One of the oldest questions to be asked about the universe was “How did it begin?” This question always puzzled mankind. The answer to such a question depended on the faith and civilisation current to the scientist.
In the early days of the Greek philosophers, the universe was the making of gods and goddesses, but how they actually performed the act of creation was not to be inquired into, for such matters were considered divine and thus, laid outside man’s comprehension. The Greek plan incorporated a marvellous scientific picture of the universe, for whilst they described the motions of the planets with mathematical precision, they believed them to be, like the stars, made of some celestial material that never decayed.
In ancient China, the whole universe, everything on earth and in the sky, was considered part of a giant organism. However, they envisaged a universe that was many millions of years old and, in that respect, they were close to today’s view.
Western civilization has grown up under the influence of Greek ideas and also that of Chinese teachings, which insist on a single God who is creator and sustainer of the universe. The Bible states that God created the universe but does not contain detailed scientific information about the process of the creation of the universe. Galileo used to be fond of saying that the Bible teaches the way to get to Heaven, not the way Heavens go. The Church, which was the dominant force in the land in those days, allowed no speculation into such divine matters. The misfortune of Copernicus, as a result of his statement that it was the sun and not the earth to be the centre of the spherical universe, is well known.
Even after the beginning of the modern scientific period, when Newton had worked out the motions of planets in great detail and also came up with the idea of universal gravitation, people still considered the creation of the universe to be a divine act that lies beyond speculation.
With the vast amount of information that was collected in the last century through the observation of deep space, as well as the development of the Relativity theory and Quantum Mechanics, scientists are at last in a position to work out how the universe began.
Today, speculation and scientific research into cosmology lies outside the realm of religion, to the extent that some scientists today do not consider the creation of the universe to be a divine act at all. However, the same scientists are well aware that when they trace the age of the universe to its origin, or to that moment that sparked the beginning, they too concede that science becomes unable to explain the events of that initial moment, for at that initial moment all the laws of physics seem to break down.
The failure of some scientists to contribute this initial moment of creation to a divine creator stems from the fact that they regard this initial moment as the moment when all the laws of physics break down, rather than being the moment when all the laws of physics came to be, or in other words, when all the laws of physics were set. The question which they do not seem to tackle is: by whom?
The creation of the universe is a subject that is given great attention in the Quran. The huge and varied amount of information contained in the Quran about almost every stage and aspect of the creation continues to astound scientists today because of its very accurate agreement with current knowledge. How can a book written in the 7th century contain such a rich amount of scientific information that was to be attained 14 centuries later? For those reasons, neutral and unbiased observers do consider this to be valid evidence that such a book could never have been the product of any human being.
All the evidence available today suggests an explosive origin to the universe, one that brought space, time and matter into existence. This is what is referred to as the Big Bang. The theory of the Big Bang which has successfully replaced the Steady State theory was worked out in the 1920’s by two scientists quite independently of each other. They were the Russian meteorologist Alexksandr Friedmann and the Belgian mathematician Georges Lemaitre (Deep Space, Colin A. Ronan, p. 156).
The Big Bang itself resulted from an extremely dense singularity. The creation of the universe is one of matter, space and time that are intimately linked together. Matter and space were joined as one and then were separated in the explosion. This is very accurately described in the Quran:
Have the disbelievers not seen that the skies (space) and the earth (matter) were joined together then We ripped them apart? 21:30
The subsequent history of the Big Bang saw the Americans George Gamow, Ralph Alpher and Robert Horman indicate that the whole event took place at a very high temperature; it was a hot Big Bang. This view has been confirmed by the later discovery of the background microwave radiation. The eventual formation of galaxies resulted as a condensation, under gravitational pull, of hot gases which were mainly hydrogen, but may have also contained helium and a few other light elements. With the passing of time, and with the formation of galaxies, the gas gradually condensed into individual stars. The universe in its very early stages was, thus, still in the form of hot gases. This is confirmed in the Quran in the following verse:
Then He took hold of the sky while it was smoke. 41:11
Note that the verse did not say clouds or gas, but smoke, which is a very accurate description as smoke is hot gas, whilst clouds and gas could be hot or cold.
Once stars were formed, a system had to be devised to govern their motion. The kinetic energy stored in the forward movement of these bodies could not be relied upon on its own, otherwise stars and also planets would have shot off in straight lines dispersing into space. No planet would ever revolve around its mother star, which also applies to earth and thus, life would not have evolved on earth, because life on earth is so dependent on the heat, light and energy derived from the sun.
Gravity, a brilliant divine force, works as an equating factor to the centrifugal force to induce precise orbits for all heavenly bodies. The speed, mass and distance of two bodies have to be worked out very precisely to induce an orbit.
If you were to throw a tennis ball upwards towards the sky, it would travel upwards as a result of the kinetic energy stored in the throw but, eventually, the gravity of the earth will take over and the ball will fall back to the ground. But, if you were to throw the ball at a very high speed (say 10km per second) it would escape the gravity of the earth and leave the earth altogether. This is what is known as the escape velocity. It is the speed required for a moving body to enable it to escape the gravity of a heavenly body such as a planet or a star.
When an artificial satellite is placed into orbit around the earth, what happens is that at a required distance, while the satellite is shooting out of the earth’s gravitational field, its speed is reduced which reduces its kinetic energy and with some directional adjustments its kinetic energy can be equated with the earth’s gravity. All these adjustments must be very precisely calculated and executed for an orbit to be obtained.
When one looks at the endless orbits of moons (around their planets), of planets (around their stars), of stars (around the centre of their galaxies), we can only gasp in awe at the intelligent force who designed all these orbits.
These very accurate balances are mentioned in the following verses:
The sun and the moon precisely calculated. 55:5
The following verse speaks of the balance which must be calculated to obtain the orbits:
And the sky, He raised it and set the balance. 55:7
The orbits of the heavenly bodies are mentioned in the verse:
And the sun and the moon, each swimming in an orbit. 21:33
The next stage sees these massive newly formed stars start to shrink under their own gravitational pull. As a result, their central regions become denser and thus, hotter. When the material in the centre of the star has heated up sufficiently, to be exact, at least seven million degrees K, nuclear reactions begin. These reactions, which are similar to those which take place in a hydrogen bomb, continue throughout the life of the star. These reactions are distinctly different from ordinary combustion of burning wood. What actually takes place inside a star is that hydrogen is converted to helium with the emission of huge energy.
The following verse speaks about brilliant stars and their fuel:
Its oil (fuel) almost lights up even though no fire has touched it. 24:35
The verse mentions a star, it’s fuel and a reaction which is not combustion (fire). Short of saying ‘nuclear reactions’ the verse is a very accurate description of what goes on inside a star.
These nuclear reactions cause the stars to radiate all types of radiation into space, from x-rays and gamma rays in the short waves all the way to the longer radio waves. The visible section of those waves which are found between the ultra-violet and the infra-red is what we call sunlight.
On the other hand, the planets do not emit any light of their own, but only reflect light. This differentiation between natural light and reflected light is pointed out with the words:
Blessed is He who placed constellations in the sky and placed in it a lamp (sun), and a shining moon. 25:61
He is the One who rendered the sun to emit light and the moon that is lit. 10:5
In 1965, a very important discovery was made, and that was the background radiation which confirmed the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang theory, together with the detection of the red shift in the spectrum of far away galaxies, gave birth to yet the new concept of the expanding universe.
Further confirmation of the theory of the expanding universe was obtained from the spectrum analysis of far away galaxies. When you hear a police car or ambulance approaching you and then moving away, you will notice a change in the pitch of its siren. As the vehicle approaches, the siren wails at a higher pitch than when it moves away. Yet, in reality the siren is wailing at the same pitch all the time. To the driver of the vehicle the sound of the siren never changes. Why does this happen? The reason is that the waves of sound emitted by the siren change in frequency, which causes a change in pitch. This principle, which is called the Doppler Effect after its discoverer, applies to any waves and not only that of sound. When applied to light waves it was found that if the source of light is approaching its light would be shifted towards the blue end of the spectrum, while as light from a receding source would be shifted towards the red end of the spectrum. When analysing the light we receive from distant galaxies it was found that they all had a red shift meaning that they were flying away from us. This contribution of the red shift analysis meant that the universe is indeed expanding.
This conclusion is mentioned in the Quran:
We have constructed the universe with might (power) and We are expanding it. 51:47
Note that the word “expanding” is used in the present tense and not in the past which again is in agreement with the fact that the expansion of the universe is a continuous process.
When the Quran was revealed in the 7th century, it was still believed that all the stars in the sky, including our sun, were eternal and are made of a material that never fades or decays. No one was aware of the nature of the reactions that took place inside stars, for that was to be 20th century atomic theory territory. This information as shown was mentioned in the Quran.
Atomic reactions take place inside a star for a finite time, eventually running out of energy. When that stage is reached, a star like our sun will undergo a series of drastic changes. First, it will expand to become a red giant. The nearest planet, Mercury, would be swallowed up and the intense heat given off by the sun in this red giant stage would cause all the seas and oceans on earth to boil over and evaporate, signalling the end of life on earth. Eventually, the star would start to collapse and lose its lustre; it is then extinguished and ends up as a white dwarf. This stage of a star’s life is described in the Quran with the words:
When the stars are extinguished. 77:8
The finite life of stars is also referred to:
He ordained the sun and the moon, each to run for a specified term. 13:2
Sura, 81 in its opening verses, describes the end of time as follows:
When the sun is rolled (swelling like a ball), and when the stars collapse. 81:1-2
When the seas are set aflame. 81:6
Calculation : The age of the Universe
Whilst the Big Bang provided an explanation as to the origin of the universe, it still remained necessary to calculate its age. To do so, astronomers once again rely on red shift to calculate the speeds and distances of the furthest galaxies and quasars. These distances provide good indications to the age of the universe. The most distant quasars, which have velocities of some 240,000 km/sec (80% the speed of light), are at distances of up to 14 billion light years from earth. When we look into the depth of space, we are actually looking back far into the past. When we are looking at such a distant quasar, we are not seeing it as it is now, but as it was 14 billion years ago.
The calculation of the age of the universe during the last 70 years or so has fluctuated between 10 and 20 billion years.
It is interesting to know that the age of the universe has been mentioned in the Quran. This information is found in the combined significance of the following two verses:
1- The angels and the Ruh ascend unto Him in a day, the measure of which was fifty thousand years. 70:4
This verse refers to the ascent of angels back to heaven after settling all matters of life in the universe.
The verse clearly said a day that “was” and not a day that “is”, which clearly indicates that that day was in the past (50,000 years ago).
2- A day with your Lord is like a thousand years of your count. 22:47
With a few simple equations:
If 1 day (for God) = 1000 years (for man)
1 year (for God) = 1000 x 365 (for man)
= 365,000 years
Therefore, 50,000 years (for God) = 365,000 x 50,000 (for man)
= 18.25 billion!
The 50,000 years mentioned in point 1 above are of God’s years and not of man’s. This is because man was not mentioned at all in that verse, and more importantly because the subject of the verse (creation of the universe) is obviously a matter executed by God and not by man and so, its description is related to God and not to man.
This becomes evident when we compare this verse to other verses that clearly speak of years as related to man’s count, such as:
A day which is equivalent to one thousand years of your count. 32:5
As we can see, the age of the universe given in the Quran (18.25 billion years) is older than the age agreed upon by scientists today which is 13.8 billion years.
The quasar that is estimated to be 14 billion light years away, and whose light took 14 billion years to reach us does not necessarily mean that the universe is 14 billion years old for the following reason:
The light that reaches us from that quasar tells us that the quasar has been a quasar for at least 14 billion years. However, it does not tell us the length of time from the Big Bang up to the formation of that quasar! There must have been a period of time after the Big Bang when that quasar did not exist. How long was that period of time? To accurately calculate the age of the universe, this period of time must be added to the 14 billion years, which would mean that the universe is older than 14 billion years.
Astronomers estimate the age of the universe in two ways:
1- By looking for the oldest and farthest stars, galaxies and quasars.
1- The oldest stars: This method is based on the already detected stars in the observable universe. We can only detect what our instruments allow us to observe and detect. The observable universe has been consistently getting bigger with the advance in technology and instrumentation. There is no reason to think that this trend will stop in the future. A bigger universe, with farther stars and galaxies means an older universe.
When astronomers discuss the universe, they are always talking about the observable universe. If we go back to the days of the ancient Egyptians five thousand years ago, we find that their understanding of size of the universe was no more than the dome of the sky, covering the earth like the dome in a planetarium. The stars seemed, at the most, some thousands of kilometres away. The Greek astronomers, some two thousand or more years ago, thought of the universe as a sphere but still approximately of the same size.
Copernicus, who believed the sun and not the earth to be the centre of the spherical universe, thought it was much bigger than this, but not until about 170 years ago did anyone really know the distance of even the nearest stars.
Then they found that the distance to stars should be measured in millions of millions of kilometres. Even so, it was still a very small universe, with all the stars being together in one large star island.
It was not until the 1920’s that astronomers discovered that our galaxy was only one of millions of others. Only then did astronomers start to appreciate the actual size of the universe.
Astronomers are today debating the issue of whether our universe is the only one in existence.
The idea of multiple universes is closely linked with the Black Hole concept. Certainly, the squashing of matter into an infinitely small area inside a Black Hole is in sharp disagreement with the Law of conservation of matter. It has been suggested that all matter falling into a Black Hole could be ejected into another time-space universe in what is referred to as a White Hole. Mathematical studies of space and time do show that this is possible in theory; but does it happen in practice? We do not know, but there certainly seems to be regions in deep space from where material is pouring out into our universe in what looks like a White Hole.
The jet of material from the active elliptical galaxy M 87 is a case in point. Has it come from a White Hole connected to a Black Hole in some other universe?
An alternate analysis that could also provide an equally valid justification for the existence of multiple universes is associated with the speed of light.
Between the years 1905-15, in his Theory of Relativity, Albert Einstein stated that the speed of light is a limiting velocity in the universe; nothing can travel faster than light. His theory also outlined that the speed of light is constant, unaffected by the movement of its source and independent of all observers. Quasars, which are the most distant objects in the universe travel at speeds approaching 80% of the speed of light but nothing travels faster than the speed of light.
Could it be that the speed of light acts as a gate, a valve or a barrier between our universe and other universes? Perhaps a different time-space universe where matter, if it can still be called so, exists and is travelling at speeds faster than that of light? We cannot cross that barrier ourselves nor can any physical matter, but there are strong indications that there is some kind of existence on the other side.
A mention should be given here to some speculation concerning particles called tachyons which occur in some nuclear reactions. These particles are believed to travel faster than light. They can never travel at the speed of light, only faster. In short, tachyons behave in just the opposite way from matter, but as no one has actually observed a tachyon, could the reason be because they exist in a different dimension of time-space?
When we examine the verses in the Quran that relate to this subject, not only do we find incredible information concerning the creation and existence of multiple universes, but also regarding the barriers that lie between them.
Multiple universes are mentioned in more than one verse in the Quran such as:
Did you not see that God created seven universes in layers? 71:15
The barriers that exist between these universes are mentioned in the following verse:
If you are able to penetrate through the regions of the heavens and the earth, then go ahead and penetrate; you cannot penetrate without authority. 55:33
The word “penetrate” implies the existence of barriers between the zones of the skies (universes).
Our universe, as we know it today, includes within it all the stars and galaxies that we have detected in the sky so far. If multiple universes exist, they lie outside and beyond all these galaxies. This too seems to be in harmony with the information given in the Quran:
We adorned the lowest universe with lamps (stars). 41:12
Some interpreters of the Quran suggested that the earth’s atmosphere is the first universe, that the region beyond the earth’s atmosphere up to the moon forms the second universe, while the solar system constitutes the third universe and so on. This interpretation is clearly inaccurate since it contradicts the words in 41:12, which tell us that God adorned the “lowest” universe with lamps (stars). Clearly there are no stars in the earth’s atmosphere! The correct meaning of 41:12 is that all the observable universe, with all its stars and galaxies, constitute the lowest universe.