I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
Creative Commons License
The posts in this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. In other words, you can copy and use this material, as long as you aren't making money from it, and as long as you give me credit.

Monday, April 16, 2007

What was God doing before the Big Bang, and St. Augustine

A common statement about what God was doing before the Big Bang goes like this:

He was preparing Hell for people who ask such questions.

For example, the last page (before the Epilogue) of Simon Singh's Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe (New York: Harper Collins, 2004) says this, and attributes the origin to St. Augustine. (Singh acknowledges, of course, that Augustine didn't know anything about the Big Bang, and that he wrote about the origin of the universe more generally.) Singh is not the first person to say this.

Unfortunately, this is a misreading of Augustine. Here's what he really said:
Lo, are they not full of their old leaven, who say to us, "What was God doing before He made heaven and earth? For if (say they) He were unemployed and wrought not, why does He not also henceforth, and for ever, as He did heretofore? For did any new motion arise in God, and a new will to make a creature, which He had never before made, how then would that be a true eternity, where there ariseth a will, which was not? For the will of God is not a creature, but before the creature; seeing nothing could be created, unless the will of the Creator had preceded. The will of God then belongeth to His very Substance. And if aught have arisen in God's Substance, which before was not, that Substance cannot be truly called eternal. But if the will of God has been from eternity that the creature should be, why was not the creature also from eternity?" (Confessions, public domain, Book XI) Augustine, as I understand him, saw such a question as an attack on God's omnipotence and eternity, and argued, in the last part of his Confessions, not just in the paragraph quoted above, that God is outside time, so the question has no meaning.

If you do a search on the phrase "
What was God doing before He made heaven and earth" you will see that the misreading is widespread.

Thanks for reading.


elbogz said...

The theory of relativity would imply that if there was no mass, and only energy, then there probably wasn’t time. Time and mass are related. Without mass, you probably have something mathematically like division by zero. So that would imply that before the big bang we are dealing with concepts of infinity. Infinity is a concept that our brains can’t fully grasp. God was, in a place without time. Therefore, before and after aren’t useful terms.

Martin LaBar said...

Indeed. Thanks.

John said...

Hi, Im from Melbourne Australia.
Perhaps Real Acausal God never ever does anything and merely IS.

Please check out these related references on Real God.


Martin LaBar said...

I'm sorry, but, to me, an "acausal God" is an oxymoron.