Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 18 (March 1966): 12-14.

A brief description of the modem exploding universe hypothesis of cosmogony is given, together with a scientifically plausible account of the formation of the earth as it might have appeared to an hypothetical observer at the surface of the earth.

This is followed by an account of the famous Babylonian Genesis, much of it given by direct quotation of lines translated from the clay tablets unearthed by archeologists, and in turn, by a similar account of the first half of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, dealing with the same subject matter.

The paper concludes with comments on similarities and contrasts among the three cosmagonies.

It has sometimes been a popular pastime to equate the Bible to mythology of ancient times. This is particularly true when it comes to subjects of scientific nature and thoughts having to do with the origin of the universe. It is our present interest to consider the creditability of Biblical cosmogony.

Of modern theories of cosmogony there is one that has fairly wide acceptance, and whether or not it is correct, it is considered to be creditable by a large body of today's scientists. It is based on the observation that the galaxies of our universe appear to be receding from us and from one another with a velocity that is proportional to their distance of separation, and reasons as follows:

If remote bodies are receding from us they must at some time in the past have been much closer to us and closer together. In fact, if their relative velocities are proportional to their relative distances, extrapolation backward in time should yield a definite time in the past when all the matter of the universe was tightly packed in one place, from which it is in the process of exploding. This extrapolation places the time of initiation in excess of five billion years ago. This view is held by a number of scientists, one of whom, George GamGw, has given us a fairly detailed account of how it might have happened.

In the original tightly compressed state, which is the earliest state science can know anything about, the temperature would be too high for matter to exist at all, and all the sum total of the matter and energy of the universe would be in the form of radiant energy. Thus the earliest phenomenon that can be postulated with any scientific foundation is a blinding flash of light intense beyond the capabilities of human imagination to conceive. On expanding from its point of origin, it would cool, at first with extreme rapidity. Five minutes after the first generation of this energy, the temperature would have cooled down to a billion degrees. At this temperature, protons, neutrons, and electrons could exist, but not atoms. In the succeeding 25 minutes all the original elements would be formed, for at the end of the first half hour the temperture would have dropped too low for nuclear reactions to take place.

Today the mass density of matter in the universe far exceeds the mass density of radiation. If, as has been postulated, the universe started out as all radiation, there must have been a time when the total mass density was equally divided between radiation and matter. On this subject let me quote from Gamow.

Computing the mass densities of radiation and of matter at various epochs, we can find the date of the great event when matter took over from radiation, i.e., surpassed it in mass density. The date was about the year 250,000,000 A.B. (After

*Robert M. Page is Director, Research, U.S. Naval Research Lab., Washington, D.C. Paper presented at 19th Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation, August 1964, at John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Ark. Material also included In the article, "Cosmological TheoriesAncient and Modern" published in Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, Vol. 46, No. 8, Aug. 1956.

the Beginning). The temperature of space was then about 170 degrees absolute, and the density both of radiation and of matter was comparable with the present density of interstellar gas. The universe, in short, was dark and cool.

This statement appeared in the March 1954 Scientific American.

The gradual transition from radiation to matter has been likened to slow precipitation of a solid from solution. As matter gained the aseendency over radiation, it began to react to the forces of turbulence and gravitational attraction, and formed into great clouds of gas. In time these clouds contracted by gravitational attraction to form the beginnings of galaxies. But turbulence produced many secondary and tertiary centers of contraction, so that whole hierarchies of suns and planets and satellites were formed. The pressures created by gravitational attraction produced local heatini', the larger accumulations becoming quite hot. The maximum temperature thus produced in any star depends on the mass of the star. Those that became hot enough to initiate sustained nuclear fusion became maintained at still higher temperatures from this process.

Let us now examine the model we have been describing in terms of the origin and evolution of the earth. We start with that phenomenal burst of radiant energy, the solvent for all matter, and call it the birth of our universe. In the first 30 minutes we see all the original elementary particles formed and organized into atomic nuclei. Then nothing but cooling and expanding as matter continues to precipitate out of radiation, until all is dark and cold. Then slowly at first, a great cloud begins to form out of the turbulence, and separate itself from other similarly forming clouds as they all shrink into more dense masses of gas. As the cloud shrinks it breaks up around many centers of turbulence. And since the whole cloud was rotating as a part of the general turbulence, all the bodies of concentration were also rotating as they formed, the speed of rotation of each body increasing as matter was drawn together in smaller volumes. And as the bodies became more concentrated, pressures at their centers increased, with corresponding increase in temperature, until the larger ones became incandescent, shining one by one, all through the galactic system. One of these stars was our sun, and when it "lit up" it illuminated a host of planets with their satellites. One of these planets was the earth. When the earth reached its maximum temperature it was too hot to retain water, so all the water of the oceans and the moisture of the soil existed as a dense shroud of stream completely enveloping the earth and continuous right down to the earth's surface. And as the earth cooled, the steam condensed into pools of hot water on the surface. Eventually the moisture in the air dropped below the saturation point, and the fog began to rise, leaving a clear separation between the water surface and the cloud blanket overhead, much as we see it occasionally now. Then the wet land began to become dry by evaporation, and conditions were favorable for

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the appearance of vegetation. When vegetation appeared, it sustained itself by reproduction, according to laws of heredity that Aave been the subject of much study since Mendel's time. The mechanism seems to be that each kind of plant has its seed within itself and reproduces after its kind.

As moisture continued to condense and fall as rain to the earth, the cloud blanket became thinner and ultimately broke up. Then for the first time the sun, moon, and stars were visible on the surface of the earth, and available for telling the time of day and the seasons of the year.

Now we should have a fairly good bird's eye view of what our universe is, and how it got to be that way, according to a most probable modern scientific specuIation. Let us turn now to some other cosmogonies, pausing first to contrast the scientific atmospheres of past and present. Science to us is a partnership between philosophy and technology. This partnership was first seriously joined by Sir Isaac Newton. Before Newton's time, fruitful interactions between the two were rare. When we probe farther back to the Greeks and the Egyptians, the Hebrews and the Babylonians, philosophy and technology were totally unrelated, if not even mutually hostile. Even had the thought occurred to join them in partnership, the crude technology of ancient times was a poor match for the philosophical conviction that all natural phenomena were direct actions by conscious gods whose behavior was as capricious as'that of men. It is important that we recognize this when dealing with ancient cosmogonies, and maintain a sympathetic attitude as we attempt to place ourselves in the position of ancient philosophers.

There are many cosmogonies among the mythologies of antiquity. We can not discuss them all, but we will examine two of them. First we will review what has been called the Babylonian Genesis. I quote,

When above the heaven had not (yet) been named,(And) below the earth had not (yet) been called by a name; (When) only Apsu privemal, their begetter, (existed), (And) mother Ti'amat, who gave birth to them all;
(When) their waters (still) mingled together, (And) no dry land had been formed (and) not (even) a marsh could be seen; When none of the gods had been brought Into being,

(When) they had not (yet) been called by (their) names, and (their) destinies had not (yet) been fixed; Then were the gods created In the midst of them.

The created gods were the sons and grandsons, daughters and granddaughters of Apsu and Ti'amat. But the children always became greater than their parents, and they also became mischievous and annoying, as younger generations sometimes do, until the old grandparents, Apsu and Ti'amat could not rest. Finally Apsu decided to put an end to the annoyance. Again I quote,

Apsu opened his mouth
And said to Tilamat, the holy (?) one:
"Their way Is annoying to me,
By day I cannot rest, by night I cannot sleep;
I will destroy (them) and put an end to their way,
That silence be established, and then let us rest!"
When Ti'amat heard this,
She was wroth and cried out to her husband;
She cried out and raged furiously, she alone.
(For) the malice (of Apsu) disturbed her heart.
"Why should we destroy that which we have brought forth?
Their way is indeed very annoying, but let us take it good humoredly!"

But Apsu would not be dissuaded, and he plotted to kill his children. But the plot leaked out, and he himself was killed by his own offspring. In ensuing conflicts, Ti'amat was slain by Marduke, who drained out her blood and let the wind carry it away. He then split her body in two, made the vault of heaven from one half, and from the other half, made the earth. Gods who had supported Ti'amat were enslaved. When they complained of their slavery, the kind-hearted Marduke took their leader's blood and mixed it with clay to make men. Then he assigned to men the task of serving the gods, and set the captive gods free.

This whole account is recorded in cuneiform writing on clay tablets. It consists of seven tablets, totaling over a thousand lines in all, of which approximately eight or nine hundred have been recorded and translated. It is representative of the general character of most mythological cosmogonies. As one might expect, it bears no real similarity to our own modern cosmology. Under the circumstances, this is not surprising.

Now permit me to review just one more ancient cosmogony. This one I will give in an unpublished translation, since the published translations are old, words change their meaning from generation to generation, and recent findings of archaeology and philology have added to our concepts of what the originals really meant. This is the cosmogony of the ancient Hebrews, and in one form or another may have been contemporaneous with the Babylonian. I paraphrase freely, in the attempt to recapture the original thought as determined by the work of modern scholars, making liberal use of the terminology of modem cosmology.

In beginning, the Omnipotent God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and nebulous, and darkness reigned throughout all space. And the Spirit of God was brooding upon the face of the waters. And God said "Let there be light," and light appeared. And God saw the light, that it was good. And God divided time Into periods of light and darkness. And God called the time of light Day, and the time of darkness He called Night. And this completed the first epoch of the creation of the earth.

Let me suggest that the appearance of light on the earth as here recorded could arise from the heating of the sun to incandescence, while the diumal periods of light and darkness could result from the rotation of the earth in its shroud of steam and fog, even though the sun itself were not visible on the earth.

And God said, "Let there be an expanse of clear space in the midst of the waters, and let It divide one part from another." And God made the expanse of clear space above the earth, and divided the waters which were under the clear space from the waters which were above the clear space. And God called the expanse of clear space Heaven. And his ended the second epoch of the creation of the earth.

And God said, "Let all water under the heaven be gathered into one bed, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. And God said, 9qet the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was In Itself, after his kind." And God saw that it was good. And this ended the third epoch of the creation of the earth.

And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of heaven to divide day from night, and for indication of the seasons, days and years, and let them shine in heaven to give their light on earth," and God caused to shine on the earth two great lights, the greater for daytime, the lesser for night time. The stars also he made to shine on the earth from the expanse of heaven ....

There is more in this Hebrew cosmogony with which we will not concern ourselves at this time, since it deals with a quite different realm of science than we are considering. I should point out, however, that the account of the appearance of lights for indicating times and seasons does not make reference to the original creation of the lights at this time, but rather the making available of the lights to the earth, such as would occur by a clearing away -of the clouds of moisture around the earth.

I think this very cursory review suggests a parallelism between the Hebrew cosmogony and our own. This parallelism is rendered even more remarkable by its striking contrast to the corresponding Babyonian version. It is true that some students of ancient records have attempted to show an extensive parallelism between the Babylonian and the Hebrew cosmogonies. Close scrutiny, however, shows the points of similarity to be purely superficial, and of negligible consequence relative to the overwhelming importance of the contrasts. On the other hand, the amazing harmony between the concepts of Hebrew cosmogony and our own poses a question which science has not answered. How did those ancient Hebrews, without aid of telescope, spectrometer, electronics, atomic theory, mathematics, and all the other components of the foundations of modem cosmology, come into possession of the comprehension of prehistoric nature exhibited in their cosmogony?