Why Christians Shouldn't Feel Threatened by the Big Bang Theory

Believe it or not, we came up with it.

“'Oldest Rocky Planets' Formed Just A Billion Years After The Big Bang”. Depending on your own background with the Christian church, this headline from earlier this week may have elicited a reaction unintended by the writers. The story is an exciting one that, according to Tiago Campante at the University of Birmingham, even “opens the possibility for the existence of ancient life in the galaxy." But, for many evangelicals, two words in the headline throw up a red flag and cause the entire news story to be called into question. Those words, of course, are “Big Bang.”

The term has recently been at the center of debate in religious circles, but examining its roots may actually show a way forward for the science and faith debate.

The Lack of Divide

This fall, the ever-newsworthy Pope Francis spoke at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and attempted to bridge a gap between two of modern culture’s biggest ideological divides: Creationism and the Big Bang Theory. He did that not by saying that the two sides should be civil or seek common ground; he did it by denying that the divide was there at all.

The pope said, “The Big Bang, that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God; on the contrary, it requires it … When we read in Genesis the account of creation [we are] in danger of imagining that God was a magician, complete with a magic wand that can do all things. But He is not.”

The comments (and some of his other thoughts about evolution), made international headlines, with some commentators insinuating that they represented a rift in theological understanding among religious leaders. But, as this piece in Time notes, the statements don’t represent any sort of major departure in Vatican teaching.

The reason the story gained so much traction and was plastered across the Internet is because of a narrative pushed by many in the media and perpetuated by some in evangelical circles for generations: The Big Bang theory contradicts the Bible.

The Big Bang's Church Roots

The “conflict” between the Big Bang theory rears its head every time a related news story—like the one discussing recently discovered planets formed shortly after the Big Bang—hits the Internet. But why should Christians feel conflicted? Like many major scientific discoveries, the Big Bang was first suggested by a Christian who saw no ideological division between their faith and their research.

The “conflict” between the Big Bang theory rears its head every time a related news story hits the internet. But why should Christians feel conflicted?

In a recent issue of RELEVANT, I interviewed Father Andrew Pinsent for a piece about the intersections of science and faith. In addition to being a Catholic priest, Father Pinsent is the Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University and is a world-renowned physicist. Pinsent said that even in some academic circles, there is a perception that Christians should be against the Big Bang.

“A question I sometimes get asked if I’m giving a talk at a school is, ‘How can I be a priest and believe in the Big Bang theory?’” he said. “And I always enjoy getting this question because I say, of course, because we invented it. It was actually a priest, Georges Lemaître, who solved Einstein’s equations to predict an expanding universe.” Lemaître's ideas were so revolutionary, even Einstein praised his work. Today, he’s known as the “Father of the Big Bang.”

Pinsent continued, “The history of the relationship between science and faith isn’t what they necessarily expect. It’s much more complex and interesting than this simplistic prejudices might suggest.”

Simplistic Prejudices

Sadly, today people like Lemaître have become outliers. The Church so frequently acts threatened by ideas that they fear will undermine the authority of their teachings, that it’s often created a culture afraid to ask big questions about science, the Big Bang and evolution without being labeled (the “H-word”!).

These “simplistic prejudices” have been cultivated by culture-war speak from some theologically conservative Christians and by anti-God rhetoric from some in science circles. But, just because some of the most vocal proponents of Creationism and the Big Bang theory may have different ideas about God doesn’t mean the two ideas can’t co-exist.

Ultimately, good science will never contradict the God's truth.

From time to time you may see a Christian bumper sticker, religious T-shirt or church sign with some variation of the statement: “The Big Bang Theory: God spoke, and BANG, it happened.” It’s meant to be ironic or snarky, but really, it perfectly underscores the false dichotomy that exists in many conversations about science and faith.

For Christians who believe in the Bible, scientific research, new historical revelations or deeper critical analysis shouldn’t be viewed as a conflict to our faith: It should be a compliment to it. Now, none of this is to say that everyone has to believe the Big Bang Theory is true. Good Christians (and, it's true, a few scientists) remain skeptical of the theory, and their voices should not be dismissed or ridiculed. But those conversations needn't be fueled by fear and accusations.

Ultimately, good science will never contradict God's truth. So when there is a seeming contradiction, either the science is bad or our understanding of the Bible needs adjusting. Both are possible. And, in either case, we learn more about who God is and how we are supposed to live.

Uncovering Truth

There are different ways to interpret the book of Genesis and to examine the historical context or literary style it was written in. But understanding the roots of ideas—like the Big Bang—that came from within the church should demonstrate that our faith isn’t under attack by culture and intellectual inquiry.

Our faith and the field of science share a similar goal: They are about understanding truth. If we believe that the Bible is true, then why should a different method of uncovering truth threaten it?

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Our faith and the field of science share a similar goal: They are about understanding truth.

Lemaître saw the dangers in “reducing the Supreme Being to the rank of a scientific hypothesis,” and didn’t let a fear of new understandings about the universe shake his faith.

Maybe the most profound lesson to learn from Lemaître is how he approached science (or, as he said to, “to grasp the truth”): He kept an open mind. Though he steadfastly believed that God was the Creator, he also said that “[The Christian researcher’s] investigative means are the same as those of his non-believer colleague … After all, a Christian does not act differently from any non-believer as far as walking, or running, or swimming is concerned.”

In our interview, Pinsent pointed to “minds of great subtlety” like St. Augustine and Lemaître—believers who made influential observations about the natural world. In a culture of cheesy church marquees and Twitter debates, subtlety can be in short supply, but it’s the key to understanding how science can actually co-exist with faith.

It’s something generations of Christians understood, and something many Christians of today could benefit from rediscovering. “Christians need to be more sensitive to their own intellectual past, the intellectual riches, ways of interpreting Scripture,” Pinsent said. “And they’ll find that a lot of the things that appear to be sources of conflict actually turn out to be less problematic than they might appear at first.”

Top Comments

Sean Wesley Campbell

6

Sean Wesley Campbell commented…

I heard an interesting hypothesis where the Big Bang concept may actually provide evidence that God exists:

The Big Bang meant that, initially all energy and all mass in the Universe was centrally located in an infinitesimally small and infinitesimally massive point. Because it was infinitesimally massive, there would by infinite gravity. By the concepts of relativity (Einstein), the more gravity there is, the slower time travels. If there is infinite gravity, time would effectively stand still. Because actions takes time, there would be no cause and effect. If there is no cause and effect, what caused the Big Bang? God, in all His glorious omniscience!

It's a hypothesis, but as a Christian engineer and physics minor, I dig this concept. Jesus kick-started the Universe like a motorcycle.

Stefan Stackhouse

84

Stefan Stackhouse commented…

It is logically impossible that something (everything in this universe, actually) should come from absolutely nothing. Also, it is now appearing that it will be impossible to arrive at a unified theory that reconciles all fundamental physical forces without resort to a premise of the existence of dimensions outside of our own four dimensions (three spatial, one temporal). I just don't get why any Christian would consider all of this to be a threat when it is actually some of the best news to come out of the whole Bible vs. science thing in the past several hundred years.

People seem to forget that it used to be uniformly believed by all intellectual non-believers that the universe was steady-state and had existed forever, and Christian believers were pounded over the head with that for centuries. No more, thanks to Einstein, Wilson & Penzias.

59 Comments

Jake Doberenz

2

Jake Doberenz commented…

"There are different ways to interpret the book of Genesis and to examine the historical context or literary style it was written in."
Yes there are different ways to interpret Genesis, but there is only ONE CORRECT way to interpret it. For instance, we could always, you know, interpret it like Jesus did.
In Mark 10:6-9 and Matthew 19:4-5 Jesus quotes from Genesis chapter 1 and 2 as history. He acknowledges them as history, clearly show by his use of them the lines from Genesis as proof for his stance on marriage. In Mark 10:6, Jesus even said "in the beginning 'God made them male and female'" which is very different from what a Bang Bang universe would tell us--that humans came along no where near the beginning of the universe.
Even if you'd for some crazy reason reject what Jesus said, the plain reading is clear. If you use the famous Timothy Test, meaning you imagine how a Hebrew literate Jew living in Jesus' time would interpret a Scripture, then you can't get past the clear historical meaning of Genesis with language dramatically different than poetry. Additionally, the creation week goes against the mentioned headline even if it were poetic. The stars (which would include all non-earth planets) were created on day four, after the light, the earth, water, and sky were all in place. That's not at all like a Big Bang model--so even if viewed as poetry or an allegory, you can't fit the Big Bang in.
The Moral of the Story: Yes, Biblical Christians should not be threatened by the Big Bang. However, that doesn't mean we should accept it. We are not threatened because the Bible and Jesus are against it, and if you do some digging big name scientists aren't totally convinced either. What I just said would have been a more better direction for the article--even if not the classical liberal approach many Relevant readers might hold. Don't mess with Jesus and his Truth.

nicExner

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nicExner commented…

I've just got this to add:
1) where do so many kids raised by Christian parents decide what they were taught is wrong? The author should rather intrrview university students who face the harsh reality that the 'scientists and pros and anyone who wants to be in' know that the big bang hypothesis is atheism's baby, and you can ascribe the easter bunny to causing it as far as they care, because it is a vital part of their (Father)God-free world. If a christian came up with it, its now being used to beat christians. You can try and hijack it back and think that now we'll have it right, but its part of a system that was invented to put God and the supposed unscientific supernatural in a box , labelled "stupid ideas of a less evolved society." Evolution doesn't glorify Jesus, its main purpose and effectiveness is to justify a God-free world, its the no-God-involved anti-supernatural explanation. Honest people will tell you that. If you want to try and pick it up and make it something wonderful, your choice. But its not a pretty little flower, waiting to glorify its maker. Its a cold, in-your-face God-didn't-make-this-world weapon and Relevant could give the other side on this and talk to people who've come out of university feeling like atheism is the only true religion, or that the Christian belief system needs to be in a box labelled religion (read "fiction") and not part of the real world. If you are embarrassed about Genesis and just know its not cool to not accommodate a self-making universe (evolution) then you know the pressure to conform. People fight so much on both sides, but in the middle our young people aren't laughing. If I read this article at university, facing a "worldview crisis," I would've been thinking, "How is this helpful? God-free evolution is always being pushed as THE truth and now I must try and sew some christian badges on it and sing 'Everything is awesome?'"

Joshua Stateham

13

Joshua Stateham commented…

According to the logic of this article, we shouldn't have a problem with Darwinian evolution either, because after all, it was proposed by a Methodist minister's son!

It doesn't matter who came up with an idea, all that matters is, "Is it supported by scripture?" and then "Is it supported by operational science?". The answer to both of these questions in the case of the Big Bang and all other naturalistic theories is a resounding "NO". So there's no rational reason to believe in these theories other than to try to appear "relevant" to a Post-Christian and increasingly atheist Western culture. But I'm not sure that's what Jesus meant by being salt and light... In this world but not of it.

Kaleb Ede

6

Kaleb Ede replied to Joshua Stateham's comment

Exactly! so true brotha! We as the church need to stop trying to be so relevant to the culture and start picking up our crosses, holding fast to His word and really follow Christ.

Kaleb Ede

6

Kaleb Ede replied to Joshua Stateham's comment

Exactly! so true brotha! We as the church need to stop trying to be so relevant to the culture and start picking up our crosses, holding fast to His word and really follow Christ.

Kyle Brooks Robinson

4

Kyle Brooks Robinson commented…

Good article, a lot of Christians don't realize that the Big Bang actually supports the Christian view of creation and evidences that the Universe had an absolute beginning. The theory has caused massive headaches for atheists who have resorted (unsuccessfully) to rival models to explain away the absolute beginning of the universe, like the steady-state model.

As Alexander Jeans mentioned, William Lane Craig is a conservative Christian philosopher and theologian who's extensively defended and drawn upon the Big Bang model in making philosophical arguments for the existence of God, like the Kalam Cosmological Argument (look up the video on YouTube!) Understanding cosmology is vital for Christians because it allows them to argue for the veracity of their faith on the basis of facts that their atheist opponents already accept. Cosmology lets you sidestep the thorny (and in my opinion, far less important) issue of evolution to allow debate over widely-held facts.

What's most frustrating is that many Christians equivocate the Big Bang with evolution even though neither necessitates the acceptance of the other. Although I really attribute this to lousy education more than anything else.

Dan

3

Dan replied to Kyle Brooks Robinson's comment

I am curious how you can sidestep the issue of evolution as it is directly involved with the issue of original sin. If we are an evolved species, there was no Adam. I don't see how this is a small issue that can be ignored. William Lane Craig of course believes in evolution and I have no idea how he deals with this. He doesn't speak of it often.

Alexander Jeans

12

Alexander Jeans replied to Dan's comment

As far as I understand Craig sees some fundamental problems with evolution which he takes up on his podcast. I'm not sure which one it is but he does make the distinction between for instance Macro and Micro evolution. Hope this helps

Alexander Jeans

12

Alexander Jeans replied to Dan's comment

Stephen Hawking would be an example of an atheist who explained away the big bang with the multiverse because he didn't want the universe to have a single beginning. The BB took away his arguments against God.

Dan

3

Dan replied to Alexander Jeans's comment

Craig does certainly believe in the complete evolution of species, he just thinks it was divinely guided. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/evolutionary-theory-and-theism

Dan

3

Dan commented…

I think we can agree that nobody writing the Bible had any concept or notion of the big bang. None whatsoever. So while we can conform the Bible to this small sliver of modern science, the Bible certainly did not predict it. You probably could have been stoned to death by the Church for such a heresy in any past century. I also wonder if when God creates a new heavens and new earth if it will take him 13 Billion years? Something tells me that the peasants writing the Bible had no comprehension of what they were saying when writing these grand fables. Their world was too small, their god far too little.

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