Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Cosmology, the Big Bang, and the Beginning


I recall when I learned that my father had been diagnosed with dementia.  The news was not immediately devastating because I wasn’t convinced his diagnosis was correct.  At the time, my father lived 4 hours away and was on his own.  I was persuaded that once we moved him closer to us and were able to manage his medication, diet and medical appointments that he would be fine.   I told myself that the symptoms he was experiencing were just due to old age and stress.

My brother and I were able to move him into an apartment that was only 5 minutes from my home. We were able to manage his medication, diet and medical appointments just as I had hoped; however, as I cared for my Dad, evidence began to accumulate that confirmed his diagnosis.  Dad began to have conversations with himself in the mirror because he didn’t recognize his own reflection.  He was convinced it was someone looking at him through a window.  He no longer could keep track of time and lost his ability to read.  Finally, he no longer remembered my name or knew who I was.  I could no longer hide behind the possibility that Dad was just getting old or suffering from extreme stress.   Although the thought of my dad’s life ending this way was personally repugnant, I had to face the facts- my Dad had severe dementia.

The story of how I came to accept my Dad’s diagnosis of dementia illustrates just how difficult it can be to evaluate evidence and draw a sound conclusion when strong emotions are involved.   Sometimes we reject a conclusion not because it is unsupported by evidence, but because we find it personally distasteful.

A Universe with a Beginning

My reluctance to accept my Dad’s dementia diagnosis is not all that different from the reluctance demonstrated by many in the scientific community when the evidence for the “Big Bang” was discovered.  The “Big Bang” describes the scientific theory that all space, matter and time came into being at some point in the finite past.  This was significant because “all throughout history men have assumed that the universe as a whole was unchanging…the universe itself was just there…”1 The reaction by many in the scientific community was curious.  Professor of Physics at Auburn University  J. M. Wersinger explains:

"At first the scientific community was very reluctant to accept the idea of a birth of the universe... It took time, observational evidence, and careful verification of predictions made by the Big Bang model to convince the scientific community to accept the idea of a cosmic genesis...[T]he Big Bang is a very successful model...that imposed itself on a reluctant scientific community."2

Albert Einstein himself called the discovery “irritating.”3 Contemporary of Einstein and physicist Arthur Eddington wrote, “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature is repugnant to me…I should like to find a genuine loophole.”4 Phillip Morrison of MIT said, “I find it hard to accept the Big Bang Theory.  I would like to reject it, but I have to accept the facts.”5 The late agnostic Robert Jastrow comments on the reaction of his colleagues:

“There is a strange ring of feeling and emotion in these reactions.  They come from the heart, whereas you would expect the judgments to come from the brain.  Why?”6

What did these scientific thinkers find so “irritating” and “repugnant” about the discovery that the universe had a beginning?  Why the reluctance on the part of the scientific community to accept the hard evidence?  Before we answer those questions, let’s briefly survey some of the evidence for the "Big Bang."7

The Evidence that the Universe Began to Exist

Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity

As author J. Warner Wallace explains, throughout history, philosophers and “scientific thinkers (embracing the dynamics of Newtonian physics) believed the universe was infinitely old, uniform, and unchanging.”8

In 1916, Albert Einstein attempted to apply his general theory of relativity to the cosmos and he found these convictions were false.  His own calculations revealed that all space, all time and all matter had a beginning.  The idea of a finite universe was so foreign to the great Einstein that he introduced a mathematical constant into his equations to maintain the appearance of an unchanging and infinitely old universe.  Einstein would later call this the greatest blunder of his career.9  

By 1922, Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann uncovered Einsteins “blunder” as a mistake in algebra and astronomer Willem de Sitter found that General Relativity required the universe to be expanding.

Einstein’s theory of General Relativity has now been proven accurate to five decimals places and demands an absolute beginning for time, space, and matter.  It proves that time, space, and matter are co-relative.  They are co-dependent.  You can't have one without the others.

The Expanding Universe

As already noted, General Relativity predicted an expanding universe.  In 1929 astronomer Edwin Hubble made a shocking discovery.  He found that the light from distance galaxies appeared to be redder than expected.  Philosopher William Lane Craig explains the implications:

“This ‘redshift’ in the light was most plausibly due to the stretching of the light waves as the galaxies move away from us.  Wherever Hubble trained his telescope in the night sky, he observed this same redshift in the light from the galaxies.  It appeared that we are at the center of a cosmic explosion, and all of the other galaxies are flying away from us at fantastic speeds!”10

Imagine with me for a moment that you could watch a video recording of the history of the universe in reverse.  You would see all matter in the universe collapse back to a point that is mathematically and logically nothing.11 This is known as the singularity.  In other words, there was nothing and then the entire universe exploded into being.  

Craig 12 is once again instructive: 

“As you trace the expansion of the universe back in time, everything gets closer and closer together. Eventually the distance between any two points in space becomes zero. You can’t get any closer than that! So at that point you’ve reached the boundary of space and time. Space and time cannot be extended any further back than that. It is literally the beginning of space and time.
Eventually, the distance between any two points in space becomes zero. So space-time can be represented geometrically as a cone. What’s significant about this is that while a cone can be extended indefinitely in one direction, it has a boundary point in the other direction. Because this direction represents time and the boundary point lies in the past, the model implies that past time is finite and had a beginning.

Because space-time is the arena in which all matter and energy exist, the beginning of space-time is also the beginning of all matter and energy.  It’s the beginning of the universe.
Notice that there’s simply nothing prior to the initial boundary of space-time. Let’s not be misled by words. When cosmologists say, ‘There is nothing prior to the initial boundary,’ they do not mean that there is some state of affairs prior to it, and that is a state of nothingness. That would be to treat nothing as though it were something! Rather they mean that at the boundary point, it is false that ‘There is something prior to this point.’”13

Radiation from the Big Bang

In 1964, physicists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson couldn’t get rid of the radio signal “noise” from their large antenna at Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey.   No matter where they turned their antenna, this mysterious “noise” remained.  What they originally thought was bird droppings deposited on the antenna turned out to be a significant confirmation that the universe had a beginning!  Penzias and Wilson had discovered the residual background radiation caused when the universe first came into being.  Commonly referred to as the cosmic background radiation, this residual background radiation is actually light and heat from the initial explosion.  As author Frank Turek explains:

“This light is no longer visible because its wavelength has been stretched by the expanding universe to wavelengths slightly shorter than those produced by a microwave oven.  But the heat can still be detected.”14

Penzias and Wilson would go on to win a Nobel Prize for their discovery.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Simply put, the well-established second law of thermodynamics 15 says that the quantity of energy within a closed, isolated system like our universe remains the same, though the amount of usable energy depreciates over time.  The implication is that the energy in our universe will ultimately “even out” until the entire universe is uniform in energy, temperature, and disorder.16

To illustrate, author and speaker J. Warner Wallace asks us to “imagine walking into a room and observing a windup toy police car.  The longer you watch it roll, the slower it moves.  You realize the car is winding down-that is, the amount of usable energy is decreasing.  It’s reasonable to infer the car was recently wound up prior to your entry into the room.  The fact the toy car is not yet completely unwound indicates it was wound up recently.  If the car had been wound much earlier, we would expect it to be motionless by the time we entered the room.”17

Wallace then applies this illustration to the universe:

“In a similar way, the fact our universe still exhibits useful energy-even though the second law of thermodynamics dictates we are on our way to a cosmic ‘heat death’- indicates a beginning.  Otherwise, and if the universe were infinitely old, our cosmos should have run out of usable energy by now.  We can reasonably infer it was once tightly wound and full of energy.”18

The Second Law of Thermodynamics requires a beginning of the universe.

Quantitative Evidence from the Abundance of Helium

Having died in 2001 not accepting the “Big Bang” himself, it is ironic that Sir Fred Hoyle’s work on how stars formed would also demonstrate that the universe had a beginning.  J. Warner Wallace once again proves helpful:

“As he (Hoyle) studied the way elements are created within stars, he was able to calculate the amount of helium created if the universe came into being from nothing.  Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe (hydrogen is the first), but in order to form helium by nuclear fusion, temperatures must be incredibly high and conditions must be exceedingly dense.  These would have been the conditions if the universe came into being from nothing.  Hoyle’s calculations related to the formation of helium happen to coincide with our measurements of helium in the universe today.  This, of course, is consistent with the universe having a moment of beginning.”19

As astrophysics researcher Paolo Saraceno wrote:

“The discovery of the background radiation, together with the observed abundance of helium, was a mortal blow to the theory of a stationary universe; only a initial fireball could have produced it.  This meant the universe had an origin.”20

 The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem

In 2003, leading scientists Arvind Borde, Alan Guth and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe that has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary.  The now famous “Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem” implies that even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called multiverse composed of many universes, the multiverse must have an absolute beginning!21

Vilenkin explains:

“It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man.  With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe.  There is no escape: they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”22

Divine Implications

The evidence for the “Big Bang” is quite good.  Yet, as one prominent philosopher explains, “the history of twentieth-century cosmology can be seen as a series of one failed attempt after another to avoid the absolute beginning predicted by the standard big bang model.  Unfortunately, the impression arises in the minds of laymen that the field of cosmology is in constant turnover, with no lasting results.  What the laymen doesn’t understand is that this parade of failed theories only serves to confirm the prediction of the standard model that the universe began to exist.  That prediction has now stood for over eighty years throughout a period of enormous advances in observational astronomy and creative theoretical work in astrophysics.”23

So why is it “irritating” and “repugnant” to some that the universe had a beginning?  Why has the scientific community been so reluctant to accept the birth of the universe?  It is my contention that it is because the origin of the universe has divine implications and some have been very forthright about this fact.  Arthur Eddington admitted, “The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.”24 The late agnostic Robert Jastrow commented that “…there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.”25 Wersinger contends that the origin of the universe “seemed to have to call for an act of supernatural creation…”26


My Father went home to be with the Lord 3 years ago.  I still remember finding out that he had been diagnosed with dementia.  I initially rejected the idea and although the implications were incomprehensible to me, the evidence continued to accumulate and I could no longer ignore the obvious.  The more I suppressed the truth regarding his condition, the sillier I most likely looked to friends and family.  Ultimately, I had to follow the evidence to its logical conclusion.

In like manner, the standard cosmological model has been accepted by the “clear majority of the cosmological community,”27 but as we have seen, not without some resistance from the scientific community.  It has been my contention that some have resisted or rejected the standard model not because it lacks evidential merit, but because it has divine implications.  Some have even resorted to the fantastic and unsupported speculation.  Physicist Lawrence Krauss has attempted to redefine the term "nothing" to mean "something."28  Others, such as atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett, have even advanced the idea of a self-created universe!29  Atheist philosopher Quentin Smith is forthcoming regarding the attempts atheists have made to deal with the Big Bang:

“The idea that the Big Bang theory allows us to infer that the universe began to exist about 15 billion years ago has attracted the attention of many theists. This theory seemed to confirm or at least lend support to the theological doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Indeed, the suggestion of a divine creation seemed so compelling that the notion that 'God created the Big Bang' has taken a hold on popular consciousness and become a staple in the theistic component of ‘educated common sense’. By contrast, the response of atheists and agnostics to this development has been comparatively lame.”30

I appreciate the fact that many in the unbelieving community pride themselves on being children of reason.  However, it seems with the current evidence for the beginning of the universe, that Smith is right.  If you are an atheist, "the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing."31

The evidence is clear.  The universe began to exist.  To suggest otherwise is to contradict the evidence. That doesn't seem very reasonable to me.

Courage and Godspeed,

1. William Lane Craig, On Guard, p. 87.
2. J.M. Wersinger, "Genesis: The Origin of the Universe," National Forum (Winter 1996), 11, 9, 12 as quoted by Dr. William Lane Craig in On Guard, p. 91.
3. Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, p. 73.
      4. Ibid.
      5. Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, p. 112-113.
6. Ibid., 113.
7. For the purposes of this post I will be focusing on the scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning.  However, there are excellent philosophical reasons for believing that the universe had a beginning as well: 1) An actually infinite number of things cannot exist 2) You can't pass through an infinite number of elements one at a time.  For more on these arguments, see here.
8. J. Warner Wallace, God's Crime Scene, p. 32.
9. Geisler and Turek, p. 74.
10. Craig, p. 88.
11. Geisler and Turek, p. 79.
12. For those who would question William Lane Craig's credibility in matters of cosmology, I would encourage them to consider his publications on the topic here.  His published work on cosmological issues has appeared in a wide range of scientific and philosophical journals including Astrophysics and Space Science, Nature, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, The Journal of Philosophy, and International Studies in the Philosophy of Science.
13. William Lane Craig, "The Kalam Cosmological Argument," 2015.  Numerous comments by physicists and scientists confirm Craig's contention.  Atheist physicist Victor Stenger writes that "the universe exploded out of nothingness" (V.J. Stenger, "The Face of Chaos," Free Inquiry 13 (Winter 1992-1993): 13.  
Arno Penzias, who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the microwave background, said: "Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the right conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.” (Margenau, H and R.A. Varghese, ed. 1992. Cosmos, Bios, and Theos. La Salle, IL, Open Court, p. 83.)  Prominent physicists John Barrow and Frank Tipler conclude "At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated in such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo" (John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 442.   To see more quotes such as this, see here.
      14. Geisler and Turek, p. 81.
Interestingly, it was Arthur Eddington who said, “…if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.” (Quoted in Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint (New York: Simon &Shuster, 1988), 20.
16. Wallace, p. 34.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid., p. 34-35.
19. Ibid. p. 35.
Paolo Saraceno, Beyond the Stars: Our Origins and the Search for Life in the Universe (Singapore: World Scientific, 2012), 26 as quoted by J. Warner Wallace, God’s Crime Scene, p. 37.
21. Craig, p. 92.
Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), 176.91-92.
23. Craig, p. 91-92.
Arthur Eddington, The Expanding Universe (New York: Macmillan, 1933), 178.
“A Scientist Caught Between Two Faiths: Interview with Robert Jastrow,” Christianity Today, August 6, 1982.
26. Ibid.
27. As astrophysicist Andrew Liddle and astronomer Jon Loveday affirmed, "The standard cosmological model is a striking success, as a phenomenological description of the cosmological data...the model's success in explaining high-precision observations has led a clear majority of the cosmological community to accept it as a good account of how the Universe works" (Oxford Companion to Cosmology [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009], 8).
28. See here.  For more detailed refutations of Krauss's work I recommend Peter S. Williams's article "A Universe from Someone: Against Lawrence Krauss" located here and here is a nice collection of podcasts by Dr William Lane Craig responding to Krauss's book A Universe from Nothing.
29. To see a response to this view, see here.
30. As quoted by Mike Licona here.
31. William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism and the Big Bang Cosmology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 135.

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