Search This Blog

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Does Genesis Teach the Big Bang?

William Craig and other apologists claim that the veracity of the Bible has been verified by science in that the big bang is described in Genesis 1 (see Creation and Big Bang Cosmology ). Craig maintains that for centuries Christians held that the universe had a definite time in which it began even though science seemed to say otherwise. In the 20th century, with the rise of the big bang cosmology, the Christian view of origins, was validated by science.

But does Genesis 1 really teach that the universe was created ex nihilo (out of nothing)? Craig maintains that it does and since an effect must have a cause, the universe must have been caused by a necessary and uncaused being, namely God.

Genesis 1:1-2 states: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (NIV).

Stephen C. Meyer, one of the founders of the Intelligent Design movement, in an article on the Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies website argues:
The opening paragraph of Genesis depicts the situation before creation begins in verse 3. It does not tell us the ultimate origin of the darkness or the abyss. I think Delitzsch is correct in the meaning of the first verse when he says, "His point is not that heaven and earth had a beginning, but that the creation of the heaven and the earth was the beginning of all history" (Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11, 1994, p. 98).
Meyer maintains that creation ex nihilo was not taught until the 2nd century CE. He writes:
The first mention of "out of nothing" is in 2 Maccabees 7:28 which says, "look upon heaven and earth and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing, and mankind also" (Douay Version, or DV). The Greek is "ex ouk onton." This phrase "out of nothing" is best understood as "out of non-being" or "out of invisible matter" because at that time they still believed in the preexistence of matter. Matter was consider eternal (Goldstein, 1983, pp. 307-10). The Wisdom of Solomon 11:17 states, "For thy almighty hand which made the world of matter without form" (DV). This verse teaches that God made the world out of formless (eternal) matter (Winston, 1971-2, 185-202; Goldstein, 1984, 127-35). In chapter 7:25 wisdom is seen as a "pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God" (DV). Philo sees Genesis 1:1-3 through platonic eyes. This is the creation of the invisible world of ideas (On the Creation, 26-37, compare Plato’s Timaeus 29E). The book of Hebrews also seems to follow platonic ideas. The visible world comes from invisible matter (Heb. 11:3). Philo sees preexistent matter alongside of God at the beginning. This invisible matter was eternal (On the Creation, 12). God is the active principle, the formless matter is the passive principle (May, 10). Philo even uses the phrase "ek mh ontwn," meaning "out of non-being," and not "out of nothing" (Allegorical Interpretation III. 10). Clearly, there is no ex nihilo creation in Philo. . . . May concludes, "a firm, unambiguously formulated doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is not worked out in ancient Jewry" (1994, 23).

Another great Jewish thinker who came after Maimonides was Gersonides (1288-1344 AD) Gersonides asked some probing questions like "When were the waters created?" Because there was no mention in Genesis of the creation of water, he rejected the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (Burrell and McGinn, 6; Staub, 1982). The early church fathers seem to believe the platonic idea of eternal matter from which God fashioned the world. Justin Martyr is an example. In The First Apology of Justin he says, "He in the beginning did of His goodness, for man’s sake, created all things out of unformed matter" (Chapter 10). Justin and Plato in Timaeus both agree that everything came into being through God (Apology I:20, 4). Justin says that Plato took his ideas about God making the world out of unformed matter from Genesis. Justin states, "Plato borrowed his statement that God, having altered matter which was shapeless, made the world (Apology I:59). The world was made out of preexistent matter. The successor of Justin Martyr was Athenagoras who was an Athenian philosopher who became a Christian. His Apology or Embassy was presented to Emperors Aurelius and Commodus about 177 AD. He explicitly believed in the pre-existence of matter (Chadwick 1966, 12, 47). Clement of Alexandria three times "declares that the world is made 'out of nothing', but in each case the phrase he employs is "ek me ontos," not "ex ouk ontos;" that is to say, it is made not from that which is absolutely non-existent, but from relative non-being or unformed matter" (Chadwick 1966, 46). May in his book Creatio ex Nihilo argues very persuasively for the second century AD development of the doctrine of "creation out of nothing" (1994). It was not until the second century AD that the church fathers saw a theological problem with eternal matter. It was their conflict with the Gnostic and middle platonists that developed the idea of God creating "out of nothing."
Meyer maintains that it is misguided to try to find scientific information in the Genesis account. He says:
I see Genesis one as a polemic against the surrounding heathen nations, who worshipped many gods. It also seems to be etiologically in nature, explaining the Sabbath as a day of rest. One must understand the ancient Near Eastern background in order to properly interpret Genesis. The genre of Genesis one seems to be half way between poetry and prose. Cassuto argues that Genesis one goes back to an original poetic prototype (1961, 8, 10). Genesis two seems to reflect an earlier tradition than Genesis one. Genesis one demythologizes ancient creation stories. I see it as wrong to try to draw out scientific data about the creation of the universe from Genesis one. Both young-earth creationists and old-earth creationists are guilty of pouring modern scientific terms back into Genesis. God could have written in scientific terms like E=Mc2, but He did not. I believe God had to accommodate himself to our limited knowledge, and limited language to communicate with us. God did not choose to use technical scientific terms to communicate with us. God used the common language, and familiar phrases of their day. God could have told us that the sun does not rise nor set, but that the earth is spinning around the sun. God instead used the common language of sunrise and sunset which was literal to the writers back then, but which modern concordists excuse as phenomenal language that we still use today. God is trying to communicate absolute spiritual truths, not shifting scientific theories.
Meyer maintains that Genesis 1:1 can be seen as a dependent clause or an independent clause. If it is an independent clause then it is a summary statement or heading for the story contained in Genesis 1:1-2:3. If it is a dependent clause, then it is modifying verses two and would be rendered something like this: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.

As a dependent clause, it would lend no credence to the idea of creation ex nihilo and as an independent clause, it doesn't have to indicate creation ex nihilo. Whether one takes Genesis 1:1 as a dependent or independent clause, one thing is certain, creation does not start until verse 3 with light .

Meyer further claims that the Hebrew word translated "create" (ברא, bara) does not demand creation ex nihilo as some have argued. He says the word
may come from the root which originally meant "to cut, or separate." Most of creating involved a separation of things. "bara" does not imply ex nihilo creation since it is used in parallel to "make" (New International Dictionary of OT Theology, 1997, Vol. 1, 731). . . . Van Leeuwen states, "This root begins in the OT with a theologically rich wordplay. But it also, in a punning way, accents the manner in which God gives order to his creation: he divides its various cosmic components from one another through a series of 'cuts or separation'" (Ibid., p. 732).
John Walton, Professor of OT at Wheaton College, agrees:
In the ancient world and in the Bible, something existed not when it had physical properties, but when it had been separated from other things, given a name and a role within an ordered system. This is a functional ontology rather than a material ontology. In this view, when something does not exist, it is lacking role, not lacking matter. Consequently, to create something (cause it to exist) means to give it a function, not material properties.

The Hebrew word translated “create” should be understood within a functional ontology—i.e., it means to assign a role or function. This is evident through a word study of the usage of the biblical term itself where the direct object of the verb is always a functional entity not a material object. Theologians of the past have concluded that since materials were never mentioned that it must mean manufacture of objects out of nothing. Alternatively, and preferably, it does not mention materials because it does not refer to manufacturing. Bara’ deals with functional origins, not material origins.

In Genesis 1:2 the “before” picture, as throughout the ancient Near East, is portrayed in non-functional, non-productive terms ("tohu" and "bohu") in which matter already exists. If this were an account of material origins, it would start with no matter. As an account of functional origins, it starts with no functions.
("Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology," The Bible and Interpretation).

If the word bara refers to cutting or separating, then Genesis 1:1-2 is saying that in the beginning God divided the heavens and the earth and darkness was over the face of the water . The first act of creating was in v. 3 when God said: Let there be light. Nothing is said in the passage about the ultimate origin of the heaven and the earth.

Thus, it seems that Craig is wrong in his assessment of the data. Genesis does not teach creation ex nihilo and therefore the big bang cosmology does nothing to validate the accuracy of the Bible.


  1. Ken, nicely done. Christians (at least most) will continue to try to shape the Genesis creation narrative to the latest scientific understanding of cosmology. I don't miss having to fight that constant battle.

    Let me know what you think of this post and my response:

  2. Lou,

    Excellent comments on Spiegel's blog. He just doesn't get it. He has to believe that life if meaningless and empty for the non-theist in order to shore up his thesis. The fact is that life is what we make of it and if one is so focused on the next life as opposed to this life, they are going to miss out on the significance of this life. IMHO

  3. Ken,

    What is the significance of this life?

  4. and if I may also ask one more question. If this life is all there is to it and we should not lose sight of its significance, they why would you take all this time to run this blog? I am baffled personally, and would appreciate your help. If I come to your conclusion, I would go live this life, there is very little time left. Think of it in light of the next 100,000 years and what little time we have left here together.

  5. John Sfifer,

    I'm a former fundamentalist Christian, now agnostic. This stuff fascinates me. Christianity has been the major focus of my life. That's why I spend time reading about it. It's simply one subject I choose to spend time on.

    Thinking that maybe this is all there is no longer depresses me. Also it doesn't make me think I have to run out the door and do fabulous things every minute. I've simply basically continued as before-as everybody does-doing what they enjoy doing.

    But now if stuff makes no sense to me, I can just say so-instead of trying to fit it into my Christian beliefs. Big weight off.

    And, who knows, maybe all the Christians are right, and I am wrong. That's certainly a possibility.

  6. Dr. Pulliam

    "If the word bara refers to cutting or separating, then Genesis 1:1-2 is saying that in the beginning God divided the heavens and the earth and darkness was over the face of the water ."

    It would be limiting to draw a conclusion based on "if and then" of the Hebrew word bara, as understood by Christian authors. The word bara is the only word in the Hebrew language that means creating something from nothing. I find it humorous to see Christian authors trying to explain the deep mysteries of the Hebrew Torah when they cannot explain their own writings and mistranslations of the Torah nor the understanding of their creation - the trinity.

    It's like the scene from, Annie Hall. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are waiting in line to see a movie and there is a professor behind them “pontificating” about different authors and film directors. Woody Allen can’t take it anymore and tells the man, “You don’t know anything about Marshall McLuen’s work.” The man responds that he teaches a course at Columbia called, TV, Media and Culture so his opinions do count. Woody Allen walks over and pulls Marshall McLuen into the scene and Mr. McLuen says, “You know nothing of my work...” Woody Allen closes the scene by stating, “If only life were like this”. It’s worth watching on YouTube.

    I suggest reading Moses Maimonides, the guide for the perplexed. The understanding that the world was created from absolutely nothing is the foundation of Jewish belief. No one has to accept their belief but, it is their book.

  7. That's a fine scriptural argument, but Craig's biggest gaffe is the notion that the Big Bang is the beginning of the universe. There's nothing in the theory that says as much. It is the expansion of the universe, and the universe may have existed in another state prior to the expansion.

    What really grinds my gears is that Craig likes to quote Stephen Hawking, when in fact there is a whole chapter in "A Brief History of Time" explaining that the universe need not have a beginning, yet can still be finite.

  8. Emet,

    Thanks for the comments. Look for tomorrow's post.

  9. Mike,

    You are right. Scientists do not know what preceded the big bang and Hawking no longer believes in a singularity.

    Craig not only misreads and abuses Hawking but he does the same thing with his own Scriptures. That was the point of my post.

  10. Ernst is quite right about the Hebrew word "bara" refering to something out of nothing.

    And as to the Big Bang, even Hawking still maintains that the laws of physics, as we undertand them, break down at the point of the Big Bang, whatever it was.

    He doesn't know.

  11. "What really grinds my gears is that Craig likes to quote Stephen Hawking, when in fact there is a whole chapter in "A Brief History of Time" explaining that the universe need not have a beginning, yet can still be finite. "
    Quite right, Mike and Ken.
    Scientists admit they do not know precisely what came before the Big Bang, but they are working on it, and could come up with an explanation in the next twenty years or so.
    Simply saying that God did it does not explain anything, as it does not tell us how God did it, and therefore we are no further ahead in our understanding of the origins of the universe. Actually,bringing God into the picture only serves to make things more complicated and less understandable.
    To create the universe, God would have to be much more powerful and larger than the universe, so why cannot he be seen with a Hubbles or Kepler telescope? Where exactly does he live?

  12. Clare, perhaps in one of the many multiverses?

    Thats the latest thing you know.

    Why can't we see them with Hubble?

  13. Winston,

    Perhaps because they aren't there?

  14. I don't get it. It's a superimposition upon Genesis to suggest that the narrative was about the creation or the beginning of all time. Genesis was only talking about the formulation or creation of the earth and the visible earth realm. That's obvious.

    In addition I see no reference where William Lane Craig (in the article you reference) suggests that the creation of the earth and the creation of the universe are one in the same events. So this argument as you approach it Dr. is a big NON-SEQUITUR!

    If Genesis were referencing the beginning of the visible earth realm in which God "created the heaven and the earth" why should one take that to mean that the earth's creation was synonymous with the instant in which God created all time, solar existence and everything else?

    Now, that sounds like a medieval holdover like when the earth was the center of the universe. Obviously, that's what the fundamentalist may expect, but that's never been the way it is, or the way to properly teach the Genesis account. Based on your background I may be able to see how you would have approached the subject that way.

    Wesley's Notes:That is, the world, including the whole frame and furniture of the universe. But 'tis only the visible part of the creation that Moses designs to give an account of. Yet even in this there are secrets which cannot be fathomed, nor accounted for.

    Are you suggesting that Gen. saying the "heaven" actually means universe and outer space?

    So far as creation is concerned, even David uses the word "bara" in Ps. 51:10. Are we to assume that he uses "create" to indicate that his heart was empty in the sense of devoid of substance? No! That would be preposterous. There was substance there that David asks God to "make into something useful and pleasing to GOd". This is the terminology and how I believe the Jews understood this. I believe your writings confirm this notion.

    Now, the revelation of Christ in the world changes and sheds light and brings truth to what was previously hidden. So I have no problem with the fact that no prior Jewish teacher taught creation from nothing. 1- they never set out to do such and 2-that truth was a revelation in Christ.

    John sheds light on the creation of all material existence when he says that Christ was the creator of everything that was made, and all was made by him (Jn. 1:3). He later follows that up with the "world" (our material existence) was also made by him (Jn.1:10)

    So the narrative of John and these particular verses suggest that all matter, both animate and inanimate would also have been made by Jesus and therefore ultimately by God and did not exist before and or with God.

    So your argument, though thought provoking, misses the target. I don't think anyone can take Genesis and try to argue what you're arguing and if Craig did that using the Genesis text please provide a better reference. I'm not saying that he didn't, I've just never heard, read, or seen such from him or in his material.

    So it seem to me that John's gospel would be the place to try to attack and make the argument, but you would have to do that on other basis than mere Jewish tradition. I don't expect their tradition to affirm what Jesus or the NT church taught.

  15. Winston Smith writes:

    Clare, perhaps in one of the many multiverses?

    Thats the latest thing you know.

    Why can't we see them with Hubble?

    Presumably you meant to say, "Perhaps in one of the many universes in the multiverse."

    Hubble could not observe another universe directly. Physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton argues that the "WMAP cold spot" detected by the WMAP satellite is observational evidence of another universe interacting with our own; it could take a while before the physicists sort that one out. Hubble cannot even see all of our own universe, because parts of it lie beyond the "cosmological horizon." That is to say, there are regions of the universe that are receding from us faster than the speed of light. Hence the light from those regions can never reach us, and Hubble could not possibly observe them.

    The extent of our universe is uncertain -- according to the current thinking of the physicists, it is either "very large" or "infinite."

  16. Harvey,

    William Craig is well known for his use of the cosmological argument for the existence of God and connecting this with the Big Bang, both of which depend on creation ex nihilo

    For example, see this video. Also take a look at his book Reasonable Faith, pp. 111ff.

  17. Dr. Pulliam,

    Thanks, but all I see is the assumption that the cosmological argument (the creation of all things) is lumped together with the creation of the earth.

    I'm sorry but I don't see or read ANYTHING in which Craig says that the earth (This planet) came into existence at the beginning of the universe (vis a vie) the "Big Bang".

    Once again, I read the link and listen to the video and I consistently see Craig referring to the universe, about the closest he comes is the "world", but I see or hear nothing where he's talking about the "heaven and earth" creation of Genesis.

    Say I'm a "die-hard", but are you reading YOUR interpretation of things into his sayings and the sayings of others on the subject? That doesn't preclude that someone is teaching this, but your article starts off making the reference specifically of him and other apologists...I don't see where he (Craig) does it at all and I know I've never taught that, so I'm looking for this group of people who believe that Genesis 1:1-2 and the creation of universal material time and existence are one in the same aside from some atheists, agnostics and literalists such as fundamentalists.

  18. "I don't get it. It's a superimposition upon Genesis to suggest that the narrative was about the creation or the beginning of all time. Genesis was only talking about the formulation or creation of the earth and the visible earth realm. That's obvious."

    Obvious? In Genesis 1 a firmament had to be formed in order for heaven to exist, and THEN the sun, moon, and stars were set in the firmament, above which were waters (same word used for waters on earth). It's obvious that the first few "days" of Genesis 1 refer to the creation of the entire cosmos as they saw it, a flat earth cosmos. If you study ancient Near Eastern creation stories and study the verses in the Bible that pertain to ancient Hebrew cosmic geography you get the same result. I invite comments after you've read "The Cosmology of the Bible," a chapter in The Christian Delusion.

  19. Harvey,

    What Craig believes is that the universe began around 13.7 billion years ago with the big bang. The earth itself did not form until about 4.5 billion years ago. He believes though that the Bible is consistent with these beliefs of science and that it is evidenced in Gen. 1:1 (among other places): In the beginning God created the heavens (galaxies, stars, planets, etc) and the earth (our planet). This happened "in the beginning of time" according to Craig and others who believe that the Big Bang confirms the teaching of the Bible.

  20. Coyle, pretty good answer as to why Hubble can't observe them!

    I was just taking off on Clare's question as to why Hubble can't "see God".

    But heck, Hubble can't even see all of our own universe.

  21. Ed & Dr. Pulliam,

    Ed said I invite comments after you've read "The Cosmology of the Bible," a chapter in The Christian Delusion.

    The Cosmology of Genesis 1 had to with local or earthly cosmology, not universal cosmology...IF, and I dare say IF, the account deals with the more universal cosmology, it still does not infringe upon the fact that the observable heaven and earth that is the real focus of Genesis. You make a bountiful leaf to assert otherwise. In fact your complete argument is boiled down to one word..."created" then sadly connected to "heavens and earth"...That's a LEAP of epic proportions.

    I mean, look at it. The Jews thought that the whole world and all existence was about them and them only right? The same concept they had about the temple. If the world existed it existed because of them. If the religious system was broken down, it was the end of the world...that's generally how they thought of these things right?

    I understand where the thought comes from Ed. the problem is that you apply the same rationale in your interpretation and that IS CLEARLY NOT what the scripture teaches or affirms especially in light of the revelation of the NT.

    Secondly, I'll grant you I understand how one can be confused if Genesis is read as a straight forward account, but it's even more confusing at that point and from that perspective because if you take this literally in all points as you seem to apply it, you don't see anything in the heavens until the fourth day and there was light before there was a sun...So IF one takes it as a literal verbatim account instead of Hebrew poetry infused with truths, you'll get a universal or spacial creation after the earth was created and physical light before the sun was even set in its spacial context.

    John supersedes Genesis and NONE of you mention that fact. John is clear, ALL THINGS that were made, were made by HIM. None of those things, whatever they were, existed either with or before GOd. It's then easy to understand the existence of "the deep" or water AFTER God had made all things.

    Based on that and since we know for all available evidence that the universe began to exist, I believe Big Bang Cosmology is viable and certainly in order.

  22. I'm sorry, I saidYou make a bountiful leaf to assert otherwise. In fact your complete argument is boiled down to one word..."created" then sadly connected to "heavens and earth"...That's a LEAP of epic proportions

    I meant to say leaP and I also meant that taking the word created and applying it to heavens and earth would be a LEAP if you were applying it to universal creation. Again to be clear, universal creation is the beginning of the universe or the Big Bang, NOT the creation of the earth. They are two distinct events and Genesis primarily focuses on one of them, not both.

  23. Harvey,

    I understand your interpretation of Genesis but you must realize that other Christians hold different views. For example, look at and the Institute for Creation Research and John MacArthur's Church and Seminary.

    I agree that creation ex nihilo can be deduced from NT passages. That may be in my opinion because of the need to combat the rising proto-Gnosticism. But at any rate, my whole post here was about Genesis.

  24. I've read some critiques of a Gerald Schoeder who tries to reconcile Genesis with the "big bang".

  25. Dr. Pulliam,

    Thanks and I'm finished with my commentary but I appreciate you indulgence. I did go to Creation Research and they don't seem to have any value for the Big Bang at all. I would imagine that they wouldn't use Big Bang Cosmology as a proof for GOd's existence either.

    As you said they hold to a YEC and also a YEC as it pertains to Universal creation. I would suppose they would think that everything including the Earth's creation happened at the same time. They rendered the following regarding the Big Bang after debunking it by Quasar evidence:

    "Investigators may never be able to determine the universe's age based on natural parameters alone, but its age in earth terms has been clearly mapped out in the pages of Scripture, a document that carries the highest authority of divine authorship and veracity. And that authority, along with plenty of scientific evidence, points to a recent creation by an omniscient, omnipotent Creator"

    This seems to be an argument 'in spite of' natural or scientific evidence for an aged universe. I certainly don't disagree with the authority of scripture but unlike them I don't see a time tag or date stamp in Genesis on either the earth or the universe. Also I don't see that the Genesis account is about establishing a date or time in history.

    So, I know you did this piece on Genesis, but I guess the problem that I see is that you seem to fall in line with their arguments but I guess you, being a non-Christian, have no need to point out a better scriptural alternative.

    No matter, what this issue doesn't seem to do is elevate itself to the status of alarming one of the Christian faith. So I am at a loss to the point of the dialogue.

    Anyway, thanks for your time and I may approach this subject on my blog to get a poll of what current Christians opinions on the subject is to see how diverse some of my readers opinions are. From the looks of things I may be surprised, which is something good to know.

    Thanks again!

  26. Harvey,

    I re-read my comment and I was not very clear. I didn't mean to imply that ICR and answersingenesis or John MacArthur use the big bang as proof their YEC. What I meant was that there is a whole host of different interpretations among Christians on the Genesis account. Bill Craig and some of his apologists buddies, many of which teach at BIOLA, do use the Big Bang concept from science to bolster their view of Genesis and the their belief in God. These are the ones to which my posts were directed.

    It is confusing to know who or what to "shoot at" when there are so many different views among Christians on so many different topics, the Genesis account just being one.

    Nevertheless, thanks for your input and I hope to see you back.

  27. Harvey,

    If you want to see some Christians arguing for the Big Bang as proof of God--see Ken Samplesand Hugh Ross

  28. wow ... glad to see this. I am now looking for material for additional information, Currently, I'm writing a book about "BIGBANG biblical" I am only able to search through the internet, information support, particularly from the Biblical explanation of creation of the western world. I strongly agree with the statement or idea, stating that, word of Bara, not absolute interpreted as creation out of nothing. because after all in the Bible, there are enough verses that show, that in fact God has provided, the main ingredient to create our universe, with BIGBANG events. it's just that God never told, when HE created the materials and components separately creating our universe. This is the same as a Question "when God created the angels?" God only tells us that Jesus Christ (the first angel) is the beginning of all creation. and even ... there are biblical verses, which clearly indicates that there multiuniverse in this world. So I think, frankly, science never contradict the Bible, it's just that our understanding of the Bible is wrong.