Origins of the universe

What accounts of the origins of the universe are given by science?

The big bang theory of the origin of the universeA timeline from the Big Bang to Earth's first oceans

In the distant past most people accepted their religion's explanation of how the universe began. As the world became more interested in science in the 18th and 19th centuries, however, religion alone couldn't always explain the new discoveries being made. In the 1920s the Big Bang theory was proposed as a possible scientific explanation for the creation of the universe.

It was first proposed by Alexander Friedman, a Russian mathematician in 1922 and expanded upon in 1927 by Georges-Henri Lemaitre. He was a Belgian physicist, who was also a Roman Catholic priest. Scientists such as Edwin Hubble have made detailed observations and measurements that support and develop this theory.

Put simply, around 14 billion years ago, all matter and energy in the universe was at a point of infinite density and temperature. It then expanded rapidly, and eventually stars, galaxies and planets formed. This expansion was the beginning of time and continues to this day. The Big Bang theory is supported by evidence that space is expanding, including the redshift of light from distant galaxies and the existence of cosmic background radiation in all directions.

It is thought the Earth was formed around 4.6 billion years ago from dust and gas left after the Sun formed.

As the Earth gradually cooled, creating conditions in which life was possible, living things appeared on the new planet Earth.

Not all scientists agree with the Big Bang theory, but many of their objections are to do with the details within the process, not the underlying principle that it happened. Similarly, there are different hypotheses about how life began on Earth. These can be tested, but scientists cannot be sure which are correct because it happened long ago.

What accounts of the origins of the universe are there in Christianity?

According to Christian belief, God created the universe. There are two stories of how God created it which are found at the beginning of the book of Genesis in the Bible. Some Christians regard Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as two totally separate stories that have a similar meaning. Others see the two chapters as part of one continuous story.

Summary of Genesis 1:

  • in the beginning - God started creation
  • the first day - light was created
  • the second day - the sky was created
  • the third day - dry land, seas, plants and trees were created
  • the fourth day - the Sun, Moon and stars were created
  • the fifth day - creatures that live in the sea and creatures that fly were created
  • the sixth day - animals that live on the land and finally humans, made in the image of God were created
  • by day seven, God finished his work of creation and rested, making the seventh day a special holy day.

In Genesis 2, some people think that the story goes on to give more detail about the creation of humans, seen as two individuals, Adam and Eve.

Adam was made from 'the dust of the ground' when God breathed life into him. Eve was created out of one of Adam's ribs to provide company and help for Adam. They lived in a special place called the Garden of Eden. Both of them were given the task and responsibility to look after the place that God had created for them.

Many Christians do not believe this story to be true in every detail. They believe that God was responsible for the beginning of the universe – that he set things in motion and oversaw the process. They can also learn lessons from the story about the importance of mankind and the responsibility mankind has over the rest of creation.

Most Christians would accept that the central message of both Genesis 1 and 2, whether seen as one or two stories, is:

  • God made everything
  • God made everything good
  • God made humanity as the highpoint of creation

Fundamentalist Christians believe that as the Bible comes directly from God, everything in it must be the exact truth. Anything that contradicts the Bible is wrong. Therefore, for fundamentalist Christians, the Big Bang theory is not correct.