Creation & The Big Bang
I have trouble reconciling my reading of Genesis with current scientific theory. When I read the beginning of creation, is seems clear that God created the world complete, as well as the rest of the universe. But physics says that there was a primordial speck which exploded in what is known as the Big Bang, and from this expansion the universe came to be.
Is there a way to integrate the two versions of the story?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
In most translations, the first verse of Genesis reads something like this: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth, and the earth was astonishingly empty…” This translation, which alludes to God creating heaven and earth directly and as a complete entity as you mentioned, is a flawed translation.
The correct translation, as explained by Rashi, the most classical of commentaries, is “In the beginning of God’s creating of the heaven and the earth…” The difference is a great one; it is simply introducing the story, not referring to anything yet created.
The continuing statement, “and the earth was astonishingly empty,” also loses its meaning in translation. Another classical commentary, Nachmanides (13th century) points out the difficulty implicit in the words “tohu vavohu,” which do not literally form the phrase “astonishingly empty.” Tohu indeed means astonishing. Bohu, however, means “all is in it.” Nachmanides explains as follows:
God created all creatures from absolute nothingness (ex nihilo), which is described by the term, “Bara.” Not all creatures in the spiritual realm or below the heavens were created ex nihilo, rather God brought into being from absolute nothingness a very tiny basic material, which seemed as though it didn’t exist at all, but it had within it the power to bring forth other creations, prepared to receive shape, to develop from the potential to the actual… and all was created from it. This matter…is called in Hebrew “tohu”… because if we would attempt to assign it a name, we would be astonished… because it had no form to accept a name. The form, which cloaked this matter, is called in Hebrew “bohu,” meaning “all is in it.” In other words, God created from complete “Tohu” and made from nothing something.”
We see from Nachmanides that the verse from Genesis is precisely in line with Big Bang! For the past 700 or more years, we were not able to understand the meaning of Nachmanides in physical terms. It defied human understanding to imagine all the vast mass of the universe compressed into an infinitesimally small speck of matter which could not even be observed. One could not even imagine compressing a cup of water into a smaller cup! Only after Einstein discovered relativity and the relationship between matter and energy, could we understand this in physical terms.
According to Stephen Hawking, this original, primordial speck is called a singularity, with infinite energy pulling in upon itself, not allowing any energy to escape. This was the ultimate “black hole.” This was considered a monumental discovery, but something that we have known, although not totally understood, from Torah literature for thousands of years!
One thing Hawking does not explain is how the Big Bang was possible. If there is an infinite amount of energy holding the singularity together, from whence is the even greater energy to pull it apart?!
He indeed does say that until after the point of the Big Bang, all science and mathematics breaks down, and time and science have their beginnings only after the Big Bang. Our answer to all this is that the Creator, who was the architect of the very concept of infinity, had the energy beyond infinity to bring about the Big Bang.
As science progresses, we see much more clearly how the physical world and the spiritual world of Torah are one.