March 16, 2011

The Big Bang Theory

“What we know is so little, and what we presume is so much.”?—Pablo Neruda.
Why, it has been asked, is there something instead of nothing?
It’s not, particularly, a frivolous question. After all, the cosmos seems an involved and complicated enough state of affairs to demand an explanation. Most people, too, would find the explanation that says the universe is just one of those things that “happen from time to time” on an intellectual par with atheist Richard Dawkins’ use of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (a parody of Yahweh, the Creator).
For millennia the question Why is there something instead of nothing? was muted, at least somewhat, by belief in an eternal universe. If the universe always existed, then debate about its origins was nonsensical (like asking what’s north of the North Pole, or what’s colder than absolute zero).
2011 1508 page17Of course, the concept of an eternal universe didn’t exist without some nagging, such as a medieval Muslim move called the Kalam cosmological argument, revived with rigor by contemporary Christian philosopher William Lane Craig. An infinitely old universe, the argument states, implies that an infinite amount of time had been passed in order to have reached this, or any, moment.
But how could an infinite amount of anything have ever been completed? If the universe existed in the infinite past, then an infinite number of moments must have been traversed in order to get to the present one—an impossibility. Hence, the universe must have had a beginning.
However viable or unviable that reasoning, scientists believe they have uncovered that beginning. According to the theory, about 13 billion years ago an infinitely dense state known as a singularity “exploded,” creating space, time, and matter—the components of our ever-expanding universe. Cosmologists claim to have found evidence for the Big Bang, including the background “noise” from the original blast. When you turn on a TV to a station with no program, the obnoxious static is, supposedly, a bit of that primeval “clatter.” (If bored, flip on the tube and listen to the echo of the universe’s creation.)
Unlike Darwinian evolution, which destroys everything Christian, Big Bang cosmogony can, I believe, easily be harmonized with biblical faith. The immense amount of math, physics, and laws involved in the creation of the universe via the Big Bang had to arise from somewhere, and God seems a much better option than does His present leading competitor, which is that “nothing” created the universe. Big Bang cosmogony, in fact, helped turn the “world’s most notorious atheist,” Anthony Flew, into a theist, because a created universe, he realized, needed a Creator. When first proposed, the theory upset the Soviet intelligentsia, who understood that a created universe implied a Creator, a concept inimical to atheistic Marxism.
As stated, I have no problem incorporating the Big Bang theory into my Adventism. In fact, because I find the Kalam cosmological argument a plausible challenge to an eternal universe, the Big Bang, if true, answers that challenge easily enough.
Of course, considering the fate of many once firmly entrenched scientific certainties, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Big Bang theory gets dumped into the trash heap of history as well. Even now, numerous “anomalies”—a concept made popular by Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (one of the most influential texts of the twentieth century)—present challenges to the theory, which, despite its popularity, has always had detractors anyway (the name “Big Bang” itself was originally a derogatory term).
I can live with Big Bang cosmogony for now, although it’s probably wrong or, at least, in need of radical surgery. But that’s the nature of most scientific knowledge: tenuous, contingent, and often false (though I don’t think the moving earth is going to be changed anytime soon).
Thus we have to be careful about how closely we tie our faith to science, even when it buttresses our beliefs, and even more so when it contradicts them.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. This article was published March 17, 2011.