Thursday, February 19, 2009

Does the Big Bang mean that the Bible is wrong?

Most creationists that I have debated insist that the Big Bang does indeed make the Bible wrong. So they argue against it. (The most common argument presented is the one about the First Law of Thermodynamics that I presented a couple of pages ago.)

I believe that they argue against the Big Bang as part of a sort of “knee-jerk” reaction. Apparently their own initial interpretation of the Bible didn’t include anything like the Big Bang so they immediately reject it rather than consider it as a possibility that improves their understanding of the universe and how it works and even supports their own religious views.

Other theologians have given the issue more thought and have come to different conclusions[1].

Chuck Colson is a former advisor to Richard Nixon and was implicated in the Watergate scandal but was never charged with a crime. But he has been an important evangelical Christian leader for a number of decades since he left the White House. He has strongly argued against “Darwinism” and in favor of Intelligent Design.

But, surprisingly, Colson believes that the Big Bang is probably the greatest gift that science has ever given to people who believe in God[2].

Here are some quotes from him about the Big Bang:

"The Big Bang and [Dr. Fred] Hoyle's Steady State were mere abstractions, unable to be tested. Then, in 1964, Drs. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Labs encountered continuous static on certain microwave frequencies. Rotating their antenna in a vain attempt to remove the noise, they realized it was coming from all directions-permeating the universe. Physicists hailed this as the first observational evidence of the Big Bang known as "cosmic background radiation" or "the radio echo of creation." Penzias saw the philosophical significance in his discovery. "…(T)he best data we have," he said, "are exactly what I would have predicted, had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole… (T)he creation of the universe is supported by all the observable data astronomy has produced so far."


"Today, advocates of the Big Bang think that their theory is a substitute for God. But it's just the opposite. Hoyle rejected the Big Bang in spite of the evidence because he knew that the Big Bang pointed irresistibly to the existence of God. Science historian Frederic B. Burnham observed that scientists consider the idea that God created the universe, "a more respectable hypothesis today than at any time in the last hundred years." Dr. Geoffrey Burbridge, of the University of California at San Diego, complains that many astronomers are rushing off to join what he calls "the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang." That's a cynic's way of acknowledging that many astronomers are being forced by their data, to recognize the existence of a Creator-God.

Colson also makes this point:

"In other words, the things that exist in the universe are so complex and brilliantly made, that they look as if an Intelligent Designer fine-tuned them. Mao Zedong, by the way, recognized this as well-which is why he would never allow the Big Bang theory to be taught in China. "

So according to Charles Colson, a strong advocate for ID, the best evidence for his beliefs is the Big Bang. In fact even atheists (such as Mao Zedong) can’t deny this as evidence for God.

Colson is not alone.

One of those advocating that the Big Bang actually confirms the Bible is Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder, PhD.
He spells out his ideas in his book titled Genesis and the Big Bang (Bantam Books, 1990). Dr. Schroeder has an unusual background. He is both an applied physicist and a theologian. He is Jewish and teaches at a University in Jerusalem. The fact that he is Jewish shouldn't be significant in this context, of course, because Jews and Christians share the same book of Genesis.

Dr. Schroeder is also a creationist. On page 128 of his book he makes this statement:

"We have seen that the almost immediate appearance of life on the newly formed Earth is so highly improbable that it must be removed from the category of an inevitable event occurring among random chemical reactions."

In other words, Dr. Schroeder feels that abiogenesis is impossible. That is certainly a view shared by nearly all creationists.

Dr. Schroeder's background in physics has convinced him, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Big Bang actually took place. However, he also believes in an inerrant Bible.

How does he reconcile those two beliefs?

One of the ways that he does that is by quoting extensively from a book named "Commentary on the Torah, Genesis 1-4" by a Jewish theologian named Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (or Nahmanides for short).

These commentaries reflect, with uncanny precision (according the Dr. Schroeder), the current view of how the Big Bang took place.

For example, Nahmanides, based on his reading of the Bible, theorized that at the instant of creation, God, filling all eternity, contracted. Within that contraction, the universe expanded, beginning from a speck "smaller than a mustard seed". To form the universe, God chose from the infinite realm of the Divine, ten dimensions or aspects and relegated them to be held within the universe. With an amazing congruity, particle physicists now talk of String Theory, a unified theory of the universe in ten dimensions.

There are a large number of other descriptions in Nahmanides book that Dr. Schroeder claims show identical interpretations between the Bible and current mainstream scientific views, but only if the Big Bang hypothesis is correct.

A common reaction at this point among creationists is probably to guess that Nahmanides is a theologian who is only trying to make an accommodation with science and who is perverting his interpretation of the Bible as a result of that. That is certainly not the case.

You see Nahmaides lived from 1194 to 1270 AD. His commentaries were written a full seven centuries before there was any hint of anything like the Big Bang. As Dr. Schroeder says,

"Because the commentaries were written long before the advent of modern physics, we avoid the folly of using interpretations of tradition that may have been biased by modern scientific discoveries."

There are other theologians who agree.

The creationist web site “Reasons to Believe”, which supports Old Earth Creationism, lists a number of Biblical passages discussing how the Bible describes the creation[3]. Then it adds this:

"This simultaneously finished and ongoing aspect of cosmic stretching is identical to the big bang concept of cosmic expansion. According to the big bang, at the creation event all the physics (specifically, the laws, constants, and equations of physics) are instantly created, designed, and finished so as to guarantee an ongoing, continual expansion of the universe at exactly the right rates with respect to time so that physical life will be possible."

"This biblical claim for simultaneously finished and ongoing acts of creation, incidentally, is not limited to just the universe’s expansion. The same claim, for example, is made for God’s laying Earth’s foundations (Isaiah 51:3; Zechariah 12:1). This is consistent with the geophysical discovery that certain long-lived radiometric elements were placed into the earth’s crust a little more than four billion years ago in just the right quantities so as to guarantee the continual building of continents.

"Finally, the Bible indirectly argues for a big bang universe by stating that the laws of thermodynamics, gravity, and electromagnetism have universally operated throughout the universe since the cosmic creation event itself. In Romans 8 we are told that the entire creation has been subjected to the law of decay (the second law of thermodynamics). This law in the context of an expanding universe establishes that the cosmos was much hotter in the past. In Genesis 1 and in many places throughout Job, Psalms, and Proverbs we are informed that stars have existed since the early times of creation. As explained in two Reasons To Believe books, even the slightest changes in either the laws of gravity or electromagnetism would make stars impossible. As already noted in the accompanying article, gravity, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics yield stable orbits of planets around stars and of electrons around the nuclei of atoms only if they operate in a universe described by three very large rapidly expanding dimensions of space."

There are a number of other examples found in creationist sources.It would seem that a strong case could be made that the Big Bang does not conflict with a literal interpretation of the Bible in any meaningful way. If anything, it would appear that the Big Bang actually supports theism quite significantly.

[1] Disclaimer: for the purposes of full disclosure I am not necessarily indicating that I agree with the views of the creationists and theologians that I am quoting here. But I love it when I find creationists who present arguments that argue against other creationists.
[2], referenced on January 17, 2009
[3], referenced on January 17, 2009

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