Beginning of the Universe
It was 1916 and Albert Einstein didn’t like where his calculations were leading him. If his theory of General Relativity was true, it meant that the universe was not eternal but had a beginning. Einstein’s calculations indeed
were revealing a definite beginning to all time, all matter, and all space. This
flew in the face of his belief that the universe was static and eternal.
Einstein later called his discovery “irritating.” He wanted the universe
to be self-existent—not reliant on any outside cause—but the universe
appeared to be one giant effect. In fact, Einstein so disliked the implications of General Relativity—a theory that is now proven accurate to five
decimal places—that he introduced a cosmological constant (which some
have since called a “fudge factor”) into his equations in order to show that
the universe is static and to avoid an absolute beginning.
But Einstein’s fudge factor didn’t fudge for long. In 1919, British
cosmologist Arthur Eddington conducted an experiment during a solar
eclipse which confirmed that General Relativity was indeed true—the
universe wasn’t static but had a beginning. Like Einstein, Eddington
wasn’t happy with the implications. He later 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.”
By 1922, Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann had officially exposed Einstein’s fudge factor as an algebraic error. (Incredibly,
in his quest to avoid a beginning, the great Einstein had divided by
zero—something even schoolchildren know is a no-no!) Meanwhile,
Dutch astronomer Willem de Sitter had found that General Relativity
required the universe to be expanding. And in 1927, the expanding of
the universe was actually observed by astronomer Edwin Hubble (namesake of the space telescope).
Looking through the 100-inch telescope at California’s Mount Wilson
Observatory, Hubble discovered a “red shift” in the light from every
observable galaxy, which meant that those galaxies were moving away
from us. In other words, General Relativity was again confirmed—the universe appears to be expanding from a single point in the distant past.
In 1929 Einstein made a pilgrimage to Mount Wilson to look
through Hubble’s telescope for himself. What he saw was irrefutable. The
observational evidence showed that the universe was indeed expanding
as General Relativity had predicted. With his cosmological constant now
completely crushed by the weight of the evidence against it, Einstein could
no longer support his wish for an eternal universe. He subsequently
described the cosmological constant as “the greatest blunder of my life,”
and he redirected his efforts to find the box top to the puzzle of life.
Einstein said that he wanted “to know how God created the world. I am
not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that
element. I want to know His thought, the rest are details.”
Although Einstein said that he believed in a pantheistic God (a god
that is the universe), his comments admitting creation and divine
thought better describe a theistic God. And as “irritating” as it may be,
his theory of General Relativity stands today as one of the strongest lines
of evidence for a theistic God. Indeed, General Relativity supports what
is one of the oldest formal arguments for the existence of a theistic
God—the Cosmological Argument.
The Cosmological Argument is the argument from the beginning
of the universe. If the universe had a beginning, then the universe had a
cause. In logical form, the argument goes like this:
1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause.
2. The universe had a beginning.
3. Therefore the universe had a cause.
For an argument to be true it has
to be logically valid, and its premises must be true. This is a valid argument, but are the premises true? Let’s take a look at the premises.
Premise 1—Everything that had a beginning had a cause—is the
Law of Causality, which is the fundamental principle of science. Without
the Law of Causality, science is impossible. In fact, Francis Bacon (the
father of modern science) said, “True knowledge is knowledge by
causes.” In other words, science is a search for causes. That’s what scientists do—they try to discover what caused what.
If there’s one thing we’ve observed about the universe, it’s that things
don’t happen without a cause. When a man is driving down the street,
a car never appears in front of his car out of nowhere, with no driver or
no cause. We know many a police officer has heard this, but it’s just not
true. There’s always a driver or some other cause behind that car
appearing. Even the great skeptic David Hume could not deny the Law
of Causality. He wrote, “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that
something could arise without a cause.”
In fact, to deny the Law of Causality is to deny rationality. The very
process of rational thinking requires us to put together thoughts (the
causes) that result in conclusions (the effects). So if anyone ever tells you
he doesn’t believe in the Law of Causality, simply ask that person,
“What caused you to come to that conclusion?”
Since the Law of Causality is well established and undeniable,
premise 1 is true. What about premise 2? Did the universe have a beginning? If not, then no cause was needed. If so, then the universe must have
had a cause.
Until about the time of Einstein, atheists could comfort themselves
with the belief that the universe is eternal, and thus did not need a cause.
But since then, five lines of scientific evidence have been discovered that
prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the universe did indeed have a
beginning. And that beginning was what scientists now call "The Big Bang" This Big Bang evidence can be easily remembered by the
Every several years or so, the major news magazines—Time, Newsweek,
and the like—run a cover story about the origin and fate of the universe.
“When did the universe begin?” and “When will it end?” are two of the
questions investigated in such articles. The fact that the universe had a
beginning and will ultimately die is not even up for debate in these
reports. Why? Because modern scientists know that a beginning and an
ending are demanded by one of the most validated laws in all of
nature—the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
S—The Second Law of Thermodynamics
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is the S in our SURGE acronym.
Thermodynamics is the study of matter and energy, and the Second Law
states, among other things, that the universe is running out of usable
energy. With each passing moment, the amount of usable energy in the
universe grows smaller, leading scientists to the obvious conclusion that
one day all the energy will be gone and the universe will die. Like a running car, the universe will ultimately run out of gas.
You say, “So what? How does that prove that the universe had a
beginning?” Well, look at it this way: the First Law of Thermodynamics
states that the total amount of energy in the universe is constant. In
other words, the universe has only a finite amount of energy (much as
your car has only a finite amount of gas). Now, if your car has only a
finite amount of gas (the First Law), and whenever it’s running it continually consumes gas (the Second Law), would your car be running
right now if you had started it up an infinitely long time ago? No, of
course not. It would be out of gas by now. In the same way, the universe
would be out of energy by now if it had been running from all eternity.
But here we are—the lights are still on, so the universe must have begun
sometime in the finite past. That is, the universe is not eternal—it had a
A flashlight is another way to think about the universe. If you leave
a flashlight on overnight, what’s the intensity of the light in the morning? It is dim, because the batteries have used up most of their energy. Well, the universe is like a dying flashlight. It has only so much energy
left to consume. But since the universe still has some battery life left (it’s
not quite dead yet), it can’t be eternal—it must have had a beginning—
for if it were eternal, the battery would have died by now.
The Second Law is also known as the Law of Entropy, which is a
fancy way of saying that nature tends to bring things to disorder. That
is, with time, things naturally fall apart. Your car falls apart; your house
falls apart; your body falls apart. (In fact, the Second Law is the reason
many of us get “dresser disease” when we get older—our chest falls into
our drawers!) But if the universe is becoming less ordered, then where
did the original order come from? Astronomer Robert Jastrow likens the
universe to a wound-up clock. If a wind-up clock is running down, then
someone must have wound it up.
This aspect of the Second Law also tells us that the universe had a
beginning. Since we still have some order left—just like we still have
some usable energy left—the universe cannot be eternal, because if it
were, we would have reached complete disorder (entropy) by now.
U—The Universe Is Expanding
Good scientific theories are those that are able to predict phenomena
that have not yet been observed. As we have seen, General Relativity predicted an expanding universe. But it wasn’t until legendary astronomer
Edwin Hubble looked through his telescope more than a decade later
that scientists finally confirmed that the universe is expanding and that
it’s expanding from a single point. (Astronomer Vesto Melvin Slipher
was hot on the trail of this expanding universe as early as 1913, but it
was Hubble who put all the pieces together, in the late 20s.) This
expanding universe is the second line of scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning.
How does the expanding universe prove a beginning? Think about
it this way: if we could watch a video recording of the history of the universe in reverse, we would see all matter in the universe collapse back to
a point, not the size of a basketball, not the size of a golf ball, not even
the size of a pinhead, but mathematically and logically to a point that is
actually nothing (i.e., no space, no time, and no matter). In other words,
once there was nothing, and then, BANG, there was something—the
entire universe exploded into being! This, of course, is what is commonly
called “the Big Bang.”
It’s important to understand that the universe is not expanding into
empty space, but space itself is expanding—there was no space before
the Big Bang. It’s also important to understand that the universe did not
emerge from existing material but from nothing—there was no matter
before the Big Bang. In fact, chronologically, there was no “before” the
Big Bang because there are no “befores” without time, and there was no
time until the Big Bang. Time, space, and matter came into existence at
the Big Bang.
What is nothing? Aristotle had a good definition: he said that nothing is what rocks dream about! The nothing from which the universe
emerged is not “mathematical points” as Atkins suggested or “positive
and negative energy” as Isaac Asimov, who is also an atheist, once
wrote. Nothing is literally no thing—what rocks dream about.
British author Anthony Kenny honestly described his own predicament as an atheist in light of evidence for the Big Bang. He wrote,
“According to the Big Bang Theory, the whole matter of the universe
began to exist at a particular time in the remote past. A proponent of
such a theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the matter of
the universe came from nothing and by nothing.”
R—Radiation from the Big Bang
The third line of scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning was
discovered by accident in 1965. That’s when Arno Penzias and Robert
Wilson detected strange radiation on their antenna at Bell Labs in
Holmdel, New Jersey. No matter where they turned their antenna, this
mysterious radiation remained. They initially thought it might be the
result of bird droppings deposited on the antenna by nesting Jersey
Shore pigeons, so they had the birds and the droppings removed. But
when they got back inside, they found that the radiation was still there,
and it was still coming from all directions.
What Penzias and Wilson had detected turned out to be one of the
most incredible discoveries of the last century—one that would win
them Nobel Prizes. These two Bell Lab scientists had discovered the
afterglow from the Big Bang fireball explosion!
Technically known as the cosmic background radiation, this afterglow is actually light and heat from the initial explosion. 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.
As early as 1948, three scientists predicted that this radiation would
be out there if the Big Bang did really occur. But for some reason no one
attempted to detect it before Penzias and Wilson stumbled upon it by
accident nearly twenty years later. When the discovery was confirmed,
it laid to rest any lingering suggestion that the universe is in an eternal
steady state. Agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow put it this way: "No explanation other than the Big Bang has been found for the fireball radiation. The clincher, which has convinced almost the last
Doubting Thomas, is that the radiation discovered by Penzias and
Wilson has exactly the pattern of wavelengths expected for the light
and heat produced in a great explosion. Supporters of the steady
state theory have tried desperately to find an alternative explanation,
but they have failed. At the present time, the Big Bang theory has no
competitors." In effect, the discovery of the fireball radiation burned up any hope
in the Steady State. But that wasn’t the end of the discoveries. More Big
Bang evidence would follow. In fact, if cosmology were a football game,
believers in the Big Bang would be called for “piling on” with this next
G—Great Galaxy Seeds
After finding the predicted expanding universe and radiation afterglow,
scientists turned their attention to another prediction that would confirm the Big Bang. If the Big Bang actually occurred, scientists believed
that we should see slight variations (or ripples) in the temperature of the
cosmic background radiation that Penzias and Wilson had discovered.
These temperature ripples enabled matter to congregate by gravitational
attraction into galaxies. If found, they would comprise the fourth line
of scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning.
In 1989 the search for these ripples was intensified when NASA
launched the $200 million satellite aptly called COBE for Cosmic
Background Explorer. Carrying extremely sensitive instruments, COBE
was able to see whether or not these ripples actually existed in the background radiation and how precise they were.
When the project leader, astronomer George Smoot, announced
COBE’s findings in 1992, his shocking characterization was quoted in
newspapers all over the world. He said, “If you’re religious, it’s like looking at God.” University of Chicago astrophysicist Michael Turner was
no less enthusiastic, claiming, “The significance of this [discovery] cannot be overstated. They have found the Holy Grail of Cosmology.”
Cambridge astronomer Stephen Hawking also agreed, calling the findings “the most important discovery of the century, if not of all time.” What did COBE find to merit such momentous descriptions?
COBE not only found the ripples, but scientists were amazed at their
precision. The ripples show that the explosion and expansion of the universe was precisely tweaked to cause just enough matter to congregate
to allow galaxy formation, but not enough to cause the universe to collapse back on itself. Any slight variation one way or the other, and none
of us would be here to tell about it. In fact, the ripples are so exact (down
to one part in one hundred thousand) that Smoot called them the
“machining marks from the creation of the universe” and the “fingerprints of the maker.”
But these temperature ripples are not just dots on a scientist’s graph
somewhere. COBE actually took infrared pictures of the ripples. Now
keep in mind that space observations are actually observations of the
past because of the long time it takes light from distant objects to reach
us. So COBE’s pictures are actually pictures of the past. That is, the
infrared pictures taken by COBE point to the existence of matter from
the very early universe that would ultimately form into galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Smoot called this matter “seeds” of the galaxies as they
exist today (these pictures can be seen at COBE’s website, http://Lambda.gsfc.nasa.gov
). These “seeds” are the largest structures
ever detected, with the biggest extending across one-third of the known
universe. That’s 10 billion light years or 60 billion trillion (60 followed
by 21 zeros) miles.
E—Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity
The E in SURGE is for Einstein. His theory of General Relativity is the
fifth line of scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning, and its
discovery was the beginning of the end for the idea that the universe is
eternal. The theory itself, which has been verified to five decimal places,
demands an absolute beginning for time, space, and matter. It shows that
time, space, and matter are co-relative. That is, they are interdependent—you can’t have one without the others.
From General Relativity, scientists predicted and then found the
expanding universe, the radiation afterglow, and the great galaxy seeds
that were precisely tweaked to allow the universe to form into its present
state. Add these discoveries to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and
we have five lines of powerful scientific evidence that the universe had a
beginning—a beginning, we might say, that came in a great SURGE.
So the universe had a beginning. What does that mean for the question
of God’s existence? The man who now sits in Edwin Hubble’s chair at
the Mount Wilson observatory has a few things to say about that. His
name is Robert Jastrow. In addition to serving as the director of Mount Wilson, Jastrow
is the founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. Obviously
his credentials as a scientist are impeccable. That’s why his book God
and the Astronomers made such an impression on those investigating the
implications of the Big Bang, namely those asking the question, “Does
the Big Bang point to God?”
Jastrow reveals in the opening line of chapter 1 that he has no religious axe to grind. He writes, “When an astronomer writes about God,
his colleagues assume he is either over the hill or going bonkers. In my
case it should be understood from the start that I am an agnostic in religious matters.”
In light of Jastrow’s personal agnosticism, his theistic quotations are
all the more provocative. After explaining some of the Big Bang evidence
we’ve just reviewed, Jastrow writes, “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details
differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical
accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man
commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash
of light and energy.”
The overwhelming evidence for the Big Bang and its consistency with
the biblical account in Genesis led Jastrow to observe in an interview,
“Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner
because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began
abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every
star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And
they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. . . . That there are what I or anyone would call
supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.”
By evoking the supernatural, Jastrow echoes the conclusion of
Einstein contemporary Arthur Eddington. As we mentioned earlier,
although he found it “repugnant,” Eddington admitted, “The beginning
seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as
Now why would Jastrow and Eddington admit that there are
“supernatural” forces at work? Why couldn’t natural forces have produced the universe? Because these scientists know as well as anyone that
natural forces—indeed all of nature—were created at the Big Bang. In
other words, the Big Bang was the beginning point for the entire physical universe. Time, space, and matter came into existence at that point.
There was no natural world or natural law prior to the Big Bang. Since
a cause cannot come after its effect, natural forces cannot account for
the Big Bang. Therefore, there must be something outside of nature to
do the job. That’s exactly what the word supernatural means.
The discoverers of the afterglow, Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias,
were not Bible-thumpers either. Both initially believed in the Steady State
Theory. But due to the mounting evidence, they’ve since changed their
views and acknowledged facts that are consistent with the Bible. Penzias
admits, “The Steady State theory turned out to be so ugly that people
dismissed it. The easiest way to fit the observations with the least number of parameters was one in which the universe was created out of
nothing, in an instant, and continues to expand.”
Wilson, who once took a class from Fred Hoyle (the man who popularized the Steady State Theory in 1948), said, “I philosophically liked
the Steady State. And clearly I’ve had to give that up.” When science
writer Fred Heeren asked him if the Big Bang evidence is indicative of a
Creator, Wilson responded, “Certainly there was something that set it
all off. Certainly, if you are religious, I can’t think of a better theory of
the origin of the universe to match with Genesis.” George Smoot
echoed Wilson’s assessment. He said, “There is no doubt that a parallel
exists between the big bang as an event and the Christian notion of creation from nothing.”
What do atheists have to say about this? Atheists have come up with other theories, but all of them have their
The Cosmic Rebound Theory—This is the theory that suggests the
universe has been expanding and contracting forever. This helps its proponents avoid a definite beginning. But the problems with this theory
are numerous, and for those reasons it has fallen out of favor.
First, and most obviously, there’s no evidence for an infinite number of bangs (after all, it’s not the Big Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang . . .
Theory!). The universe appears to have exploded once from nothing, not
repeatedly from existing material.
Second, there’s not enough matter in the universe to pull everything
back together. The universe seems poised to continue expanding indefinitely. This was confirmed in 2003 by Charles Bennett of NASA’s
Goddard Space Flight Center. After looking at readings from NASA’s latest space probe, he said, “The universe will expand forever. It will not
turn back on itself and collapse in a great crunch.” In fact, astronomers
are now finding that the universe’s expansion speed is actually accelerating, making a collapse even more improbable.
Third, even if there were enough matter to cause the universe to contract and “bang” again, the Cosmic Rebound Theory contradicts the
Second Law of Thermodynamics because the theory falsely assumes that
no energy would be lost in each contraction and explosion. A universe
“banging” repeatedly would eventually fizzle out just as a dropped ball
eventually fizzles out. So if the universe has been expanding and contracting forever, it would have fizzled out already.
Finally, there’s no way that today would have gotten here if the universe had been expanding and contracting forever. An infinite number
of big bangs is an actual impossibility. And even if there were a finite number of bangs, the theory cannot explain what caused the first one. There was nothing to
“bang” before the first bang!
Imaginary Time—Other atheistic attempts at explaining how the
universe exploded into being out of nothing are just as flawed. For
example, in an effort to avoid an absolute beginning of the universe,
Stephen Hawking made up a theory that utilizes “imaginary time.” We
could just as well call it an “imaginary theory” because Hawking himself admits that his theory is “just a [metaphysical] proposal” that cannot explain what happened in real time. “In real time,” he concedes,
“the universe has a beginning. . . .” In fact, according to Hawking,
“Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a
beginning at the Big Bang.” So by his own admission Hawking’s imaginary theory fizzles when applied to the real world. Imaginary time is just
Uncertainty—With the evidence for the beginning of the universe so
strong, some atheists question the first premise of the Cosmological
Argument—the Law of Causality. This is dangerous ground for atheists,
who typically pride themselves on being champions of reason and science. As we have pointed out before, the Law of Causality is the foundation of all science. Science is a search for causes. If you destroy the
Law of Causality, then you destroy science itself.
Atheists attempt to cast doubt on the Law of Causality by citing
quantum physics, specifically Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. This
principle describes our inability to simultaneously predict the location
and speed of subatomic particles (i.e., electrons). The atheist’s contention
here is this: if causality at the subatomic realm isn’t necessary, then
maybe causality of the entire universe isn’t necessary either.
Fortunately for science, this atheistic attempt to cast doubt on the
Law of Causality fails. Why? Because it confuses causality and predictability. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle does not prove that the
movement of electrons is uncaused; it only describes our inability to predict their location and speed at any given time. The mere fact that we
can’t predict something doesn’t mean that something has no cause. In
fact, quantum theorists acknowledge that we might not be able to predict the simultaneous speed and location of electrons because our very
attempts at observing them are the cause of their unpredictable movements! Like a beekeeper putting his head in a beehive, we must stir them
up in order to observe them. Hence, the disturbance may be a case of
the scientist looking at his own eyelashes in the microscope.
In the end, no atheistic theory adequately refutes either premise of
the Cosmological Argument. The universe had a beginning and therefore it needs a cause.
So far we’ve given solid scientific evidence (SURGE) for the fact that the
universe had a beginning. But suppose scientists wake up one day and
find out that all of their calculations have been wrong—there was no Big
Bang. Given the wide scope of the evidence and the ability of the theory
to correctly predict so much observable phenomena, a total abandonment of the Big Bang would be extremely unlikely.
This is admitted even by atheists. Victor Stenger, a physicist who
taught at the University of Hawaii, once wrote that “the universe
exploded out of nothingness.” Stenger recently acknowledged that the
Big Bang is looking more probable all the time. “We have to leave open
the possibility that [the Big Bang] could be wrong,” he said, “but . . . every year that goes by, and more astronomical data comes in, it’s more
and more consistent with at least the general Big Bang picture.”
Indeed, in 2003 more evidence came forth that the Big Bang is correct. NASA’s WMAP satellite (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe)
confirmed the findings of its predecessor COBE and returned pictures
thirty-five times sharper than COBE’s of the background radiation ripples. In fact, space observations are becoming so supportive of the theistic worldview that George Will muses, “Soon the American Civil
Liberties Union, or People for the American Way, or some similar faction of litigious secularism will file suit against NASA, charging that the
Hubble Space Telescope unconstitutionally gives comfort to the religiously inclined.”
Nevertheless, let’s play skeptic’s advocate for a second. Let’s suppose
that at some point in the future the Big Bang Theory is deemed wrong.
Would that mean that the universe is eternal? No, for a number of reasons.
First, the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the S in SURGE) supports the Big Bang but is not dependent on it. The fact that the universe
is running out of usable energy and heading toward disorder is not even
up for debate. In Eddington’s words, the Second Law “holds the supreme
position among the laws of nature.” It is true even if the Big Bang is not.
Second, the same can be said for Einstein’s theory of General
Relativity (the E in SURGE). This theory, well verified by observation,
requires a beginning to space, matter, and time whether or not it all
began with a bang.
To be cont. in the next round