Is the Big Bang a Moment of Creation?
In some formulations the point associated with the Big Bang itself is a
singularity - a point at which our laws of physics break down. In itself, this
does not imply an absolute beginning. Nevertheless, it is tempting to read the
Big Bang as having theological significance. After all, it does seem remarkably
like a moment of creation.
This temptation received strong papal endorsement in 1951. Pope Pius XII
announced that everything seems to indicate that the universe has in finite
times a mighty beginning. He went on to claim that unprejudiced scientific
thinking indicated that the universe is a work of creative omnipotence, whose
power set in motion by the mighty fiat pronounced billions of years ago
by the Creating Spirit, spread out over the universe. To be fair, he did also
admit that the facts established up to the present time are not an absolute
proof of creation in time.
Such pronouncements are guaranteed to provoke controversy. Even members of
the Pontifical Academy of Sciences were divided over the wisdom of the Popes
remarks. While Sir Edmund Whittaker could agree that the Big Bang might
perhaps without impropriety be referred to as the Creation, George Lemaître,
one of the pioneers of the Big Bang theory, felt strongly that this was a
misuse of his hypothesis.
Beyond the Christian community there was even greater unease. One of the
fundamental assumptions of modern science is that every physical event can be
sufficiently explained solely in terms of preceding physical causes. Quite
apart from its possible status as the moment of creation, the Big Bang
singularity is an offence to this basic assumption. Thus some philosophers of
science have opposed the very idea of the Big Bang as irrational and
One popular way to evade the suggestion of an absolute beginning has been to
argue that the universe must be closed. If it will eventually return to a
singular point, why should it not then bounce? This is the so-called cyclic
universe. Other astronomers opposed to the Big Bang, proposed instead a steady
state theory. Fred Hoyle took a lead in this proposal.
Interestingly, one of Hoyles motivations was aversion to the Genesis-like
connotations of the Big Bang. He wrote: Unlike the modern school of
cosmologists, who in conformity with Judaeo-Christian theologians believe the
whole universe to have been created out of nothing, my beliefs accord with
those of Democritus who remarked Nothing is created out of nothing Here,
then, we have an important example, albeit a negative one, of theory selection
in science being influenced by theological stance!
The steady-state theory argued that, in spite of appearances, the universe
was infinitely old and did not evolve over time. Although defended by some very
able scientists, this theory suffered a number of major setbacks which led to
In order to maintain a steady state in the face of universal expansion it
was necessary to postulate the continuous creation of matter from negative
energy - ingenious, but contrived.
There was the embarrassment of Hoyles failed attempt to show that the Big
Bang could not account for the chemical composition of the universe.
Finally, the steady state theory was not able to accommodate the new data
that appeared - on the microwave background. See evidence for a Big Bang?
Big Bang theory, then, survived competition from steady-state theory, and
has become the standard basis for thinking about the development of the
universe. And superficially at least the theory does seem to have a most
pleasing consonance with the biblical account of creation in Genesis Chapter 1.
But see Stephen Hawking and the growth of quantum cosmology to understand
how later scientific developments have made this consonance less evident.
link | Feedback |
Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the
Cosmos (T&T Clark, 1999)