Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

21. WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE THE BEGINNING?

Chapter 1 of Christian Handbook of Reason and Insight for Scientists and Technologists, under the title The Beginning, provides key points of agreement between science and the Bible regarding the zero time of the universe and what transpired on either side of the zero time.  In this Section, these key points are expanded and clarified with an emphasis on what happened before the beginning.

Science says:

  • The universe began at a definite point in time. According to Victor Weisskopf, “It is important to keep in mind that the Primal Bang is not a local phenomenon.  The descriptions of it in the popular literature are often grossly misleading; it is wrong to imagine that the Primal Bang occurred at a given point in space, matter being expelled in all directions.  Actually the Primal Bang was the beginning of a decompression of an infinite universe.  This means that the whole universe, the infinite space, was filled with an infinite density of matter at time zero.  Immediately afterward the density became finite though still very high.  With the passage of time the density decreased further until it reached the present value.  On the average, this density was the same all over space; the universe expands equally at all points, and the density decreases equally in the whole universe.  One may ask how this is possible, where does all the matter go?  Space is infinite is the answer, and ten times infinite is again infinite.  Thus let us remember that the Primal Bang was not localized.  It happened simultaneously all over space….and not as an explosion from one point into a previously empty space.”  In other words, space, time and energy/matter all came into existence simultaneously.

 

  • Verification of any type of existence prior to the beginning of the universe is beyond the domain of science. However, some scientists have hypothesized that an ensemble of pre-existing universes gave birth to our universe at the instant of the Primal Bang.  Other scientists suggest that nothing existed prior to the Primal Bang and our universe spontaneously came into existence from nothing.  Those who view God as an unacceptable first cause for The Beginning of the Universe, will embrace any other explanation, no matter how untestable or devoid of logic and reason. 

 

  • Since the beginning, the universe has developed in accordance with physical laws for 13.7 billion years. The current universe is only 4% ordinary matter, the stuff of stars and trees and people. 23% is dark matter comprising an undetected particle. The remaining 73% is dark energy, a mysterious force that counteracts the effects of gravity and causes the universe to expand at an accelerating rate. This is the current understanding of science but it is subject to future modification.

The Bible says:

  • The universe began by “ex nihilo" creation (bara) at a definite point in time (Gen 1:1, Heb 11:3). That the Biblical writers conceived of creation as an act of God ex nihilo (from nothing that exists), is evident from the fact that nowhere among the many references to creation is there the slightest suggestion of the use of anything that existed prior to the creation event.  The word created is used three times in the Genesis account and is a translation of the word bara, which signifies origination or creation de novo.  This word occurs in Genesis 1:1, 1:21 and 1:27 in connection with heavens and earth, leviathans and man respectively.  According to Adam Clarke, “The rabbins, who are the legitimate judges in a case of verbal criticism of their own language, are unanimous in asserting that the word bara expresses commencement of the existence of a thing: or its egression from nonentity to entity.  It does not, in its primary meaning, denote the preserving or new forming things that had previously existed, as some imagine: but creation, in the proper sense of the term, though it has some other acceptations in other places.”  If then we examine the three instances where this word occurs, we shall find each of them an origination of a new entity.

                 

  • God existed prior to the beginning of the universe. According to Francis Schaeffer, “Although Genesis begins, ‘in the beginning,’ that does not mean that there was not anything before that.  In John 17:24, Jesus prays to God the Father saying, ‘Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.’  Jesus says that God the Father loved Him prior to the creation of all else.  And in John 17:5 Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him, Jesus Himself, ‘with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.’  There is, therefore, something that reaches back into eternity – back before the phrase ‘in the beginning.’  Christ existed, and He had glory with the Father, and He was loved by the Father before ‘in the beginning.’  In Ephesians 1:4 we read, ‘…he [God] hath chosen us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world…’  Thus, before ‘in the beginning’ something other than a static situation existed.  A choice was made, and that choice shows forth thought and will.  We were chosen in Him before the creation of the world.  The same thing is emphasized in 1 Peter 1:20, where the sacrificial death of Jesus is said to have been ‘fore-ordained before the foundation of the world.’  Likewise Titus 1:2 says that God promised eternal life ‘before the world began.’  This is very striking.  How can a promise be made before the world began?  To whom could it be made?  The Scripture here speaks of a promise made by the Father to the Son or to the Holy Spirit because, after all, at this particular point of sequence there was no one else to make the promise to.  Finally, the same point is made in 2 Timothy 1:9, where we read about God, ‘who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.'  We are faced, therefore, with a very interesting question: When did history begin?  If one is thinking with the modern concept of the space-time continuum, then it is quite obvious that time and history did not exist before ‘in the beginning.’  But if we are thinking of history in contrast to an eternal, philosophic other or in contrast to a static eternal, then history began before Genesis 1:1”

 

  • Since the beginning, indefinitely long periods of time (yom, plural yamim) have elapsed. See arguments in Section 20 of Theology Corner under the titleWere the Creation Days 24 Hours in Length?”