The Big Bang and “Let there be light!”

In my last post I noted the importance of us talking about the things we don’t talk about.  Beginning, well, in the beginning.  First let’s set the stage for ourselves a bit though – why should we even be talking about these things?  In Acts Chapter 17 we read of Paul waiting in Athens for Silas and Timothy to arrive.  While he was waiting he became deeply concerned about the people in a city full of idols.  He didn’t just shake his head with concern though.  The writer of Acts tells us what he did.  He reasoned with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks.  He reasoned day by day with whoever happened to be in the marketplace.  He reasoned with the philosophers.  He started with the common ground he could find, and from there, he discussed with them the reality of God.

Their common ground was a belief in deity (or in their case, deities).  He could certainly have seen it as what separated his belief from theirs – he believed in one true and living God, and they believed in many gods.  Instead, he saw what they both believed and began from there.  I believe one parallel for us today is that of modern science.  We often look at where our conclusions diverge instead of looking at the common ground it gives us to start with.  We often argue, or choose not to talk at all, instead of reasoning together.

It’s not hard to find information about the Big Bang Theory.  If you Google “The Big Bang scientific theory” you’ll get 1,530,000 hits right away – plenty of material for late night reading.  Some sites are admittedly less useful than others, but this information is from a January post by Charles Q. Choi on space.com and gives a pretty good overview from an entirely scientific perspective.   I want you to read these excerpts, and then ask yourself if this represents separation between the Bible and science, or amazing common ground:

“The universe was born with the Big Bang as an unimaginably hot, dense point. When the universe was just 10-34 of a second or so old — that is, a hundredth of a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second in age — it experienced an incredible burst of expansion known as inflation, in which space itself expanded faster than the speed of light. During this period, the universe doubled in size at least 90 times, going from subatomic-sized to golf-ball-sized almost instantaneously.”

When scientists first discovered evidence for an absolute beginning of what we know as time and space, a truly amazing meeting place between modern science and theologians was established – and then instead of reasoning together, most of us just walked out.  Interestingly, the following posts from readers were at the bottom of this article on science.com:

One reader posted: “The universe was born with the Big Bang …! then what lead to big bang …!?” He was quickly shouted down by another reader: “Learn physics and you will remove this naïve question.” In other words, “Shut up. If you understood science you’d know your seemingly religious question was naïve and stupid.” The problem is that science, including physics, does not have an answer to this reader’s post. In fact, within the article itself Mr. Choi had actually said:

“Since the universe by its definition encompasses all of space and time as we know it, NASA says it is beyond the model of the Big Bang to say what the universe is expanding into or what gave rise to the Big Bang.  Although there are models that speculate about these questions, none of them have made realistically testable predictions as of yet.”

Genesis 1:1 says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Not only is this not incompatible with the Big Bang theory, it quite simply picks up where science leaves off.  The Bible speaks of a moment, before which there was nothing, when God created everything.  In one extraordinary moment, a universe was born.  Whether we agree on God as the source, we all agree on the fact of that one beginning moment, and most of us would agree with the importance of seeking together for an answer to what made that moment happen – how is it possible that we are all here?

As I’ve shared before, including in “10 Reasons I Believe,” the first moment in time is not a source of doubt for me.   In fact, it’s one of my core sources of faith.  I will admit though that some other aspects of the creation account have not in the past seemed to line up with science.  For example, in Genesis 1:1 the universe is created.  Then later, in verse 3, God says “Let there be light.”  Later than that, God creates the sun and the other stars.  Why is there light first, and then later the stars as a source of light?  Let’s read some more of Mr. Choi’s description of the Big Bang theory:

“During the first three minutes of the universe, the light elements were born during a process known as Big Bang nucleosynthesis. Temperatures cooled from 100 nonillion (1032) Kelvin to 1 billion (109) Kelvin, and protons and neutrons collided to make deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen. Most of the deuterium combined to make helium, and trace amounts of lithium were also generated.  For the first 380,000 years or so, the universe was essentially too hot for light to shine, according to France’s National Center of Space Research (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales,or CNES). The heat of creation smashed atoms together with enough force to break them up into a dense plasma, an opaque soup of protons, neutrons and electrons that scattered light like fog.”

“Roughly 380,000 years after the Big Bang, matter cooled enough for atoms to form during the era of recombination, resulting in a transparent, electrically neutral gas, according to NASA. This set loose the initial flash of light created during the Big Bang, which is detectable today as cosmic microwave background radiation. However, after this point, the universe was plunged into darkness, since no stars or any other bright objects had formed yet.”

It is science’s point of view that there was creation (whether Divine of not), followed by light, and followed much later by stars that would generate light from that point on.  Mr. Choi goes on to say:

“A little after 9 billion years after the Big Bang, our solar system was born.”

Let’s set aside the timeframes for a moment (we will come back to them in a future post), and just focus on the order of events.  What are the odds of Biblical writers thousands of years before all of these scientific discoveries describing creation as having light come before the sun and stars that they certainly understood to be the source of light?  If you were trying to make up an account of creation at the time, or even just form one from your best understanding of what you could see and experience around you, it seems like an extraordinary blunder to put light showing up before the sun and stars.  But if these words really are from God, and God knew what the writer of Genesis couldn’t possibly know – wow!

At the very least you’d have to agree that modern scientists and Christians willing to engage in conversation definitely have some fascinating things to talk about.

If you want to follow the conversation on a regular basis just sign up at the left or at the bottom of this page to follow this blog.  I look forward to taking the journey together.

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