Astronomy and Astrophysics Questions and Answers
The mind of God and the 'big bang'
by Russell Grigg
Editor’s note, 18 August 2010: This classic article is being republished after almost 17 years. Yet after all this time, it still is a fine overview of the big picture; subsequent developments indicated in editorial notes, the related articles (below), and the resources (right), merely reinforce the points.
‘The mind of God’ is a term that Christians use to mean ‘the reason(s) why God does something’. It is also the title of a book by Dr Paul Davies, Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Adelaide in South Australia.1 It is also the concluding phrase in physicist Stephen Hawking’s best-selling book A Brief History of Time, in which he says, ‘If we find the answer to that [i.e. why it is that we and the universe exist], it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.’2
The ‘evolution’ of the ‘big bang’ In the twentieth century, the first version of the ‘big bang’ as the explosion of a ‘primeval atom’ was put forward by Abbé Georges-Henri Lemaître in 1931.3 Lemaître already knew of Edwin Hubble’s work on the redshift of light from distant stars (which Hubble interpreted to mean that the universe is expanding) and, by extrapolating backwards in time, he postulated that the universe originated as a single particle of vast energy but near-zero radius.4 He argued (erroneously) that cosmic rays must have come from such an explosion.
In 1946, one of the Manhattan Project (atomic bomb) scientists, George Gamow,5 postulated that a universal explosion lasting a few seconds could have produced all the elements we see today. This lost favour after about a decade, when calculations suggested that certain elements could form in stars.
In 1965, a third version of the ‘big bang’ was put forward by Robert Dicke, P.J.E. Peebles and others, which appeared to receive some confirmation by the accidental discovery by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson that the universe seemed to be uniformly filled with very even heat at a temperature of about 3 K.6 (K is the symbol for kelvin, the base unit of thermodynamic temperature.) This was interpreted as being the after-glow in the form of microwave radiation left over from a huge initial explosion.7 When Sir Fred Hoyle calculated that a ‘big bang’ would produce only light elements (notably helium, deuterium, and lithium), it seemed established as the origin of the universe. In the next 20 years, thousands of papers supporting the ‘big bang’ were produced and virtually no papers challenging it were accepted. It became inconceivable that the ‘big bang’ theory could be wrong, and entire careers in cosmology have been built on the presumption that the ‘big bang’ was fact.
One of the predictions of the ‘big bang’ is that it would produce large amounts of helium, and, in fact, the galaxies contain about 24 per cent of helium. However, calculations have shown that the detected matter in the universe is only about 1 per cent of the amount required to produce the gravitational attraction needed to form all the galaxies and clumps of galaxies, even within the vast time span of a hypothetical 15 billion years. This problem was solved with a stroke of the pen. In the early 1980s, cosmological theoreticians decided that the universe was now made up of nearly 99 per cent of ‘cold dark matter’ (CDM)—necessarily ‘dark’ because no one has ever seen it or detected it, and up to 99 times the amount of the visible matter in the universe. This CDM could not be composed of detectable elements like hydrogen and helium, so hypothetical particles were said to exist, with names like ‘WIMPS’ (weakly interacting massive particles) and ‘axions’.
[Ed. note, 2010: see Has ‘dark matter’ really been proven? Dr John Hartnett's research shows that a new physical model explains the observations without recourse to the fudge factor of dark matter.]
Another problem was the very smoothness of the so-called background radiation. Large-scale surveys of space have shown that matter is not evenly distributed at all, but exists in the form of huge clusters of galaxies, and even larger-scale clumping including some huge structures which have been given names like the Great Wall,8 while there are vast empty reaches, one called the Great Void. ‘Big bang’ theorists decided that if they could find some variation or ripples in the pervasive 3 K radiation, this would be an adequate explanation of the origin of the large-scale galaxy structures. In 1989, NASA launched a space satellite named Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) to try to detect the needed tiny variations or ‘bumps’ in the radiation from above earth’s atmosphere. By 1991, no variation had been detected and the ‘big bang’ theorists were beginning to panic. Then, in April 1992, a computer program was used to analyse the data, and at last something was detected—hot and cold spots differing in temperature by up to about three one-hundred-thousandths of a degree Celsius.9
‘Big Bang Proved!’ trumpeted the headlines. But is it? This background radiation cannot be invoked as conclusive proof of the ‘big bang’, as there are a number of other explanations for it. Russell Ruthen, writing in Scientific American, October 1992, says, ‘But controversy has arisen as to whether the COBE measurements have any relation at all to the structure of the universe billions of years ago. Lawrence M. Krauss and Martin White of Yale University argue that the variations in the cosmic microwave background … could be distortions caused by gravitational waves.’10,11 And more than two decades ago two Soviet scientists, R.A. Sunyaev and Yakov B. Zeldovich, pointed out that as the background radiation passes through large clouds of intergalactic gas, the resultant change in intensity could cause these ‘lumps’.12,13
[Ed. note, 2010: see:
Goldstone 64-metre (210-feet) antenna.
In 1965, mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose, from a consideration of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, conjectured that a large star collapsing under its own gravity would continue to do so until all the matter was compressed into a single point of zero volume and infinite density. Such a point of infinite compression is known to mathematical physicists as a ‘singularity’ and also as a ‘black hole’.14
When Stephen Hawking read about this, he worked out a set of mathematical equations reversing the direction in time, so that the collapse into a black hole became instead an expansion from a black hole. In 1970 he published a joint paper with Penrose, supposedly ‘proving’ that the universe had begun from a ‘big bang singularity provided only that general relativity is correct and the universe contains as much matter as we observe’.15 Since then, Hawking has been trying to deduce a mathematical formula to explain the electromagnetic, nuclear, and gravitational forces in the universe in one ‘grand unified theory’ or GUT, ‘concise enough to be inscribed on a T-shirt’!
Recently quantum physicists have tackled some of the many queries that the ‘big bang’ theory evokes. For example:
What happened before the ‘big bang’? Paul Davies’ reply is: ‘According to modern physics, the big bang represented the origin of space and time, as well as of matter and energy. This means that time itself came into existence with the big bang. Questions like: What happened before the big bang? or What caused the big bang? are therefore meaningless. There was no before.’16 [Emphasis in the original.] And Stephen Hawking claims that under certain conditions the universe ‘would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?’17
How did nothing become something and then explode? Paul Davies’ answer is that it happened through quantum physics applied to cosmology. He says, ‘This “quantum cosmology” provides a loophole for the universe to, so to speak, spring into existence from nothing, without violating any laws of physics.’18 This is very significant, as it shows the fallibility of theistic evolution. Theistic evolutionists often urge what is in effect retreat to a ‘God of the gaps’ idea. God is invoked as necessary to create the initial particle and to ‘light the fuse’ as it were—thereafter the rest can evolve more or less by itself. However, Hawking says his new theory has no moment of creation and requires no Creator. Where does this leave theistic evolutionary compromise?
So this, more or less, is the current ‘big bang’ theory—that some 15 billion years ago, at a specific moment before which there was no before, the entire cosmos created itself by suddenly evolving out of nothing by means of a quantum fluctuation, first as a particle of space/time of zero dimensions and infinite heat,19 which proceeded in a few trillion-trillionths of a second to pass through an inflationary stage, and then through an incredibly hot ‘big bang’ stage, followed by universal expansion and cooling into its present form. The main rationale for this particular ‘big bang’ scenario is a set of mathematical equations deduced by human reason alone.
What should we believe? What should Bible-believing Christians think about all this and believe? There are certain contra facts which are indisputable, and certain principles that Christians should always use in evaluating naturalistic theories about origins.
Re the ‘big bang’
Conclusions Christians do not need Hawking’s elusive ‘grand unified theory’ of the universe to know the mind of God or to know who they are, why they exist, and where they are going. We already have access to the mind of God in the Bible. This tells us that through repentance and faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross we become children of God, that we are here to worship and serve the living God, and that one day we who love God and have received His Son the Lord Jesus Christ will go to live with Him for ever. In fact, the ‘grand unified theory’ and the ‘theory of everything’ is the Bible!
As matters stand at present, there is no better astronomic theory for the origin of the universe than the inspired explanation of the Bible. ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1). ‘By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth … For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast’ (Psalm 33:6,9). ‘All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made’ (John 1:3).
Article courtesy: Creation