Most readers of this blog are Christians.
Such folks believe the Bible’s claim that God created the heavens and the earth.
This faith in a creator is met with resounding disapproval in the public square.
Christians are made to feel small, ignorant, irrational, or intellectually inferior for believing in a creator.
Has it ever happened to you?
If so, I hope what follows encourages you.
Your understanding of the world’s beginning requires faith. But hear this, so does their’s.
Believing their account of earthly origins, void of a creator, requires a crap ton of faith. Not faith in the religious sense, that there is a divine being behind it all. But faith in the sense that they are accepting as truth the universe to be conceived in a certain manner, even amidst many questions and uncertainties.
Hear that. Be encouraged with that. You still will not be esteemed for your beliefs and questions. But you need not feel less because of them. They have beliefs and questions too!
Surprisingly, the author quoted below agrees with me. He says, “I’m not a spiritual person (technically, he’d identify as atheist), and the things I’ve done haven’t made me one, but the one thing I did appreciate when I was writing…was that conventional science and a belief in god are absolutely not incompatible. You can be a scientist and believe in god: the two go hand in hand” (emphasis added).
What follows is unlikely to convince an atheist of God’s cosmological artisanship. I don’t believe that science’s lack of explanation necessitates God’s existence. That’s not my intention.
This post is intended to encourage you. I aim to encourage, or fill you with courage, as you keep believing in God as the creator of heavens and earth.
How? Read what follows. It’ll take 10-15 minutes. That may seem like a lot of time in our 30-second viral video world.
But it could save you hours upon hours of debate and anxiety about your belief in God the Creator.
It’s a compilation of excerpts from Bill Bryson’s book titled, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” (2003). This book is a national bestseller. Thousands of online reviews give it 4.5/5 stars across many prominent websites. It’s regarded as the most accessible book on science ever assembled for non-scientists.
This “short” book is 475 pages. I’m asking you to read the equivalent of 7 full pages. That’s it. Plus, he’s a great writer. Very clear. Very helpful. Very quick and easy to read. And, at one point, Bryson concludes, “And so, from nothing, our universe begins.” (!!!!)
Upon reading ask yourself, how much faith would you need to believe ALL THIS—absent of a Creator—is how the world began? My answer: you’d need a crap ton of faith. (Remember: the writer is an atheist)
Begin excerpts from Bryson:
A Short History of Nearly Everything. Introduction. Pages 1-3.
Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.
To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you. It’s an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. For the next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally underappreciated state known as existence.
Why atoms take this trouble is a bit of a puzzle. Being human is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level. For all their devoted attention, your atoms don’t actually care about you – indeed, don’t even know that you are there. They don’t even know that they are there. They are mindless particles, after all, and not even themselves alive. (It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.)
The bad news is that atoms are fickle and their time of devotion is fleeting – fleeting indeed. Even a long human life adds up to only about 650,000 hours. And when that modest milestone flashes past, or at some other point thereabouts, for reasons unknown your atoms will shut you down, silently disassemble, and go off to be other things. And that’s it for you.
Still, you may rejoice that it happens at all. Generally speaking in the universe it doesn’t, so far as we can tell. This is decidedly odd because the atoms that so liberally and congenially flock together to form living things on earth are exactly the same atoms that declined to do it elsewhere. Whatever else it may be, at the level of chemistry life is curiously mundane: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, a little calcium, a dash of sulfur, a light dusting of other very ordinary elements – nothing you wouldn’t find in any ordinary drugstore – and that’s all you need. The only thing special about the atoms that make you is that they make you. That is of course the miracle of life.
Whether or not atoms make life in other corners of the universe, they make plenty else; indeed, they make everything else. Without them there would be no water or air or rocks, no stars and planets, no distant gassy clouds or swirling nebulae or any of the other things that make the universe so usefully material. Atoms are so numerous and necessary that we easily overlook that they needn’t actually exist at all. There is no law that requires the universe to fill itself with small particles of matter or to produce light and gravity and the other physical properties on which our existence hinges. There needn’t actually be a universe at all. For the longest time there wasn’t. There were no atoms and no universe for them to float about it. There was nothing – nothing at all anywhere.
So thank goodness for atoms. But the fact that you have atoms and that they assemble in such a willing manner is only part of what got you here. To be here now, alive in the 21st century and smart enough to know it, you also had to be the beneficiary of an extraordinary string of biological good fortune. Survival on earth is a surprisingly tricky business. Of the billions and billions of species of living things that have existed since the dawn of time, most – 99.99% – are no longer around. Life on earth, you see, is not only brief but dismayingly tenuous. It is a curious feature of our existence that we come from a planet that is very good at promoting life but even better at extinguishing it.
The average species on earth lasts for only about 4 million years, so if you wish to be around for billions of years, you must be as fickle as the atoms that made you. You must be prepared to change everything about yourself – shape, size, color, species affiliation, everything – and to do so repeatedly. That’s much easier said than done, because the process of change is random. To get from “protoplasmal primordial atomic globule” (as Gilbert and Sullivan put it) to sentient upright modern human has required you to mutate new traits over and over in a precisely timely manner for in the exceedingly long while. So at various periods over the last 3.8 billion years you have abhorred oxygen and then doted on it, grown fins and limbs and jaunty sails, laid eggs, flicked the air with a forked tongue, been sleek, been furry, lived underground, lived in trees, been as big as a deer and as small as a mouse, and 1 million things more. The tiniest deviation from any of these evolutionary shifts, and you might now be licking algae from cave walls or lolling walruslike on some stony shore or disgorging air through a blowhole in the top of your head before diving 60 feet for a mouth full of delicious sandworms.
Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely – make that miraculously – fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, insufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result – eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly – in you.•
A Short History of Nearly Everything. Chapter 1 – How to Build a Universe. Pages 9-10.
No matter how hard you try you will never be able to grasp just how tiny, how spatially unassuming, is a proton. It is just way too small.
A proton is an infinitesimal part of an atom, which is itself of course in the insubstantial thing. Protons are so small that a little dib of ink like the dot on this i can hold something in the region of 500,000,000,000 of them, rather more than the number of seconds contained in half a million years. So protons are exceedingly microscopic, to say the very least.
Now imagine if you can (and of course you can’t) shrinking one of those protons down to a billionth of its normal size into a space so small that it would make a proton look enormous. Now pack into that tiny, tiny space about an ounce of matter. Excellent. You are ready to start the universe.
I’m assuming of course that you wish to build an inflationary universe. If you’d prefer instead to build a more old-fashioned, standard Big Bang universe, you’ll need additional materials. In fact, you will need to gather up everything there is – every last mote and particle of matter between here and the edge of creation – and squeeze it into a spot so infinitesimally compact that it has no dimensions at all. It is known as a singularity.
In either case, get ready for a really big bang. Naturally, you will wish to retire to a safe place to observe the spectacle. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to retire to because outside the singularity there is no where. When the universe begins to expand, it won’t be spreading out to fill a large emptiness. The only space that exists is the space it creates as it goes.
It is natural but wrong to visualize the singularity as a kind of pregnant dot hanging in a dark, boundless void. But there is no space, no darkness. The singularity has no “around” around it. There is no space for it to occupy, no place for it to be. We can’t even ask how long it has been there – whether it has just lately popped into being, like a good idea, or whether it has been there forever, quietly awaiting the right moment. Time doesn’t exist. There is no past for it to emerge from.
And so, from nothing, our universe begins.
In a single blinding pulse, a moment of glory much too swift and expansive for any form of words, the singularity assumes heavenly dimensions, space beyond conception. In the first lively second (a second that many cosmologists will devote careers to shaving into ever-finer wafers) is produced gravity and the other forces that govern physics. In less than a minute the universe is a million billion miles across and growing fast. There is a lot of heat now, 10 billion degrees of it, enough to begin the nuclear reactions that create the lighter elements – principally hydrogen and helium, with a dash (about one atom in a hundred million) of lithium. In three minutes, 98 percent of all the matter there is or will ever be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful, too. And it was all gone in about the time it takes to make a sandwich.
When this moment happened is a matter of some debate. Cosmologists have long argued over whether the moment of creation was 10 billion years ago or twice that or something in between. The consensus seems to be heading for a figure of about 13.7 billion years, but these things are notoriously difficult to measure, as we shall see further on. All that can really be said is that at some indeterminate point in the very distant past, for reasons unknown, there came the moment known to science as t=0. We were on our way.
A Short History of Nearly Everything. Chapter 1 – How to Build a Universe. Pages 13-15.
Although everyone calls it the Big Bang, many books caution us not to think of it as an explosion in the conventional sense. It was, rather, a vast, sudden expansion on a whopping scale. So what caused it?
One notion is that perhaps the singularity was the relic of an earlier, collapsed universe – that we are just one of an eternal cycle of expanding and collapsing universes, like the bladder of an oxygen machine. Others attribute the Big Bang to what they call “a false vacuum” or “a scalar field” or “vacuum energy” – some quality or thing, at any rate, that introduced a measure of instability into the nothingness that was. It seems impossible that you get something from nothing, but the fact that once there was nothing and now there is a universe is evident proof that you can. It may be that our universe is merely part of many larger universes, some in different dimensions, and that Big Bangs are going on all the time all over the place. Or it may be that space and time had some other forms altogether before the Big Bang – forms too alien for us to imagine – and that the Big Bang represents some sort of transition phase, where the universe went from a form we can’t understand to one we almost can. “These are very close to religious questions,” Dr. Andrei Linde, a cosmologist at Stanford, told the New York Times in 2001.
The Big Bang theory isn’t about the bang itself but about what happened after the bang. Not long after, mind you. By doing a lot of math and watching carefully what goes on in particle accelerators, scientists believe they can look back to 10^-43 seconds after the moment of creation, when the universe was still so small that you would have needed a microscope to find it. We mustn’t swoon over every extraordinary number that comes before us, but it is perhaps worth latching onto one from time to time just to be reminded of their ungraspable and amazing breadth. Thus 10^-43 is 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000001, or one 10 million trillion trillion trillionths of a second.
Most of what we know, or believe we know, about the early moments of the universe is thanks to an idea called inflation theory first propounded in 1979 by a junior particle physicist, then at Stanford, now at MIT, named Alan Guth. He was 32 years old and, by his own admission, had never done anything much before. He would probably never have had his great theory except that he happened to attend a lecture on the Big Bang given by none other than Robert Dicke. The lecture inspired Guth to take an interest in cosmology, and in particular in the birth of the universe.
The eventual result was the inflation theory, which holds that a fraction of a moment after the dawn of creation, the universe underwent a sudden dramatic expansion. It inflated – in effect ran away with itself, doubling in size every 10^-34 seconds. The whole episode may have lasted no more than 10^-30 seconds – that’s 1 million million million million millionths of a second – but it changed the universe from something you could hold in your hand to something at least 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times bigger. Inflation theory explains the ripples and eddies that make our universe possible. Without it, there would be no clumps of matter and thus no stars, just drifting gas and everlasting darkness.
According to Guth’s theory, at one ten-millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, gravity emerged. After another ludicrously brief interval it was joined by electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces – the stuff of physics. These were joined an instant later by swarms of elementary particles – the stuff of stuff. From nothing at all, suddenly there were swarms of photons, protons, electrons, neutrons, and much else – between 10^79 and 10^89 of each, according to the standard Big Bang theory.
Such quantities are of course ungraspable. It is enough to know that in a single cracking instant we were endowed with a universe that was vast – at least a hundred billion light-years across, according to the theory, but possibly any size up to infinite – and perfectly arrayed for the creation of stars, galaxies, and other complex systems.
A Short History of Nearly Everything. Chapter 1 – How to Build a Universe. Pages 15-16.
What is extraordinary from our point of view is how well it turned out for us. If the universe had formed just a tiny bit differently – if gravity were fractionally stronger or weaker, if the expansion had proceeded just a little more slowly or swiftly – then there might never have been stable elements to make you and me and the ground we stand on. Had gravity been a trifle stronger, the universe itself might have collapsed like a badly erected tent, without precisely the right values to give it the right dimensions and density and component parts. Had it been weaker, however, nothing would have coalesced. The universe would have remained forever a dull, scattered void.
This is one reason that some experts believe there may have been many other big bangs, perhaps trillions and trillions of them, spread through the mighty span of eternity, and that the reason we exist in this particular one is that this is one we could exist in. As Edward P. Tryon of Columbia University once put it: “In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.” To which adds Guth: “Although the creation of a universe might be very unlikely, Tryon emphasized that no one had counted the failed attempts.”
Martin Rees, Britain’s astronomer Royal, believes that there are many universes, possibly an infinite number, each with different attributes, in different combinations, and that we simply live in one that combines things in the way that allows us to exist. He makes an analogy with a very large clothing store: “If there is a large stock of clothing, you’re not surprised to find a suit that fits. If there are many universes, each governed by a differing set of numbers, there will be one where there is a particular set of numbers suitable for life. We are in that one.”
Rees maintains that six numbers in particular govern our universe, and that if any of these values were changed even very slightly things could not be as they are. For example, for the universe to exist as it does requires that hydrogen be converted to helium in a precise but comparatively stately manner – specifically, in a way that converts seven one-thousandths of its mass to energy. Lower that value very slightly – from 0.007 percent to 0.006 percent, say – and no transformation could take place: the universe would consist of hydrogen and nothing else. Raise the value very slightly – to 0.008 percent – and bonding would be so wildly prolific that the hydrogen would long since have been exhausted. In either case, with the slightest tweaking of the numbers the universe as we know and needed would not be here.
End excerpts from Byson
Questions: How much faith would you need in order to believe ALL THIS—absent of a Creator—is how the world began?