The origin of the universe is a difficult topic. It is difficult because given the information we have to work with no one can really know for certain the conclusions we can draw.
There are certain things in life that we say we almost know with certainty. If we say two and two is four, all of us agree basically because the labels (2+2=4) constitute definitions. We call that analytic knowledge. But when we talk about the question of origins, the universe, life and man, these are topics that lie outside analytic knowledge. They embrace events in space and in time. And any time we deal with events in space and time, we are dealing with what is known as synthetic knowledge and we never know with 100% certainty if the conclusions that we draw are correct, that they are true. We only know these to a certain level of confidence.
There are three basic kinds of events in the world. There are reproducible events, unpredictable events and singular events. If an event is, for example, reproducible it lends itself to scientific inquiry. You can take an apple, drop it off a tree, pick it up, and repeat that over and over again and make measurements over the distance and the time it falls. Reproducible events lend themselves to scientific inquiry. Unpredictable events lend themselves to statistical inquiry. These are sometimes called chance events.
But the topic of today concerns itself with a singular event, for example, the origin of the universe, the origin of life, or the origin of man. Unlike reproducible events that lend themselves to scientific inquiry and unpredictable events that lend themselves to statistic inquiry, singular events lend themselves to legal inquiry. In the statistic sense of the term, science has no jurisdiction in a question of origin or a question of destiny. So one might ask, what role does science play?
Science gathers evidence to support or reject the hypothesis of a theory that would deal with origins. So the role science plays is as an objective evidence gatherer. Now all of us have pondered, at one time or another in our lives, the question of origins. For example, who hasn’t gazed into a starlit sky and wondered: “Where did it all come from?”
What comes out of the heavens is energy. Man has created observatories to measure, to quantify and to analyze the energy that comes to Earth. For example, optical energy is coming to earth all the time. That is energy that we can see with our eyes. We call it visible light. But there are other kinds of energy. We have special telescopes that pick up this kind of energy. In a sense, energy has different colors. For example, there are antennae that would pick up radiowaves and microwaves. And we even orbit satellites out in space to pick up X-rays. Different kinds of energy are constantly being monitored from the heavens in an attempt to try and understand what’s out there.
We have very sophisticated computers to analyze this data and a number of different theories that make predictions. These predictions inspire further data gathering and this is applied to other theories and so we make new predictions and we constantly are in a system, in science, of making predictions, of testing the predictions against a hypothesis, and then of gathering the data.
This is the process of science. The job of science is to gather data, but the data has to be reproducible. And then on the basis of that data, science makes predictions; but the predictions need to be logical. And these are tested against a hypothesis in a way that allows us to reject it if it no longer can be modified to fit the incoming data.
Now out in the heavens we have a number of different gases. Many scientists believe that gathered data teaches us that the universe exploded into existence billions of years ago; that space and time came into existence as one fabric. Now that’s a difficult concept. But scientists today, when we speak about the universe exploding into existence, don’t ordinarily mean that space by itself – or time by itself – came into existence.
Instead, we mean that space and time – both of them together – came into existence at the same time. We cannot have space without time and we cannot have time without space.
The question is: “How could such an unfathomable structure such as the universe with all of its resplendent beauty and majesty come into existence by itself?” One of the deepest questions we ponder is: “What’s behind all that?” – “Is it true that there is an intelligence of unfathomable dimension that designed and produced it?” – or – “Is it that some quantum accident produced what we see?”
The present understanding is that after this explosion of space time, there was abundant gas – a number of different gases – that began to coalesce into what we call stars. And there are certain kinds of events in the heavens which we call Super Nova. And we believe that these explosions or heavy elements ultimately coalesce into objects out in space.
There’s quite a bit of speculation as to what the nature of those objects are. Most scientists are in agreement that stars form this way. There is considerable controversy over whether planets can form this way. Now one of the ways that scientists are able to test their data and make the measurements is by measuring the time it would take light to reach us from a distant star.
Light, for example, travels at approximately the speed of 186,000 miles per second. Now, if light was to travel around the Earth, it would take approximately one second to circle 7 times around the Earth. Can you imagine how far light travels in a year? Scientists call that a light year and it’s typically just under six thousand billion miles.
Out in the heavens we have what we call “nebula.” Nebula are believed to have been produced by one of those Super Novas, that explosion I mentioned earlier, approximately 50,000 years ago. Now one particular nebula, the Veil Nebula, is about 2,500 light years away from the Earth. It would take light from that particular nebula 2,500 years to reach us, if it started out at this moment, before it reached Earth. And so we measure distance in terms of a light year, namely the distance light would travel in a year, and multiply that by certain distance measurements and we conclude that the Veil Nebula is approximately 2,500 light years from the Earth. In other words, 2,500 times approximately 6000 billion miles.
- A globular cluster in the constellation Hercules is believed to be about 26,700 light years away from the Earth.
- The Andromeda Galaxy is believed to be about two million light years away from the Earth, meaning that it would take two million years for light to reach us.
- One of the closest radio sources to us, Centaurus A, is 12 million light years distant from the Earth.
- The Whirlpool Galaxy, is believed to be approximately 35 million light years distant from the Earth.
- The Sombrero Hat Galaxy is 41 million light years distant from the Earth.
- There are other objects that scientists calculate in the billions of light years distant from the Earth.
Scientists start to conclude that the universe is billions of years old because they are finding objects whose light is reaching us now, which must have taken one to four billions of years to reach us.
Is the universe said to be billions of years old only on the basis of light reaching us from space? The answer to that is “No.” There are other ways that scientists measure the age of the universe.
The Expanding Universe and The Doppler Shift
In a sense, the universe is like a gigantic pink balloon, with black spots on the surface. It is as though this balloon is getting larger and larger and larger. You can imagine that if the balloon gets larger and larger, the black spots on its surface are all moving away from a common center. The universe acts as though long ago it was at one point in space and it has been expanding ever since. As the black spots on the surface of this balloon move away from the common center, and as the balloon gets bigger and bigger, another event is happening. The black dots are moving away from each other along the surface. The black spots correspond to galaxies. A galaxy is simply a collection of stars.
Scientists really believe that the universe is getting larger and larger and its space is expanding. We also say time is advancing. This is true because the two are coterminal; the expansion of space and the advance of time are happening together. In measuring how fast one star might be moving away from another, scientists believe that the faster a star would move away from the Earth, the more its light would shift toward the red end of the spectrum.
This is known as Doppler Red Shift. It is a phenomena which we measure routinely on Earth and it has to do with a shift in the color of starlight depending upon the direction of the star and how fast it is moving. The faster something would be moving away from us, the more its light would shift toward the red end of the spectrum and scientists use the Doppler Red Shift to calculate how old the universe is by calculating back to a time when one of these stars would appear to have been at one place in the universe.
The number that scientists calculate for Doppler Red Shift measurements lies between nine and eighteen billion years. This is known as the Doppler Red Shift measurement. Is it the only measurement that scientists make? The answer is to that is “No.”
There is another measurement that we make. We take a look at the brightness and the temperature on the surface of the star. And we create what are called Hertzsprung-Russel diagrams. In a sense, all we’re really doing is plotting, or comparing temperature and brightness.
In the upper left corner of one of these diagrams are the stars that are the brightest and the hottest and in the lower right corner, would be the stars that are less bright and the coolest. These stars lie along what is called a main sequence. That main sequence appears as a band running across the diagram. When you take a look at different parts of the universe, you find that the stars leave the main sequence at different places.
For example, in the upper right corner are the stars that are the youngest. They are the brightest; they are the hottest, and so they are burning out the fastest. They leave the main sequence sooner than the stars in the lower right corner. The stars in the lower right corner are burning with less brightness, with cooler temperatures and so they’re older and they’re hanging around more. The point where these stars leave the main sequence tells scientists how old they are. These are known as globular clusters and scientists are able to measure the age of the universe by using this technique. The typical range here is between 10 billion and 17 billion years.
There is a third way that scientists use to measure the age of the universe. This is by using nucleus pronometers as radioactive clocks. It turns out that atoms of certain materials are radioactive and unstable. That means that the center of the atom is emitting particles all the time and changing its composition. So by measuring how fast these particles are coming out, how many are coming out, and what kind of particles are coming out, scientists are able to draw certain fundamental conclusions. Typical materials that do this might be thorium 232, uranium U238, and iodine 127. There are radioactive substances that occur naturally in the universe.
Now scientists are able to integrate what is called the weighted average. In other words, they put all of these different processes together in an effective way to calculate the total range of age. The conclusion is typically 7 billion to 10 billion years.
When you take a look at these 3 independent techniques: the Doppler Red Shift, with all of the galaxies moving away from each other; globular clusters, where the stars leave the main sequence on a chart; and nuclear pronometers, these radioactive clocks based on the emission of particles from the center of atoms, they all roughly give us a range between ten billion and fifteen billion years.
Three independent techniques date the universe at approximately 10 to 15 billion years. Is this a problem with respect to the Bible as some Christians seem to feel it may be? The answer to that is certainly “No.”
The Bible does not speak in any way whatsoever as to the age of the universe. The Bible is primarily concerned with genealogies, particularly Genesis 5 and Genesis 11, with respect to man. But a genealogy is not a chronology. What some people have done, for example, Bishop Usher back in the 1600’s; is to say that this is a continuity in what we would call a chronology of time. It is not. So the Bible is silent on age.
The Theory of Special Relativity
There is another aspect to consider: the theory of special relativity published by Albert Einstein in 1905. This theory declares that time is like an elastic band; and that clocks tick differently depending upon the curvature of that space/time fabric mentioned earlier. You might think of space/time fabric as a great, big sheet. If you bent that sheet, you would have a model of curved space/time. When clocks are in a curved space/time, they tick much slower than if they were in a space/time fabric that were flat.
There is another thing to consider about the time when the universe came into existence. Some of our cosmological models describe the advent of the universe as highly curved space/time fabric. A clock ticking in that kind of environment would have ticked off an interval of time that would have been several hours of time back then; whereas today it could be billions of years. In other words, a clock today doesn’t tick the same way as it would have ticked at the time when the universe came into existence.
Geological Measurements of Age
What about the planet Earth? The Earth is an entirely different physical system from the universe. If the universe is of the order of ten to 15 billion years, does that mean that the Earth is that old? Certainly not. The Earth is an entirely separate system. How old is the Earth? How would we go about trying to find the age of the Earth? There are several ways to try to find out the age of the Earth.
For example, there are certain geologic processes that occur on the Earth. Different processes typically give ages between tens of millions of years and hundreds of millions of years. In other words, if only geologic processes are examined, the Earth becomes tens to hundreds of millions of years old.
However, in the crust of the Earth, there are certain natural radioactive materials that I mentioned earlier. These materials that are found in the crust of the Earth are approximately 4.65 billion years old. Some people have speculated (in fact, assumed!) that because a handful of materials in the crust of the earth is 4.65 billion years old, therefore the earth is 4.65 billion years old.
That is really a nonessential argument for many, many reasons.
For example, let’s suppose that I had an automobile that was fabricated last week. But let’s suppose that the steel I used to make this automobile was in a warehouse and that the steel had been stored there for 300 thousand years. So now I have steel that’s 300 thousand years old, in other words, material that is quite old and last week I manufactured an automobile from it.
I drive up to a traffic light and I’m stopped at a red light, and somebody comes up to the car, puts his fingers on the fender of the car and says to me “My goodness, the material, the steel, that’s in the fender of your car is 300 thousands years old; therefore, your automobile is 300 thousand years old.” That is precisely the logic that is used to date the earth at 4.65 billion years; because a handful of materials in its crust are many billions of years old, the presumption is, therefore, that this highly complex life-support system called earth is as old as the handful of materials.
Now, obviously, we have independent techniques which I’ve mentioned, the Doppler Red Shift; globular clusters; nuclear pronometers; the speed of light; and light distances from different galaxies, that teach that the universe is billions of years old. But if the Earth were made at a much more recent time – if the earth were made much more recently than billions of years ago and the raw material of the universe was used in the earth’s construction much in the same way that the steel from the factory was used in the construction of the car – you would expect to find material in the Earth’s crust that was billions of years old.
This would not teach that the highly complex, organized life-support system that we know as Earth would be, necessarily, billions of years old. So that is clearly a blind presupposition, to say that the Earth is billions of years old simply because a handful of materials are that old.
How Did It All Begin?
Some believe that non-living rocks, or non-living matter, produced all that we see and are. Others however, see sacred writing as revealing the fingerprint of a divine intellect of unfathomable magnitude. In the midst of this debate, scientists in our day have come full-swing to an unbelievable conclusion. The conclusion is that the universe actually had a beginning!
This is unbelievable because for several hundred years all of the scientists around the world were essentially unanimous in their conviction that the world, the universe was eternally existing. They had a simple reason for that. The citadel of our science is called the first law of thermodynamics. The first law simply put, says that a natural process can not bring into existence something from nothing.
Since a natural process can not bring something into existence out of nothing, the conclusion is that whatever it is ultimately made of, must have been in existence forever. This was known as the steady state theory of the universe. And virtually every scientist around the world was convinced that it had to be true for several hundred years.
Yet if we go to the Bible, its opening three words are: “In the beginning…” So if you were to compare the knowledge of science against the first 3 words of the Bible, you have a violent contradiction. How could you have a beginning when scientists were absolutely certain that natural process can not bring anything into existence from nothing? Things are in existence, so according to natural laws, the universe has to be eternally existing. But just within the past 10 to 15 years, the cosmologists of the world came to the conclusion that the universe indeed had a beginning.
First, it was called the Big Bang theory, then it was refined by a professor at MIT into what is called the new inflationary theory of the universe. What is so impressive is that the new inflationary theory of the universe is consistent with the interpretation that all that we see in the universe came into existence out of nothing.
Significantly, theologians before the turn of the century were interpreting the first verse of every Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth,” as an Exnenio creation. In other words, a creation of something out of nothing. The new inflationary theory of the universe is approximately 10 years old and has mathematical equations whose interpretation is consistent with that understanding.
But perhaps what is even more staggering is the fact that all of our cosmological models differ in degrees, but are all unified with respect to one conclusion. When the universe came into existence, it should have almost immediately thereafter gone out of existence. As a matter of fact, it should have gone out of the existence in a time interval so short that it would be one-tenth millionth of a billionth, of a billionth, of a billionth, of a billionth of a second – a decimal point followed by 43 zeroes and then a one. This is called a plank time. The universe should have gone out of existence virtually, instantaneously, after it came into existence.
Why did it not do so? Why do scientists measure it today to be 13 billion years old? There are no natural processes to explain how the universe came into existence nor to explain how the Earth came into being as such a precariously balanced system that it is able to support life.
There are no natural processes that even approach that degree of precision. So it is fair to say that that kind of tuning could rationally be called a supernatural tuning; the inorganic fingerprint of an intelligence of unfathomable dimension and intelligence, which the Bible identifies not only as the God who created the universe, but as the God who designed and created people for His own purpose.