Did It Really Have a Beginning?
THROUGHOUT the ages many have gazed at the brilliant star-studded night sky and marveled. The immensity and awesome beauty of our marvelous universe overwhelm the senses. Who or what can account for it all? Why is it here? Has it always existed, or did it have a beginning?
Professor of astronomy David L. Block wrote: “That the universe has not always existed—that it had a beginning—has not always been popular.” Yet, in recent decades evidence has forced most who study the universe to believe that it really did have a beginning. “Virtually all astrophysicists today conclude,” reported U.S.News & World Report in 1997, that “the universe began with a big bang that propelled matter outward in all directions.”
Regarding this generally accepted conclusion, Robert Jastrow, professor of astronomy and geology at Columbia University, wrote: “Few astronomers could have anticipated that this event—the sudden birth of the Universe—would become a proven scientific fact, but observations of the heavens through telescopes have forced them to that conclusion.”
Is “the sudden birth of the Universe” really “a proven scientific fact”? Let us consider historical evidence that has led up to the conclusion that it is.
Evidence of a Beginning
Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, published in 1916, implied that the universe is either expanding or contracting. Yet, the idea was totally contrary to the then accepted view that the universe is static, which Einstein also believed at the time. So he introduced into his calculations what he called a “cosmological constant.” This adjustment was made to try to harmonize his theory with the accepted belief that the universe is static and unchanging.
However, evidence that accumulated in the 1920’s caused Einstein to call the adjustment he had made to the relativity theory his ‘greatest blunder.’ The installation of the huge 100-inch [254 cm] telescope on Mount Wilson in California made possible the acquisition of such evidence. The observations made with the use of that telescope during the 1920’s proved that the universe is expanding!
Previously, the largest telescopes could identify only individual stars within our own Milky Way galaxy. True, observers had noted fuzzy patches of light known as nebulas, but these were generally thought to be swirls of gaseous matter within our own galaxy. By using the more powerful Mount Wilson telescope, however, Edwin Hubble identified individual stars within these nebulas. These fuzzy patches of light were eventually identified as galaxies like our own Milky Way. Indeed, now it is estimated that there are from 50 billion to 125 billion galaxies, each having up to hundreds of billions of stars!
In the late 1920’s, Hubble also discovered that these galaxies are receding from us and that the greater the distance they are away, the faster they are receding. Astronomers determine the rate of a galaxy’s retreat by use of a spectrograph, which measures the spectrum of light coming from stellar objects. Light coming from distant stars is directed through a prism that disperses the light into its various color components.
Light from an object that is moving away from an observer is reddish and is called redshifted. On the other hand, light from an approaching object is called blueshifted. Significantly, apart from a few nearby galaxies, all known galaxies have spectral lines that are redshifted. Scientists thus ascertain that the universe is expanding in an orderly way. The rate of that expansion is determined by measuring the degree to which the lines in the spectrum are redshifted.
What conclusion has been drawn from the fact that the universe is expanding? Well, one scientist invited people to consider the reversal of that process. In other words, to visualize a film of the expanding universe that is being played backward so that the viewer sees the earlier history of the universe. Looked at in this way, the universe would be seen receding or contracting, rather than expanding. The universe would thereby ultimately return to a single point of origin.
In his book Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, published in 1993, prominent physicist Stephen Hawking concluded that “science could predict that the universe must have had a beginning.”
However, a few years ago, many did not believe that the universe had a beginning. Fred Hoyle was a famous scientist who disagreed with the concept that the universe came to be in what he deridingly called ‘a big bang.’ Among other things, Hoyle argued that if there had been such a dynamic beginning, there should be a trace of that event preserved somewhere in the universe. There should be some fossil radiation, as it were, some faint afterglow in space. What did the search for such background radiation reveal?
The New York Times of March 8, 1998, reported that about 1965 “the astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered the ubiquitous background radiation, the left-over flash of the primordial explosion.” The article added: “The [big bang] theory seemed to be clinched.”
Yet, in the years following Penzias and Wilson’s discovery, the question was raised by some that if the big bang model really was correct, why hadn’t slight irregularities in the radiation signal been observed? For galaxies to form, the universe would have needed cooler and denser pockets where matter could have coalesced. However, the experiments conducted from the surface of the earth by Penzias and Wilson did not reveal such irregularities.
Therefore, in November 1989 the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite was launched into outer space by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, of the United States. Its discoveries were described as monumental. Professor Block explained: “The ripples reported by the Differential Microwave Radiometer on board COBE were the very fluctuations imprinted on our cosmos that led billions of years ago to the formation of galaxies.”
Implications of the Evidence
What can we deduce from the fact that the universe had a beginning? Robert Jastrow said: “You can call it the big bang, but you can also call it with accuracy the moment of creation.” Penzias, who shared in the discovery of background radiation in the universe, observed: “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing.” And COBE team leader George Smoot remarked: “What we have found is evidence for the birth of the universe.”
Is it reasonable to conclude that if there was a beginning, or creation, of the universe, there was a Beginner, or Creator, of it? Many think so. Smoot declared regarding the discoveries made by COBE: “It’s like looking at God.”
Of course, without the scientific evidence that has come to light in recent decades, millions have put faith in the opening statement of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”—Genesis 1:1.
Yet, not all want to acknowledge this simple statement in the Bible. “Many scientists did not like the idea that the universe had a beginning, a moment of creation,” noted physicist Stephen Hawking. They “didn’t like the extra-scientific implications of the theory,” wrote Michael J. Behe, “and labored to develop alternatives.”
So the questions are, Did the universe come into existence, in effect, by itself? Did it just happen, or was it created by an intelligent Creator? You will find the following evidence enlightening.
[Pictures on page 4, 5]
The Mount Wilson telescope helped to show that our universe had a beginning
The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington