"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." This statement was long regarded as merely the philosophical musing of the ancients, who had never sat in a high school physics class and learned the laws of conservation. But in recent years it has taken on new credibility with some of the most advanced theoretical physicists in the world.
While theologians have contented themselves to debate whether or not the Genesis account even implies fiat creation out of nothing, scientists pressing their quest for apprehension of our universe to the edge of human under standing are beginning to find their own answers to the riddle of beginnings. And what the scientists have found may come as a surprise to those theologians who have abandoned the idea of fiat creation in favor of a more "scientific" view. While they have been preaching the big bang theory and gradual evolution of our universe, theoretical physicists have stolen their march and arrived at the very gates of Creation.
How has the revolution in scientific thought about the origin of our universe come about?
For many years the big bang theory has been regarded as the ultimate explanation of the beginning of the universe we see around us. Supporting this theory were astronomers' observations of the rate of travel of various galaxies and stars. Their observations indicated that the entire universe was expanding at a phenomenal rate. And of course the natural conclusion from this observation was that at some point about 15 billion years ago all the matter of the universe must have been concentrated in a primordial hot soup, which finally exploded in a "big bang."
The big bang theory adequately explains all the observed phenomena around us, as long as you don't look too closely and don't ask too many questions. But it is the nature of scientists to ask questions of their theories. And as physicists began pressing their quest for knowledge of universal origins farther and farther back, a certain disquietude began to spread among them.
The one-second problem
The problem was that as long as no one asked what the universe was com posed of when it was less than one second old, all the pieces fit together perfectly.
The standard big bang model of the universe was based on several assumptions: 1. The laws of physics do not change with time, and the effects of gravitation are correctly described by the general theory of relativity. 2. The early universe was filled with an intensely hot gas of elementary particles almost perfectly uniform and expanding in thermal equilibrium. 3. Any change in the state of radiation and matter was negligible. 1
But this model began to collapse instead of explode when mathematicians tried to explain what happened in the first 99/100 of a second of the universe's existence. Mathematically, the model's predictions just did not work; they could not explain the large-scale uniformity we observe in the universe today.
In search of a better explanation of our universe, scientists have now turned to what they call the grand unified theories, which are an attempt to unite all of what we know about our physical world under one set of theories. A little background should prove helpful here.
There are four fundamental forces in nature: electromagnetism, weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, and gravity. Classical physics requires four separate sets of mathematical equations—one for each of these forces—to explain and describe the physical world. But logic dictates that at some point there must be a correlation between all of these and that if we understood their interrelationship properly, we would need only one set of laws and one equation to explain all physical phenomena.
The unified field theory, which shows considerable promise for being the key that fits all the universe together under one system, significantly modifies the big bang theory. The modifications remove the mathematical obstacles that caused the original big bang theory to be discarded on the trash heap of intrinsically flawed ideas.
This theory is able to explain the phenomena of nature clear back to a point only one tenth of a trillionth of a nonillionth of a second (1 x 10'43 second—that's the number 1 preceded by a decimal and 42 zeros) after its origin. But perhaps the most amazing thing about this theory is that it describes the creation of all the matter of the universe from nothing in less than a second's time!
The unified field theory's version of the big bang scenario was first pro pounded by Alan H. Guth, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1980, and is called the inflationary universe theory. The inflationary model improves the standard big bang model by postulating that the universe began with the creation of space-time literally out of nothing. And thus far it is the best scientific model that has been advanced for describing all the observed phenomena of the universe and their logical and mathematical extensions back to a beginning.
Space and time
When you enter that part of the realm of theoretical physics where theorists try to understand the relationship of space and time, you approach the very edge of human understanding. While Einstein's general theory of relativity succeeds in explaining the relationship between space and time at the atomic level, it is totally inadequate to explain phenomena at the subatomic level. In that realm you need the laws of quantum mechanics.
But the essence of the matter all comes down to one point: Time and space are so inextricably intertwined as to be inseparable. Indeed, it can be proved that space cannot exist without time, and time cannot exist without space. Time truly can be viewed as a fourth dimension that exists along with, and never apart from, the first three dimensions—length, width, and height.
Reasoning from that point, it becomes obvious that neither matter nor energy can exist in the absence of space and time. So the initial event that physicists such as Guth envision as the origin of our universe is an expansion of space and time out of nothing. Mathematical calculations indicate that space began expanding in time, out of nothing, at an enormous rate that shortly thereafter slowed to the rate at which the universe can be observed to be expanding today. This initial expansion liberated an enormous amount of energy, and from that energy all matter was formed. The mathematical model predicts that matter as we know it appeared approximately 10JO seconds after the initial expansion.
Guth and Paul J. Steinhardt wrote in Scientific American, May, 1984: "In the course of this stupendous growth spurt all the matter and energy in the universe could have been created from virtually nothing. . . . Recently there has been some serious speculation that the actual creation of the universe is describable by physical laws. In this view the universe would originate as a quantum fluctuation, starting from absolutely nothing. ... If grand unified theories are correct in their prediction that baryon number2 is not conserved, there is no known conservation law that prevents the observed universe from evolving out of nothing. The inflationary model of the universe provides a possible mechanism by which the observed universe could have evolved from an infinitesimal region. It is then tempting to go one step further and speculate that the entire universe evolved from literally nothing." 3
The inflationary model postulates that the observed universe, which is approximately 209 light-years in diameter, is a bubble that formed in a much larger universe of perhaps 103'000 light-years' diameter. A further implication of this model is that universes like our own could be arising out of nothing continuously! And furthermore, unlike the original big bang theory, this "model predicts that our universe can continue expanding eternally and will never collapse into primordial soup again.
This model is propounded and accepted by physicists on the very leading edge of what is popularly called the new physics. Today it can be said without fear of contradiction that the most significant advances in under standing theoretical and particle physics are being made by those researchers who are not afraid to base their work on the assumption that the universe was created out of nothing and without known cause. The voice of nature is coming through with ever-increasing clarity. And it is proclaiming, "In the beginning God created. . ."
Of course, it would take a long leap of logic to move from the point where physicists are willing to believe that the universe was created from nothing to a point where they would assume that the Genesis account is an accurate description of the origin of life on our earth. Really, there is no direct correlation between acceptance of fiat creation of the universe and acceptance of Genesis. Except at one important point.
The inflationary theory has literally opened the door of science, at least a crack, to consideration of the possibility that our universe originated by fiat. And if that is the case, then there is also the possibility that a creator was the one who issued that fiat. And if everything in the universe just may have been made by an intelligent being, who is to say that that same intelligence did not also create the orderly forms of life we see on earth.
So the door stands ajar. But there are other important questions which must be answered before we can move from the realm of a theory that everything came from nothing to the assumption that someone somewhere made it all happen. The questions have to do with the matter of causality—is there a cause for the existence of the universe? And is it an intelligent cause? Here again physicists exploring the microcosmic world of the atom are finding evidences that may shock some religionists who have con signed Genesis to the mythological dustbin. But that is the subject for the second half of this article, which will be printed in our January issue.
1 Alan H. Guth and Paul J. Steinhardt, "The
Inflationary Universe," Scientific American, May,
1984, pp. 116, 128.
2 Baryon number is + 1. It implies that protons
are conserved. Recent developments in subatomic
physics have shown that baryon number may
not always be conserved at 1/1.
3 Loc. cit. pp. 116, 128.