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Science & Religion

Lecture 4: Creation

What do science and religion say about creation? Was there a time when the Universe was not?

In this lecture the following will be discussed:
• The Eternal Universe of philosophical and religious belief.
• The Created Universe of religious belief: Ancient Greek, Babylonian, Hebrew and Qur'anic.
• Scientific Evidence.
• The Anthropic Principle.

The Eternal Universe.

Ancient Greek thought
Some Greeks thought (500BCE) that what we see around us was made from eternally existing material either of one nature or four natures or many. Things went in cycles - what came around had already come around. Pythagoras took a trip to the East and it is not clear whether he influenced Eastern thought with cycles or it went the other way around. Greek thought reached a high point with the Latin speaking Lucretius (100BCE): nothing comes from nothing … everything is made of imperishable seeds (atoms) constantly moving in a void.


In Hinduism the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.

Bhagavad Gita 8:15-19, Krishna to Arjuna:

"All the worlds from Brahma's world (the universe) are periodic. Those who know the day and night, know that the day of Brahma is a thousand yugas long and a night is a thousand yugas long (i.e. 4.32 billion earth years).

From the unmanifested, all the manifest things spring forth on the arrival of the day (of Brahma). On the onset of night all these sink into what is called the unmanifested. Arjuna, this multitude of created things having existed over and over again and helplessly destroyed at the onset of night, spring forth on the onset of day."

The Created Universe.

Greek stories of creation

First there was Chaos, not a god but an empty "yawning" i.e. what remains of an empty egg when the shell is taken away. Then arose Gaia (earth) who bore Ouranos (sky). Every night Ouranos came down to Gaia to mate. Ouranos hated his children and hid them away from the light. Gaia produced grey iron and conspired with Kronos (one of her sons) to stop Ouranos. With the iron Kronos cut off his father's penis and the shed blood eventually produced men i.e. the male race. Later another divinity, Prometheus stole fire and gave it to men. As a punishment for men taking the fire, the first woman, Pandora, was created!

• Babylonian epic of creation (previously link at

Before heaven and earth were created there was Apsu (the great male ocean) who brought forth Mummu and Tiamat (a female ocean). From these come many gods such as the river Silts, the sky (Anu) and the earth (Ea). Their dancing and revelling annoy Apsu. He decided to destroy them all. Tiamat was against it but Mummu was for it. However Ea made Apsu fall asleep and killed him before he could destroy everyone, then he laid Mummu as ice over him.

Some rebel gods approached Tiamat and persuaded her to avenge Apsu's death. There was a war. Marduk became Ea’s champion and killed Tiamat. He cut her in two and positioned one half as the sky with its constellations and 12 months. From the other half he made the sun, the moon with its phases, and the earth from her head. On the earth he made a "city-quarter of the gods" (Bab-ili). The defeated gods were worried they would be perpetual slaves of Marduk and told Marduk that Kingu led the revolt. Kingu was killed and from his blood man was created to serve the gods.

In this epic the Heavens and the Earth created God (Marduk) and man (probably the male race) was created to serve.

• Four Hebrew creation stories

The interpretation of these stories depends on the hermeneutic used (i.e. how you find out what an author intended by what they wrote).

Some Judeo-Christian believers argue for a young Earth (6000 years old) and others opt for an old Earth (4 Billion years).

(a) Genesis 1:1 to 2:3

Day 1


Day 4

Greater & lesser lights
(i.e. sun, moon & stars)

Day 2

Waters divided by sky
(a crystal dome)

Day 5

fish appear in water,
birds appear in air

Day 3

Earth appears,
plants appear

Day 6

animals appear on Earth,
man & woman appear

• Two series of four elements in three days: light, water/air, earth.
• God was designated generically (i.e. no personal name) as Elohim (plural form - singular verbs).
• God appears outside creation, i.e. creates by command from a distance.
• Reversing the Babylonian epic, God created the Heavens and Earth.
• Creation was divided into days which started at Evening. Note: "day" was not dependent on the Sun
    Light (Dawn) appeared before Sun rise and continued (Twilight) after Sun set.
• The Sun and Moon were downgraded into non-personal "lights".
• The creation of the world was the purposeful activity of one being.
• Creation was not an accidental development that came from other events.
• The created world was good in itself and not the result of evil.
• Man and woman were linked together in creation.
• The creation of man and woman was also not an accidental result of other events.
• They were made as the image of god for creation.
• They both had dominion over creation as opposed to the Babylonian servitude.
• Both Earthlings and animals were vegetarian.

(b) Genesis 2:4 -- "These are the generations of ..." this phrase starts new sections in Genesis.

Earth and sky with water coming from the Earth (no rain, so no plants)

Man made from Earth (Earthling or Dirtling)

Garden of trees (man to till plants?)

Animals and birds made from Earth

Woman made from man

• God has a personal name: Yahveh Elohim.
• Earth and Sky made in one day. Oceans or seas not mentioned.
• The order of creation: man->trees (& plants?)->animals->birds->woman.
          (previous order: plants->fish->birds->animals->man & woman together).
• God appears within creation and "forms", "breathes", "plants", "walks in the evening", "calls out" to find Adam

(c) Psalm 104

A Song about creation: The sky as a tent and the sea as a robe over an immovable Earth (a problem for Galileo).

(d) Job 38,39

Poetic encounter: Questions about Earth's pillars and size and God's continuing involvement.

• The Qur'an

Sura 7:54 Your guardian-Lord is Allah who created the heavens and earth in Six Days
Sura 10:3: Verily your Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and earth in Six Days
Sura 11:7: He it is Who created the heavens and earth in Six Days
Sura 25:29: He Who created the heavens and earth and all that is between, in Six Days
Sura 41.9 Say: Do you deny Him Who created the earth in two days? ... 41.10 He set on the (earth), mountains standing firm, high above it, and bestowed blessings on the earth, and measure therein all things to give them nourishment in due proportion, in four days ... 41.011 Moreover He comprehended in His design the sky, and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: "Come you together, willingly or unwillingly."They said: "We do come (together), in willing obedience." 41.012 So He completed them as seven firmaments in two days, and He assigned to each heaven its duty and command. And We adorned the lower heaven with lights, and (provided it) with guard.


Sura 15:19 And the earth We have spread out (like a carpet); set thereon Mountains firm and immovable
Sura 78: 6-7 Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse, And the mountains as pegs (anchor)?


Sura 21: 33 It is He who created The Night and Day, And the Sun and Moon; each of them Swim (float) along in its own course.


Sura 67:5 We have (from of old) adorned the lowest heaven (sky) with lamps, and We have made such (Lamps as) missiles to drive away Satans …


Sura 23.12: And certainly we created man of an extract of clay,
Sura 23.13: Then we made him a small seed in a firm resting-place,
Sura 23.14: Then we made the seed a clot, then we made the clot a lump of flesh, then we made (in) the lump of flesh bones, then we clothed the bones with flesh, then we caused it to grow into another creation, so blessed be Allah, the best of the creators.
Sura 96:2 Created man, out of a mere clot of congealed blood.

Scientific data.

1. The Expansion of the Universe.

For Cepheid variable stars there is a relationship between the period of its variation in brightness and its intrinsic brightness.

By measuring the period, its intrinsic brightness can be known. By measuring the relative brightness and comparing with intrinsic brightness, its distance can be calculated. In this way, Cepheid variables in other galaxies can give the distances to those galaxies.

Andromeda Galaxy

A "red shift" is a shift in the position of spectral lines in the light from stars or galaxies because of their relative speed away from us. This is the "Doppler effect"1, note that a "blue shift" would mean a speed towards us (as some do!)

In 1929 Edwin Hubble measured the Doppler "red shifts" of the galaxies around us and calculated their speeds. From Cepheid vartiable star brightness he calculated the distances of other galaxies from Earth. He then found that there was a linear relationship between speed and distance, that is, the further a galaxy is from us are faster it is travelling away from us.

Mathematically, Hubble relationship, where Ho is the Hubble Constant

This led to two theories being advanced:

(1) The Steady State Theory

In 1928 Hermann Bondi, Thomas Gold, (later popularised by Sir Fred Hoyle) proposed that as the universe expanded, new matter was created to fill the space that was vacated. Thus, the universe was without start or end and in a steady state.

(2) The Big Bang Theory

In 1922 Alexander Friedmann proposed from Einstein's equations that the universe began as a single dense core of matter which expanded. In 1927 Georges Lemaître proposed something similar from a "cosmic egg". With the Hubble data, the expansion of space was extrapolated backwards to a time when all the galaxies were packed together and so a theory was produced that an initially compact universe exploded and threw its matter (and later the galaxies) violently apart.
Since , then 1/H has the dimension of time and provides an estimate of the age of the Universe.

The assumption here is that the slope (Ho) is constant. Actually gravity has been slowing the expansion so this will affect the calculations as shown2.

Recent measurements of the Hubble constant (728 km.s-1/Mpc) and the rate of expansion give the age of Universe between 12 and 15 billion years (this is under constant debate).

The Big Bang theory fell into disfavour because it initially rested on wrong conclusions and theories (later modified). Also, steady state theorists argued that if "something" can appear from "nothing" (as in the proposed "Big Bang" theory) why did it have to occur only once? The steady state theory thus proposed continual "Little Bangs".

2. Predicted and observed abundances of light elements.

The most abundant elements are Hydrogen (73% of the Sun), then Helium (25% of the Sun), Oxygen (0.8% of the Sun) and Carbon (0.2% of the Sun). The steady state theory predicted this, but George Gamow's original big bang theory predicted heavy elements instead. This was corrected later so the theories were again in balance.

3. Cosmic Black Body radiation.

In 1965 Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson at Bell Labs found an unexpected background of radio noise at a wavelength of 73 mm that had no obvious explanation. It came from all directions and, after repeated checks, appeared to emanate from outside the Galaxy. They consulted with Robert H. Dicke from Princeton, who theorized that if the universe was created according to the Big Bang theory, a background radiation would exist throughout the universe. The background radiation gave a temperature of 2.7 Kelvin and a timing for the Big Bang of some 15 billion years ago.

Ivan Kaminow commented: "Arno Penzias and Bob Wilson were trying to find the source of excess noise in their antenna, where pigeons were roosting … they spent hours searching for and removing the pigeon dung. Still the noise remained, and was later identified with the Big Bang … they looked for dung but found gold, which is just opposite of the experience of most of us."

The discovery of this cosmic background radiation has now tilted preferences towards the Big Bang theory because the steady state theory could not explain it.

The background also needs some non-uniformity so that galaxies can form. This has been observed with the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite measurements.

To get this non-uniformity a period of hyper-expansion ("inflation") is required.

4. Other methods to estimate age of Universe:

Calculations of time for development of globular clusters (oldest stars in galaxy): 12-20 billion years.

Radioactive clocks: Uranium isotopes formed by neutron capture would have an initial production ratio about 1.71. Measured ratio 235U/238U today is 0.00723. Knowing their "half lives" as 1.015 and 6.446 billion years, you can calculate time since their formation as 6.6 billion years.

Cooling of white dwarf stars leads to an age of Universe calculated as 10 2 billion years.

5. Cyclic Universes

For a long time it was not known whether after the Big Bang that the universe would continue to expand forever (the "Big Freeze") or whether the effect of gravity would cause it to collapse back on itself (the "Big Crunch"). One proposal was that the universe would expand and contract in cycles. Consensus is now hardening towards an unending expansion.

Anthropic principle.

References:  Hugh Ross   John A Peacock.

If any one of the fundamental constants of physics or any one of the fundamental parameters of the universe is slightly different then the existence of life like ours becomes impossible.

For example, the big bang model requires the density of matter in the early universe to have been extremely close to a critical density.
If the density was a liitle higher then the universe would have recollapsed before any structure had time to form.
If the density was a little lower then the galaxies could not have formed.
If the universe had initially been above or below the critical density by more than one part in 1059, then life as we know it could not have arisen.

There are no stable elements with Atomic masses of 5 and 8, so the existence of the higher stable elements we see, depends on an excited energy level of the carbon nucleus being accidently equal to the typical energy of three alpha particles in a star's interior (predicted by Hoyle).
These and many other coincidences makes the Universe statistically improbable.

The "Strong Anthropic Principle" says that the bizarre and improbable coincidences we see must mean that Universe was specially designed for us.
The "Weak Anthropic Principle" says that since the production of life is a rare event, any universe that has intelligent observers is guaranteed to display bizarre and improbable coincidences.

The idea of varying parameters to get different life-sustaining universes is being examined. One idea is that the big bang produced a multitude of universes (multiverse) with a number of these capable of life in some form or other.


Hindu and Buddhist beliefs favour a universe with endless long-period cycles.
Judeo-Christian and Islamic dating of creation varies with the hermeneutic principles used.
Scientific conclusions point to an improbable Universe 12 - 15 billion years old.

1The doppler frequency shift is given by: doppler frequency equation

2Two further points:

The graph shows neat points along a line, however it is more a "trend" line as the real data is more scattered.

Also the conjectured extension to zero could also bend the other way asymptotically and show a universe that has infinite extension into the past.