How Did the Universe Begin?


Why would a retired,  civil engineer/management consultant and  Christian layman attempt to write about such a complex and controversial subject? Some may suggest that I’m trying to impress others. Well, maybe this is part of my motivation – but I think my reasons go much deeper. Here are my sincere reasons for attempting such a difficult writing:

  • My past technical education through Ga. Tech cultivated in me a drive and passion to research and attempt to understand issues related to the earth, evolution and God.
  • I have for decades sought to better understand the Bible and the deeper truths within scriptures.
  • I have a sense that our better understanding of God’s creation and how we can reconcile the Word with mountains of current scientific knowledge will bring us more inspiration and a stronger Christian faith. I have a natural inclination to teach – I love trying to help others.
  • Researching and forcing myself to commit to writing what I have studied helps me learn and remember.
  • I pray that all that I present to others through my writings and teachings will somehow be of value  but foremost that I am in tune with God’s will for my life.

The Beginning:

“The Christian Bible opens with these magnificent words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” …..  We who are of the Christian faith believe there was a beginning of the universe and then the creation of our planet earth. God was the creator of it all –  but how he developed and evolved the universe, stars and the earth has always been a controversial issue. The truth is even our best scientists do not have all of the answers. In ancient times many powerful thinkers such as Aristotle thought that the universe was eternal while others described “beginnings as “ex nihilo” – meaning “created from or out of nothing”. The Bible states, and the scientific community confirms, that there was a beginning. This writing is a layman’s summary and understanding of how the universal beginning can be explained scientifically.  Some of the terminology is beyond my clear understanding – so frequent quotations are given from several books written by renowned scientists – usually astrophysicists or exceptional  technical scholars. One of the most frequently quoted references is: “Big Bang” by Simon Singh. In some cases, I paraphrase their comments rather than a direct quote. 

Early Research:

Albert Einstein’s General Relativity theory in the early 1920’s established the framework and foundation for other scientists to develop research and build models of how the universe was formed. Early on, international scientists such as Alexander Friedman, a Russian mathematician and George Lamaitre, a Belgian priest and scientist envisioned that in the beginning all initial atoms were squeezed into a super compact state dubbed the primordial atom. “Thus the moment of creation occurred when this single all encompassing atom suddenly decayed generating all the matter in the universe.”

To Lamaitre, Einstein’s General Relativity model implied that the universe was expanding.  “If the universe was expanding, Lamaitre concluded that the universe must have started from a highly compact state, the so called primeval atom of small but finite size. To him, this was the moment of creation.” If we fast forward the tape to 2009, the best available measurements suggests that the initial conditions of creation occurred around 13.3 to 13.9 billion years ago and the universe continues to expand  to this day. These dates agree astonishingly  well with geological dating methods using radioactive isotopes.

Later Research:

Over the first half of the twentieth century, the world wide scientific community debated intensely regarding the best model explaining the universe’s beginning. In 1920 Harlow Shapley believed all nebulae  existed within the Milky Way galaxy while his adversary, Heber Curtis held that nebulae (now known as galaxies) were independent galaxies outside the Milky Way. You will recall that our planet earth resides in the Milky Way galaxy. The debate continued unresolved for  years. Evidence that multiple galaxies existed beyond the Milky Way would support an expanding universe.

One of the outstanding contributors to cosmic observations was Edwin Hubble. Using a 100 inch Hooker Telescope at the Mt. Wilson Observatory in California, Hubble discovered in 1929 that multiple galaxies were moving further away from the earth and thus the Milky Way. The great theoretical debate was now settled by direct observations. Further calculations based on telescopic observations concluded that the Milky Way was 100,000 light years distance  in diameter. Recall that a light year is the distance that light travels through space at 186,000 miles per second. Also, the nearest galaxy to our Milky Way, Andromeda, was 900,000 light years from the earth. These distances are mind boggling- almost beyond human comprehension. None of this research could have been possible without the invention of telescopes by Galileo and others many centuries earlier, and their improvement overtime. Today, our most modern telescopes have 200 inch focal lengths and super powerful lenses that reach out a million light years and more!

Another scientific debate pitted a “Steady State” model of the universe against the “Expanding Universe” model. For years many renowned scientists supported the Steady State model – including Einstein. Fred Hoyle, the scientist that labeled the  universe’s initial condition as the Big Bang, held tenaciously to the Steady State model – even after the vast majority of scientists changed their support to the Big Bang theory. After visiting with Edwin Hubble at the Mt. Wilson Observatory and reviewing Hubble’s observations, Albert Einstein finally recanted, admitting he had been wrong – the universe was expanding and the galaxies were receding.

There were still many unanswered questions regarding the universe’s initial elemental content. What was the chemical elements of cosmic space? When and how was solid matter formed? How were stars and planets formed? Scientists have known for a long time that the lighter elements of hydrogen and helium initially emerged into the universe. Research continued through the 1930’s by dedicated scientists such as Alpher, Gamow, joined later by Herman, revealed many new facts. They discovered that the initial atoms in the universe were distributed as follows:

Element Relative Abundance

Hydrogen 10,000

Helium   1,000

Oxygen 6

Carbon 1

All others       < 1

Alpher and his associates calculated that during the initial 300 seconds of the Big Bang, hydrogen and helium were injected into space as a primordial plasma. And according to their research, all other chemical elements were created out of this primordial fluid in the first hour of creation. They further calculated that a hydrogen/helium plasma cooled to become real atoms at 3000 C degrees. It would take about 300,000 years for the universe to cool to this temperature.

They further surmised that the tremendous explosive processes produced continuous and intensive light that must have flashed over the entire expanding universe. The universe was thought to be “isotropic” – meaning the universe looks the same in all directions. If these assumptions are true, there should be remnants of this early intensive light every where in the universe. Since they could not convince anyone to financially support further research to find the “echo” of this cosmic light, their work ceased and each scientist moved on to other  scientific endeavors.

Discovery of Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation

There was little scientific interest in searching for this illusive “cosmic microwave background” radiation until Bell Labs. began to work for the military in the 1940’s  to create radar systems and methods of jamming German radio transmissions during WWII. They found that “radio waves”, like waves of visible light, are part of the electro-magnetic spectrum. However, radio waves are invisible and have wave lengths that are much longer than those of visible light. This new knowledge would later help solve the CMB mystery.

In 1963 Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson joined forces at the Bell Labs. and soon isolated a radio noise (similar to the static we hear on our radios) detected using a special telescope. “The echo from the Big Bang had transformed itself into radio waves  and was being detected as noise by Penzias and Wilson’s radio telescope.” These waves came from the radio spectrum known as microwaves. Thus the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation was identified and Penzias and Wilson would later receive a Nobel Prize for this significant discovery that further  confirmed the Big Bang model.

Measuring Cosmic Distances

In the 1940’s and 50’s other studies by Baade and Sandage involved measuring distances to remote galaxies. Distances to far-off galaxies were absolutely critical in estimating the age of the universe according to the Big Bang model. Through years of telescopic observations and complex calculations, it became eventually clear that the universe was 10 to 20 billion years old.

Unless one has a substantial background in physics and mathematics, it is difficult to understand how distances between the earth, the moon, the sun and millions of stars can be calculated. Cosmic distance measurements begin with the use of basic trigonometric triangulating, then an understanding of parallax and finally comparative analyses of the brightness of stars. Much of the math is beyond me, but I understand enough to know that astrophysicists  know what they are doing.

Creation of Chemical Elements:

Research by Arthur Eddington on nucleosynthesis brought about new discoveries of how chemical elements were initially formed in the universe. Nucleosynthesis  is a cosmic process whereby the production of a chemical element from  simpler nuclei occurs (as of hydrogen especially in a star). “The temperature of stars was estimated to be a few thousand degrees at the surface and a few million degrees at the core. Creating neon atoms would require a temperature of three billion degrees and creating heavier silicon atoms would require a temperature of thirteen billion degrees. It became apparent that each type of star could act as a crucible for creating several different elements because stellar interiors changed dramatically during the course of a stars life and death. Hoyle’s calculations could even account for the exact abundances of almost all elements that we see today, explaining why oxygen and iron are common, while gold and platinum are rare.” Many have said: “our physical bodies are truly products of the stars!”

The Origin of Solid Matter:

Students of physics learn that the basic building blocks of creation are:

  • Strong Nuclear Force: holds the protons and neutrons together in the nucleus of an atom
  • Weak Nuclear Force: responsible for radioactivity
  • Electromagnetic Force: interacts with electrically charged particles like electrons and quarks
  • Gravitational Force: every particle feels the force of gravity according to its mass or energy

The source of these forces in nature is still a mystery. They simply exist and drive the creation of the physical universe and hold the cosmic system, including the solar system in place. I’m sure God either created these forces or blessed their creation within his developing universe.

We have reported that the early universe consisted of a very uniform and bland plasma (soup). If so, how did this initial condition evolve into a universe populated by stars, planets and massive galaxies? While initially very uniform, cosmologists believed there would be sufficient variations in density in the cooling of the universe to trigger the evolution of solid matter. Without some evidence of slight variations in density, the forces of nature, particularly gravity, could not attract and pull particles together to form stars and later full galaxies. Such a proof was essential to further verifying the Big Bang model.

After 300,000 years scientists knew that the temperature of the universe had cooled sufficiently to allow electrons to slow down, latch onto the nuclei and form fully developed atoms. The physical presence of atoms leading to small changes in density should interrupt the reflection of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) in these denser areas. So the obvious place to look for fluctuations in density in the early universe would be to search the universe for variations in the CMB radiation. Extensive observations for many years found no variations.

In 1976 NASA joined the search launching measuring devices on board a U-2 high altitude jet. Within a few months Smoot (the project leader) and his colleges discovered variations in the CMB radiation. But more sensitive measuring instruments were needed. The research continued and in 1991 NASA launched a Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE).

In December 1991, after making 70 million measurements, a variation of 1 part in 100,000 in the CMB radiation was recorded. Even with this tiny variation scientists now knew that variations did exist!  They were just big enough to indicate density fluctuations in the early universe that were sufficient to seed the subsequent development of stars and thus galaxies. The COBE satellite had found evidence that roughly 300,000 years after the moment of creation, there were tiny density variations across the universe that would expand over time and ultimately result in the formation of all the galaxies we see today. These were the primordial seeds of modern day cosmic structures including our earth. At last the challenge to prove the Big Bang model was over!


It is important to remember that this explanation of the history of  creation and the evolution of the universe is backed up with mountains of concrete evidence supported by the vast majority of the international scientific community.

The question always raised is: What existed before or initiated the Big Bang? What came before the Big Bang is impossible to answer. The Big Bang theory cannot and does not provide any explanation for such an initial condition, rather, it describes and explains the general evolution of the universe since that instant. Matter, time and space did not exist prior to the Big Bang event.

And Christians every where  should ask: What was God’s role in this complex and magnificent process? Surely, God was the Master Architect, setting the creation process in motion. We know God was involved and we praise him for releasing the forces leading to the creation of the universe and for breathing life into us all.

W.F. Peck

aka Bill

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