What caused creation?
What Does the Big Bang Say About God
We seem to live in a world where we assume that science and faith are mutually exclusive and if something is thought to be scientific then it won’t mesh with our religious beliefs. But it becomes important to remember that science by definition is limited in its scope. Science can only tell us about natural phenomena. It can explain certain laws of the existing universe, such as the attraction of two objects (gravity), or why nitro-glycerin is an unstable compound. It can also predict what would happen if one were to drop a vial of nitro-glycerin: gravity would cause the vial to fall to the ground with increasing speed and the resulting impact on the unstable compound would result in an explosion.
However, science cannot tell us why the universe would be constructed with gravity in the first place. Gravity is an attraction based on the mass and the distance of two objects. Mass and distance mean that matter and space (i.e. the universe) need to be in existence before we can observe gravity. Therefore, science cannot make any claims on why the universe would be built with these laws in effect. Likewise, science cannot say whether it was a good or bad thing that the vile exploded as it did. Moral questions are philosophical in nature, not scientific. Science may be able to predict what will happen, but moral judgments are the domain of the theologian and the philosopher.
How Did the Universe Begin?
The Big Bang theory is an attempt at explaining how our universe began. Before the Big Bang theory, many scientists thought that the universe had existed eternally. The idea of a universe without a beginning was important for those looking for an explanation of a world without God. If the universe existed eternally, then there was no need for a God to create it. Also, they reasoned, since there was an infinite amount of time in the universe, then sooner or later all the just-right conditions for the creation of life would come together somewhere and they could therefore offer a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life.
But in the twentieth century, several things happened that radically contradicted the idea of an infinitely old universe. First, two scientists noticed that all galaxies seemed to be receding from each other – the same way dots drawn on a balloon get farther away from each other as the balloon is inflated. Then, Einstein’s theory of general relativity demonstrated that the universe must be expanding. Later, astronomer Edwin Hubble noted how starlight was shifting to the red spectrum as we observed them, demonstrating that not only stars and galaxies were moving away from each other, but the very space between them was stretching.
The implications of a universe that wasn’t infinitely old made things very problematic for those who felt it came too close to describing a biblical-type creation. In fact, a famed astronomer named Fred Hoyle advanced an alternate theory known as the “Steady State Universe”. In this model, Hoyle and others proposed that matter was being formed all the time, so it only looks like the universe came from a singularity. Unfortunately, in the 1960’s scientists discovered background radiation that proved the steady-state model wasn’t tenable. Now, almost all scientists accept the fact that the universe had a beginning a finite time ago.
Bangs Have Bangers!
So what was it about the idea of a universe that came about from some type of “big bang” that worried scientists to such an extent they would try to explain it away? Well, there are two main issues at stake and both argue for the existence of God.
We define the universe as comprising time, energy, matter and space. Science is the field of observing how each of these phenomena act and react. Outside of the observable universe science must be silent; one cannot apply the scientific method without observable data. But this is exactly what we have in some type of big bang event. What exactly was it that “banged” to cause the universe to come into existence? If matter, space and time are all a part of our universe, then what was before that? Out of nothing, nothing comes is the logical dictum, so there must have been something out there, but that something must not be material, it must not be spatial and it must not be time-constrained. Well, God fits these criteria. He is spirit, not matter and as spirit He transcends space. Also God is defined as eternal; therefore He can be outside of time.
Beyond the fact that God fits these basic criteria, there is the question of why the universe “banged” into existence at all. In other words, even if the potential conditions for the big bang existed logically prior to the event, what change occurred to make the event happen? Or, to put it another way, who did the banging? Let’s look at our balloon again as an analogy. A balloon on a table has all of the components necessary to be inflated: there is sufficient air to fill it and its latex makeup will allow it to expand and trap air. Yet, it doesn’t trap air and expand all by itself; someone must come up with the idea of forcing the air into the balloon and then act to make that happen. An inflated balloon is an effect and the person pushing air into the balloon is the cause.
Similarly, it takes an intelligence to cause a change in timeless eternity. If the pre-universe conditions were in stasis and then there was a bang, then an intelligence had to act in order to make that change happen. You can look at a current instance of an event and question “what caused this to happen?” When you find the action that caused that event you turn around and ask, “Well, what caused the action to happen?” But, that action had a preceding cause of its own, so you then ask again “what caused that to happen?”. Without a starting point, you end up asking the question “what then caused that to happen?” infinitely – which will never give you an answer. It becomes logically inconsistent to keep pushing the cause back one step further – this is what is known as an infinite regress. Therefore, you need a first cause to start the process, but something that doesn’t need a cause for itself – namely God.
The Heart of the Issue
For Jewish people, the heart of the issue really comes down to the question “Does the concept of a Big Bang type creation event undermine the Torah?” It can be argued that the broad concept in fact does the opposite. The Big Bang theory validates the Jewish concepts of a finite universe, an initial beginning and a creation of time and space. Everything that has a beginning must have a cause. The universe has a beginning. Therefore, the universe must have a cause. Further, that cause must have exerted intelligence to desire change and a will to make the change happen.
Astronomer Hugh Ross goes even farther, though. He states that although there are many competing models and theories on the Big Bang event, each with its own details, all agree on two basic premises: At some certain point in the past the universe began to exist and it has been expanding ever since. Both these premises are clearly taught in Torah. In Isaiah 42:5 both properties were declared, ‘This is what the Lord says-He who created the heavens and stretched them out.'” Nachmonidies (Ramban, a 10th century important Torah commentator) in B’reishis clearly says that the entire universe was created from a single point (the size of a mustard seed – the smallest used measurement in those days) and this is the only thing that Hashem created “Yesh M’Ayin – Ex Nihilo” and everything else in the world “evolved” from this point.
All in all, the concept of a big bang type creation event shouldn’t trouble Jewish people too much. While the Torah did not feel it relevant to expound on specifics such as the atomic nature of creation and how Hashem technically put the universe together, the main idea of the universe coming into existence a finite time ago is actually a huge concession on the part of modern science – ground that the scientists for a long time did not want to give up. This is why Dr. Robert Jastrow, Director Emeritus of Mount Wilson Observatory and founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies had written “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.