Whether the universe had a beginning or not is a hotly debated topic in philosophical, theological, and scientific circles. Jeff Zweerink is an astrophysicist who works with Reasons to Believe, a science-faith think tank that comes from an Old Earth Creationist perspective. With Escaping the Beginning, he has written an important, insightful resource for people wishing to explore the science of various theories that preclude a beginning of the universe.
Zweerink’s book is robust on the scientific theories around the universe, multiverse, and quantum theory. Chapters in the book include “The Case for a Beginning,” “Did Our Universe Reincarnate?”; “Did Our Universe come from Nothing?”; “If Hawking and Krauss are Right, Does That Remove God?” and many more. These chapter titles hint at the content of each chapter, and each is absolutely filled with clear explanations of some pretty advanced theories on physics and astronomy. Zweerink covers the major theories of the multiverse and goes deeply into the labors of Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking to come up with theories that do not require a beginning to the universe. He does this by sticking to the science, showing where these theories have holes or import philosophical assumptions (which are usually unacknowledged by those putting them forward), and giving analysis of each theory on the table. Each chapter is followed by a brief summary of the contents of that chapter as well as some discussion questions.
Zweerink makes a strong case that many of these theories still do not get away from the need for an absolute beginning or a Creator. For example, even the theories which posit the universe came from quantum effects in a vacuum still must posit a reason for the vacuum itself existing to begin with.
The book ends with a discussion of whether Christianity could still be true even if there were no beginning of the universe. Zweerink argues from Scripture that there must be a creation out of nothing to align with the biblical evidence. Zweerink does not, however, engage with the parts of Christian tradition that does maintain the universe is eternal. Though in the minority, there are clear instances of Christian believers throughout history who held the universe was eternal and that this was unproblematic. Most obvious as examples are those Christians who hold to Platonic thought and see the universe as eternal due to philosophical precommitments on that regard. Thus, though it seems the Christian tradition and Scriptures align more readily with a beginning of the universe, it does not seem to be the case that such a belief is absolutely necessary for Christianity to survive. Further discussion of that topic would be well afield of the book, but it would have been good to have included at least an acknowledgement of this tradition in the section that alleges Christianity cannot comport with an eternal universe.
What makes the book especially laudable is that Zweerink consistently admits when their are difficulties with his own position–that the universe had a beginning–or where the challenges to his view can even come to be strengthened in the future. For example, though it is clear throughout that Zweerink favors a Big Bang model as an actual beginning of the universe, he notes that oscillating models provide a challenge to this position and that scientific challenges may confirm the latter and usurp the Big Bang model for the origins of the universe (84). This kind of frank discussion of the science is commendable, particularly in a book about science written from a Christian perspective with a clear position at stake. Yet Zweerink consistently notes that when he makes predictions or comes out on one side or the other in various debates where his own position might be falsified or confirmed. It makes the book that much more valuable to have one that not only lays out all of these scientific theories and approaches them from a particular Christian perspective but also notes where that perspective might be challenged.
Escaping the Beginning is a fantastic resource for those who want to learn about the latest scientific research related to the beginning (or lack thereof) for our universe. It is commendably even in its presentation of the evidence, and Zweerink is clear when he provides predictions and how they might be challenged. The book is an achievement, and very much worth anyone picking up to read.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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