In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth – By M. Gill
In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth – By M. Gill
The Old Testament opens with the verse, “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth,” and when He had completed His creation of the universe, He “saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the
morning were the sixth day.” On the last day, He created “man in His own image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them.” So, He created His handiwork in six days.
This act of creation occupied a central position, and still does, in the faith of the followers of the Abrahamic religions. Science drove a nail in the coffin of this biblical story when it determined that the act of creation was not limited to six days as narrated in the Genesis, but it is continuing all the time. Man was not created instantly but he evolved over a period of several billion years.
The age of the universe as determined by the scientists is approximately 13 billion years. Our Earth is estimated to be about six billion years old. Although the age of the Earth (universe) is still a moot point between the creationists (who believe it is about six thousand years old) and the scientists, many Christian theologians have given up on the literal comprehension of the creation verses of the Genesis.
Darwin’s theory of evolution also wedges in with the “old Earth” theory. After an initial, longer than a century, resistance to the theory of evolution, the Roman Catholic Church has abandoned its opposition and now believes that the universe may have come into existence by evolutionary process. Many Christian theologians believe in the theory of evolution without relinquishing faith in God. For example, Arthur Peacocke, M.B.E., (died October 21, 2006) who was a priest and Honorary Canon at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford and until recently was Director of the Ramsay Center for the Study of Science and Religion at Oxford University (also winner of the Templeton Prize for progress in religion), understood the biblical verses metaphorically and gave a new Genesis for the new millennium as follows (Paths from Science Towards God, One World, 2001, pp.1,2):
“There was God, And God was All-That Was. God’s Love overflowed and God said, ‘Let Other be. And let it have the capacity to become what it might be, making it make itself – and let it explore its potentialities.’
And there was Other in God, a field of energy, vibrating energy – but no matter, space, time or form. Obeying its given laws and with one intensely hot surge of energy – a hot big bang – this Other exploded as the Universe from a point twelve or so billion years ago in our time, thereby making space.
Vibrating fundamental particles appeared, expanded and expanded, and cooled into clouds of gas, bathed into swirling whirlpools of matter and light – a billion galaxies.
Five billion years ago, one star in one galaxy – our Sun – became surrounded by matter as planets. One of them was our Earth. On Earth, the assembly of atoms and the temperature became just right to allow water and solid rock to form. Continents and mountains grew and in some deep wet crevice, or pool, or deep in the sea, just over three billion years ago some molecules became large and complex enough to make copies of themselves and became the first specks of life.
Life multiplied in the seas, diversifying and becoming more and more complex. Five hundred million years ago, creatures with solid skeletons – the vertebrates – appeared. Algae in the sea and green plants on land changed the atmosphere by making oxygen. Then three hundred million years ago, certain fish learned to crawl from the sea and live on the edge of land, breathing that oxygen from the air.
Now life burst into many forms – reptiles, mammals (and dinosaurs) on land – reptiles and birds in the air. Over millions of years the mammals developed complex brains that enabled them to learn. Among these were creatures who lived in trees. From these our first ancestors derived and then, only forty thousand years ago, the first men and women appeared. They began to know about themselves and what they were doing – they were not only conscious but also self-conscious. The first word, the first laugh were heard. The first paintings were made. The first sense of a destiny beyond – with the first signs of hope, for these people buried their dead with ritual. The first prayers were made to the One who made All-That Is and All-That-Is-Becoming – the first experiences of goodness, beauty and truth – but also of their opposites, for human beings were free.”
Apart from the inclusion of God and the One at the outset, the new Genesis is indeed an epitome of theory of evolution and big bang. Kitty Ferguson (The Fire in the Equations: Science, Religion and the Search for God, 1994, p.127) also described the act of creation tersely as follows: “In the beginning, God created everything that was later to become what we now call the Heavens and the Earth, as well as the laws that directed that outcome, and God caused it all to begin happening.”
She further commented, “For those who accept the Genesis account as metaphoric or symbolic, or see it as a beautifully poetic but inadequate description – even a scientific explanation – the connection (between her description and the Genesis account) is significant.”
Although there had been intellectual skirmishes between the rational thinkers (philosophers) and the theologians on the religious perception of God and how and when He created the universe, the dispute between them came into a sharp focus after Galileo’s valiant stand against the Roman Catholic Church. The issue at dispute was not God, per se, and the universe, it related to whether Earth was stationary around which Sun together with other planets orbited, or not.
Bible stated that Earth was stationary and the Sun orbited around it. Galileo believed in the heliocentric thesis which had been enunciated more precisely by Copernicus, according to which all the planets including Earth orbited around Sun. Galileo was silenced and forced to recant at that time but he won his argument in the long run. It struck a mortal blow, in the long run, at the roots of Christianity because it showed that Bible, believed to be the Word of God, was wrong.
At the time of Galileo, the social environment was dominated by religion. At that time, the impact of the Copernican cosmology was minimal. Many people didn’t even care to know about it. Galileo was a religious man and he tried to rationalize the concept of a moving Earth in conformance with the Biblical stationary Earth using Ibn-e-Rushd’s doctrine of double truth which did not convince anyone.
A contemporary of Galileo, Johannes Kepler (one of the greatest cosmologists the world has produced) was strengthened in his belief in God when he discovered his third law by toying with the idea of a harmony in the universe. When he discovered his law, he was elated (justifiably because his three laws laid down the foundation of modern cosmology) beyond belief. Near the end of his book in which he described his law, he wrote down a prayer to God as follows:
“O you who by the light of nature arouse in us a longing for the light of grace, so that by means of that You can transport us into the light of glory. I give thanks to You, Lord Creator, because You have lured me into the enjoyment of Your work, and I have exulted in the works of Your hands: behold, now I have consummated the work to which I pledged myself, using all the abilities that You gave to me; I have shown the glory of Your works to men, and those demonstrations to readers, so far as the meanness of my mind can capture the infinity of it, for my mind was made for the most perfect philosophizing; if anything unworthy of Your deliberations has been proposed by me, a worm, born and raised in a hog wallow of sin, which You want mankind to know about, inspire me as well to change it; if I have been drawn by the admirable beauty of Your works into indiscretion. or if I have pursued my own glory among men while engaged in a work intended for Your glory, be merciful, be compassionate, and forgive.”
As science developed more and more, religion’s hold on people’s (particularly the scientists’) mind started eroding. In due time, Darwin’s research in biology showed that the act of creation wouldn’t have been completed in six days because the act of creation is still evolving.
All these points have been conceded by the rational theologians and the biblical assertions have been accordingly reinterpreted to remove the inherent conflicts and contradictions. It is now believed by many theologians that the biblical language is metaphorical and needs to be comprehended allegorically and not literally. But the controversy whether God exists or not, still continues. All that the Galilean science showed was that the kind of God the theologians traditionally believed, could not exist because there were factual inconsistencies in the Bible, God’s Word. Consequently, the concept was modified and redefined in accordance with the precepts of the prevailing science (see, for instance, Peacocke’s new Genesis quoted above). But the difficulty does not completely vanish because scientific theories are not permanent in the sense that religion is. Science keeps on refining its theories all the time. It doesn’t mean it is essentially wrong. It simply means that a particular scientific theory at a given time explains all the empirical information available at that particular time and makes predictions about physical phenomena in the future. If the future data certifies that the theory is accurate, it prevails. If any data showed that it failed to make predictions about certain phenomenon accurately, it would be falsified and needed to be revised and updated. Scientific theories are falsifiable while religion, in theory, is not. As a matter of fact, a theory which is not falsifiable is not a scientific theory.
If religion is to follow the scientific lead, it then becomes falsifiable like science. When a religion becomes falsifiable, it loses its divine base and its God ceases to be as mighty as we conventionally believe It is. Although the theologians might not consciously believe it, the perception of God has appreciably changed over a period of time. God, as many perceive these days, is not the same as our forebears used to believe in the past.
When the theory of big bang was formulated in late 1940s and verified later on, it provided a strong position to the believers to argue that God exists. If the universe is expanding, there must have been an instant of time at which it started to expand. At that time, all the matter in the universe converged in the form of energy at a single point, which is called Singularity At this point, both the energy and the curvature of the point universe are infinite. This created an extreme difficulty for the scientists because they can’t deal with infinities. This difficulty aside, the point which favored the believers and which they exploited as much as they could, was that there was an instant of time when the universe began to exist. Who created this universe at that point of time? Who else but God?
Science however is incapable of uttering the ‘final word.’ Theory of big bang was not the last theory although it seemed so. It caused quite a bit of stir and consternation for many scientists who believed that the universe was eternal; it was always there.
The backward extrapolation to the beginning of the universe and the singularity was achieved using Einstein’s theory of general relativity. It was soon realized that such an extrapolation is not accurate and indeed is invalid because Einstein’s theory breaks down when it is extrapolated to the subatomic world and the origination of the universe. It is the theory of quantum mechanics which should be used at the subatomic level. These two theories are very much different from each other. Theory of relativity is the theory of the ‘large’ and quantum mechanics is the theory of the ‘small’ and the ‘twain do not seem to meet’ each other seamlessly. The pivotal paradigm of relativity is the thesis of ‘cause and effect’ (determinism) while quantum mechanics is all random and probabilistic. Events just seem to happen ‘uncaused’ at the subatomic level. So, the quandary whether there indeed was a beginning of the universe still remains unexplained. The universe may have come into existence ex nihilo and uncaused.
The difficulty created by the Singularity (infinite energy and infinite curvature of the point universe) was obviated by the string theory. It suggested that the elementary particles are merely the vibrations of a one dimensional string; they are not point objects. Even the concept of strings has gone through several revisions. One dimensional string was replaced by a two dimensional membrane which was replaced by a p-membrane where p is an integer. A p-membrane is thus a five dimensional string if p=5.
Initially, there was a great deal of promise in the string theory to unify quantum mechanics with relativity but the difficulties are such that the known versions of string theory have not been able to overcome them. Until the unification is achieved, we do not know exactly what problems will the unified theory solve and what new problems it may create. Going by the history of science so far, we know that when science conquers one difficult frontier, another one immediately appears on its horizon.
If God is the name of an entity which is not known at a given time and is considered ‘unknowable’ at that time by many, man will never know His essence or even if He exists or not. There will, more likely than not, always be something which is beyond the current human knowledge. In fact, we know very little compared to what we don’t know. Whether God created our universe and everything in it including us, in just six days is largely a historical and academic issue; the bigger issue with which the scientists are concerned is whether He created the universe as a matter of fact. Or, whether He indeed is the First Cause. Will they ever be able to answer the question: “Who created God” convincingly? Or, will they come to understand that this question is meaningless and God indeed is transcendental and beyond the confines of time and space. Is there anything beyond time and space?
This story is much too complex and can not be described just in one article