Reasons to Believe

A Book Ahead of Its Time

New Age thinker Eckhart Tolle in his book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, asserts the universe is without beginning or end. This idea is hardly new. The concept of an eternal universe pervades the Eastern religions. For example, Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism all claim that the universe is without beginning or end and that it undergoes cyclical change. Since Tolle is a frequent guest on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show, and Winfrey claims to be a Christian, the question naturally arises: Is an eternal universe compatible with the Christian worldview?

The opening words of the Bible answer that question in resounding fashion: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). This one verse––quite possibly some of the most profound words recorded in ancient literature––summarizes a key foundational truth of the Judeo-Christian worldview: the universe (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Peter 1:20), and even time itself (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2), has a beginning.1

The notion that the universe has a beginning may seem like old news, but it hasn’t always been this way. A hundred years ago most scientists believed the universe was eternal. In 1915, Einstein published his theory of general relativity. His mathematical equations led to the belief that the universe is expanding. Einstein was cautious about this conclusion, however, since an expanding universe would imply a moment of creation. If there’s a beginning, there must be a Beginner (cause). Thus, Einstein added a “fudge factor” to his cosmological constant equations that would eliminate this possibility.

From the standpoint of secular evolution, the idea of an eternal universe has strong appeal. It provides a potentially limitless supply of time in which to allow natural processes to result in bringing about life from nonlife. A universe without a beginning also removes the need for a “first cause,” such as a Creator. In short, an eternal universe allows a scientific escape hatch to eliminate the need for supernatural explanations.

Since Einstein’s day, scientists have uncovered a cavalcade of evidence that confirms the universe is expanding and that it, and even time itself, has a beginning.2 Cosmological models such as the oscillating universe theory (embraced by many Eastern religions) or the steady state theory (which promotes the idea of an eternal universe), have been largely abandoned by scientists. In fact, the evidence for a cosmic beginning is so compelling that it is widely accepted, even by those who do not hold to a biblical worldview.

The reality that the Bible proclaimed the universe has a beginning several thousand years before Einstein provides reasonable support for Scripture’s supernatural origin.

Subjects: General Apologetics

1 For a more complete discussion of the Christian view of the origin of the universe see Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Baker Books, 2008), 153-69.

2 Monsignor Georges Lemaître (July 17, 1894 – June 20, 1966) was a Roman Catholic physicist who played a key role in applying Einstein’s ideas and proposed that the universe expanded from an initial point he called the "Primeval Atom," which eventually became known as the “big bang theory.”