Genesis 1:1—How can the universe have a “beginning” when modern science says energy is eternal?

Problem: According to the First Law of Thermodynamics, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed.” If this is so, then the universe must be eternal, since it is made of indestructible energy. However, the Bible indicates that the universe had a “beginning” and did not exist before God “created” it (Gen. 1:1). Is this not a contradiction between the Bible and science?

Solution: There is a conflict of opinion here, but no real factual contradiction. The factual evidence indicates that the universe is not eternal, but that it did have a beginning just as the Bible says. Several observations are relevant here.

First of all, the First Law of Thermodynamics is often misstated to the effect that energy “cannot be created.” However, science is based on observation, and statements such as “can” or “cannot” are not based on observation, but are dogmatic pronouncements. The First Law should be stated like this: “[So far as we can observe] the amount of actual energy in the universe remains constant.” That is, as far as we know, the actual amount of energy in the universe is not decreasing or increasing. Stated this way, the First Law makes no pronouncement whatsoever about where energy came from, or how long it has been here. Thus, it does not contradict the Genesis declaration that God created the universe.

Second, another well-established scientific law is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It states that “the amount of usable energy in the universe is decreasing.” According to this Law, the universe is running down. Its energy is being transformed into unusable heat. If this is so, then the universe is not eternal, since it would have run out of usable energy a long time ago. Or, to put it another way, if the universe is unwinding, then it was wound up. If it had an infinite amount of energy it would never run down. Therefore, the universe had a beginning, just as Genesis 1:1 says it did.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.