or B1509 for short. The pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star which is spewing energy out into the space around it to create complex and intriguing structures, including one that resembles a large cosmic hand. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/P.Slane, et al.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

It fascinates me the need to divide religion and science. People read Biblical accounts of creation, and they read scientific accounts, and they assume that only one can be true.

And, it seems to me, they tend to read the two approaches accordingly.  If you assume one is right and one is wrong, you read them for their differences, not their similarities.  But the more I read about modern understanding of the science of creation, and the less I’m inclined to read the Biblical creation texts in a constrained way, it’s interesting to see how the two map together.

One of the findings that started driving this home for me was research indicating that time existed before the Big Bang; that is to say, there was “something” before the creation of our universe. It’s a detail in Genesis, but it’s there — God was there before creation. Did He have a context then? There’s a quote in the article from a CalTech physicist: “We’re trained to say there was no time before the Big Bang, when we should say that we don’t know whether there was anything – or if there was, what it was.”

The article goes on to talk about the nature of time, and why it’s unidirectional. At some level, the laws of physics should work in either direction, and yet time seems to move in only one direction. Physicists link this fact to entropy — the gradual move from order to chaos. But for entropy to explain time moving in one direction, it requires there being one, and only one fixed point of order. In other words, there has to be one end-point of time in which everything is in an ordered state, from which everything gradually moves into disorder, creating unidirectional time. To sum it up, for time to make sense, when the heavens and the Earth were created, they had to be in perfect order. They had to be “good.”

It’s worth noting that when the Big Bang theory was first postulated by a Roman Catholic priest, there were believers in the steady state theory of the universe who dismissed it as an attempt to introduce religious ideas into physics — they argued that the idea that there was a singular moment of creation before which the universe didn’t exist sounded like something more out of Genesis than science. Ironically, today, some Christians reject the theory for the opposite reason — that it sounds like something more out of science than Genesis. I would argue that it’s just a place where the two accounts line up; that before scientists reached the idea of a singular moment of creation, it was already described in Genesis.

The current scientific views also generally say that after an initial period of darkness, because of the levels of energy in the young universe, there was ambient light before there were stars. It’s an aspect of the creation story that seems counter-intuitive, that God created light before He created the sun and stars, and yet modern science is giving credence to it.

Wanna get even more funky? Check this out: Large Hadron Collider proves the universe was once a liquid. According to research just a few months ago, “The world’s most powerful particle accelerator smashed together lead nuclei at the highest energies possible, creating dense sub-atomic particles that reach temperatures of over ten trillion degrees. Beyond being awesome, this achievement shows the early universe was actually a liquid.” It’s an unexpected finding, and yet, again, one that was predicted thousands of years ago — “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

It’s frustrating to me that so many people like to make this an “us versus them” thing, picking one account and dismissing the other.  And, particularly so for Christians who dismiss the science because it doesn’t match their interpretation of the scripture.  There is some great science that showed up first in the Bible — things like the fact that the Earth is round and hangs freely in space, things that were recorded in scripture long before science figured them out. Unfortunately, throughout history, you have the church calling people like Galileo a heretic, getting too caught up in defending its interpretation, instead of going back and checking, “Hey, what does the scripture really say about this?” It’s sad watching pride cause the church to say, “You’re wrong,” when it could be saying, “I told you so.”

Me, I prefer to stop trying to force one version or the other to be wrong, I prefer to stop believing that I have to adopt someone else’s version of scripture, and love reading the two versions like they’re two ways of telling the same story — poetry backed up with physics.  And when you read it that way, it’s a pretty cool story.