Friday, June 02, 2006

Big Bang may have been a Big Bounce #3

Big Bang may have been a Big Bounce, ABC / Discovery News, Larry O'Hanlon, 24 May 2006 ...

[Graphic: "The Eyeballs in the Sky," The Perishers]

The Big Bang may have been a Big Bounce, say theorists searching for what preceded the birth of our own universe. ... [In fact I think there are Biblical reasons for thinking that the Big Bang was not the absolute beginning ... Continued from part #2]

The graphic is from a British cartoon series which ran in Australian newspapers (but maybe not in the USA?) called "The Perishers," about a boy Wellington and his dog Boot. Once a year (presumably coinciding with the British summer holidays), Boot would look into a seaside rock pool in which were crabs, complete with a preacher who would announce the return of "The Eyeballs in the Sky".

It was really quite profound. The surface of the rock pool was the event horizon of the crabs' "Pooliverse," beyond which they could not ever see nor go. They could forever only speculate, from what they could see on its surface, what might be beyond it. The cartoonist's point was that we humans (including cosmologists) are in the same position as those crabs. Scientifically we can never get beyond this Universe to see for ourselves what is there. All we have is endless speculation, that at best can only be consistent with minimal information contained at the interface between the surface of our "Pooliverse" and what lies beyond.

Now having said that, Christianity claims to have by Divine revelation in the Bible, information (albeit not scientific) about what lies beyond the Universe. And it is not necessarily the Christian position that the Big Bang was the absolute beginning. For starters there is the problem of when did God create the angels, since they were created (Ps 148:2-5; Col 1:16), but nothing is said about them in Genesis 1. The 19th century evangelical theologian, W.G.T Shedd, pointed out in 1888 (well before the discovery of the Big Bang in the 1920's) that "The doctrine of all immense time, prior to the six creative days, was a common view among the fathers and schoolmen" (i.e. the early to medieval Christian theologians / philosophers):

"Between the single comprehensive act of the creation of the angels and of chaotic matter, mentioned in Gen. 1:1, and the series of Divine fiats in the six days, described in Gen. 1:3-31, an interval of time elapsed. This is the old patristic interpretation. The very common assertion, that the church has altered its exegesis, under the compulsion of modern geology, is one of the errors of ignorance. The doctrine of all immense time, prior to the six creative days, was a common view among the fathers and schoolmen. So also was the doctrine of the rarefied and chaotic nature of matter in its first form, a patristic tenet. Kant's gaseous chaos filling the universe, adopted by La Place and Herschel, was taught, for substance, by Augustine, in the following positions taken in Confessions, XII. viii. 1. God created a chaotic matter that was `next to nothing;' that is, the most tenuous and imponderable form of matter. 2. This chaotic matter was made from nothing `before all days;' that is, in that prior period marked by the worlds `in the beginning.' 3. This chaotic unformed matter was subsequently formed and arranged, in the six days that are spoken of after Gen. 1:1. Augustine's exegesis of the first chapter of Genesis is substantially this: In the beginning, that is, in a time prior to the six days, God created ex nihilo, the angelic world, or `the heaven,' and chaotic inorganic matter, of `the earth.' Then in the six days he formed (not created) chaotic inorganic matter into a cosmical system, solar, stellar, and planetary, and upon the planet earth created (not formed) the organic vegetable, animal, and human species. This was the interpretation generally accepted in the patristic and middle ages. " (Shedd, W.G.T., "Dogmatic Theology," [1888], Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1969, Vol. I, reprint, pp.474-475)

A thought had occurred to me (which I have not yet been able to confirm from any source) is that the Biblical term, "foundation of the earth" and especially "before the foundation of the earth" (see verses below) may sometimes, at least in some contexts, correspond to what we today call the laws and constants underlying the physical universe.

The idea of a foundation is the hidden part of a building upon which the visible structure rests (e.g. the foundations of a temple (1 Ki 5:17); a city (1 Ki 16:34); or a prison Acts 16:26). Here are what seem to me to be the relevant instances of the term "foundations of the earth" in the Bible.

In the Old Testament, the "foundations of the earth" (Heb. yacad 'erets) seem to be the underlying ultimate physical reality (2 Sam 22:16; Ps 18:15); which are "everlasting" (Mic 6:2); and cannot "be searched" (Jer 31:37). God "marked out the foundations of the earth" (Pr 8:29); "set the world" on them (1 Sam 2:8); such that "it can never be moved" (Ps 104:5). God "laid the earth's foundation" (Job 38:4), by His "own hand" (Isa 48:13); "by wisdom" (Pr 3:19); "in the beginning" (Ps 102:25). When He "stretched out the heavens" (Isa 51:13; Zec 12:1) and "set the heavens in place" (Isa 51:16).

In the New Testament, the "foundations of the earth" (I have to use the KJV because the NIV overtranslates as "creation of the world" the original Greek katabole = "laid down," "foundation" + kosmos = "ordered system," "world"), can mean the same as in the Old Testament, e.g. Heb 1:10 quoting Ps 102:25, "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth." That is, as a synonym for the beginning, e.g. God's "works were finished from the foundation of the world" (Heb 4:3); "the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world" (Lk 11:50).

But the "foundations of the earth" can also refer to events before the creation of the physical universe. For example, the kingdom that the saved will inherit was prepared for them "from the foundation of the world" (Mt 25:34). There was a time "before the foundation of the world" in which the Father loved the Son (Jn 17:24); Jesus "was foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Pet 1:20); Jesus is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev 13:8); Christians were chosen by God "before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4); their names "written in the book of life from the foundation of the world" (Rev 17:8).

I conclude with an adaptation of part of a post that I sent to a private Old-Earth creation list I am on, where the subject was multiple universes, but it is relevant to the question of universe(s) before this Universe.

The bottom line for me as a Christian, is the same as it was for the Apostle Paul, who was faced with a pagan culture that had a hierarchy of creators and creations (just as we have a pagan culture with a hierarchy of universes). Paul's strategy was not to waste his time trying to explain away each one (and by that stage he had been debating with pagan philosophers for ~30 years and so knew from experience it was impossible!), but instead use the formula: whether or not X exists, it was included in the "all things" that were created by God through Christ:

1 Cor 8:5-6: "For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." (my emphasis)

Col 1:16: "For by him [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him."(my emphasis)

See also:

John 1:3: "Through him [Christ] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made."

Heb 1:2: "but in these last days he [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe."

That is, for me, whether there is only one universe, a cyclic universe, many universes, a multiverse, or a universe(s) before this universe, God through Christ created it/them!

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
`Evolution Quotes Book

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