Question: “Did God use the ‘Big Bang’ to create the universe?”
Answer: Prior to the twentieth century, before the Big Bang theory had been developed, philosophers and scientists debated whether the universe had a beginning. Some argued it had always existed: that it was “infinitely old.” This agreed with the worldview of ancient philosophers and then-current atheism. On the other hand, there were logical reasons to think the universe could not be “infinitely old,” such as causality. For most of history, there was no empirical evidence proving the universe had an objective “beginning.” Atheism particularly held to the idea of an “infinitely old” universe as a reason to dismiss God as unnecessary.
This situation changed drastically in the first half of the twentieth century, as several discoveries were made leading to the formation of the Big Bang theory. Over several decades, those who preferred the idea of an eternal universe made many attempts to explain away hard evidence, but to no avail. The result was secular science lending tremendous support to the creation account of the Bible.
Einstein’s theory of general relativity, published in 1916, suggested the universe either had to be constantly expanding or constantly contracting. So, Einstein added a “cosmological constant” to his equations, for no other reason than to maintain the possibility of a static, eternal universe. Einstein later called this the “biggest blunder” of his career.
The work of Edwin Hubble in the 1920s proved the universe is expanding. This finding contradicted Einstein’s cosmological constant and left non-believing astrophysicists unhappy. Their discomfort was made even worse with the contributions of Georges Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest and astronomer. Lemaître noted that the combination of general relativity theory and Hubble’s discoveries implies a beginning. If the universe is currently expanding, then at some time in the past, the entire universe would have been contained in some infinitesimally small point. This idea is foundational to the Big Bang theory.
Over the next several decades, physicists tried to salvage the eternality of the universe by proposing everything from the Milne model (1935) to the steady state theory (1948). In many (if not most) cases, these models were proposed explicitly because the implications of a non-eternal universe were “too religious.”
The year 1964 brought about the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation—something predicted by the earliest Big Bang theorists in the 1940s. For all intents and purposes, that discovery made the “beginning” of the universe an inescapable fact of modern science. The question was no longer “did the universe have a beginning?” but “how did the universe begin?”
Evidence for the Big Bang, regardless of how one interprets it, is a stunning example of science and theology intersecting. According to objective, empirical science, all space, time, and energy came into existence together in a single moment: a “beginning.” Before the Big Bang, there was no time. There was no space. Then, suddenly, an exceedingly dense, incredibly hot, infinitesimal ball of something—everything—appeared somewhere, somehow for reasons unknown and began to expand rapidly with our whole universe inside of it. If true, the Big Bang theory all but confirms the view espoused by Judeo-Christianity for thousands of years.
Astrophysicist Dr. Robert Jastrow phrased it this way in his book God and the Astronomers (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978, p. 116): “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.”
Why? Because, as Jastrow explained in a subsequent interview, “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. . . . That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact” (“A Scientist Caught Between Two Faiths: Interview with Robert Jastrow,” Christianity Today, August 6, 1982, pp. 15, 18).
It’s important to note that, prior to these discoveries, disbelief in God was tied closely to the idea of an eternal, un-caused and un-created universe. Afterwards, however, non-believers began to claim that these advances in science actually disproved God. What had always been interpreted as clear support for a Creator—and resisted for that very reason—almost overnight turned into the claim that atheists had been right all along.
This attitude, unfortunately, led to a corresponding reaction from the creationist community. Just as many astrophysicists felt that the expanding universe theory was a ploy to inject religion into science, many Christians have come to feel that the Big Bang is an effort to undermine the biblical account of creation. Other Christians, however, feel that the Big Bang is consistent with the Bible’s account and welcome such compelling evidence for the creation of the universe.
With that said, it is important to understand that the Big Bang theory is just that—a theory. The exact nature or cause of that “beginning” has not been explicitly proved by empirical science, nor can it be.
If Christians are to have an objection to the Big Bang theory, it should only be in the atheistic presuppositions that often go along with it. The idea itself—that the universe came into existence in an instantaneous expansion from an infinitely small point—is compatible with an orthodox view of creation. Scripture only says that God created (Genesis 1:1); it does not specify how. The fact that non-believers were so opposed to the Big Bang theory, on religious grounds, speaks to how powerfully it supports the Genesis account.