August 31, 2010

In The Beginning

I had wondered for sometime what my first real post would be once I finally finished creating the draft pages. As it turns out I just could not get the idea of 'beginnings' out of my mind, perhaps for obvious reasons. This is in some sense my beginning as a 'blogger' and as a person who puts the written word out for some kind of public consumption. I certainly wouldn't be so bold as to say writer, but still this is the first kind of public writing I have ever done.

I guess that thought has put me in the mood to talk about creation, and first causes. One of the things that I am astounded by is just how many Christians are afraid of the 'Big Bang'. Just recently I had the opportunity to give a seminar at a large weekend youth rally, and one of the topics I had on the block to discuss was God and science. One group of students looked at the topic and scoffed. A well meaning girl said boldly and without hesitation that one of the things teachers always forget to say in science class is that the Big Bang is 'just a theory'. The 20 or so other teens in the room all nodded in agreement and than went on to choose a different topic to talk about.

Truthfully I was both disappointed and glad that they did. I was glad because had this group of young people decided to stick with the topic of God and science I think they would have been in for a shock. It seemed that they at some point had a very well meaning, caring, youth pastor, Sunday School teacher, or other spiritual leader set up an unnecessary tension in their minds between the Christian faith and science as a whole. I knew that my presentation was aimed at helping youth understand how biblical Christian faith and science can co-exist and inform each other. These teens felt no such tension, at least not obviously. Instead they like so many others resolved the tension by saying 'the bible is right' and science where it seems to contradict the bible is wrong, scientists should know better than being so prideful and if nothing else they need to remind everyone that the things they say are theories and will not doubt be proven wrong any time now. I was disappointed that we didn't get to talk about faith and science because I think that attitude is a silly one.

Good Science, and Amusing Humor

I understand why people get nervous when we talk about evolution, extinction and other such topics; (I don't think they need to and I'm sure we'll talk about that another day) but the 'Big Bang' is one of the most Christian friendly scientific theories on the block.

But before we talk about that I just want to back up for a second and say something else. I hear by declare a moratorium on using the phrase 'just a theory' when trying to dismiss something we hear scientists saying. Theory is the strongest scientific word for 'this is what we think is going on'. When we use the word theory in normal parlance we tend to mean 'hunch' or 'guess' theory in scientific language is as close to the word 'certain' they are going to say. Remember gravity is just a theory, the water cycle is just a theory and I don't expect either of those theories will be disproved anytime soon.

But back to the point in hand. People seem to misunderstand what the Big Bang is; it is the universe being created. The Big Bang theory states that at some point in history, there was no history. There was no matter, no energy, no universe there was just a whole lot of nothing. Than all of a sudden there was something. The reason why I think people don't get the idea that the Big Bang is at least Christian friendly is they don't understand just how big the metaphysical difference is between something and nothing. Crudely put you can get all kinds of new things from 'something' but all you get from nothing is more nothing.

This begs the question if prior to the Big Bang there was nothing, why was there a Big Bang at all? Nothing should have produced more nothing, it shouldn't have produced a universe no matter how long we waited. And this is why for the past few decades there has been a fury of attempts to replace the Big Bang theory with something else.

For example Stephen Hawking proposed the idea that the universe was sort of like a heart beat. And that it has been contracting, expanding, contracting and expanding for all eternity thus eliminating a 'creation' at all. It was given a great deal of thought but that theory like others before it have failed to disprove the standard model, or the Big Bang. No matter what has been thrown in to the ring with it time and time again the Big Bang theory has proven itself to be the best theory at explaining the data about the universe we can observe.

The Big Bang theory is nothing to be afraid of*. The universe had a beginning , we can look through a telescope and see evidence of that beginning. Everything that we have learned so far has even given us the ability to wind the clock back to mere fractions of a second after the Big Bang known as Planck Time. We can almost 'watch' the universe begin; which leads us to wonder if it also had a beginner**. Heck we can look through a telescope and see the that the universe is still being created! The universe is still expanding. And there is a statement that when I start to think about I just never seem to be able to understand. Just what is the universe expanding in to?

*I should be clear about something I am not saying that the Big Bang theory is a 'Christian Theory', but that it fits in with the Christian understanding of God and the universe better than it does with say the Buddhist understanding of God and the universe. According to Buddhist thought the universe is co-eternal with God. Or perhaps it is better to say that the universe and God are one and the same. Christians on the other hand see God and the universe as two distinct things. God is eternal, he was never created but the universe is finite having a starting point. Since at this point all scientific data is pointing towards a finite universe we can say that the Big Bang theory fits the Christian understanding of the universe better than it does the Buddhist understanding of the universe making it Christian friendly so to speak.

** I don't want anyone to think I am overstating my case here. I am not saying that the Big Bang proves the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, as far as the scientific data is concerned it may well have been Zeus that got the universe in motion. All we can say with any certainty is that things that things that begin need something to begin them. And if the whole of nature as we know it came into existence with the universe nature cannot be the cause which points us towards a supernatural cause of some kind.


  1. I have to agree. I think finding conflict between religion and science is setting Christians up for a serious crisis in faith. At some point most people will feel like science just has too much going for it and then they have no way to justify their faith. It also makes Christians sound ignorant when we dismiss science as "just a theory".

    I am a firm believer that my God is also a God of science. I believe that studying science allows us to continue to unveil an image of who God is.

    I will say that in my understanding, the Big Bang theory actually claims that the universe did come from something - but that something was ridiculously tiny, even though it contained all the matter of the universe. That is how the bang came about - the pressure was so intense.

    Scientists believe they know what happened right after the bang, as you said. But the question is, what happened before the bang?

    I am currently reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. Here is a really good quote from it:

    "So what caused [the big bang]? One notion is that perhaps the singularity was the relic of an earlier, collapsed universe - that we're just one of an eternal cycle of expanding and collapsing universes. like the bladder on an oxygen machine. Others attribute the Big Bang to what they call "a false vacuum" or "a scalar field" or "vacuum energy" - some quality or thing, at any rate, that introduced a measure of instability into the nothingness that was. It seems impossible that you could get something from noting, but the fact that once there was nothing and now there is a universe is evident proof that you can. It may be that our universe is merely part of many larger universes, some in different dimensions, and that Big Bangs are going on all the time all over the place. Or it may be that space and time had some other forms altogether before the Big Bang - forms too alien for us to imagine - and that the Big Bang represents some sort of transition phase, where the universe went from a form we can't understand to one we almost can. "These are very close to religious questions," Dr. Andrei Linde, a cosmologist at Stanford, told the New Your Times in 2001."

    Even science points to a creator.

  2. Laura- Wow what a great first 'real comment'

    I hope you know how significant being able to say that God is also a God of science and not mean it in some adversarial way.

    I remember learning that almost everything in the universe can be described in mathematical equations.

    But that doing so is hardly what you would call satisfyingly. And they certainly don't offer comfort at a graveside or guidance for life.

    Thanks for reading!