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Cosmology

It is not just biological evolution that poses challenges to traditional Christian views, scientific understanding of cosmological evolution also raises issues for people of faith. According to the Book of Genesis, God created the universe - and all the heavenly bodies, the sun, the moon, and the stars - in six days. But according to contemporary cosmologists the universe began with a great explosion known as the Big Bang, after which the stars and galaxies slowly formed over billions of years. Just as Darwin proposed that the evolution of life was a long, slow, and gradual process, so cosmologists now believe that our universe evolves by long slow processes.

Yet if the biblical account and the scientific account don't match up in all their details, there are many parallels. Perhaps most importantly, both suggest that the universe came into being out of nothing a finite amount of time ago. Indeed, many contemporary religious believers see the Big Bang as providing confirmation for the Christian notion of creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). Interestingly, when evidence of the Big Bang was first discovered in the late 1920's (with Edwin Hubble’s finding that the universe was expanding), many scientists rejected the idea because they thought it smacked of religion. If the universe had a beginning they felt, then it must have had a creator. But that would be unscientific. At the time, the prevailing view was that the universe had existed in much the same state forever and that it therefore had no beginning.

Big BangHubble's discovery that the universe was expanding put paid to this static vision of the universe and suggested that the cosmos had a definite starting moment. Moreover, this view was supported by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which provided a beautiful set of equations to describe how a universe could arise out of nothing. Ironically, the tables have now been turned with some scientists today arguing that the Big Bang demonstrates that the universe came into being by purely natural processes needing no supernatural power.

This view has been expressed most famously by the English physicist Stephen Hawking. In his best-selling book "A Brief History of Time", Hawking suggested that if current cosmological theories turn out to be true then the creation of the universe will have been completely explained by the laws of physics. In that case, Hawking asks, what role would there be for a creator?

GalaxyBut again, where Hawking sees science as writing God out of the picture, others take a different view. Physicist Paul Davies, for example, has written that the beauty and order of the laws of physics themselves suggests there must be something behind those laws, something driving the mathematical beauty and order in the universe. Likewise physicists John Polkinghorn and John Barrow believe the incredibly finely balanced mathematical order of the universe suggests there must be some kind of intelligent force responsible. Stephen Hawking himself has associated God with the laws of physics. In particular, he and Davies have associated God with a so-called "theory of everything" - a single theory that physicists hope will one day unite general relativity with quantum mechanics, thereby bringing the entire universe under one grand mathematical umbrella. This theory is a major goal of contemporary theoretical physics, and it is this which Hawking has famously linked to "the mind of God". Perhaps more than any other science, cosmology is a case where one can either see God reflected in the picture, or not. In the end, science neither proves nor disproves the existence of God. More often than not, the scientific evidence can be read either way.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Margaret Wertheim

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Cosmology


Topic Index
History
The Birth of Modern Cosmology
Galileo
Separation of Science and Religion
Evolution
Vatican Conferences
Creationism
Genetics
Genes and Sin
Cloning
The Big Bang
Stephen Hawking's God
God and Time
Purpose
A Theory of Everything
A Cosmic Designer?
Technology
Genetic Screening
The Future
Ongoing Dialog
Ecumenical Dialog

Related Topics:
Genetics
Evolution
Physics and Cosmology
History
Ethics
Theology
The Relation of Science & Religion
Purpose and Design
Controversy
Science and Religion in Conflict?
Books on Science and Religion - General
Galileo
Copernicus
Sir Isaac Newton
Charles Darwin
Dolly the Cloned Sheep
Egg Manipulation
Chromosome
DNA Double-Helix
Castel Gandolfo
Pontifical Academy
Kitt Peak Telescope
Galaxies and Nebulae