The face of the waters

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

So begins the Biblical account of creation. Most Christian accounts tend to focus on the fact that this verse teaches that God created the universe creatio ex nihilo; creation from nothing.

In as far as modern science can tell us, that’s a pretty accurate description of the beginning of the universe (although the role of God is hotly disputed). There was nothing, then a moment later there was an awful lot of something: The Big Bang.

Of course there are some problems with the term The Big Bang. As Jon Cartwright says in New Scientist:

We are told it was big, yet it was probably unimaginably small. We are told there was a bang, yet there was apparently no sound, and no space for anything to explode into.

The ‘waters’ reference has always been a bit of a mystery though. If there was nothing what were the waters? In a curious twist a new theory about the beginning of, well, everything, speculates that space-time (what the theory of general relativity uses to describe the canvas of all reality) isn’t just like a fluid, it is a fluid.

Now the physics are at an order of magnitude way past my ability to properly grasp and I certainly wouldn’t push this or teach this, it is after all just one still speculative theory (although with some promising data for it). But I enjoy these moments where modern science describes in great detail what the Bible tells us in great poetic prose of a universe that came into being in an instant.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Photo by GPC™

2 thoughts on “The face of the waters”

  1. Jeremy Williams says:

    Interesting. It’s strange that the verse is used to talk about creation ‘ex nihilo’, when a face value reading suggests that God created out of the waters. There’s an echo of birth there, and biologists maintain that life began in the deep oceans first. Water is vital to life, but the deep waters are closed to us and unknowable. Multiple layers of poetic resonance in that phrase.

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      Thanks Jeremy, I’d overlooked the oceans as the place where life first started – that’s also an interesting connection.

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