How the universe began according to scriptures
Since the dawn of time, man has contemplated the mystery of existence. Where do stars come from? Who created the sun? How did life originate? These questions have intrigued people for thousands of years. Ancient cultures, with their lack of advanced scientific information, could not explain the natural phenomena in the world around them, which led to some highly imaginative ideas. The oldest documented myth about creation dates back to2000 BC in Egypt. According to the Egyptians, deities emerged from a primeval ocean, mated with each other and produced offspring deities such as the earth, the sky and ocean. A Chinese myth from 600BC claims that the deity Phan Ku hatched from an egg and crafted the world. After he died, his body played an important role in creating the earth and sky. His bones formed the rocks, his skull the dome-shaped sky, his blood the oceans and his flesh the soil. Although we need to respect the beliefs of others, no reasonable person would dispute that these ancient myths do not give satisfactory accounts of creation.
The Big Bang theory
Today, the most widely accepted scientific account of the origin of the universe is based on the ‘Big Bang’ theory. This theory proposes that, some 13.7 billion years ago, a singularity (a dimensionless point of unimaginable compression and temperature) erupted into existence. This eruption created energy, matter, space and time. This was no ordinary explosion that happened at a particular place and time in space. Nothing existed before or rather beyond the singularity. Rather, the explosion of the singularity created space and time – it signalled the beginning of space and time. As the compressed singularity expanded, it cooled (expansion causes cooling while compression causes heat). As the temperature decreased, energy transformed into matter and matter itself underwent a series of transformations creating protons, neutrons, electrons and other particles. These, in turn, interacted with one another to form the simplest elements, hydrogen and helium, which constitute more than 99 percent of cosmic material. At this stage (a few minutes after the big bang), the universe was featureless, comprised of nothing more than a formless cloud of hydrogen and helium gases. The tight interaction between protons, neutrons, electrons and photons (light particles) trapped the photons and prevented them from flooding the cosmos with light. This effect made the early universe opaque. An observer at the time would have perceived the universe as a sea of mist. During the next few hundred thousand years, the universe continued to expand and cool. Then approximately half a million years after the Big bang, something dramatic happened. Once the universe was cool enough, (approximately 6 000Kelvin (K), which is equal to roughly 6000 degrees Celsius), to allow the uncoupling of the matter and light particles (photons). This uncoupling released the photons, allowing them to stream in all directions, lighting up the universe.
Building the universe structure
Local clouds of hydrogen and helium gas began to collapse under the weight of their own gravity. As a cloud condensed and shrank, it heated up until reaching the critical temperature necessary to ignite thermonuclear reactions and turn on the star. Stars take millions of years to form –- the first stars emerged 400 million years after the Big Bang and infant galaxies (clusters of stars) still another 400 million years later. Modern galaxies began to take shape 2 billion years after the Big Bang. Our own Milky Way galaxy assumed its final form 10 billion years ago. About 5 billion years ago, our solar system became recognisable in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy and the Earth formed roughly half a million years later. Gradually, in this way, the modern universe began to take shape. This description, in a nutshell, outlines the essence of the Big Bang theory.
Proof of the Big Bang
Is the Big Bang model merely a good theoretical description of the universe or was there really a beginning 13.7 billion years ago? Did our universe originate as a tiny cosmic egg evolving over the aeons to its present state? Most scientists accept the Big Bang account of the origin of creation, not because it is philosophically appealing, but due to the accumulation of supporting evidence.
Let’s look at some of the pivotal pieces of evidence that support the Big Bang theory:
- The universe is in a state of expansion. The galaxies are drifting apart, which is evident from a spectral analysis of their light emissions. If, today, the galaxies are spreading out, then looking back in time, they should be moving towards each other. This trend should continue until eventually we reach a beginning point when the galaxies must have been on top of one another.
- The Big Bang explosion generated an enormous amount of heat and energy. These fierce temperatures were necessary to cook the hydrogen and helium nuclei – the building blocks of matter. If this is so, residual heat from this mighty explosion should be present today, but in a cooler form due to the resulting expansion. The heat could not have escaped ’out of’ the universe, since the universe is all that exists. This fossil radiation, an afterglow of the Big Bang dubbed ‘cosmic microwave background radiation’, was accidently discovered by Penzius and Wilson in 1964.
- Scientists can work out to a remarkable degree of accuracy what the temperature in the beginning needed to be in order to produce the correct quantities of hydrogen and helium. Since the age of the universe can be calculated and due to the neat correlation that exists between the degree of cooling and the specific time intervals during which this cooling takes place, scientists can determine what the present temperature of the universe should be today. This temperature, calculated as 2.7K, was confirmed by high altitude measurements. Therefore, not only does Big Bang cosmology predict the leftover heat from the Big bang, but it also predicts the universe’s correct temperature.
- An important cosmological principle is that the deeper we look into space, the further we look back into time. Light from the sun takes eight minutes to reach us, so we do not see the sun as it is now, but rather as it was eight minutes ago. Similarly, a star a million light years away only becomes visible to us once its light is already a million years old. Therefore, when we look at distant stars, we see their deep past. Telescopic analysis of faraway objects provides a means of probing this past. When astronomers focused their telescopes skywards, breathtaking images emerged of a changing and evolving universe. Observations revealed the birth of the first celestial structures and a dense universe becoming more diluted as it continued to expand. Astronomers saw infant, adolescent and mature galaxies signifying the early young universe becoming more mature. The picture of the early universe, as expected, was significantly different from its present form, and provided striking verification of the Big Bang theory.
The birth of the universe according to scripture
The above discussion outlines the origin and development of the universe. You will recall that creation began as a titanic explosion of a singularity, resulting in a state of extraordinary compression, infinite smallness and extreme temperature. The sudden eruption of the singularity created the major components of the universe – energy, matter, space and time. Evidence to support the Big bang theory as the best model to explain existence was also provided. What do scriptures reveal about our origins? While we will give the Quranic perspective, we need to emphasise that this does not undermine other revealed Books (Bible, Torah, Gita etc.). According to the Quran, the advanced scientific predictions communicated to Muhammad are essentially the same as those revealed to the former Prophets. Such truths should therefore be traceable to the other original religious Books as well.
The Quran and the Beginning
In relation to the birth of the universe, the Quran states: ’Do not those who deny the existence of God see that the heavens and the Earth were [once]a closed-up single unit of creation devoid of space which We then parted creating space [and time]? And We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?’(Chapter 21, Verse 30).
The Quran appeals to the atheistic mind. Surely the two major scientific discoveries of the past two centuries, the unitary origin of the universe and the watery origin of life, which were announced in this verse 14 centuries ago, bear eloquent testimony to the truthfulness of the Book and hence to the existence of its author, the Creator? We will discuss the ’water part’ of the verse in another article. The key concepts of the passage are ‘closed-up’, ‘single unit of creation’, ‘absence of space’, ‘the parting of creation’ and ‘the beginning of space and time’. The entire universe was once compressed into an area much smaller than the size of an atom, which is possible only if all space is eliminated. In fact, as stated above, space in the beginning was non-existent, hence the term ’devoid of space’ in the verse. The squeezing of the universe into micro dimensions must have exerted a colossal gravitational force, pulling everything inwards including light, which explains the phrase ’closed-up’. The imprisonment of light is an important feature of a black hole. A black hole is the end product of a massive star that has collapsed to a point of infinite density and gravitational power. A key Arabic word in the passage describes an entity that is completely closed up. It encompasses the idea of an absence of fissures or cracks in this entity, thereby confining everything within it including light. We will expand on this concept later. The attractive feature of gravity is referred to in Chapter 77 Verse 25: “Have We not made the Earth draw to itself the living and the non living?”. The great gravitational force of black holes is alluded to in 15-16: “We have set up (unseen) structures in space, (derived from) large stars which become manifest through their great (gravitational) force, and are gateways”. We will deal with all these verses in follow-up articles. All Quranic verses are interrelated and we would prefer not to overwhelm you with excessive quotations. However, for quick reference, verses not quoted will have a footnote that can be checked at the end of the article.
The next important phrase of verse 21–30 above is the parting of creation. The closed-up unit of creation ’opens up’ and, as space comes into being, the cosmic clock begins to tick. My insertion of time in the verse is derived from verse 10–5: “He it is who made the sun a source of light and the moon a (body) that reflects light and ordained that it (the moon) moves across space and measured out stages for her that you might know the number of years and the measure of time”. This verse expresses the important principle of the inextricable link between the motion of heavenly bodies in space and the measurement of time. The universe being in a state of expansion is alluded to in Verse 51–47, which we will return to in a moment. If we rewind the cosmic movie, and go back in time, we will see the universe shrinking instead of expanding. Compressing the universe into smaller volumes raises its temperature (remember, compression causes heating). Pushing further back in time, the temperature rises dramatically until the beginning when it becomes infinitely hot. This is mentioned in Verse 15–28: “The hidden forces [of nature] were created [in the beginning long] before [the creation of man] out of intense heat.” The Arabic word in the passage also means violent and intensely hot, which is precisely how scientists describe the extreme environment of the beginning. The descriptive terms ‘single unit of creation’, ‘absence of space’ and ‘being closed up’ (imprisoning light), as well as the implied minute dimensions of the beginning point and its extreme temperature, are hallmarks of a singularity that resides at the centre of a black hole. Taking all of this information into account, we arrive at the stunning conclusion that the Quran describes the initial state of the universe as a singularity. There is no manipulation of words – the Arabic meanings are scientifically precise.
Another important verse dealing with the origin of the universe is the following: “With power, skill and energy did We lay the foundation of the universe according to specified conditions and certainly We are steadily expanding it” (51–47). For centuries it was accepted that the universe is in a static state. This erroneous idea prevailed until the early 20th century when Edwin Hubble made the astounding discovery that the galaxies were moving away from each other. In one stroke, the Quran corrects the misguided concept of a passive universe and reveals an expanding one. Verse 51–47 states further that the foundation of the universe was built from energy. Energy is the very basic material of creation – everything can ultimately be reduced to energy. It is completely reasonable from Verse 21–30 above, which refers to the beginning of space, to assume that this energy pushed out the fabric of space to form the other major component of the universe, namely matter. What are the specified conditions? According to Verse 51–47, the creation of the universe was no crazy cosmic stroke of luck. It necessitated the input of divine skill, energy and power. The Big Bang theory necessitates the existence of a special set of conditions in the beginning. For example, the gravitational tug, the outward expansion, the values of the forces of nature, the input of energy, and so on, were delicately fine-tuned, as the following verse also points out: “Surely, everything We have created in due measure or proportion” (54–49). God, in setting up the universe, adjusted the values of these constants of nature so that they were positioned in the ’Goldilocks’ zone. These constants will be quoted in future articles. The specified conditions for the ‘Big Bang’ are therefore a set of instructions laid down by God.
The early universe
As stated earlier, for the first few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang, none of the familiar structures such as stars and planets existed. The Quran describes the early universe as follows: “He applied his design to the heaven when it was still hot, hazy and gaseous” (41–11). The primordial universe at the time was gaseous in nature, with a temperature of about 6 000K (compared this to its present temperature of 18K, which is equal to -270degrees-celcius). The trapped photons were prevented from lighting up the universe, thereby giving it an opaque appearance. Clouds of gas spanning millions of light years later began to break up, with the localised clouds eventually giving rise to celestial systems: “He then decreed that it [the gaseous material] be fashioned into [multiple] cosmic systems” (41–12). The shaping of the universe took place over immense time intervals: “God originated and evolved the heavens and Earth in six periods” (7–54). Our insertion of multiple is derived from Verse 22-9 which describes the basic layout of the modern universe: ”He comprehended the construction of the primordial universe, applied His design to it and fashioned it into multiple cosmic systems”. As is clear from other verses (to be discussed later), the cosmic systems comprise galaxies and planetary systems. Gravity was the decisive force involved in shaping these large-scale structures, as pointed out by the following two verses. Verse 77–25 (quoted earlier) refers to the attractive feature of gravity (its ability to clump matter into larger objects), while verse 55–7 alludes to the motion of celestial bodies in obedience to gravitational laws, “The sun and the moon follow prescribed pathways according to (definite) calculations”.
All these verses take us on an extraordinary journey, from the singularity, the violent temperatures in the beginning, the cosmic expansion and the gaseous nature of the early universe to its current state today. The details of the origin and the evolution of the universe were only revealed a few decades ago. The inevitable question that arises is how did a 7th century citizen, namely Muhammad, who supposedly fabricated the Quran, know about these ultra-modern concepts at a time when they were utterly unknown and undreamt of? What is the simplest and most logical answer to this serious question?