The other night I was talking with some young adults. Two out of the three mentioned being dubious about the Big Bang. This really took me by surprise. Why were they skeptical about such a well-evidenced theory? Not only that, why were they skeptical about a theory that provides evidence for God’s existence?
All three grew up in church. Their parents attend regularly. I think we can all agree, nobody just happens to be skeptical about the Big Bang. I remember my own parents being prejudiced against it. We were taught that the Big Bang is “man’s attempt to do away with God.” The Earth is not millions of years old–scientists are utterly confused when they assert such things.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, listen up: the Big Bang is not evidence against God. In fact, it’s evidence for God.
Did it Actually Happen?
Before looking at its implications, we first should look at the evidence it actually happened. William Lane Craig is a fine example of a Christian that thinks Genesis 1 teaches creatio ex nihilo, which is latin for “creation out of nothing.” In scripture we see something very similar to the Big Bang. According to Craig, Genesis tells us that God is the Big Banger. If you agree with him, you’ll agree that the biblical data actually raises the probability of the universe having a beginning. In other words, the Bible is evidence for a Big Bang. Think about that for a second.
Let’s now turn to the scientific evidence.
The Universe is Expanding
One of the most astonishing features of our universe is that it is expanding. Prior to Einstein, most scientists believed that the universe was steady–objects in space have always been where they are, fixed, and will remain there forever. This has all changed. Physicists now believe that galaxies, stars, and planets are all moving away from each other at incredible speeds. Importantly, these bodies aren’t expanding into empty space that already exists, rather, space itself is expanding. How do we know that space is expanding? One of the ways we’ve established this is the observation that stars are redder than they should be.
Have you ever wondered why ambulances and police cars sound lower in pitch after they pass you? I remember learning about this in college. The technical name for it is the “Doppler Effect.” Basically, the sound waves from the siren are compressed as the ambulance speeds toward you and get stretched as it races away. We perceive this compressing and stretching as higher and lower pitch. If you’re an audio-visual person, check out this helpful video demonstration.
Since sound and light are both made up of waves, the same kind of doppler effect happens with light. When objects are moving away at high speeds, they appear redder than they would otherwise be. Edward Hubble was able to confirm this redshift was happening in 1929. He also discovered that galaxies further away from us had a deeper redshift. Meaning, the further away these galaxies are, the faster they are traveling (that’s because velocity can be deduced from the amount of redshift). But why do further galaxies travel faster? And how is any of this evidence of a Big Bang?
If the universe is growing larger at every moment, as these redshift observations confirm, then it was smaller each moment in the past. As we go further back in time, the amount of space only gets smaller and smaller until eventually we reach a point. That point, referred to as the initial singularity, is what scientists call the Big Bang. This also makes perfect sense of why further galaxies are traveling faster. If we assume that everything in the universe arose initially from a singularity, then it makes perfect sense why galaxies furthest from us are traveling faster. Think of the first moment after an explosion–debris furthest away from the center are all traveling the fastest.
For more evidence of the Big Bang, check out this fun article (also note how the author arbitrarily excludes God from the causal alternatives).
It’s clear that both the biblical (if you agree with Craig) and scientific evidence support the Big Bang. The biblical picture is that God is the efficient cause of the universe. He’s the Big Banger. He brought the universe into being (see Genesis 1:1). Science also bears this out. The universe is expanding. As we trace the expansion of the universe back in time, we eventually reach the beginning. So, where’s the conflict?
Some Christians will object at this point on temporal grounds. Science tells us that the amount of time elapsed since the Big Bang, within the standard Lambda-CDM model, is ~13.7 billion years. But that’s incompatible with the Bible; it tells us that the Universe is 6,000-10,000 years old. What can be said of this alleged conflict? Three points.
First, the question we have to ask ourselves is this: does the Bible actually teach the universe is young? We may have been taught that growing up, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. We–and by ‘we’ I mean many of us, including myself–were also taught the Rapture view. Does that mean it’s true? Not at all. The Rapture view is most likely false–something I never would have realized had I not looked into it.
Second, most Old Testament scholars, the actual experts in this area, are Old Earth Creationists. They are convinced Genesis doesn’t teach a young universe. In the book Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, four out of the five experts (all Christians, btw) defend an Old Earth reading of Genesis. This is important. Only one author defends the view this objection is based on. In fact, most of the authors explain how they were once Young Earthers and eventually changed their minds after looking deeper at the text–Averbeck’s essay is a perfect example. (For some of the reasons scholars prefer Old Earth readings, see here and here.)
As a photographer, I don’t study Hebrew or Ancient Near Eastern texts for a living–so I am more than happy to defer to the experts. These people have devoted their lives to investigating the very questions we are asking, why wouldn’t I care about what they have to say? If you are persuaded the Bible teaches a Young Earth view, what you need to do is give the scholarship a fair hearing. Don’t be dogmatic. Broaden your horizons a little. If after a careful investigation you come away maintaining a Young Earth view, which some have, that’s fine–but at least you’ve done your due diligence.
Third, this objection is incredibly limited in scope. Even if it were sound, it only works against a subset of Theists, namely Christians, that hold a specific interpretation of Genesis, namely Young Earth. Christians that aren’t Young Earthers won’t be affected; Theists that aren’t Christians won’t be affected. If we want to get technical about it, this objection doesn’t actually do anything to disprove Theism. Also important to note is that a young Earth doesn’t entail a young universe. And in fact, I consider this a good argument against a young universe interpretation of the creation narrative.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
I mentioned at the outset that the Big Bang is actually powerful evidence for God’s existence. Here’s why. The same evidence in support of the Big Bang (e.g., expansion), when combined with additional evidence and philosophical argument, leads to the conclusion that the universe had an absolute beginning. And since everything that begins to exist requires a cause–things don’t just pop into being for no reason–then the universe itself requires a cause. But what kind of thing could create a universe? Well, God could.
Let’s unpack this a bit further. There’s a fairly well-known argument for God called “The Kalam Cosmological Argument.” It goes like this:
(2) The universe began to exist.
(3) The universe has a cause.
The argument is logically valid. That just means that if the first two premises are true, the conclusion follows necessarily. The evidence we have of the expansion of the universe (redshift, cosmic microwave background, etc.) is pretty solid empirical evidence that the universe had a beginning. Since we know the universe is expanding at every moment, the further we go into the past, the smaller the universe gets, until eventually it reaches a point. (For advanced readers, see .) Combined with additional lines of evidence (from thermodynamics, philosophical arguments against an actual infinity, etc.), premise (2) above is most likely true.
But what about premise (1)? If you think, like I do, that things can’t just pop into being uncaused out of nothing, then you’ll agree that (1) is true. Anything that comes into being must have a cause (note that this doesn’t apply to God since God is, by definition, perfect and uncreated). Moreover, if things can come into being for no reason, why aren’t they doing so all the time? Why don’t we see Nikon cameras popping into existence for no reason? If things can do that, why aren’t they doing it all the time? The simplest answer is: they can’t; everything that begins to exist has a cause. So, premise (1) is true.
If (1) and (2) are true, then it follows that (3) is also true. We return to this question of what kind of thing could create a universe. In analyzing what can cause the universe, we need to get clear on what “the universe” is referring to. By ‘the universe,’ I mean ‘all physical reality.’ So what we’re really asking is this: what kind of thing could create all physical reality? Well, physical reality can’t cause itself to exist, so, the cause of the universe must be transcendent; it must go above and beyond physical reality. It must also be pretty powerful (powerful enough to create a complex universe). The available alternatives are starting to narrow down. What kind of thing is non-physical, causeless, immaterial, spaceless, timeless, and immensely powerful? God fits the bill pretty nicely.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument doesn’t by itself prove the existence of God, but it is a pretty good start. It gets the wheels turning. The evidence for the Big Bang is therefore evidence for God, not against God.