The Big Bang Theory and Christianity

Many people think that science and religion conflict. While there are certainly differences between science and religion and while they have sometimes been at odds, there’s no reason to think that these two sources of knowledge are necessarily contradictory. After all, Christianity teaches that God made the world and everything in it; since the world is God’s world and the Bible affirms that his fingerprints are on it, Christians should not be afraid of what they can learn about God from his creation. In addition, René Descartes argued that we can trust our five senses because we believe that the Christian God exists;[1] in other words, when we employ our five senses to do science—not to mention when we employ our noetic equipment to the same pursuit—we presuppose God’s existence. It seems quite clear to me that Christianity and science can be compatible and can easily coexist for numerous reasons.

Few scientific theories are more despised by Christians than the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution. The reason that many Christians think that evolution and Christianity are incompatible is that evolution seems to reject the Bible’s teachings on the origin of species. The Bible teaches that God created everything from nothing (creatio ex nihilo); evolution, however, teaches that life forms evolved over millions of years through a series of gradual changes. It certainly seems possible, however, to be a Christian and to believe in elements of the theory of evolution—many influential Christian thinkers are Theistic Evolutionists. Though many people are critical of Theistic Evolution, the gist of their idea is that God created the basic life forms that then evolved—possibly under God’s direct supervision—into the forms of life we see today. This process is analogous to the way that we breed certain dogs with one another to produce new kinds of dogs.

The reason that Christians demur from the Big Bang Theory is that it seems to reject the Bible’s teaching on the origin of the universe: But does it really?

Think about what the Big Bang Theory actually says: Though I’m not a cosmologist, the bite-sized version of the Big Bang Theory—Big Bang Theory for dummies if you will—says that the universe came into existence a finite time ago. That is, the Big Bang Theory says that there was nothing until,[2] boom, there was something.

Now most cosmologists would define “a finite time ago” as billions of years. Though many Christians would demur at this point, some Christians do accept an old earth creation and believe that God created the earth billions of years ago. In any event, Christians will agree with the cosmologists and say that the universe did indeed come into existence a finite time ago—there was a time when the universe was not. The cosmologists will likely have a theory about how the Big Bang happened; the responsible Christian will read Genesis 1, realize that she doesn’t have all the answers about how God created the world, and be fine to believe that God created everything a finite time ago, though the details are a bit fuzzy in some spots.

The Argument for a First Cause

Not only does the Big Bang Theory fit with a Christian perspective on cosmology, it also bolsters one of the famous arguments for God’s existence: The Kalam Cosmological Argument. The Kalam argument is extremely simple:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.[3]

1 is a general statement about the way the world is known as the Principle of Sufficient Reason. It’s basically commonsense! We all know that whatever begins to exist has a cause—things don’t just happen. Imagine a firefighter exits his fire station when he hears a noise; he looks down and sees a baby sitting in a car seat on the sidewalk in front of the fire station. This firefighter then dons his philosopher cap and infers that this little life came from somewhere; humans don’t just pop into existence! Instead, we all have a cause.

Similarly, imagine sitting in a restaurant having dinner with your spouse when, suddenly, you’re startled as a gunshot echoes through the restaurant, ruining your romantic evening. Trying to appease dinner guests, your waiter rushes to your table and breathlessly explains: “Don’t be alarmed! Those just happen here. Nothing caused that!” You would think the waiter was mad, for you and I both know that whatever begins to exist, gunshots and babies included, must have a cause.

Thus, let’s agree that there’s a general class of things that share the characteristic of coming into being. In this class, we will want to put trees, birds, the grass, the sun, iPhones, and ice cream, to name just a few examples. Let’s also agree that since they came into being, there was something else that caused them. For the tree, it was the acorn; for the bird, it was the egg; for the iPhone, it was Steve Jobs. Thus, we can agree that whatever fits into this broad class of things which come into being necessarily has a cause exterior to itself.

2 is a more controversial claim. Though it would establish 2 for us, we must resist the temptation to make this argument: Everything within the universe began to exist; therefore, the universe began to exist. That’s called the fallacy of composition. Just because every part of a whole has a characteristic doesn’t mean that the whole has that characteristic. For example, if there is a group of 100 men gathered somewhere, does that mean that the group is a man? Clearly not; thus, we need another reason to think that 2 is true.

Here is where the Big Bang Theory shows its merit. 2 is the claim that the universe, considered as a large, single entity, fits into this class of things which comes into existence. In establishing this claim, the bite-sized Big Bang Theory is the Christian’s best friend, for the Big Bang Theory says that the universe did indeed come into existence a finite time ago.

Now comes the important part: If we accept 1 and 2, we must accept the conclusion: 3. That means that we have to believe that something—or Someone—caused the universe to come into existence. Alright, you might think, that’s no big deal. While Christians want to claim that the cause is God, perhaps there’s another way out. Perhaps, for example, this cause is a fluctuation in a primordial vacuum, or perhaps our universe was spawned by another universe in the multiverse or something like that.

The Nature of the First Cause

So, what would the cause that 3 points towards be like?

First, the cause would appear to be non-physical. Before the universe, there was nothing physical out of which the cause could be made, so the cause can’t be physical. Thus, the cause of the universe cannot be a fluctuation in a vacuum, another universe, or something else along those lines: The reason is that all of these options smuggle in the notion of a physical something. When discussing the origin of the universe, we are attempting to explain where our physical world originated. If you think that the Big Bang Theory came from a fluctuation in a primordial vacuum, the theist is well within her rights to retort: Well, where did the vacuum come from? Therefore, the ultimate first cause would have to be a non-physical reality, for it predated and is the cause of all physical things.

Second, the cause would have to be overwhelmingly powerful. This cause would have to be able to make something out of literally nothing; to do so requires unrivaled power, the likes of which we cannot comprehend. We only think we make things; we actually manipulate what is already there. When Chevrolet makes a truck, they take pre-existing matter—metal, paint, rubber, etc.—and arrange and manipulate the pre-existing matter to make a vehicle. When we describe creatio ex nihilo—creation out of nothing—we’re describing the process of making both the truck and the metal, paint, rubber, etc. To create matter requires overwhelming power—power which is beyond us.

Third, the universe’s cause appears to have been strikingly creative. Consider, for example, the fact that the average house is home not only to human beings but to over 500 different species of insects![4] The cause of the universe was creative enough to come up with that many different species of insects, not to mention different types of fruits, colors, rhythms, flowers, and thumbprints.

Finally, the cause of the universe had to be personal. Non-personal things don’t have free will; rather, they operate according to predetermined laws. That is, they cannot choose to do one thing or another. For example, I’m currently typing on my Mac which is operating according to the laws that Apple created. When I press the “z” key, my computer types z. It doesn’t have the ability to choose otherwise; however, since the first cause existed prior to the universe, there were no physical laws to determine its actions. Thus, it had to be personal, for it chose to create—a choice it could never have made had it not possessed free will, which only personal beings do in fact possess.

Therefore, this great first cause must be non-physical, overwhelmingly powerful, strikingly creative, and personal. Though that definition doesn’t equate the Christian definition of God by any means, it’s certainly a step in the direction of the divine. Seen in this light, the Big Bang Theory is just one theory that points towards the existence of God by reminding us that there must be something, or Someone, behind this grand universe of ours.

Notes & Sources

[1] René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

[2] “Until” is a poor word to use here. Without the universe, there would be no time. Technically, then, there can’t really be an “until” until the universe comes into existence.

[3] The Kalam argument’s modern version belong to William Lane Craig. You can find information about his work at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/.

[4] Erin Blakemore, “How many types of bugs live in your house right this minute? Science weighs in,” The Washington Post, January 19, 2016, accessed August 19, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/01/19/how-many-types-of-bugs-live-in-your-house-right-this-minute-science-weighs-in/?utm_term=.6dfcb58f1e42.

5 thoughts on “The Big Bang Theory and Christianity

Add yours

  1. Hi Nick! An excellent piece of writing, clearly setting out some of the key arguments in favour of a creator. Your blog seems really interesting, I’ve subscribed and am looking forward to reading more of your work.

    God bless!

    Steven

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  2. The BBT made one correct prediction about an expanding universe, but that’s about it! It’s held together with smoke and mirrors, and many skeptical observers will admit this in one way or another (and I’m not talking about creationists). It’s time for church leaders to stop fudging the issue and get a basic scientific education in the problems with BBT, and other contentious science related issues, rather than sticking their heads in the sand and saying everything’s fine.

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    1. Well, I’m not a cosmologist, so I’m not going to debate the merits of the Big Bang Theory; however, if you follow your own logic, it seems that you’ve said something that might support the Big Bang Theory. You said that the Big Bang Theory predicted an expanding universe which scientists then found; if the universe is expanding, it certainly seems that there must be a starting point for the expansion. If the universe had a spatial starting point away from which it is expanding, it would seem that something—or Someone—kicked the ball to get it moving. A cosmologist would probably call this initiation the Big Bang Theory, while a Christian would call it God’s creation. Either way, the Big Bang Theory’s prediction that the universe began a finite time ago fits quite well Genesis.

      One important point: Even if you disagree with the Big Bang Theory, it’s still possible to see the merit in the Big Bang Theory’s prediction for apologetics. While you may disagree with Big Bang cosmology, the person with whom you have an evangelistic conversation may not. Christians make a mistake when we get bent out of shape on the Big Bang Theory or the Theory of Evolution instead of getting to the gospel.

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