Bigger than the Big Bang
There are Christians who feel the need to integrate the Big Bang theory into their theology because they believe the weight of evidence requires them to do so. But this is dangerous.
Sven ÖstringMar 20, 2023, 12:40 AM
For centuries the Bible has resolutely proclaimed that in the beginning, God created the universe. This teaching was at odds with Aristotle’s influential theory of an eternal, unchanging universe.
All this changed in 1824 through the work of French military engineer and physicist Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot, the first person to formulate the second law of thermodynamics. The law states that the processes taking place in an isolated system always tend toward a state of equilibrium. Since the universe is not in an ultimate state of equilibrium now, it could not have existed for an infinite amount of time. Thus, science could now offer its support for the profoundly significant biblical position that the universe actually had a beginning.
While working on the general theory of relativity in 1917, Albert Einstein also found that his theory would not support an eternal, unchanging universe. Two scientists, Alexander Friedmann and Georges Lemaître, continued to work on applying the general theory of relativity, and in the 1920s they independently reached the conclusion that the universe is expanding. The theory predicted that all of space and time originated from a single point and has expanded to the immense universe that we know today. This expansion became known as the “Big Bang”. Once again science supported the reality that the universe had a beginning.
There are Christians who feel the need to integrate the Big Bang theory into their theology because they believe that the weight of evidence requires them to do so and because they don’t want to be perceived as anti-science. This is understandable but there is the real danger that this approach could lead to promoting a physical process that God did not actually use in creation and adopting a scientific theory that will ultimately become obsolete.
In order to catch a glimpse of how God created the universe it's important to carry out a study of passages in the Bible regarding Creation. For example, the book of Hebrews acknowledges that it is “by faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” and the psalmist tells us that “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host". This reveals that the universe was spoken into existence by God.
Does the Big Bang theory integrate smoothly with this biblical insight? It's important to note that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has neither formally nor informally endorsed the Big Bang theory. But should we as individual Seventh-day Adventist Christians feel intellectually obligated to adopt and defend the Big Bang theory? There are a number of reasons why we should not.
Firstly, the Big Bang theory is not the only theory that can fit the data. The Christian cosmologist George Ellis has explained, “People need to be aware that there is a range of models that could explain the observations . . . What I want to bring into the open is the fact that we are using philosophical criteria in choosing our models. A lot of cosmology tries to hide that.” Even the famous cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who is now an atheist, recognised this when he wrote, “One can imagine that God created the universe at literally any time in the past . . . One could still imagine that God created the universe at the instant of the Big Bang, or even afterwards in just such a way as to make it look as though there had been a Big Bang.” Thus, the weight of evidence does not lead inescapably to the Big Bang.
Secondly, the Big Bang theory itself is not free of problems. It's based on an assumption called the cosmological principle, which holds that matter is distributed uniformly throughout the universe. As the theoretical physicist Richard Feynman notes, though: “The assumption that we have just mentioned implies a very strong uniformity in the universe. It is a completely arbitrary hypothesis, as far as I understand it.” The standard Big Bang theory also has other problems; to solve these problems the standard model has been patched up with inflation, dark matter and dark energy. Is it time for the Big Bang theory to be traded in for a new model?
Scientists themselves see the need to explore other models of the universe. In 2004, 33 scientists wrote an open letter to the scientific community, urging them to support the exploration of alternative models to the Big Bang theory. Then in February this year, Ahmed Farag Ali and Saurya Das proposed a new cosmological model that eliminates the Big Bang. Wrapping our theology around scientific theories turns out to be a misguided endeavour.
History warns us not to credulously adopt and defend the dominant cosmology of our day. Contrary to popular belief and according to Galileo’s own account, the Galileo affair was initially between Galileo and the academic Aristotelian professors of the day.Galileo challenged the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic cosmology, and, as Hawking has noted, “This annoyed the Aristotelian professors, who united against him seeking to persuade the Catholic Church to ban Copernicanism.” The critical mistake that the Catholic Church made was to credulously adopt and then repressively defend the dominant pagan Greek cosmology of their day. Adventist academics would be wise to learn from the Galileo affair and not make the same mistake the Catholic Church did, by adopting or defending the dominant cosmological theory of our day. That some have recently made that mistake publicly is tragic.
Finally, the reality is that we already reject key projections of the Big Bang theory, namely what it predicts about the future. Current observations suggest that the universe is expanding at a rate that will end in what is known as the Big Freeze. Accordingly to this theory, the universe will ultimately become one vast, cosmic graveyard for all of life, including humans. However, we reject the Big Freeze because of the biblical prophecies that Jesus will come again in the near future and create a new heaven and a new earth. Since we reject the future projections of the Big Freeze based on biblical revelation, we should similarly choose to uphold God’s revelation regarding our past over the historical projections or theory of the day.
Adventists should certainly recognise the hard work that cosmologists devote to studying the universe and their ongoing efforts to develop models to describe it. However, we should not credulously adopt the Big Bang theory. Like the Catholics who defended Aristotle’s view of the universe, Adventists who mould their theology around the Big Bang theory not only give up theological credibility but are likely to be left behind as science moves on from the Big Bang.
God has given us the ability to discover amazing things about the universe. He has also given us the ability to grow in our faith in Him, to believe by faith in a God who can create a universe in any way He wants to. A God who can establish physical laws and then intervene to perform supernatural miracles. A God who is willing to enter into this physical world and become flesh, just to reveal to us His love and power. A God who is bigger than the Big Bang, who is wiser than the wisest man, and who gave us insights into our origins that outlasted Aristotle and Einstein, and will outlast Hawking also. Let’s learn the hard lessons of the past and base our theology on His Word, not on the shifting sands of theoretical physics.
Dr Sven Östring is director of Personal Ministries, Sabbath School, Stewardship and Discipleship for the Greater Sydney Conference.
Jun 8, 2023
Comparing one of the wonders of nature to a marvel of human engineering.
Mothers throughout human history have fought hard to protect those they love. What can this “mother-love” teach us about God?
Jun 6, 2023
Though debate continues about vaping, its safety and efficacy as a quitting aid, we cannot wait for years, to see the full effects of passive vaping.
Jun 6, 2023
If I were to ask, “who are you?” what would you say? Perhaps you’d start with your name, your family of origin or your cultural identity. If pushed, maybe you’d identify with your religion (if you have one) or social group. Answering such a question is also heavily influenced by your family of origin and the community you grew up in. But one of the most important factors I’ve found in self-identity are the stories we tell about ourselves.