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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Big Bang, second edition

I understand that there are conservative Christians who reject the idea of a Big Bang. I suppose that most of these, at least the ones who can give a good reason for such rejection, do so either because they believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old, or because, in their minds, the Big Bang is associated with evolution, which they reject.

As to the first, it is possible, indeed, that the earth is only a few thousand years old. (But see this post, and others, on a book by a believing Christian, scientist, and Bible scholar, David Snoke, entitled A Biblical Case for an Old Earth.) Even if the earth were only a few thousand years old, the Bible does not explicitly say that the universe is the same age as the earth. I don't see anything in the Bible that would rule out an ancient universe.

I also take two Biblical statements seriously. These are Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:20, both of which tell us that one of God's ways of revealing himself to us is through what nature tells us. Much of what nature tells us, especially about things which are very small, very large, or very far away, or were very long ago, can come to us only though scientific findings. These findings may be mistaken at times, but they should certainly not be rejected out of hand. There is good scientific evidence that there was a Big Bang, and that it took place a very long time ago.

The Big Bang was not proposed as some sort of anti-God crusade. On the contrary, the first good evidence for a Big Bang was discovered by accident, by scientists who weren't looking for such evidence. The Big Bang, as an explanation for the origin of the universe as we know it, is taken by some scientists, even unbelieving scientists, as evidence for the existence of a divine Creator. For example, here's what the late Robert Jastrow wrote, about the discovery of evidence for the Big Bang, in his book, God and the Astronomers:
For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries. (New York: Warner Books, 1978, pp. 105-106.) Jastrow, according to the Wikipedia article on him, was not a Christian, but an agnostic. However, he believed that science had no explanation for what came before, or caused, the Big Bang, and acknowledged that the Judeo-Christian religions do have an explanation, namely that an eternal God began the universe with a supernatural act, or acts, such as the Big Bang. When the Big Bang theory was first proposed, as Jastrow indicated, there were scientists who were pretty upset about the idea, because there was no good explanation for what caused it, or what, if anything, came before it. There still isn't an explanation that has been proved experimentally, although there have been attempts at such explanations, most notably by Stephen Hawking.

Acceptance of the idea of a Big Bang was slow. The evidence for a Big Bang is good, considering how long ago it would have happened, and the idea is accepted by most scientists. The evidence for it, to me, is an important part of God's revelation to us.

As to the connection to evolution, there is no direct connection. In the first place, evolution, like any controversial subject, should be defined before it is discussed at all. This, unfortunately, happens only rarely. In the second place, evolution is a biological process. The Big Bang was a physical process.

What Christians should be concerned about, even if they have the wrong name for it, is not evolution, but naturalism. That's what most conservative Christians really mean when they say that they don't believe in evolution. (At least some types of evolution, biological processes, are well established. The most ardent Young-Earth Creationist scientists believe that humans evolved into more than one type since the time of Noah, for example.) Naturalism is the idea that there are natural, as opposed to supernatural, explanations for everything. It is, therefore, a form of atheism. Naturalism is believed by many scientists, and others, although there is no definitive evidence for it. The most prominent naturalist is Richard Dawkins, a competent biologist, but also a popular writer, crusading against Christianity and other religions. But even Dawkins does not claim that he has disproved God's existence, which would prove naturalism.

The Bible begins with a statement that, if true, destroys naturalism: In the beginning, God created . . . Genesis 1 doesn't tell us when, why, or how. It does tell us that there was a Who. Naturalism says that there wasn't, and isn't, any Who. Christians believe that there was, and is. Undoubtedly, some people who believe in naturalism do so because, if it were true, it would mean that there are no Divinely created moral laws, and they want to believe that there aren't any such.

If someone says that the Big Bang event proves that there is no God, they are mistaken. There is no such proof. On the contrary, supposing that God started the universe with a Big Bang makes good sense. If someone says that evolution, however defined, proves that there is no God, they are similarly mistaken. There is no such proof. On the contrary, God may have used natural selection, the Big Bang, or both, as part of His method of making things like they are now. As I see it, knowledge and prior planning like that would be as wonderful, or more so, as creating every type of atom, and every type of living thing, from scratch.

As Hebrews 11 puts it: 3 By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible (World English Bible, public domain).

This post is revised from a previous one, now removed. Thanks for reading.

Note added, August 1, 2013. Commenter Laginestra (see below) points out that the Big Bang theory doesn't actually describe the origin of the universe, but the early development of the the universe. In other words, it doesn't specify where the universe, if it began with a big bang, came from. The universe had to be present, in some form, before there could have been a big bang. However, most people, including me at times, don't realize that, or don't make that distinction. Stephen Hawking is one scientist who has attempted to explain the origin of the universe.

8 comments:

atlibertytosay said...

I'm in 100% agreement that it is possible the universe is much older than the earth and that the earth may have been formed from those ancient elements.

However, when you said …

"The most ardent Young-Earth Creationist scientists believe that humans evolved into more than one type since the time of Noah, for example.) "

… you lost me.

I've never heard this and I'm in the Creationist camp. I probably don't read the same articles as you do, but I do study the topic quite a bit.

Are you meaning black and white races or just people that didn't live long as Methusalah? I don't follow because it seems you may be pointing out that Creationists may believe in some form of human evolution.

I believe I am the exact same kind of human being as Cain and Abel. The earth itself (with a different post flood atmosphere), sin (the wages of sin is death), and poor choices (some that were incapable of being made back in Adam or Noah's time) cause me to die younger.

I believe in evolution but in the rapid process of it. When life was breathed into this planet by God, it literally sprang forth and multiplied and diversified. When God said multiply, he also proclaimed diversification. Multiply does not always mean clone. No two people and no two living creatures have EVER had the exact same circumstances of their existence. Therefore they diversify by a simple fact of difference in some sort of measurement.

If you follow string theory, which I think you probably can better than myself, it says that there are most likely multiple universes ~ some where our laws of physics and concepts such as time/space/gravity/relativity don't apply. Evidence for that is that these "forces" and "concepts" can be minutely manipulated here or are observable in laboratories beyond the earth's atmosphere.

I just read an article a few weeks ago saying that some of our closest stars are much closer than originally estimated.

The thing to me is … while I certainly think the big bang is true … I think a young earth is true - based on similar reasons as you mentioned but also because of Scientific Theory which says "obesrve".

As humans and our limited history in accordance with not much more than 6000-7000 years … we cannot observe anything that we do not have written or recorded documentation about.

Scientists who assign assumptions (even if highly educated and have seemingly impossible evidence to refute) are diametrically opposed to their creed. A scientist MUST go by what has been seen. Otherwise, it is faith, not science.

FancyHorse said...

Interesting! I am conservative, and I never thought that the Big Bang theory contradicted Genesis 1.

Martin LaBar said...

Trust me, FancyHorse. There are lots who do, mostly because they are not aware that they are opposed to naturalism, but some because they think that the universe is no more than a few thousand years old.

Thanks.

FancyHorse said...

Oh, yes I know that there are many who do; I'm just saying that I don't.

(I always find you trustworthy.)

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, FancyHorse. I try, but don't always succeed. No one (save God) is completely trustworthy.

Martin LaBar said...

Forgive me, atlibertytosay. I'm not sure why I didn't respond to your comment.

"The most ardent Young-Earth Creationist scientists believe that humans evolved into more than one type since the time of Noah, for example.)" That does refer to the idea that the races of humans diverged after the flood, which, as I understand it, is part of Young-Earth doctrine, and would be a kind of evolution. My point was that "evolution" is a term that should get, but seldom does, careful definition.

The Bible seems to indicate that the lifespans of humans declined over time. This would be what we would expect if we started out as biologically perfect, but, gradually, the load of detrimental mutations built up in the population.

Thanks for your comments.

J. Laginestra said...

As a Biology High School teacher, one of the lessons that were addressed was evolution and the Big Bang Theory. Teaching in a Christian tight community, I wanted to see what the students’ opinions were on these two particular topics before I actually taught the lesson plan. Some of their responses to evolution were: Charles Darwin, survival of the fittest, atheist, does not exist, and the most popular answer was monkeys and apes. Also, the majority of the class agreed that the Earth was only 6,000 years old. A couple of students stated that they were Southern Baptist and they do not believe in the evolutionary theory and believed that the earth was relatively young. So we elaborated on this topic for a full class period by starting off with the definition of evolution which we defined as change over time not we came from monkeys. I asked them do any species look the same from thousands of years ago to the present. The entire class agreed that they do not. Of course this is when we discussed Charles Darwin’s journey and his discovery of the Galapagos Islands and their finches. My biology classes were amazed on how the finches had changed over time to adapt to their environment which means evolution has occurred. When it comes to teaching evolution, parents become skeptical thinking that evolution means we have descended from primates. When people believe that evolution only means we as humans have originated from monkeys, in my opinion, these people have little education when it comes to science hence my students. Many people believe that evolution contradicts creationism, which I disagree. Evolution and creationism can be compatible because more and more people are becoming “theistic evolutionist” which means God used evolution to create the world (Pearcey, N., n.d.).
When Conservative Christians hear the word “Big Bang Theory,” they automatic assume that scientists are stating that this is the theory on how the universe originated. On the contrary, the Big Bang Theory is explaining the development of how the universe came into existence over time (Feuerbacher, B., n.d.). Some believe that there are only two views of the origin of the universe: Book of Genesis or the Big Bang Theory. In the Book of Genesis and Exodus 20:11, the scriptures can be interpreted as the whole creation including the universe was created during the six day time frame. I do believe in Genesis and that there was a definite Who involved in creation, but I also believe in the Big Bang Theory due to all the evidences supporting the theory. We all can agree that the universe had a starting point, a beginning. It could have started with the Big Bang Theory but Who created the Big Bang? That is when our faith fills in the gap.

Pearcey, N. (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/cm/v17/n1/god-and-evolution
Feuerbacher , B. (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/astronomy/bigbang.html

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, J. Laginestra. I'll respond by other means.