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Many scientists now agree that the universe began with a “Big Bang” – a massive expansion of matter and energy that occurred when a hyper-dense and superheated singularity became the known universe.

That cosmological model comes from tracing the universe’s ongoing expansion back through time, 13.8 billion years ago, to a period when all matter and energy may have emerged from an initial state of extreme density and temperature, where the laws of physics as we know them today did not apply.

How does science see so far into the past? Well, the Big Bang theory is still just a theory at this point, but it does offer scientists a comprehensive, well-suited explanation for a whole host of observations and measurements involving light, heat, cosmic background radiation and Hubble’s Law, the observation that the farthest galaxies are moving away from each other at the fastest speed.

The Big Bang theory does make sense when you consider one salient fact: we know that the distance between galaxies is increasing today, so that must mean galaxies were closer together in the past.

But not every scientist believes in the Big Bang theory. First, the Big Bang cosmological model doesn’t explain what caused energy, time, and space to actually come into existence – instead, it just describes the birth of our present universe from an ultra-dense and high-temperature initial state that scientists can’t “see” beyond. That state, the physicist Stephen Hawking believed, may have come from something he called the “no-boundary proposal,” in which time and space are finite, but do not have any boundaries or starting or ending points. (Want a hard puzzle to solve? Try to visualize that …)

Second, and perhaps more important, some renowned scientists who study the beginnings of the universe don’t much like the Big Bang theory, because we can only infer its existence rather than prove it. Dr. Jim Peebles, the Albert Einstein Professor Emeritus of Science at Princeton University, and the co-winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics, recently said that he does not necessarily believe the Big Bang theory, due to a lack of concrete supporting evidence: “It’s very unfortunate that one thinks of the beginning whereas in fact, we have no good theory of such a thing as the beginning.”

This suggests, as do the Baha’i teachings, that the universe may have no such thing as a beginning:

Know that it is one of the most abstruse questions of divinity that the world of existence – that is, this endless universe – has no beginning. …

… absolute non-existence lacks the capacity to attain existence. If the universe were pure nothingness, existence could not have been realized. Thus, as that Essence of Oneness, or divine Being, is eternal and everlasting – that is, as it has neither beginning nor end – it follows that the world of existence, this endless universe, likewise has no beginning. … – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 207-208.

The world of creation has had no beginning and will have no end, because it is the arena upon which the attributes and qualities of the spirit are manifested. Can we limit God and his power? In the same manner we cannot limit his creations and attributes. Just as the reality of divinity is limitless, likewise his grace and bounties are limitless. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 169.

Some might be tempted to compare these statements in the Baha’i teachings to another scientific theory called “the steady state model,” which also presupposes the eternal existence of the universe. But a large body of evidence, including the existence of ubiquitous cosmic background radiation, has so far largely discredited that theory. The Baha’i teachings, instead of subscribing to either the Big Bang theory or the steady state model, simply say that the Creator has no beginning and no end, and therefore the creation has neither, as well:

Praise be to God, the All-Possessing, the King of incomparable glory, a praise which is immeasurably above the understanding of all created things, and is exalted beyond the grasp of the minds of men. … How indescribably lofty are the tokens of His consummate power, a single sign of which, however inconsiderable, must transcend the comprehension of whatsoever hath, from the beginning that hath no beginning, been brought into being, or will be created in the future till the end that hath no end. …

The wonders of His bounty can never cease, and the stream of His merciful grace can never be arrested. The process of His creation hath had no beginning, and can have no end. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 60-61.

So why should we care about all of this? What makes a remote scientific and theological question about the distant past and the origin or non-origin of the universe important? As the Baha’i teachings point out, these scientific questions illuminate a critically important concept: if the universe itself has no end, then neither do we:

The soul is not a combination of elements, it is not composed of many atoms, it is of one indivisible substance and therefore eternal. It is entirely out of the order of the physical creation; it is immortal!

Scientific philosophy has demonstrated that a simple element (“simple” meaning “not composed”) is indestructible, eternal. The soul, not being a composition of elements, is, in character, as a simple element, and therefore cannot cease to exist. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 90.

If you ponder this relationship between the boundless universe and your boundless human spirit, you may see and begin to understand what Baha’u’llah and all the prophets before him proclaimed:

As to thy question concerning the origin of creation. Know assuredly that God’s creation hath existed from eternity, and will continue to exist forever. Its beginning hath had no beginning, and its end knoweth no end. His name, the Creator, presupposeth a creation, even as His title, the Lord of Men, must involve the existence of a servant. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 150.

Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. – Ibid., pp. 155-156.

Like creation, the individual human soul exists eternally. The recognition of that fact, by each person, creates the single most life-changing realization we can possibly undertake. The Baha’i Faith reminds us all that we each have an everlasting soul:

The conception of annihilation is a factor in human degradation, a cause of human debasement and lowliness, a source of human fear and abjection. It has been conducive to the dispersion and weakening of human thought whereas the realization of existence and continuity has upraised man to sublimity of ideals, established the foundations of human progress and stimulated the development of heavenly virtues; therefore it behoves man to abandon thoughts of non-existence and death which are absolutely imaginary and see himself ever living, everlasting in the divine purpose of his creation. He must turn away from ideas which degrade the human soul, so that day by day and hour by hour he may advance upward and higher to spiritual perception of the continuity of the human reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 90.

11 Comments

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  • 1 day ago
    Enlightening and informative as always. Including people's comments. We may disagree on what matter looked like at a particular point in time, but isn't it known that matter cannot be destroyed, only transformed? I would posit that even our soul/spirit can and does transform.
  • 1 day ago
    If you exist forever, that means you have to live with yourself forever... ...let that sink in.
  • Dale Lehman
    2 days ago
    I gently point out that the use of "theory" in here is the popular usage, not the scientific usage. "Only a theory" isn't an accurate way to characterize the standard cosmological model. Also, Peebles isn't casting doubt on that model (he's been a significant contributor to it) but pointing out that it doesn't actually address "the beginning" in any real sense. It addresses conditions and events at an incredibly tiny fraction of a second before a supposed "beginning" and thereafter. There is no conflict between current science and the Baha'i teachings, nor can there be. Science and religion each address ...different aspects of reality, and as 'Abdu'l-Baha says, reality cannot be divided against itself.
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  • Mark David Vinzens
    2 days ago
    Krishna speaks in the Bhagavad Gita about the endless cycle of creation and dissolution of the universe.This universe is eternal just as Krishna told us five thousand years ago. The universe simply goes through cycles of expansion (beginning of a kalpa) and contraction (end of a kalpa). In other words, the universe goes through a transformation from one state to another, but never dies. It always exists in one form or another.
  • 2 days ago
    This is important to our understanding of science. Many people, including many scientists, say the Big Bang was the beginning and don't think any more about it. This is a misunderstanding of scientific method and theory. The period shortly after the theorized Big Bang is as far back as science can currently understand. That is far different from saying that there was nothing before. Lack of knowledge does not mean lack of existence, and every scientist should know that if he/she thinks about it.
  • Robert Moldenhauer
    3 days ago
    We live for maybe 100 years, the universe 10**100 years (1 with 100 zeros). Our time so short that really 10*100 years is as good as eternity. We are arguing incredibly long periods of time. There's a beginning and an end, but standing here, with our mayfly like existence, what difference does it make if "eternity" has such huge limits?
  • Sheldon Fortune
    3 days ago
    I am very curious as to how this plays into the book of Genesis and creation itself?
  • Dale Lehman
    3 days ago
    The usage of "theory" here isn't its scientific usage. The "Big Bang Theory" (Standard Cosmological Model) is the best model we currently have of the universe's development. I think Peebles' wasn't expressing doubt about the model itself (which actually is very well supported by the evidence so far) but the concept of a "beginning" which current physics cannot address. He dislikes the term "Big Bang" because it suggests we know there was a beginning (t=0) when actually we don't. In reality, there is no conflict between current cosmology and the Baha'i Faith. As 'Abdu'l-Baha said, both science and religion address ...reality, and reality cannot be divided against reality.
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  • Glen Little
    3 days ago
    I would caution that "we know that the distance between galaxies is increasing today" could end up being wrong. There are many possible causes for red shift and the currently popular explanation may turn out to be wrong!
    • Dale Lehman
      2 days ago
      While it's generally true that anything we currently know "could end up being wrong," right now there is little doubt that in general galactic redshifts are cosmological redshifts. There are certainly other kinds of redshifts, but the available evidence is pretty strongly aligned with the idea that the universe is expanding. One also has to consider all of the available evidence that supports the standard cosmological model, which is fairly extensive. That's not to say it couldn't come crashing down some day, but that's true of every scientific theory. None of that has much to do with religion, though. The ...universe is God's no matter what its physical origins, characteristics, or history.
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  • Joe Sporleder
    3 days ago
    I'm excited about what we will discover when the principle of Bahá’u’lláh on harmony of science and religion is more fully explored. Perhaps science will some day discover that the "Big Bang" represents a transformation between one state of existence to another, rather as the beginning of all beginnings that the theory currently envisions.