So it seems that there was no Big Bang after all!?
Scientists have been buzzing lately over a recent study that wants to modify one of the latest and most ‘popular’ cosmological models for how our universe began. In particular, they want to do away with the Big Bang!
While this may come as good news to some Creationists, they shouldn’t celebrate too soon or too loudly till they’ve looked into what was really reported and what it likely means. It’s too easy to get carried away with misrepresentations.
Perhaps the biggest misperception in this area is the name ‘Big Bang’ itself, and the image most people carry in their heads of a giant exploding star or a blinding pin-point of light. Guess what … all of that is wrong!? You see, in the vacuum of space you can’t have any sound, and it wasn’t so much of an ‘explosion’ as it was a dramatic unfolding of the dimensions of space and time, not an exploding ball of matter.
So the ‘Big Bang’ was actually more of a ‘Silent Expansion’.
Hard to visualize, but it comes out of the equations and models put together by greater minds than yours and mine, not the least of which included Albert Einstein himself. One analogy they’ll use is of a birthday balloon on which you draw the stars and galaxies: tie that onto a small cylinder of compressed gas and suddenly open up the valve (not enough to pop the balloon, though), and all those drawings expand and separate as the balloon grows.
Big Bang Theory and gravitational forces explain the distributions of galaxies, giant gas clouds, and stars of all sizes. They predicted the concept of black holes, which would never have been observed let alone be conceptualized, except that the equations that helped us understand the Big Bang also predicted them. And when we looked, we found them! Actually, we don’t ‘see’ the black holes themselves, but rather the gravitational effects they have on other stars and galaxies and even light itself.
The equations even predict the age of the universe: roughly 13.8 billion years ago. (give or take a few years, but what is that among friends?)
And that’s where the latest controversy arises. By measuring the way everything in space is spreading out, and using those equations, one might think it possible to run everything backwards to look at the very first moment in time and even see what things looked like before the cosmic fuse was lit. However, those equations don’t allow that. We can inch our way closer and closer to that initial moment in time, but the equations just don’t work when you wind the clock all the way back to zero-hour. In fact, Stephen Hawking says it’s impossible to get any closer to the ‘Big Bang’ than 1 second divided by 1 with 43 zeroes behind it. (for perspective, one thousandth of a second is 1 divided by 1 with 3 zeroes … one millionth of a second is 1 divided by 1 with 6 zeroes behind it … one billionth of a second, 9 zeroes … one trillionth, 12 zeroes …).
So one second divided by 1 with 43 zeroes is a really, really … REALLY … brief period of time. And that’s as close as the equations allow us to get to the beginning of time itself.
So close and yet so far!
But what this new study did was apply quantum mechanics to Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, and propose that the universe didn’t begin as a tiny pin-point … or what they call ‘a singularity’ … but rather as a myriad of possible scenarios in a strange quantum NeverLand. Anything and everything was possible, but nothing actually … existing. Then, all of a sudden, one of those possible scenarios … the proverbial latex balloon … suddenly manifested itself and immediately underwent the great silent expansion we talked about above.
In other words, the universe never had a beginning. It just always was. For an eternity it was ‘simply’ a gimmish of an infinite number of possibilities, and for another eternity it will be the one single actuality that we now recognize.
Or so they say. Who knows, they could be right. Or then again …
Should this jeopardize one’s faith? Should I be shaken by the fact that this version of how the universe came to be doesn’t look anything like the story in the first 3 chapters of Genesis? As far as I’m concerned, not the least bit. It doesn’t faze me at all. I mean, honestly: how could a pre-modern, pre-scientific people understand the concept of 1 divided by 1 with 43 zeroes? Or black holes … singularities … stretching the dimensions of time and space … gravity … relativity? Why would God explain it to them in a way that none of them or their readers would ever understand until Albert and Steven were born 6,000 years later?
Instead, I think the purpose of Genesis was to get those people looking at things in a whole new way.
Until that time, the prevailing cosmological explanations were those of the Babylonians and the Egyptians: that gods were everywhere and were to be feared. The Sun-god. The moon-god. the god of the seas, and the mountain god. The god of thunder, and another one of rain. The fish-god, and the great bird. I could go on, but you get the point. And all of these gods required sacrifices and temples and rituals. If you didn’t … well, you just didn’t want to think about that.
But Genesis described one god, and all those other things not as gods to be feared but as objects to be enjoyed. And that god was a loving god, creating a paradise full of food and telling the people to go out and multiply … eat, drink, make babies, and walk with God through the garden. Such a different way to look at things!?
Of course, we messed things up. I’m not just talking about the whole ‘serpent and the apple’ story. I’m also talking about how, 6,000 years later, we turned the cosmology of Genesis into a religion of its own. I’ve blogged about that previously.
There’s a lot more I could say about Genesis and how it’s been misread. I’ll save that for another blog (or you can check out my book).
But for now I’ll just conclude with this. Science and faith can co-exist. God does not have to be relegated only to shadows of the unknown and mysterious, nor be displaced or shrink whenever science clears away the cobwebs and shines a light on something. That kind of God-of-the-gaps will inevitably get smaller and less relevant. Instead, perhaps we can reach the same destination by mingling science and faith together.
In his book God and the Astronomers, astrophysicist Robert Jastrow wrote: “At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. 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”.
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