In Atheism, Something, and Nothing, we pointed out the atheist orthodoxy that in the beginning, all of reality—being solely matter in motion—originated from true nothing. Now we expand on what “beginning” means.
Contrast the concept of a beginning with what must be true if there were no beginning. If there were no beginning, then we would say that what is, always was. Many of the greats of philosophy in antiquity thought that was precisely the state of affairs. The idea of eternal existence was difficult for the human mind to comprehend, however, and that very fact was often thought to support belief in a capital-m Mind that could comprehend such a thing.
In the last hundred years or so the state of the science concerning beginnings has changed. It is now thought that there was a moment and place of beginning, except that it’s not a place and a time on a continuum of space-time preceding the moment of beginning. Time and space were created in the beginning, so it would be meaningless to talk of a place other than the point of beginning, or a time prior to the time of beginning. But we can look at places and time now, and extrapolate backward to that true beginning.
We have come to understand some of the extant forces of the universe. One of these is gravity, the force by which material bodies attract one another. Understanding gravity leads to the question: If physical bodies attract each other, even if ever so slightly, then why doesn’t the universe collapse in on itself?
One answer might have been that it is, of course, and that we’re in that process of slow demise. But that’s not what the data show. It was once thought that the universe was static, in a sense. Not that everything was stationary, but that everything that moved, moved in the same repeated patterns relative to other moving things.
In the early 20th century, however, scientists came to a consensus that the universe is not static, as had been supposed. Instead, the planets, asteroids, stars, galaxies, and so on are moving away from each other. The universe is expanding. More recently, scientists concluded that it was expanding at an increasing rate. Extrapolating backward, the universe must have originated at one point in space-time. Gravity doesn’t cause physical things to collapse in on themselves, because those things are continuing to move outward.
So, it appears that both theists and atheists are in agreement about one thing, at least: that physical things originated in finite space-time. The only question is whether, in that beginning, “God created the heavens and the earth,” or, the heavens and earth sprang forth from nothing.