The Big Bang Theory and Judaism

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I have trouble reconciling my reading of Genesis with current scientific theory. When I read the creation story it seems clear that according to the Biblical version God created the world and universe whole, complete. Physics, however, maintains that there was a primordial speck which exploded in what is now known as the Big Bang and from its expansion the universe and world came to be. This is a far cry from the world being created complete! Is there a way to integrate the two contradictory versions of the story?

Joseph W. T. PhD

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Dear Joseph W. T. PhD,

In order to analyze your question, we need to take a closer look at the verse of creation. Perhaps if we understand the Torah’s rendition of the story more deeply we shall see there is no contradiction at all.

In most translations the first verse of Genesis reads like this: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth, and the earth was astonishingly empty…”  This translation alludes to God creating heaven and earth as complete entities as you mentioned, and is in fact a flawed translation. The correct translation, as explained by the classical commentary Rashi, is “In the beginning of God’s creating of the heaven and the earth…” 

The difference in the way Rashi translates the verse is significant. According to the standard English translation the verse is referring to a heaven and earth already created; created complete. According to Rashi it is only beginning to tell the story of the creation of heaven and earth – which have not yet been created.

The continuing statement as well, normally translated as “…and the earth was astonishingly empty”, loses its true meaning in translation. The renowned medieval commentary Ramban, points out a difficulty implicit in the Hebrew source of those words. “Tohu vavohu” does not literally form the phrase “astonishingly empty”. Tohu indeed means astonishing. Bohu, however, means “all is in it”. The correct translation would be; “it was astonishing that all there is – is in it”. What does this mean?

  Ramban writes the following explanation: “The Holy One, blessed be He, created all creatures from absolute nothingness (ex nihilo). The only term in our holy tongue that describes this is “Bara”. Not all creatures in the spiritual realm or below the heavens were created ex nihilo. Rather, God brought into existence from absolute nothingness a very miniscule basic material which, because of its tininess 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”, (astonishing), because if a man would attempt to assign it a name, he would be astonished…because it had no form which would accept a name. The form, which cloaked this matter, is called in Hebrew “Bohu” meaning “all is in it… He created from complete “Tohu” and made from nothing something.” 

It is amazing to see from Ramban’s commentary – written over 700 years ago – that the verse from Genesis, when interpreted according to the early rabbinical sources, is precisely in line with Big Bang theory! 

Until recently, we were not able to fully understand the meaning of Ramban’s interpretation in physical terms. It defied logic to claim all the vast mass of the universe could be 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! We could only understand Ramban’s explanation in spiritual terms.

Only after Albert Einstein discovered relativity and the relationship between matter and energy could we understand this concept in physical terms. The entire mass of the universe could indeed be compressed into a nearly infinitely concentrated speck of energy!

The “big bang” theory in science is relatively new. It came as a result of observations made by Edwin Hubble in 1929, showing that the universe is constantly expanding. This was an epic revelation in science, as it was believed for centuries by the scientific world that the universe was static. Even the great Einstein, when confronted by evidence that the universe should be expanding, created a mathematical formula to deviate from that conclusion, called the Cosmological Constant. This blunder, (in his own words), is now referred to as Einstein’s “fudge factor” or attempt to deviate from the axiom of a static universe. Today we know that the universe is expanding, leading scientists to believe that the universe had a beginning point when it was infinitesimally dense. It then exploded, hence the “big bang.”

Physicists explain that this original, primordial speck is called a “singularity”, with nearly infinite energy pulling in upon itself, not allowing any energy to escape. It was the ultimate “black hole”. This was considered a monumental discovery for science, but something that the Jews have known, although not totally understood, from our Torah literature for thousands of years! 

One thing scientists have not sufficiently explained is how the Big Bang was indeed possible. If there is an infinite amount of energy holding the singularity together, not allowing any energy to escape, from whence is the even greater energy to pull it apart?!

Renowned physicist Steven Hawking suggests that until after the Big Bang occurred all science and mathematics that we know breaks down and doesn’t apply. Time, space and science as we know it and can calculate it have their beginnings only after the Big Bang. In other words, even theoretically, science cannot explain how the Big Bang occurred.

From a Jewish point of view there is an obvious answer: the Creator. He Who was the architect of the concept of infinity had the energy beyond infinity to bring about the Big Bang. 

It is amazing to observe, as science progresses, how the scientific understanding of the world and the way we view the world according to Torah are not opposed; they synthesize into one greater reality. 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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