Tim Boswell is our guest blogger today. As a part of our Epic Series (which covers each book of the Old Testament), Tim is writing on Genesis and the origin of the universe. Hope you enjoy it!
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? An age-old question, maybe, but it points to the origin problem—the mystery of beginnings, apparently unsolvable by science, though that hasn’t stopped scientists from trying, has it?
In 1927, Georges Lemaitre claimed that an expanding universe could be traced back in time to a single originating point. Astrophysicists and cosmologists jumped onboard, and later collaborated to generate the Big Bang theory, which built on Einstein’s theory of general relativity. To sum up, it claimed that a singularity was in existence 13.8 billion years ago, that it expanded rapidly from a high density and high temperature state, and that the universe cooled sufficiently to allow the formation of subatomic particles, and later simple atoms. Giant clouds of these primordial elements supposedly coalesced through gravity in halos of dark matter, eventually forming the stars and galaxies visible today.
But here’s the question that none of these cosmologists and astrophysicists seem willing to address: Where did the singularity come from?
Proposals for the universe’s origin include the Hartle–Hawking no-boundary model, which says space-time is finite and the Big Bang represents the limit of time; the cyclic model, which claims the Big Bang was preceded by a Big Crunch and the universe cycles from one process to the other; and the eternal inflation model, which proposes that multiple “bubble universes” expand from their own big bangs as part of a larger multiverse.
But all of these still dodge the question, don’t they? Where did the singularity come from? You cannot find an answer for this within a universe composed solely of natural forces, which must follow the laws of nature and in which every effect has an originating cause. I believe Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews sang it well in The Sound of Music: “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.”
It’s impossible to escape this problem, no matter how many bubble universes or multiverses you propose—there has to be a starting cause that precedes all others.
In an April 16, 2013 lecture at CalTech, one of the world’s most brilliant individuals, famed physicist Stephen Hawking, said that time began at the moment of singularity, and this has likely occurred only once. He closed his lecture by outlining “M-theory,” which posits that multiple universes are created out of nothing, with many possible histories and many possible states of existence.
The absurdity of this position should be clear. Scientists such as Hawking refuse to admit the existence of God, so in order to cling to their theories, they have to claim notions that fly in the very face of science itself, such as that universes must have sprung out of nothing or that because time started at the singularity we don’t need to ask what came before.
The Bible has plenty to say about this: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’” (1 Cor. 3:19). Or: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20).
But scientists aren’t the only ones struggling with the start of things. Famed French philosopher Jacques Derrida, often called the father of the deconstruction movement, has made great contributions in the fields of language and textual studies. He uses a term called the “transcendental signified.” He worked in semiotics, which is the study of signs and symbols—in other words, how the things we use to make meaning actually operate.
In the simplest terms, the “signifier” is the word, image, symbol, etc. that suggests a meaning to its interpreter—a stop sign, for example—and the “signified” is what the signifier is interpreted to mean (“stop”, in this case). The problem he found is that there is no final meaning, no universal truth that is true across cultures and time, or even for one particular person in multiple situations. The only way to find meaning for anything is to compare it to something else, so that ultimate meaning is always deferred—you can never get to the absolute truth of something.
Think of it this way: have you ever looked up a word in a dictionary? Let’s say you wanted to learn the word “puppy.” You would find it is a young dog. How do you find what a dog is? It’s an animal with four legs, smaller than a cow, larger than a mouse. What about “young”? Not very old. And on and on. Every single concept is formed in relation to others—tall, smart, big, little. Meaning is constantly deferred. It is a web of meaning, and Derrida formed the concept of the “transcendental signified”—the final, ending signified, the one at the end of the dictionary when every other word is gone, the one that does not need to find its meaning in other concepts, the one that has all of its meaning contained within itself. This would be pure truth.
Derrida believed it doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t in human thought or discourse, but the answer is clear: the transcendental signified is God.
There has to be one, otherwise there is NO meaning. Like our sense of justice, we cannot have meaning, we cannot have truth itself, unless there is some starting point, some foundation from which it all came. Here’s our starting point—here’s our ultimate standard—here’s our final source… are you ready?
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).
As rational, thinking humans, we can see that the problem of origin is inescapable for atheists and clear evidence for God. There is only one possible answer to what preceded the natural universe: a supernatural God, one outside the limits of time and space. There is no other solution.
We will proclaim this ourselves when we join in the heavenly song, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”
Timothy Boswell, Ph.D.