The Age of the Universe in Modern Science
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the majority of Western scientists were attracted to the concept of a static and eternal Universe because it circumvented theological questions regarding creation of the Universe. A Universe that is eternal doesn’t require a creator. So strong was this mind-set that, as late as the year 1916, no less of a scientist than Albert Einstein artificially modified his equations of General Relativity to portray the Universe as static and eternal. In the 1930s, after astronomers had discovered strong empirical evidence that our Universe is expanding, which indicates that it must have come into existence at a finite time in the past, Einstein admitted that this artificial modification was the greatest blunder of his career.
Starting in the 1920s, scientists discovered that most galaxies are moving away from our galaxy (the Milky Way Galaxy) at a rate roughly proportional to the distance from the Milky Way. Using this data to extrapolate backwards in time allowed scientists to make a rough estimate of the number of years that has elapsed since the beginning of the Universe, which turned out to be around 10 to 20 billion years. Thus, the 1930s ushered in a major revolution in cosmological thinking in the West – the Universe has a finite age. This meant that the theologically-loaded question regarding the origin of the Universe could no longer be circumvented, because it was now supported by rigorous scientific observation. This produced considerable consternation in scientific circles, but the evidence for a Universe of finite age was too strong to be brushed aside.
This consternation should not be misconstrued to imply that the finite age of the Universe is to be uncritically accepted as proof of the existence of God. In recent times, a number of atheistic physicists (see, for example, Hawking and Mlodinow, 2010; Perlov and Vilenkin, 2017) claim that the spontaneous generation of a universe is supported by our current understanding of the laws of physics. This means that, according to these physicists, we aren’t obliged to postulate the existence of God to account for the origin of the Universe – the laws of physics alone are adequate to account for it. This atheistic verdict, however, was delivered before the publication of our book, which has revolutionized the classic theist – atheist dialogue by providing, for the first time, scientifically-unassailable empirical evidence with profoundly theistic implications. These implications are explored in Chapter 9.
Refinements in measuring the Hubble Constant (the constant of proportionality between rate and distance) led to more accurate estimates for the age of the Universe but, even by the 1980s, the best scientific estimates for the age of the Universe still ranged from 11 to 17 billion years (Fowler, 1987). In the 1990s, the best estimate still ranged from 11 to 15 billion years (Freedman, 2000).
The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) revolutionized cosmic chronology by accurately measuring the properties of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) over the full sky. In the year 2003, the best estimate for the age of the Universe using WMAP data was 13700 ± 200 million years (Spergel et al, 2003), and in the year 2011 the best estimate was 13750 ± 110 million years (Komatsu et al, 2011).
WMAP has been succeeded by an even more sophisticated satellite, the Planck Satellite. The current estimate based on Plank data is 13801 ± 24 million years (Aghanim et al, 2018).
The Puranic Age of the Universe
To appreciate the Purāṇic calculation for the age of our Universe, it is essential to understand the enormous scale of Brahmā’s life. Brahmā lives for 100 of his Years, each of which has 360 Days and Nights. A Day or a Night of Brahmā is called a Kalpa. The lifetime of Brahmā is divided into two halves, which are called “Parārdhas.”
evaṁ-vidhair aho-rātraiḥ kāla-gatyopalakṣitaiḥ /
apakṣitam ivāsyāpi paramāyur vayaḥ-śatam //
By such days and nights characterized by the movement of time, even the maximum life of Brahmā, consisting of a hundred years, comes to an end (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.11.33).
yad ardham āyuṣas tasya parārdham abhidhīyate /
pūrvaḥ parārdho ’pakrānto hy aparo ’dya pravartate //
The one hundred years of Brahmā’s life are divided into two parts (Parārdhas), the first half and the second half. The first half of the duration of Brahmā’s life is already over, and the second half is now current (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.11.38).
Each Parārdha is equivalent to 50 Years of Brahmā’s life. The following verse from the Vāyu Purāṇa states an important relationship between the constituents of the Universe and a Parārdha:
śāśvate cāmṛtatve ca śabde cābhūtasaṃplavaḥ /
atītā vartamānāśca tathaivānāgatāḥ prajāḥ /
divyasaṃkhyā prasaṃkhyātā aparārdhaguṇīkṛtāḥ //
That which is immortal and eternal, along with cosmic vibration, is dissolved. The past, present and future constituents [of the Universe] are calculated to last up to a Parārdha, a divine number (Vāyu Purāṇa 2.38.240).
This verse states that the constituents of the Universe last only for a Parārdha, implying that Śrī Prakṛti performs the elemental reconstruction twice in the life of Brahmā. The first time Śrī Prakṛti does this is at the beginning of his first Parārdha, and the second time is at the beginning of his second Parārdha (see Figure 20). The elemental reconstruction at the beginning of the first Parārdha is universally acknowledged by Purāṇic scholars. A unique contribution of this book is the discovery that there was an elemental disintegration and reconstruction at the end of the first Parārdha. In his commentary on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (3.12.3), Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, an eminent 17th-century Purāṇic scholar, confirms the fact that all living entities were absorbed into the body of Śrī Viṣṇu at the end of the first Parārdha:
mahā-kalpāyuṣāṁ brahmādīnāṁ jīvatām eva prathama-parārdhānte parameśvare praveśāt
Brahmā and others, who live for the entirety of Brahmā’s life, entered into the body of Śrī Viṣṇu at the end of the first Parārdha of Brahmā’s life.
As discussed in the previous section, this entering of all living entities, including Brahmā, into the body of Śrī Viṣṇu, takes place exclusively during Prākṛtika disintegration. Thus, there must also have been a complete disintegration at the end of the first Parārdha. Since Brahmā lives for two Parārdhas, there must be a Sarga reconstruction immediately after the Prākṛtika disintegration at the end of his first Parārdha.
Is there Purāṇic support for a Sarga reconstruction at the beginning of the second Parārdha? The answer is yes. According to the Purāṇas, Brahmā appears on a cosmic lotus (Padma in Sanskrit) at the beginning of his life, at which time he constructs the lokas in the stem of the cosmic lotus. Therefore, the first Day in Brahmā’s life is called the Padma Kalpa. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa states that the lokas were reconstructed in the stem of the cosmic lotus in the Kalpa immediately after the end of Brahmā’s first Parārdha; therefore, this Kalpa is also called the Padma (lotus) Kalpa:
tasyaiva cānte kalpo ’bhūd yaṁ pādmam abhicakṣate /
yad dharer nābhi-sarasa āsīl loka-saroruham //
The Kalpa after the end of the first half of Brahmā’s life is called the Padma Kalpa because the lokas were constructed in the stem of the cosmic lotus in the navel lake of Hari [Śrī Viṣṇu] (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.11.36).
The reconstruction of all the lokas in the cosmic lotus takes place exclusively during the Sarga reconstruction. Since all the lokas were reconstructed at the beginning of the second Parārdha, this reconstruction of lokas must have been preceded by reconstruction of the fundamental elements of the Universe at that time. The Sarga reconstruction at the beginning of the second Parārdha is corroborated by the commentary of Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (3.11.37):
prathama-parārdhānte mahar-janas-tapaḥ-satyānāṁ dvi-parārdhānta-paryanta-sthāyinām anaṣṭānām api jala-plāvanaṃ tathā tatratyānāṁ sarveṣām eva kalpāyuṣāṁ Brahmā-sāhitenaiva śrī-nārāyaṇe praveśam ākhyāya prathama-parārdha-samāptau dvitīya-parārdhasyādimaṁ śveta-vārāham eva pādmam āhuḥ |
Mahar loka, Jana loka, Tapa loka and Satya loka, which [are commonly believed to] remain intact until the end of the second Parārdha of his life, were, in fact, dissolved at the end of the first Parārdha of Brahmā’s life. Those who live until the end of Brahmā’s life on those lokas entered into the body of Śrī Viṣṇu, along with Brahmā, during the Night at the end of the first Parārdha of Brahmā’s life. Purāṇic scholars say that the first Day in the second Parārdha of Brahmā’s life is called the Sveta-Varāha or Padma Kalpa (commentary on Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.11.37).
The essential point in the above commentary is that the Brahmāṇḍa, which is partially disintegrated at the beginning of each Night of Brahmā, was completely disintegrated at the end of the first half of Brahmā’s life (the first Parārdha) and then reconstructed at the beginning of the second Parārdha.
In summary, according to the above verses and the associated discussion, the Universe was completely disintegrated (Prākṛtika) at the end of the last Day of the first Parārdha. Since the duration of Brahmā’s life had not yet expired, the reconstruction of the fundamental elements (Sarga) began immediately after the disintegration, and Brahmā reappeared on the top of the cosmic lotus.
As discussed above, we are currently in the Second Parārdha of Brahmā’s life. The Purāṇas agree that we are currently in the first Day of this Parārdha:
yatsv ayaṃ vartate kalpo vārāhantaṃ nibodhata /
prathamaḥ sāṃpratasteṣāṃ kalpo ayaṃ vartate dvijāḥ //
O Dvijas, the current Kalpa is called Vārāha. This is the first Day (Vāyu Purāṇa 1.5.46).
According to this verse, we are currently in the first Day of the Second Parārdha of Brahmā’s life. Since the Universe was disintegrated at the end of the last Day of the first Parārdha of Brahmā’s life (in other words, at the end of the previous Day of Brahmā), the fundamental elements of the Universe were reconstructed at that time.
Since we are currently in the first Day of the second Parārdha, Śrī Prakṛti must have performed elemental reconstruction during the first Night of the second Parārdha. As discussed in Chapter 3, each Kalpa is preceded by a Pratisaṃdhi, which is the transition period between consecutive Kalpas. Therefore, according to the Purāṇas, Śrī Prakṛti began the elemental reconstruction at the beginning of the Pratisaṃdhi of the previous Kalpa. In other words, at the end of Brahmā’s previous Day, the elemental reconstruction of the Universe began (see Figure 21).
As calculated in the other article (lifecycle of the Sun), the previous Kalpa ended 4562.784 million years ago. A Kalpa lasts 8640 million years and a Pratisaṃdhi (along with its Manvantara-Saṃdhyā) lasts 616.896 million years. Adding 8640, 616.896 and 4562.784 yields 13819.68 million years. Thus, according to the Purāṇas, Śrī Prakṛti began elemental reconstruction 13819.68 million years ago. Figure 22 shows Purāṇic chronology for the elemental reconstruction. What the Purāṇas call the reconstruction of the elements, modern scientists call the origin of the Universe.
Thus, Western scientific estimates for the age of the Universe over the last thirty years have monotonically approached the Purāṇic date of 13.82 billion years, which was unequivocally stated thousands of years ago in the Purāṇas.