My career as a Cold Case Detective was built on being evidentially certain about the suspects I brought to trial. There are times when my certainty was established and confirmed by the cumulative and diverse nature of the evidence. Let me give you an example. It’s great when a witness sees the crime and identifies the suspect, but it’s even better if we have DNA evidence placing the suspect at the scene. If the behavior of the suspect (before and after the time of the crime) also betrays his involvement, and if his statements when interviewed are equally incriminating, the case is even better. Cases such as these become more and more reasonable as they grow both in depth and diversity. It’s not just that we now have four different evidences pointing to the same conclusion, it’s that these evidences are from four different categories. Eyewitness testimony, forensic DNA, behaviors and admissions all point to the same reasonable inference. When we have a cumulative, diverse case such as this, our inferences become more reasonable and harder to deny. Why did I take the time to describe this evidential approach to reasonable conclusions? Because a similar methodology can be used to determine whether everything in the universe (all space, time and matter) came from nothing. We have good reason to believe our universe had a beginning, and this inference is established by a cumulative, diverse evidential case:
Philosophical Evidence (from the Impossibility of Infinite Regress)
Imagine a linear race track with a start and finish line. Now imagine you’re a new police recruit and I’ve asked you to put on your track shoes and step into the starting blocks for a physical training (PT) test. The finish line is one hundred yards away. As you place your feet in the blocks and prepare to run, I raise the starting pistol. Just before I fire it, however, I stop and tell you to move the start line and blocks back six inches. You reluctantly do that. Again I raise the pistol to the sky—only to command you, once again, to move the line back six inches. You grudgingly comply. Imagine this continues. Question: Will you ever reach the finish line? No. Unless there is a beginning, you’ll never get to the finish. In a similar way, time also requires a beginning in order for any of us to reach a finish; unless time has a beginning, we cannot arrive at the finish line we call “today.”
Theoretical Evidence (from Mathematics and Physics)
Albert Einstein’s calculations related to the general theory of relativity 1916 indicated the universe was dynamic (either expanding or contracting). The notion of a static universe was so common at the time, however, that Einstein applied a mathematical “constant” to his calculations to maintain the unchanging, uniform nature of the universe he hoped for (he later referred to this effort as “the biggest blunder he ever made in his life” ). Einstein’s calculations suggested the universe was not eternally old and unchanging. Alexander Friedmann, a Russian mathematician working with Einstein’s theories in the 1920’s, developed a mathematical model predicting an expanding universe. This conclusion inferred the universe must have had a beginning from which it was expanding.
Observational Evidence (from Astronomical Data)
Vesto Slipher, an American astronomer working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, spent nearly ten years perfecting his understanding of spectrograph readings. His observations revealed something remarkable. If a distant object was moving toward Earth, its observable spectrograph colors shifted toward the blue end of the spectrum. If a distant object was moving away from Earth, its colors shifted toward the red end of the spectrum. Slipher identified several “nebulae” and observed a “redshift” in their spectrographic colors. If these “nebulae” were moving away from our galaxy (and one another) as Slipher observed, they must have once been tightly clustered together. By 1929, Astronomer Edwin Hubble published findings of his own, verifying Slipher’s observations and demonstrating the speed at which a star or galaxy moves away from us increases with its distance from the earth. This once again confirmed the expansion of the universe.
Thermal Evidence (from the Second Law of Thermodynamics)
Imagine walking into a room and observing a wind-up toy police car. The longer you watch it roll, the slower it moves. You realize the car is winding down—that is, the amount of usable energy is decreasing. It’s reasonable to infer the car was recently wound up prior to your entry into the room. The fact the toy car is not yet completely unwound indicates it was wound up recently. If the car had been wound much earlier, we would expect it to be motionless by the time we entered the room. In a similar way, the fact our universe still exhibits useful energy—even though the Second Law of Thermodynamics dictates we are on our way to a cosmic “heat death”—indicates a beginning. Otherwise, and if the universe were infinitely old, our cosmos should have run out of usable energy by now. We can reasonably infer it was once tightly wound and full of energy.
Quantitative Evidence (from the Abundance of Helium)
As Astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle studied the way elements are created within stars, he was able to calculate the amount of helium created if the universe came into being from nothing. Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe (Hydrogen is the first), but in order to form helium by nuclear fusion, temperatures must be incredibly high and conditions must be exceedingly dense. These would have been the conditions if the universe came into being from nothing. Hoyle’s calculations related to the formation of helium happen to coincide with our measurements of helium in the universe today. This, of course, is consistent with the universe having a moment of beginning.
Residual Evidence (from the Cosmic Background Radiation)
In 1964, two American physicists and radio astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson detected what is now referred to as “echo radiation”, winning a Nobel Prize for their discovery in 1978. Numerous additional experiments and observations have since established the existence of cosmic background radiation, including data from the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite launched in 1989, and the Planck space observatory launched in 2009. For many scientists, this discovery alone solidified their belief the universe had a beginning. If the universe leapt into existence, expanding from a state of tremendous heat, density and expansion, we should expect find this kind of cosmic background radiation.
There are numerous, diverse lines of evidence pointing to the same reasonable inference. As we assemble the philosophical evidence from the impossibility of infinite regress, the theoretical evidence from mathematics and physics, the observational evidence from astronomical data, the thermal evidence from the second law of thermodynamics, the quantitative evidence from the abundance of helium, and the residual evidence from the cosmic background radiation, we quickly recognize the different nature of these varied forms of evidence. That’s what makes the case so powerful. Just like my criminal cases, when multiple divergent lines of evidence all point to the same conclusion, you can trust you’re making a proper inference. The evidence for the beginning of the universe is decidedly diverse:
I’ve briefly excerpted this case from one chapter in my new book, but if you’re interested in the detailed summary of the evidence (and the reason why this evidence points to an eternal first cause “outside the room” of the natural universe), please read God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe. In addition, if you would like a printable copy of this simple cumulative case diagram, I’m offering it as this month’s FREE Bible Insert. Just visit the home page at ColdCaseChristianity.com and click the Bible Insert link in the right tool bar.