If our universe had a beginning (if all space, time and matter came into existence from nothing), it is a finite universe. If our universe is finite (if it isn’t eternally old), we are obligated to look for its first cause, given the Principle of Causality (which affirms the fact that every effect, everything that begins, everything that is finite, and everything that is limited has a cause). But what kind of cause could account for the beginning of all space, time and matter? This kind of cause would, by necessity and definition, be an uncaused, non-spatial, a-temporal and non-material first cause. Sounds a lot like God, doesn’t it?
In an effort to avoid the obvious implications of a universe with a beginning, many naturalistic scientists, physicists and thinkers have proposed alternative explanations for the nature of our universe. Some have offered oscillating or cyclical models because these models offer a universe that has no beginning. Early versions of these theories described the universe as continually expanding and contracting over the course of eternity.
According to these theories, the expansion of the universe would eventually slow under the gravitational attraction of its own mass, resulting in matter flying past itself in close proximity as the universe contracted to a region of incredible concentration. The universe would then appear to “bounce back” from this gravitational cycle, beginning yet another period of expansion. This would therefore explain the expansion we observe in our universe without having to acknowledge this expansion as evidence of a universe with a single origination event (known as a cosmic singularity). Instead of a universe that is expanding from its single point of origin, oscillating models describe a universe that is cycling between expansion and contraction (we simply happen to exist in an expansion period for the universe):
Illustrations from God's Crime Scene
But early oscillating models suffered from several evidential liabilities. There simply isn’t enough mass in the universe to halt the expansion we observe or to reverse it toward contraction.
In fact, red-shift measurements of distant supernovae reveal the universe is expanding faster now than it was when it was much younger. Peter M. Garnavich, assistant professor at the Center for Astrophysics at the University of Notre Dame says, “We cannot make much of a conclusion from the single farthest supernova we've seen, but when we average it with several others, we find, to a 95 percent level of confidence, that the density of matter is insufficient to halt the expansion of the universe.”
This is consistent with what we might expect given the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Remember, usable energy decreases over time. This means with each successive cycle of expansion and contraction, the useful energy in the universe would decrease, making the cycles larger and longer over time. Now “rewind” the timeline. As we go back in time, these cycles would be smaller and smaller until, once again, we come to a point of cosmic singularity. For this reason, early oscillating models failed to eliminate the beginning of the universe.
A more recent cyclical model seeks to avoid the problem posed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Known as the Cyclic Ekpyrotic Scenario, this model envisions the universe as a three-dimensional membrane (sometimes called a “brane”). It exists in a five-dimensional space-time with another similar “brane”.
According to this theory, these two “branes” approach one another in an eternal, repeating cycle. The recurring collisions between these two “branes” cause the expansion we observe in our universe. So, even though our universe is currently expanding, this expansion is not evidence of a beginning. Instead, the expansion is simply evidence of ongoing “brane” interaction.
This model is highly speculative, however, and relies on yet unproven physical theories. In addition, those advocating for this model are still unable to explain why there are only two “branes” in this environment, and why these two “branes” are so perfectly aligned. Critics of the model question how physical information from one cycle could ever pass through to the next, and note the lack of physics explaining the “bounces” in the first place.
Cyclical models of the universe (both new and old) may avoid a universe with a beginning, but they do so on highly speculative grounds and without the strong evidential support enjoyed by the Standard Cosmological Model. Physicist Andrei Linde admits, for example, the Cyclic Ekpyrotic Scenario is “very popular among journalists,” but is “rather unpopular among scientists.”
The universe is not cycling eternally between expansion and contraction. It is, however, expanding, and this expansion is evidence of its beginning. All the space, time and matter in our universe sprang into existence from nothing and this moment of creation was most reasonably caused by a non-spatial, a-temporal, non-material, all powerful first cause. Our finite universe is yet another reason to believe in the existence of God. This brief summary only begins to describe the case for God’s existence from the origin of the universe. For a much more robust account of the inadequacy of naturalism in this regard, please refer to God’s Crime Scene, Chapter One – In the Beginning: Was the Universe an Inside Job?
The more we learn about the origin of life in our universe, the more reasonable the case for God’s existence. The building blocks of life (proteins, ribosomes, enzymes etc.) are formed at the direction of specific nucleotide sequencing in DNA, the largest molecule known. In humans, DNA contains as many as 10 billion atoms. The adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine bases in DNA are linked in a particular order to form the genetic code containing the master plan for every organism. The information in DNA guides and instructs the formation of proteins; without it, protein formation would be a haphazard, hit-or-miss proposal. The nucleic sequence in DNA is informational.
Physicist Paul Davies expresses it well: “Once this essential point is grasped, the real problem of biogenesis is clear. Since the heady successes of molecular biology, most investigators have sought the secret of life in the physics and chemistry of molecules. But they will look in vain for conventional physics and chemistry to explain life, for that is a classic case of confusing the medium with the message. The secret of life lies, not in its chemical basis, but in the logical and informational rules it exploits.”
Illustration from God's Crime Scene
Information in RNA and DNA presents a problem for researchers, especially those who propose RNA as the first molecule to appear through some combination of chance and chemical necessity (known as the “RNA World Hypothesis”). Even if RNA is a precursor to DNA, the first RNA molecules would have to be rich in information to replicate. Information must exist first, before any other transformational process can take place. Without the prior genetic information in DNA and RNA, nothing of significance happens within cells.
Nucleotide sequences are more than statistical gibberish. They are semantically, pragmatically, and apobetically significant sources of information (for more information on these categories of information, see my new book, God’s Crime Scene). The genetic sequence has meaning and directs action for a specific purpose.
Our personal experience tells us information comes only from intelligent sources. In fact, in the entire history of the universe (and the history of science) a single instance of information arising from anything other than intelligence has never been identified. This presents a problem for those who attempt to stay “in the room” of the universe to account for genetic information. If we limit ourselves to the materials available to us in the universe, information must be explained from matter, chance, the laws of chemistry or physics, and nothing more. Nobel winning biophysical chemist, Manfred Eigen recognized this challenge when he once said, “Our task is to find an algorithm, a natural law that leads to the origin of information.” Efforts to account for information in this way have repeatedly failed. In fact, the information in DNA proves to be the decisive stumbling block for every naturalistic theory offered for the origin of life.
Every geographic location proposed—whether in the atmosphere, in the water, on the ground, under the Earth’s crust, or from outer space—requires an explanation for the existence of information in the genetic code.
Every timeframe offered for life’s origin, be it earlier or later in the history of our planet, requires an explanation for this information.
Every description of why life emerges—whether by chance or some form of physical necessity—requires an explanation for information.
And finally, every mechanism proposed for the origin of life—be it through “protein first” models, “RNA first” models, or any other model—requires an explanation for the existence of genetic information. Cambridge education Philosopher of Science, Stephen C. Meyer, says “Proposals that merely transfer the information problem elsewhere necessarily fail because they assume the existence of the very entity—specified information—they are trying to explain. And new laws will never explain the origin of information, because the processes that laws describe necessarily lack the complexity that informative sequences require. To say otherwise betrays confusion about the nature of scientific laws, the nature of information, or both.”
The chance arrangement of information in DNA is prohibitively improbable, and there are no chemical or physical laws at work to dictate its existence. We are left, then, with a paradox: the laws and forces of nature cannot produce information, but information is required for life to begin. As Paul Davies laments, “we are still left with the mystery of where biological information comes from . . . If the normal laws of physics can’t inject information, and if we are ruling out miracles, then how can life be predetermined and inevitable rather than a freak accident? How is it possible to generate random complexity and specificity together in a lawlike manner? We always come back to that basic paradox.”
Given the utter inability of chance or natural law, and our observations related to the origin of information, intelligence is the best explanation. But this requires us to look for an intelligent source transcending the limits of the physical universe. Scientists trying to account for information by staying “inside the room” seem to be rejecting the obvious. In order to create information, the author of this information must have the ability to select between possible alternatives. This ability to choose selectively requires intelligence, will, and purpose. Unguided physical processes simply cannot accomplish the task. German engineer and IT specialist, Werner Gitt summarizes it this way: “A necessary requirement for generating meaningful information is the ability to select from alternatives and this requires an intelligent, volitional entity . . . Unguided, random processes cannot do this—not in any amount of time—because this selection process demands continuous guidance by intelligent beings that have a purpose.”
The selection process required in the creation of information requires an intelligent, volitional free agent. That’s why the information in DNA most reasonably points to the existence of God. For a much more thorough description of this evidence, please refer to God’s Crime Scene, Chapter Three – The Origin of Life: Does the Text Require an Author?
When I first began investigating the reliability of the New Testament Gospels, I found myself at an important philosophical crossroads. As I employed my skills as a cold-case detective to the claims of the gospel eyewitnesses, I grew increasingly confident in their trustworthy nature. The four-part template I typically used to assess eyewitnesses was particularly helpful in this regard. The gospels passed in every aspect of my testing (this investigative journey is chronicled in Cold-Case Christianity). But I still had a problem. Although I was convinced the authors were truly present to see what they reported (or like Luke and Mark, had access to those who were truly present), could be corroborated by outside evidence, hadn’t been altered over the years and were free of bias, I was still dismissive of the supernatural elements present in the accounts. I rejected the claims of miraculous healings and deeds, and I certainly denied the Resurrection of Jesus. As an atheist and philosophical naturalist, I believed the Gospels were a form of historical fiction; a fanciful work rooted in a few historical truths. At this point in my investigation, I decided to take one last additional step. I decided to investigate my own philosophical naturalism.
Was I warranted in believing everything in the universe could be explained with nothing more than space, time, matter and the laws of physics and chemistry? Could my naturalism truly account for the most interesting and demanding features of the universe? Every worldview must provide an explanation for the reality we experience. It was time for me to see if my philosophically natural worldview could account for eight critical pieces of evidence:
The beginning of the universe
The fine-tuning of the universe for the existence of life
The origin of life in the universe
The appearance of design in biological organisms
The existence of consciousness
Our experience of free agency
The existence of transcendent, objective moral truths
The persistent problem of evil
The next step in my investigation would require me to critically examine my own presuppositions to see if they were supported by the evidence. This part of my journey is recorded in my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe.
My personal journey of investigation took months to complete, and my study of the evidence became a daily devotional of sorts. As I sifted through the cosmological, biological, mental and moral evidence, I found myself more and more convinced of God’s existence. I examined the universe using the same skills and techniques I would use to investigate any crime scene to see if an external suspect is the most reasonable suspect, and once I was convinced an all-powerful God outside the “room” of the natural universe was the best explanation for the evidence “inside the room,” I returned to the Gospels. While most of my suspects are reluctant to confess, this “suspect” already had. The Gospels describe the God I identified in my investigation of the universe.
If you would like to begin examining the universe as part of your daily devotional life, I have a suggestion and a resource. I’ve created a 7 day devotion based on God’s Crime Scene and you can read it for FREE on the YouVersion Bible App:
I hope this brief journey will ignite a passion to investigate the evidence so you can make the case for what you believe. I’ve included Bible verses in each daily devotional, so be sure to connect the dots with the Scripture. You’ll be amazed at the relevant way in which God’s Word continues to address every aspect of life, including the nature of the universe in which we live.
I’ve learned something important in the many homicide trials I’ve worked over the years: There’s always more than one way to explain evidence. Jurors are asked to evaluate two different interpretations of the evidence they’ve been presented, and they’re usually asked to assess two completely different theories related to the crime. While the Standard Cosmological Model (describing a universe with a beginning) is still the dominant theory among cosmologists and physicists, a number of competing ideas have been offered to describe the origin of the universe. Some of these explanations would allow us to stay “inside the room” of the universe to explain its existence, others would not. Do any of these alternatives disprove the reasonable inference the universe had a beginning, however? No. Sitting in criminal trials over the years, I’ve come to recognize three critical liabilities common to faulty arguments: They are either (1) unsupported by the evidence, (2) have erroneously redefined critical aspects of the data, or (3) suffer from logical contradictions. In an effort to explain the evidence we’ve described in the universe, scientists looking for an alternative to the Standard Cosmological Argument have considered a number of possibilities over the years. They’ve asked some important questions, but their answers and explanations suffer from the liabilities I’ve observed in my criminal trials:
Could the Universe Be Expanding Eternally?
Some scientists have explored this question in an effort to explain the expansion of the universe without acknowledging or explaining its beginning. Historic models like the Steady State Theory claimed the universe had been stretching and filling in eternally without an origin. But theories of this nature lacked evidential support, particularly once the cosmic background radiation and over-abundance of helium was discovered.
Could the Universe Be Cycling Eternally Between Expansion and Contraction?
Oscillating or cyclical theories claim the universe has been expanding and contracting eternally. But early versions of these theories are also unsupported by the evidence. There isn’t, for example, sufficient mass in the universe for gravity to slow its expansion to cause a repeating cycle. More current cyclical models (like the Cyclic Ekpyrotic Scenario) are even more speculative, relying on highly controversial String Theory physics, leaving many questions completely unaddressed. As a result, these theories have not replaced the Standard Cosmological Model.
Could the Universe Be Part of a Larger, Eternal Environment?
A variety of quantum theories acknowledge the beginning of our universe, but seek to place it in the context of a larger eternal setting. These theories claim the universe emerged from sub-atomic “virtual particles” in a pre-existing, eternal quantum vacuum. Models of this type still have to explain the origin of the vacuum, however. In addition, these proposals redefine the meaning of “nothing” when describing the pre-existing, (1) primordial vacuum, (2) virtual particles, and (3) time from which our universe emerged. The evidence demonstrates all space, time and matter began with the origin of our universe. Whatever preceded this universe cannot, therefore, have been spatial, temporal or material, at least by the definitions we have been using all along. Emergent models redefine the meaning of “nothing” to include “something” (the primordial vacuum, virtual particles, and time). While this solves the problem semantically, it doesn’t solve the problem evidentially.
The beginning of the universe cannot be explained from “inside the room”. The evidence points to an external cause outside of space, time, and matter. Cosmologist Paul Davies, recognizing the dilemma presented by the evidence, writes, “One might consider some supernatural force, some agency beyond space and time as being responsible . . . or one might prefer to regard the [beginning of the universe] as an event without a cause. It seems to me that we don't have too much choice. Either… something outside of the physical world… or… an event without a cause.” This inference of a cause “outside the room” is reasonable, given the strength of diverse evidence for a caused universe, and the inadequacy of efforts to stay “inside the room” of the universe for an explanation:
Illustration from God’s Crime Scene
For more information about the evidence for the beginning of the universe, refer to our FREE Bible Insert (Why We Know Our Universe, And Everything In It, Had A Beginning)
I’ve briefly excerpted this from my new book, but if you’re interested in the detailed summary of the evidence (and the reason why this evidence points to an eternal first cause “outside the room” of the natural universe), please read God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, Chapter One - In the Beginning: Was the Universe an Inside Job? In addition, if you would like a printable copy of this diagram, I’m offering it as this month’s FREE Bible Insert. Just visit the home page at ColdCaseChristianity.com and click the Bible Insert link in the right tool bar.