‘God and the Big Bang’

If the ‘Big Bang’ theory about the origins of our universe is correct, does it remove the need for belief in a Creator?

Talk of a ‘Big Bang’ originated in the late 1940s, when a debate was raging between scientists like Fred Hoyle who believed that the universe was eternal and that it had remained basically the same throughout its history (the steady state theory), and those like George Gamow, a Russian scientist, who argued that, because the universe is expanding, it must have had a beginning.

During a radio talk Hoyle referred dismissively to Gamow’s theory as involving ‘some sort of big bang’. His description of it stuck, and as supportive evidence from the field of radio astronomy grew, people began to speak of it as an established scientific (or perhaps, more accurately, ‘historical’) fact.

Many have suggested that the Big Bang account of the origins of the universe renders belief in God redundant. But that is not the case, and indeed, it is often seen by theists as providing positive evidence in support of their belief.

The fundamental forces established at the Big Bang singularity (the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism and gravity), appear to be remarkably ‘fine tuned’ and set at just the right level for life to evolve. This is a remarkable phenomenon and one which has so impressed scientists (of all persuasions) that they have given it a name, the anthropic principle. How can such a feature have come about?

Those who resist the most obvious conclusion, that it is the product of a purposive Mind, are forced to seek an alternative explanation. They have suggested, for example, that there must have been an infinite number of ‘big bangs’ with an endless series of universes expanding and collapsing, until the present one finally produced the right conditions for life to evolve. The problem with this suggestion, however, is that, according to current evidence, our universe appears to be on a path of continual expansion, so if there have indeed been a series of universes prior to our own, it is remarkable that the fruitful one only appeared at the very end – on the last ‘throw of the dice’, so to speak.

A more promising explanation from an atheistic point of view is that there exist a great many universes, perhaps even an infinite number. Most are probably barren, but since there are so many, one was almost bound to be fruitful, and we live in it.

Now the first thing we should note about this idea of a ‘multi-verse’ (as it is sometimes called) is that, even if it is accepted as true, it is no problem for a theist. God could easily have created more than one universe. Why not?

The existence of a multi-verse is a possibility. But the theories being put forward in regard to them are very speculative and not all scientists are convinced of their validity. Sir Roger Penrose, a former collaborator with Stephen Hawking who shared with him the prestigious Wolf Prize, refers to the idea of a multi-verse as “overused … [and] an excuse for not having a good theory.” To begin with, he points out, the idea is untestable. These other universes cannot be visited; they are by definition separate from our own. We know neither what they are like nor whether they are even there.

Where more than one explanation can account for the facts as we know them, scientists generally favour the simpler one. The notion of a single purposive Creator-God is far simpler and more straightforward than the idea of an infinite number of unknowable universes. And it seems far more rooted in the ‘real world’. To quote Philip Blond and Adrian Pabst, “to posit this paradigm [of a multiverse] leads to the matrix hypothesis that we are actually only a simulation run by other universes that are more powerful and real. So religion finds itself in the strange position of defending the real world against those who would make us merely virtual phenomena.”

Hugh Broadbent

8th September 2013

 

 

For further reading:

The following two books both offer a straightforward and readable introduction to some of the issues and debates raised in this brief article.

‘Quarks, Chaos and Christianity’ by John Polkinghorne (former Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge, a clergyman and member of the Royal Society)

‘God and Stephen Hawking’ by John C. Lennox (Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College)