"It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life;
one might as well think of the origin of matter."
Charles Darwin (ltr, 1863)
quoted in Merz, History of European Thought, II, p406, n1
It is astonishing that science can determine what happened in the earliest moments of creation. This discovery has only been made in the past few decades. Prior to this, many scientists questioned the very notion that it would be possible to study these early moments with rigorous scientific precision, or even that the universe had a definite beginning. Cosmology was relegated to the realm of religion or superstition -- declared to be beyond the methods of rigorous science. Today, the science of cosmology -- the physics of the universe and its beginnings -- is universally recognized as among the exact sciences -- capable of fully rigorous mathematical treatment.
In contradiction to the former view, there is now a general understanding and agreement as to the fact of the Big Bang, and how the early universe grew from the Big Bang over the first few minutes. The precise age of the universe (2010 data) is 13.73 ± 0.12 billion years, a finding of NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) program to investigate the fine structure of the cosmic background radiation. This background radiation is a remarkable example of the Silent Speech of Psalm 19 preserved by God since the very beginning of time to reveal his glory and handiwork. This is but one of many lines of research that underlay the science of cosmology.
Timeline of the Universe
Separation of the Four Forces
Note: gravity and the electromagnetic force are the familiar forces of everyday life. The strong force holds protons and neutrons together, and the weak force holds atomic nuclei together.
Expansion of the Universe after the Big Bang
Quarks, Leptons and the Big Bang.
Quarks are the buildingblocks of protons and neutrons, the components of an atomic nucleus. They are fundamental particles, meaning that -- like electrons -- they are not made up of smaller particles.
The strong force binds Quarks together. It is a unique force because (unlike gravity) it becomes stronger as the distance between quarks increases, similar to the way a rubber band works. At a separation of about the diameter of a nucleus, the force between two quarks becomes so strong that the energy field between them exceeds the energy-equivalence of two quark masses, and then the force field spawns a new quark-antiquark pair (analogy: the rubber band snaps). This is why there are no free quarks.
The quarks that make up protons and neutrons are of two types, called "up" and "down." The up quark has an electrical charge of +2/3 and the down quark has a charge of -1/3. A proton is made up of two u and 1 d quarks (uud), and a neutron is made up of 2 d and 1 u quarks (udd).
Other combinations of quarks are possible, but they are all very unstable. The neutron has a half-life of 15 minutes outside of a nucleus (hence the significance of the "first fifteen minutes"). The proton is stable, as is the neutron when it is part of a nucleus.
Prior to 100 seconds:
too much ambient heat for the collisions to stick
After 100 seconds: the weak force can (barely) hold
in the collision n + p -> deuterium
Creation of the Primordial Elements
Deuterium, Helium-3, Helium-4, Lithium-7, and Berillium-7
The Lithium Barrier
The product of helium burning would normally be either Lithium (He + H with atomic weight 5, half-life about 6.83985×10-22 s) or Berillium (He + He, atomic weight 8, half-life 2.6×10-6 seconds). Both of these are exceedingly unstable and immediately dissociate again. This is the so-called Lithium Barrier at atomic numbers 5 and 8, that prevented the formation of heavier elements in the first few minutes after the Big Bang.
If the Lithium barrier (Figure 6) had not been present, the nucleosynthesis of the first 15 minutes would have rapidly produced ever-heavier elements, with the result that very little light material would have remained in the universe to form the elements needed for life -- especially carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, but more generally all elements lighter than the iron group that can be formed by thermonuclear burning in the interior of stars.
Thus the existence of a life-supporting planet depends critically on the "accidental" fact that this barrier exists. At present, it is not possible to determine exactly why this barrier exists -- perhaps at some future time it will be able to compute the precise mathematical reasons for these barriers -- but it appears to depend on some critical values of elementary physical constants -- much as the existence of a universe old enough to support life depends on a precise density of the very early universe (Figure 3).
At the end of this expansion the density of the universe was exactly the critical density required to within 1 part in 1025.
The Bible teaches that the universe had a beginning[FOOTNOTE: Genesis 1:1; John 1:3, Colossians 1:17, etc.]. In contrast, most ancient cosmologies assume that the universe is a re-arrangement of pre-existing matter. Space-time and matter are in effect eternal[FOOTNOTE: Sources??].
When Robert Boyle defined the elements as the irreducible components of matter[FOOTNOTE: Robert Boyle, The Sceptical Chymist (1661)] -- and came to the realization that there are remarkably few elements (in comparison with the many common compounds) -- the proper science of chemistry began. It was not then necessary for science to take a view on the extent or duration of the universe, but the general secular view -- at least that part that did not take the Biblical account as authoritative -- eventually accepted that matter is eternal and that space and time extend indefinitely without a beginning. As a practical matter, science was largely silent on the subject, and by the 1800s generally viewed "beginnings" or "cosmology" as beyond the reach of proper science, and of no direct practical impact on its practice.
The Olbers Paradox (1823 -- see the box below) to an extent challenged this view, and made some scientific remarks that seem to point to a possible scientific aspect to cosmology. It was clear that something is wrong with the concept of a homogeneous universe that is of unlimited duration and extent, although the paradox does not indicate just what the correct solution might be.
Despite this paradox, the prevailing view in science by the early 1900s favored an eternal universe, and eternally existing elements, and considered questions of cosmology to be matters of religion or metaphysics, beyond reach of rigorous scientific investigation.
Two events profoundly changed this picture. The first event was Albert Einstein's theory of General Relativity, first published in 1915. This theory favored a finite universe that started from a singularity at a definite beginning. Suddenly, cosmology became an inseparable part of physics, although the cosmological details could vary widely, and were strongly dependent on assumed starting conditions: Einstein's theory gave no hint about what assumptions should be made about initial conditions.
The second event was Edwin Hubble's discovery (Hubble's Law, published 1929) that the universe (space itself) is expanding at a rate proportional to the age of the light received from distant galaxies, as measured by the redshift of the light. This was the first experimental support for the BB theory (not called that at the time) which had been proposed two years earlier by Georges Lemaître.
For the next 35 years there was a vigorous discussion among scientists about cosmological models, although at the time few believed that a definitive answer could be had from science itself. Some scientists favored various self-regenerating universes in which matter was continually created and destroyed: in such universes the conservation of energy could not be literally true. Fred Hoyle favored an oscillating universe -- one with an unending series of expansions and contractions: but such a view could not explain how "bounces" would end the contractions. Hoyle coined the term "BB" as a somewhat derisive label for an Einsteinian universe with a finite beginning, and strongly argued against that cosmological view. The name stuck.
A third event finally confirmed the BB cosmology in the eyes of most scientists. In 1964, Penzias and Wilson discovered a residual cosmic background radiation that had earlier been predicted by George Gamow (1948) as the left-over signature of the BB -- the (red-shifted) heat energy from when the universe first became transparent to light radiation. Fred Hoyle continued to resist, but most scientists from that time onward, accepted the BB theory.
Detailed maps of the cosmic background radiation were conducted in recent years in NASA's COBE and WMAP projects. These have confirmed the Big Bang Cosmology and have added many refined details about early events in the evolution of the universe. The Cosmic Background Explorer satellite (COBE -- Launched in 1989) provided the first mapping of the background radiation and roughly confirmed both the uniformity of the radiation in all directions, its perfect blackbody radiation spectrum, and the (necessary) existence of minor variations in that radiation required to form the early galaxies. The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP, 2001) is a continuing investigation of the hyperfine structure of the background radiation. At this date (2010) the 7th report of that project has resulted in remarkable finely-detailed maps (Figure 7) showing the small but essential inhomogeneities needed to form the early galaxies.
in the Universe17
One feature of the universe is that space and time are continuous -- at least to the dimensions that scientists have been able to determine to date. Depending on your inclinations, this may be surprising -- after all, since the time of Planck18 it has been known that energy is not continuous: it comes in chunks called quanta. If it appears to be continuous to us, that is only because the quanta are such minute quantities. But ordinary matter could not exist if energy were not quantized, because the electrons that exist around the nuclei of atoms would eventually dissipate their energy and collapse into the nucleus -- before the days of quantum mechanics, this was one of the inconsistencies of classical physics.
A "Symmetry" in Physics is a law or principle that does not change with position or time. For example, the total energy of a closed system does not change if its position or time of observation changes. The word comes from the fact that the mathematical expression for the "transformation" in position or time is symmetric.
Albert Einstein derived his general theory of relativity (1916) from an assumption of symmetry: that the laws of physics are the same as viewed from any intertial coordinate system (where inertial means free-falling or accelerating). The special theory of relativity (1905) assumed a constant velocity coordinate system. The famous equation E = mc2 which relates mass and energy was a surprising result of this simple assumption. The general law led to the profound conclusion that space and time are a 4-dimensional continuum in which massy objects tend to warp space, and which is non-Euclidean.
Emmy Noether's Theorem states that
-- that is a constant. Thus the space/time symmetry of laws of physics leads to the following:
Conservation of energy: the total energy (mass equivalent + kinetic + potential) is a constant.
Conservation of Linear Momentum
Conservation of Angular Momentum
Constant Speed of light (this follows from Einstein's Theory).
Other constants particularly apply at the atomic level:
Conservation of Electrical Charge
Conservation of Electrical "spin"
All of these constants have been verified in numerous ways by literally millions of experiments. For example:
• The laws of physics are unchanged since the Big Bang.
• Spectral analysis of light from distant stars and galaxies confirms that the speed of light (at the time the light was emitted) has not changed.
The very existence of matter (baryons) requires that symmetry broke very early, at about 10-10 seconds after the Big Bang (see the note on clumpy energy).
Symmetry-Breaking in the First Fifteen Minutes. The symmetry breaking that occurs in the first fifteen minutes after the BB results from the ambient temperature and density of the universe dropping below a reaction threshold. Above that threshold, symmetry holds: a reaction can take place freely in both directions. Below that threshold, the reaction can take place in only one direction, or perhaps cannot take place at all.
A common example is the formation of particle/antiparticle pairs: for this to happen, the (local or global) ambient temperature (kinetic energy) must exceed the combined masses of a particle and its antiparticle. Below this level, the pairs cannot form, but mutual annhilation of pairs can take place. As the ambient temperature drops, what was a two-way reaction becomes a one-way reaction, and this occurs abruptly at the threshold (give or take a little excess random kinetic energy). The passage through the threshold is "symmetry-breaking".
A break in symmetry always implies that equilibrium is broken, for one reason or another. For example, in this epoch symmetry is broken as the temperature/density of the universe drops below a critical value needed to maintain a reversable physical process.
Symmetry and Relativity. I don't know when the concept of Symmetry became such an important thing in physics. For myself, I first realized its vast importance when I came to understand the motivation behind Einstein's General Relativity. it is based on one over-riding idea: that the laws of physics are the same when viewed in any inertial system.
This is a symmetry that goes beyond rotational symmetry or symmetry under changes in position or time -- which are perhaps the reason why the concept is called "symmetry." An "inertial" system is one that is subject to acceleration, the closest example to hand being physics conducted on earth under the influence gravity. The classical illustration is a laboratory that is in free-fall -- such as on an elevato. Measurement of all physical constants in such a laboratory or conduct of all physical experiments in such a laboratory will give the exact same results as it would if the laboratory were at rest (whatever that means). Further, one could not tell if the inertial system was influenced by gravitational force or some other force, as long as the system was free-falling (whatever that means!).
Carry this concept to its natural limits, and you have Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.
According to Noether's theorem, every symmetry has a corresponding conservation law and constant. In this case the constant is the speed of light, c.
I hope this example shows that the concept of symmetries in physics has far-reaching consequences.
An Example of Symmetry-Breaking. Symmetry breaking is commonly associated with rapid temperature changes and other disruptions. There are many common examples of symmetry breaking in our daily lives.
Two states of a substance are in equilibrium when the substance can smoothly move in both directions between the states. For example, if salt is dissolved in a container of water, it reaches a point of saturation, and excess salt crystals will remain undissolved on the bottom. If left undisturbed, the solution reaches an equilibrium state in which there is a constant exchange between dissolved and crystalline salt. Eventually all of the undissolved salt will be replaced with salt in solution, so that in time, a particular molecule of salt will move back and forth between the crystalline and dissolved state. This equilibrium state is an example of a symmetry, with unconstrained movements between different states.
If the water is heated until all of the crystals are dissolved, and then slowly cooled, the solution becomes super-saturated, but stays in symmetric equilibrium. However if a crystal (or a granular impurity) is introduced into the supersaturated liquid, it will suddenly precipitate out the excess salt. This is a break in symmetry, and a momentary disequilibrium occurs. In time, the disequilibrium will again equalize, with some of the salt in crystalline form.
In the early moments of the universe, the rapid change in temperature and density causes many instances where symmetry breaking occurs, with the result that some physical quantity "freezes out" or "precipitates" and produces a sudden disequilibrium. Before the break in symmetry, matter freely associated and dissociated in equilibrium between the "before" and "after" conditions. The "after" condition was a transient state until the break in symmetry, and afterward became a permanent state.
I believe that Genesis 1:1-2 preface the creation account, situated just prior to the Big Bang.
This is my belief, but at the same time I realize that Genesis 1 is a majestic and sweeping account of God's vast creative activity, condensed into very few words and intended for the enlightenment of humans in all ages. At all times since it was first put down into words (including the present), its subject matter has always been well beyond the ability of its readers to comprehend all details. This means that the full grasp of the words, their scope and true meaning is something that requires effort, and cannot, this side of heaven, be truly, fully and certainly known.21 On the other hand, the overall message of God's direct personal activity in creation is clear, even if some of the details are not. In caution therefore, I offer these remarks.
St. Augustine (late 4th Century AD) puzzled over the question: What does it mean that the earth was formless and empty? He concluded (and I agree) that the author here describes the earth before there was an earth. It was shapeless and void because it didn't exist at this point22. As it turns out (but this isn't the reason I agree!) the science of his day had the view that there were four elements: earth, water, air and fire, corresponding to solids, liquids, gases and fire. In this view, every solid had its characteristic "form," and this "form" (more than just shape) is what distinguished different solids -- such as gold from copper or diamond from ruby. So "formlessness" would be comparable to non-existence, or existence as an ideal or concept, but not in fact.
The darkness here is the absence of light, which is created in verse 3. The "face of the deep" and the "face of the waters" are expressions that refer to the vast nothingness before the beginning. The "deep" refers to the vastness and the "waters" refers to the fluid shapelessness23 -- exactly the picture that an artist might use to represent the emptiness before the beginning.
Genesis 1:3-5 describe the Big Bang and its immediate aftermath.
Light here is radiant energy: the full spectrum, not just the visible part. At the instant of creation, the entire universe was a miniscule, immensely hot speck of pure energy. An instant later (10-36 to 10-33 seconds) the newly created light ripped apart in a unique and extraordinary explosion that suddenly expanded the universe by a factor of 1025 -- as if a small microbe suddenly grew to a size greater than the Milky Way galaxy. I believe that in this incredible act, God created darkness throughout the intense light and that is -- the effect expressed in a way that can be understood by anyone -- the separation of light from darkness in verse 4. From this point on, the universe expanded at roughly the speed of light. Without this "separation of light from darkness" at the very first instant, the universe would have collapsed back on itself and vanished. Literally this day began in the darkness of evening and ended in the light of morning.
The formation of the elements from the primordial light is not explicitly mentioned in the Genesis creation account. In effect, this occurs between days 1 and 2, because the earth is present as day 2 begins.
Genesis 1:6-8: And God said, "Let there be an expanse
in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the
waters." And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were
expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And
God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there
was morning, the second day.
I suggested earlier that the First Day refers to the creation of radiant energy in the Big Bang. Continuing with this suggestion, I suggest that the Second Day is the creation of the Cosmos, the Solar System and Earth -- viewed as are all of the Days, from the perspective of an observer on the Earth.
seems to be difficult for modern readers to avoid projecting modern
meanings into the very general terms used in these verses. Readers are
strongly cautioned to avoid this -- it is a particular affectation of
academic scholars who tend to view the ancients with unwarranted
The term "waters" is a general term for the fluid "stuff" of the Cosmos. It does not refer specifically to water per se. This is a universal usage of the word in many ancient cosmological stories, and it reads too much into the word to assume that it means what we call water. Many modern narrators of ancient cosmologies make this mistake and assume that, for example, the Egyptians assumed that the original stuff of the universe was literal water. [GIVE REFERENCES ] This is silly. It is a much more general term that encompasses a meaning of undifferentiated fluidity. And again, "fluid" here doesn't mean just the liquid state of matter -- fire and air can also be viewed as fluid. The term is more of an expression of visual impression than of actual physical composition.
The term "expanse" (which some translations starting with the LXX interpret as "firmament") similarly has nothing to do with a solid dome or any specific physical construction. All uses of the term that may imply this are simply figurative or poetic, as in "the sky was brass."
The term "separate" implies assignment of identity and differentiation. This task changes the undifferentiated "water" into specific objects with form, function and meaning. Some of this separation is into "below" and "above." In a very general sense, the "below" is the Earth, and the "above" is the Cosmos, with the atmosphere in between. But again, the reader is cautioned not to make the meanings too concrete.
What is being described is the incomprehensible and inconceivably vast process by which God made the Cosmos and differentiated it into various parts with purpose and function.
Genesis 1:1 In the
Beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
I believe that this first verse in the Bible and the first verse of the Creation account is a declaration of the first event in the Creation Narrative: God created the universe. It is clear in John 1:1 and Colossians 1:17 that the created world had a beginning. This is also the conclusion of science: the universe began with the Big Bang.
Some interpreters take this verse to be an introductory statement: "...as [or ...when] God created the heavens and the earth" so that it is a sort of summary statement of all that follows. But in my view the clear scientific evidence of a beginning confirms the meaning of this verse as I understand it. It expresses the actual creative act that began space and time.
Genesis 1:3 And God Said,
"Let there be light."
I believe that this introduction to the First Day refers to the creation of radiant energy as the first tangible act of creation. This energy is expressed as "light" because that is the equivalent expression for radiant energy that was familiar to the author's audience. All of the matter in the universe began as radiant energy, some of which precipitated out as matter when the universe cooled in the first seconds and minutes.
Some authors take this verse to refer to visible light on the earth (the "Day" of verse 5), but I see verse 5 to be an instantiation of the more general light of verse 3, rather than equivalent to it.
Genesis 1:4b And God
separated the light from the darkness.
I see the separation from darkness is a specific action of God that is today recognized as the "cosmic inflation", in which light was figuratively torn apart, or shredded, with "darkness" intersticed. Without this specific creative act, the universe would have imploded.
Again, I see the "Night" of verse 5 to be an instantiation of the more general darkness of verse 3, rather than equivalent to it. I realize that this view is speculative, and do not insist on it -- it is not fundamental to my beliefs!
From Einstein's Special Relativity formula, E = mc2, and the dual particle/wave nature of light, one concludes that energy is clumpy: that is, it has a tendency to form particles when the conditions are right. As the temperature of the early universe falls, the clumpiness of energy results in various particles precipitating out of the energy stew -- beginning with quarks (the components of protons and neutrons) and continuing through the formation of protons, neutrons, electrons, deuterium, helium nuclei, etc. As the temperature falls below the binding energy for a given type of particle, that particle tends to persist, rather than convert back to energy. There is a kind of stickiness that keeps the energy in that particular clumpy condition.
For an imperfect example of this sort of thing, consider what happens when hot, very salty water cools. Crystals of salt precipitate out -- the cooled water is still salty, but not as salty as it was. Similarly, as the universe cools, the radiant heat energy precipitates the particles that will eventually become matter. In a manner of speech, the particles "freeze out."
Free neutrons are unstable in the free state, but when they decompose, the reaction is n -> p + e + neutrino (ν), and all of the products are stable.
The mass of an elementary particle yields its mass-energy, which in turn gives the equivalent temperature (°Kelvin) and the first time after the that the universe cools down to the temperature at which the particle can precipitate out. Prior to this margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;time the particle-to-energy and energy-to-particle conversions occur in equilibrium (in similar quantities), but after this time the conversions rapidly become more difficult, and depend on increasingly unlikely local energy spikes. In effect, the particles that precipitate out are frozen in the particle state. Here is a timeline for when the basic particles of ordinary matter and the primordial elements (primarily hydrogen and helium) precipitate out.
• For online lectures on this topic, see lectures 5 to 7 of Cosmology and the Origin of Life, from the University of Oregon.
• SOME CONJECTURE that total gravitational PE = total mass Energy so that the sum is zero.
• Quark/Antiquark annhilation occurs prior to 10-35 s leaving an excess of quarks (so that matter dominates over antimatter)
• Conservation of charge requires an electron to form for each proton.
• Primordial electrons formed from neutron beta decay: n -> p + e + antineutrino.
• Small amounts of primordial lithium also form, but no elements with atomic number 8 or higher because of the lithium barrier.
• Binary collisions are the primary mechanism for nuclear fusion of deuterium into helium (triple collisions are rare)
• The relative numbers of primordial elements is determined by the ???
• The CERN Large Hadron Collider is designed to accelerate protons to 7 TeV with 14 TeV collisions from opposite directions. This energy level corresponds to the temperature at roughly a trillionth (10-12) of a second after the .
• Star ignition occurs when gravitation causes matter to collapse towards a local center of gravity. Gravitational acceleration heats up the matter until the high energy collisions achieve nuclear fusion. A newly ignited star begins with hydrogen fusion to form helium. As the helium accumulates at the core of the star it fuses in turn to form heavier elements. Sir Arthur Eddington was the first to suggest that starlight comes from nuclear fusion.19
• Convert eV <-> Kelvin: 1 MeV = 1.1605x1010 °K; 1°K = 8.6170 x 10-11 MeV.
• Density is proportional to T3.
Jonathan Allday, Quarks, Leptons and the Big Bang, (1998) p235ff.
This has a clear and readable explanation of the creation of the primordial elements.
Amir D. Aczel, God's Equation: Einstein, Relativity and the Expanding Universe, (1999)
Malcom S. Longair, Our Evolving Universe, (1996)
Weinberg, The First Three Minutes.
The Anthropic Principle concerns many remarkable "coincidences" in physics and chemistry that are essential for life to exist. Here we will mention a few critical physical constants that are necessary for a material universe to exist at all, whether life-supporting or not.
|Dividing Light from Darkness
quanta: it is not
continuous. This fact was discovered by Max Planck, whose
name is celebrated in the Planck Constant h, He used the concept of
quantum energy to explain the classical paradox of black body
radiation, which the methods of
classical physics as it was then known could not explain (classically
the energy would be infinite, which is absurd). Shortly after he
published his discovery, Einstein and others used the concept to
of electrons off a metallic surface when bombarded by high
energy, and eventually the energy levels of electrons in atoms.
Without discrete quanta, atoms -- and therefore ordinary matter --
could not exist.
Proposition I, Postulating Atoms
"It seems not absurd to conceive that at the first production of mixt
bodies, the universal matter whereof they among other parts of the universe consisted, was actually divided into little particles of several sizes and shapes variously moved."
Boyle, Sceptical Chymist, First Part (1677 Ed.)