God, The Transcendent

That God is transcendent and therefore authoritative, arises directly from the text. In the very first verse, God is pictured as separate and distinct from the primordial substrate (we’ll see later how counter-cultural was this view of creation). He stands outside of His creation much like a painter is outside of his painting, or a composer outside of her symphony.  In these three verses, the author definitively establishes God’s authority to be that due a creator.  In the ancient Semitic cultures of those days, this claim would have been astounding. Why? Because the pantheistic cultures surrounding the ancient Hebrews viewed their gods as part of nature. Their gods were subordinate to nature’s laws.  Like other natural beings, the gods of the pagans suffered hunger, engaged in sex, and built shelters to protect themselves from the elements. And even though these gods exercised divine power, and even creative authority, they did not transcend nature. These gods were at the mercy of nature and so suffered and benefited from the same elements as did their creations.

By contrast, the God of Genesis is not described as natural. He is altogether supernatural. The God of Genesis created nature but does not dwell in nature. Nor is the God of Genesis subject to nature – He transcends it. Bruce Gordon, Associate Professor of Science and Mathematics at King’s College in New York, hints at this when he writes about that which caused the universe to come into being.

“When we further reflect on the nature of the cause that brought the universe into existence, it is evident that it must be transcendent [over] nature. Space-time and mass-energy do not conceptually entail any principle of self-causation, so prior to the existence of all space, time, matter, and energy there was no universe to be described, and hence no physical laws or initial conditions that could have played a role in its Genesis. Instead, space-time and mass-energy came into existence out of nothing, so a transcendent immaterial cause must have acted.”1)(Gordon and Dembski 2011) p. 563

In other words, says Dr. Gordon, no support exists in physics or mathematics for the proposition that the universe caused itself  to be created. Physics, like mathematics, can only inform us of the actions of things that exist. They can tell us nothing about that which does not exist.

And so it is with the laws of physics, whose instantiation constituted the Big Bang. At some point in the past, nothing existed. Neither space nor time, much less the laws that govern them. Then, in an instant, the laws of physics came to be and the universe flashed into life. Unfortunately, the very laws of physics that brought the universe into being preclude the study of their cause.

Why should this be? Simply put, we cannot study the state of the universe before it existed. For example, in 1976 an article appeared in the Scientific American titled “Will the Universe Expand Forever?”. In it, the authors2)J. Richard Gott III, James E. Gunn, David N. Schramm, and Beatrice M. Tinsley, “Will the Universe Expand Forever?”, Scientific American [March 1976], p65 addressed this problem:

“The universe began from a state of infinite density about one Hubble time3)Also called the Hubble age or Hubble period, Hubble time provides an estimate for the age of the universe, currently thought to be 1.5×1010 years. ago. Space and time were created in that event and so was all the matter in the universe. It is not meaningful to ask what happened before the big bang [nor is it] sensible to ask where the big bang took place. The point-universe was not an object isolated in[some larger] space; it was the entire universe, and so the only answer can be that the big bang happened everywhere.”

In response to the theological implications of the Big Bang, not a few scientists have claimed that the universe has always existed and that the Big Bang never happened. Beginning in the sixties, the first serious alternative to the Big Bang arose and was known as the Oscillating Model. In this model, the universe was thought to be caught in an infinite cycle of expansion and contraction. For this theory to be correct, however, the universe would have to be inhomogeneous. In such a universe, particles of matter would not collapse into a single point but zoom past one another appearing to “bounce back” from the contraction into a new expansionary phase. If the cycle could be repeated indefinitely, then an absolute beginning of the universe might be avoided.

The problem with this model are many, not the least of which is that the universe is largely homogeneous and isotropic (uniform in all directions). Moreover, its quick acceptance was probably motivated more by metaphysical motives, which is to speculate that the theory arose in response to the theological implications of an absolute beginning. Here, for example, is John Gribben, an astrophysicist and writer for Nature magazine who admitted as much when he wrote the following:

The biggest problem with the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe is philosophical – perhaps even theological – what was there before the bang? This problem alone was sufficient to give a great initial impetus to the Steady State theory; but with that theory now sadly in conflict with the observations, the best way round this initial difficulty is provided by a model in which the universe expands from a singularity, collapses back again, and repeats the cycle indefinitely”4)John Gribben, “Oscillating Universe Bounces Back”, Nature 259 [1976]:15.

fire-in-the-equations

The latest variation of this theme arises from string theory and are variations of two models: The first kind, the so-called oscillating models arose in the late fifties and persisted as accepted physical theory until 1970 when Physicists Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking argued that the universe and time itself had a beginning at the big bang5)Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time, The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), p20. Professor Hawking somewhat whimsically [and famously] asked, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

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