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Why We Should Be Cautious Using the Big Bang Argument

Universe_expansion

Since it was proposed by Fr. Georges Lemaître, the Big Bang has been common in discussions of the existence of God.

The reasons are obvious. The Big Bang looks like a plausible beginning for the physical universe. Things that begin need causes. The beginning of the physical universe would need a cause, which would seem to lie outside the physical universe. This coheres well with the Christian claim that God is a non-physical being who created the physical universe.

The argument has been elaborated various ways, but that's the basic idea.

One of its fans was Pope Pius XII, who elaborated a version of it in a speech about this to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences back in 1951.

It's basically a version of the Kalaam cosmological argument that uses evidence from modern cosmology to support the premise that the universe had a beginning.

It even resonates with the "Let there be light" moment in Genesis.

I think that there is a proper role for the Big Bang in discussions of God's existence, but it has to be used with some caution.

Here's why . . .

 

"Let There Be Light"?

One temptation is to identify the Big Bang not just as the moment of creation but specifically as the creation of light in Genesis 1. That’s problematic because Genesis does not portray the creation of light as the moment the world came into existence. Let’s look at the text:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

In the text, the earth already exists in a formless and empty state, with a deep of waters that has a surface, which the Spirit of God hovers over. Then light gets created.

So Genesis depicts the creation of light happening when the heavens and the earth and its waters already exist. At least that is how the text depicts it. You can argue that this isn’t to be taken literally, but that only makes the same point another way: We shouldn’t be too quick to identify the Big Bang with the creation of light in Genesis. We have to be careful about mapping Genesis onto modern cosmology.

In fact, Pope John Paul II warned specifically against trying to draw scientific conclusions from the creation account in Genesis 1:

Above all, this text has a religious and theological importance. It doesn't contain significant elements from the point of view of the natural sciences. Research on the origin and development of the individual species in nature does not find in this description any definitive norm or positive contributions of substantial interest [General Audience, Jan. 29, 1986].

 

The Moment of Creation?

There is another thing we need to be careful about, which is identifying the Big Bang as the moment of the physical universe came into existence.

It may well have been. I would love for us to find a way to prove that scientifically.

But we’re not there at present. Scientifically, there is still a lot about the Big Bang that is a mystery. We just don’t understand it. The evidence shows that it happened, but not why it happened. We have very little clue about that scientifically—and there may well be no scientific answer. It may be that God just did it, and did it in a way not susceptible to scientific study.

But that’s not the only option. There are others that cannot presently be ruled out on scientific grounds. For example, the visible universe we see today may have budded off of a larger universe that we cannot see, and the moment it budded off may have been the Big Bang. There are other options, too.

 

Implications

If we one day get solid evidence of something physical existing before the Big Bang, what would the implications be?

From the viewpoint of the Christian faith, if there was a physical universe before the Big Bang then it would mean that God created the universe—from nothing—even farther back in time than we can currently see.

From the viewpoint of discussions of God's existence, it would mean that one of the premises in the Kalaam cosmological argument would lose its scientific support--unless, of course, new science pointed to a beginning even further back. (And there are those who have argued on scientific grounds that the universe cannot extend back infinitely far in time.)

Losing scientific support from the Big Bang would not disprove the existence of God. It wouldn't even disprove the Kalaam cosmological argument. It would just mean that the premise in question would have to be supported some other way.

If it were to turn out that the Big Bang was not the beginning of the physical universe then this argument in apologetics would have to be revised.

That's nothing to be ashamed of, though. Apologetics, like the physical sciences, is subject to revision based on the evidence available at the time.

 

New Science?

Some scientists, such as the iconoclastic Roger Penrose, have already claimed to have found evidence of a pre-Big Bang universe, though his claims are disputed by other scientists.

Plans are afoot, though, for a new set of scientific projects that may let us discern something about the state of the universe before the Big Bang (if there was one). More info here.

It will be interesting to see what the results of these are.

For now, though, the Big Bang still looks like the beginning of the physical universe, and it has a legitimate place in discussions of God's existence.

It just should not be presented as if we had absolute proof of creation in time, because we don't.

That's something that Pius XII pointed out in his 1951 speech.

While hailing the discovery of the Big Bang, he also cautioned that “the facts established up to the present time are not an absolute proof of creation in time, as are the proofs drawn from metaphysics and revelation.”

So, while the idea of the Big Bang is consistent with the idea that the universe was created a finite time ago, and while the Big Bang may be that moment of creation, we should not present this as if it were definitively established.

 

What Now?

If you like the information I've presented here, you should join my Secret Information Club.

If you're not familiar with it, the Secret Information Club is a free service that I operate by email.

I send out information on a variety of fascinating topics connected with the Catholic faith.

In fact, the very first thing you’ll get if you sign up is information about what Pope Benedict said about the book of Revelation.

He has a lot of interesting things to say!

If you’d like to find out what they are, just sign up at www.SecretInfoClub.com or use this handy sign-up form:

Just email me at [email protected] if you have any difficulty.

In the meantime, what do you think?

Jimmy Akin

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Jimmy Akin is a Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a member on the Catholic Answers Speakers Bureau, a weekly guest on the global radio program, Catholic Answers LIVE, and a contributing editor for Catholic Answers Magazine. He's the author of numerous publications, including the books The Fathers Know Best (Catholic Answers, 2010); The Salvation Controversy (Catholic Answers, 2001); and Mass Confusion: The Do's & Don'ts of Catholic Worship (Catholic Answers, 1999). Many of Jimmy's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Follow Jimmy's writing at JimmyAkin.com.

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  • Michael Murray

    "Jimmy Akin is a Senior Apologist" I always kind of liked the fact that some people are willing to apologise for their religion. It shows a certain humility and there is much to apologise for.

    Seriously though he offers excellent advice. It's a mistake to hang the proof of religion on some piece of science as science changes and religion has to pretend not to. If I was a theist I would just say it was "personal revelation" and be done with it.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Michael, I hope your first paragraph was sarcastic. But in case not, "apologist" comes from the greek word apologia which means "defense or explanation." See Plato's Apology, which is his version of the speech given by Socrates as he defended himself in 399 BC.

      • Michael Murray

        Yes Brandon it was -- although it's a strange word in the modern world where the usage is all in one direction. I think I probably first met it in Hardy's "A Mathematicians Apology". Thanks for the derivation -- I've not actually looked it up before.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          No worries. You're right that it's somewhat uncommon today. However in religious circles, especially Christians circles, it's fairly well-known.

        • Steven Greydanus

          FWIW, the term "apologist" continues to have significant non-religious currency. To give just one common example, in political discussion defenders of a politician, policy or agenda are often called (say) "Obama apologists," "GOP apologists," "torture apologists," etc.

          One also hears it in critical discussion, of defenders of particular artists, works or movements, e.g., "Tarantino apologists," "3D apologists," etc.

          • Michael Murray

            Interesting point. I don't think it's used much here in Australia. I wonder if that is because the US is more religious?

            Last question on the English language. When did apology attract the connotation of sorry?

          • Steven Greydanus

            "I don't think it's used much here in Australia. I wonder if that is because the US is more religious?" Interesting question. FWIW, I do find secular uses of "apologists" on Australian websites (e.g., references like "Labor apologists" in Sydney Morning Herald news stories), but it's possible the term is more common in the USA. I wouldn't have thought that secular uses of the term in American culture had any connection with religious culture, but I can't rule it out.

            "When did apology attract the connotation of sorry?" Perhaps some time around the transition from middle to modern English? It's not hard to see how the semantic shift could occur. It's similar to "excuse," which can variously refer either to a) fully exculpatory or extenuating circumstances (e.g., "Please excuse John's absence from school as he was in the emergency room"), b) a threadbare, dodgy attempt to evade reality ("That's just an excuse"), or c) a full-fledged admission of wrongdoing and plea for forgiveness ("Please excuse my intolerable behavior").

            "Apology" as defense could likewise easily extend to "explanation" (or "excuse" in its polyvalent meanings). Eventually, as the action of expressing contrition for one's actions and asking for forgiveness is an action for which a good word is needed, "apology/apologize" fit the bill.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks everybody for the comments while I was asleep. I'm going to leave this alone now and go back and read the thread.

          • Michael Murray

            Is the implication always negative as in your examples?

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=20602584 Mark Duch

            The implication is not negative. One is an apologist the same way one is a professor or guru. It is neutral, I suppose.

          • Steven Greydanus

            It's not necessarily negative, but it does imply that you are in some sense "all in" or "in the tank" for whatever you're defending. Thus, a term like "Obama apologists" is probably more commonly used by Obama critics than by his defenders -- who, like everyone, generally consider themselves models of dispassionate, critical rationality, not committed partisans!

            Probably religious apologists most easily use the
            term for themselves, since religion, at least in certain forms such as Christianity, encourages or requires "all in" commitment. That said, if you were to say "Pixar's Wall-E is a mess of a film," I would easily self-identify as a "Wall-E apologist," and set about defending the film.

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          Michael, it is still very active. See: http://www.biola.edu/academics/sas/apologetics/

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I completely agree with everything except the "and religion has to pretend not to".

      Rational religions do change and evolve. Catholicism in specific has three distinct areas of Magisterial teaching: Dogma, Doctrine, and Discipline.

      Discipline can be thought of as high school science experiments they aren't the actual science, they are designed to teach something about some scientific discovery or another, and nobody cares if there is a large percentage of error in it (well, almost nobody- I've had 1/3rd my parish leave over the way my new priest handles discipline).

      Dogma can be thought of as the dataset of all theological assumptions for the Roman Catholic Church- it is restricted to The Deposit of Faith- which is the Bible plus all those traditions handed down from generations past. THAT is what cannot change.

      Doctrine- is the logical development of new theological theories from the Deposit of Faith- and it does change based on new scientific and moral development. Doctrine is the largest body of Church Teaching in the RCC.

      • sheila0405

        You explained this very well! I might use this in my CCD class.

  • stanz2reason

    Losing scientific support from the Big Bang would not disprove the existence of God. It wouldn't even disprove the Kalaam cosmological argument. It would just mean that the premise in question would have to be supported some other way.

    ... or perhaps not supported at all

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Stanz, do you believe the universe had a beginning?

      • stanz2reason

        The best current evidence suggests that our universe began around 13.8 billion years ago in an event commonly known as 'the Big Bang'. So in that sense, yes I believe our universe had a beginning.

        Whether there existed or exists something outside of our universe (either temporally or spatially), like whether our universe is just one of many is currently unknown.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          Stanz, I'm glad we agree the universe has a beginning. This seems clear from the evidence and supported by the consensus of cosmologists, physicists, and theologians.

          Regarding your second paragraph, there is pretty strong evidence to suggest that even if there were speculatory universes outside of our own--multiverses, inflationary bouncing universes, or something else--even those would have to have a temporal beginning. This was confirmed by the 2003 Borde-Vilenkin-Guth Theorem.

          We'll be devoting future posts to this issue but I suggest Robert Spitzer's article for a good primer:

          http://bvogt.us/13C52kS

          • stanz2reason

            Keywords being 'speculatory'. I don't know if I'd refer to theoretical evidence for speculatory universes as 'strong' or 'confirmed'.

          • Michael Murray

            Stanz, I'm glad we agree the universe has a beginning.

            Actually I would rather use Quine's more precise statement and I think Stanz has indicated she or he would as well.

            So we don't know if there was a beginning as we don't know what what prior to the Planck Epoch. I guess we don't even know if prior to the Planck Epoch makes sense as we don't know there was any time back then.

          • Michael Murray

            2003 Borde-Vilenkin-Guth Theorem

            This is a purely classical, general relativity result as far as I can tell. I don't see that it helps you say anything definitive about the real world where we know quantum effects dominate when you go back far enough. Come back when someone unifies relativity and quantum theory.

            http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/gr-qc/pdf/0110/0110012v2.pdf

            Also a quote from Vilenkin's book may be relevant

            Theologians have often welcomed any evidence for the beginning of the universe, regarding it as evidence for the existence of God … So what do we make of a proof that the beginning is unavoidable? Is it a proof of the existence of God? This view would be far too simplistic. Anyone who attempts to understand the origin of the universe should be prepared to address its logical paradoxes. In this regard, the theorem that I proved with my colleagues does not give much of an advantage to the
            theologian over the scientist.

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          We can make a case that 13.82 years ago our Universe was very hot and very small. But we don't know if that was a "beginning" because the models break down as gravity has to be active at quantum scales, which we don't yet understand.

          • stanz2reason

            Yes, it would have been better to specify that. Thanks.

        • sheila0405

          We can only view things from what we know from science, which changes, and personal experience, which is subjective. We live in a finite world with definite beginnings and endings, so to believe that the universe had to have a beginning is only natural. But, will the universe end? No one can answer that, IMHO.

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

        Brandon, what would you use for a definition of "beginning" in this case? For example, hurricanes come to be, but do they have beginnings? What is the beginning of a cake? When you put it in the oven? When you first mix the ingredients or perhaps when you first decide to bake one?

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          By beginning I mean the point at which something comes into existence. In the case of our universe, I'm referring to the first moment of time.

          And to answer your questions, yes hurricanes and cakes have a beginning. There was a time when a particular cake and a particular hurricane did not exist, and a time when each did. The beginning would be somewhere between those two moments. The beginning point may be difficult to determine but nevertheless exists.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            By beginning I mean the point at which something comes into existence. In the case of our universe, I'm referring to the first moment of time.

            Okay, so you are talking about the beginning of time, not specifically the Universe. We know about time through looking at the change of things in what we call the "before" to those things in what we call the "after." So how are you going to establish that time had a beginning, was there a "first moment"?

            Got evidence?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            The beginning would be somewhere between those two moments.

            You can establish a change from one to the other, but not a specific beginning. See this piece about the Sorites Paradox.

          • mally el

            Because of our earthly time we are conscious of beginnings and ends, of starts and finishes. If there was no time, as we know it, there might not be these events. Time is a phenomenon that allows change to occur and to make reproduction possible. Otherwise, time is not relevant.
            Christians believe that God is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. The two events exist in God. Jesus, in reply to a question said, "Before Abraham was, I am."
            God id the beginning and our beginning is in the ever-present Creator.

    • sheila0405

      True. There is no way one can prove the existence of God, with apologies to Thomas Aquinas. No pun intended.

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

    This is the best article I've read on this site so far. Didn't Augustne say something like a perfevt God would create in a single perfect actvthat would unfold and sustain itself. I think this was in on Genesis, but I don't have the text in front of me. Nevertheless, as Akin points outvthe Big Bang is certainly not described in Genesis.

    My question for Catholics is what role does the creation myth play in Catholic theology? It clearly isn't literal scientific truth. But if this isn't true, where does that leave Adam and Eve? The fall? The Doctrine of Original Sin? Why believe in original sin if the background story has been scientifically invalidated? Is original sin just something to be taken on faith?

    • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

      Sorry for typeos. I'm writing on a phone.

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      Hi Kacy, This is not my "theological area of expertise" but I'll try to answer as best as I can. (and I invite others to correct me if I miss something)

      1. What role does the creation myth play in Catholic theology? An important one but not a literal one. The Church has defined 4 things about this story that must be believed by Catholics. a) God created ex nihilo (from nothing) 2) There was a "first couple" (We call them Adam and Eve not as names but as designators Adam-> first man, Eve -> Mother of all peoples 3) They were created in a perfect relationship with God 4) They did something which damaged that relationship, the effects are Original Sin. Other than that we are free to believe or disbelieve the rest of the story.

      2. It clearly isn't literal scientific truth. But if this isn't true, where does that leave Adam and Eve? The fall? The Doctrine of Original Sin? Again since these names designate one original man and one original woman, there is no conflict with scientific theories of the origin of man.

      3. Why believe in original sin if the background story has been scientifically invalidated? I would disagree with this. Original Sin is a theological concept. In Catholic belief, when a scientific discovery expands our understanding of nature , our theological understanding is eventually refined to meet this new understanding of creation and our place in it. There has been some interesting developments on theology based on the poligenism theories. But I would not want to bore you with the details.

      4. Is original sin just something to be taken on faith? I view this as a theological question so I will give you a theological answer. Yes, we effects of Original Sin are all over creation. Concupiscence (The tendency we humans have towards disordered passions and sin) can not be denied. It is part of our fallen human condition.

      I hope this helps.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      Deacon Harbey Santiago

      • David Egan

        "2. It clearly isn't literal scientific truth. But if this isn't true, where does that leave Adam and Eve? The fall? The Doctrine of Original Sin? Again since these names designate one original man and one original woman, there is no conflict with scientific theories of the origin of man."

        There was no one original man and one original woman. Populations evolve, not individuals.

        • Dcn Harbey Santiago

          Well, it is just a mater of simple logic at one point the evolution of hominids produced a first Homo Sapiens. Even if you are proposing that a number of Homo Sapiens were produced by different populations in different areas. Still leaves the fact that there was a "First one" born AKA First Man.

          "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
          Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Also... Please read "Man" as the theological definition of "Man" and not the evolutionary/biological one. This distinction is important.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • David Egan

            No, it's not a matter of simple logic. There was no single breakpoint when the new species emerged. That's not the way evolution works.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            David, Mea culpa, I intermixed "mono sapiens" with "Man". Please see my comment below for clarity and Steven's answer for a more theological bent.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • David Egan

            And that's where you and I part ways because, from my point of view, the theological definintion is a bunch of mumbo jumbo unsupported by anything resembling reality.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            To be fair you would have to say "resembling your reality not mine" After all, you do not know what MY reality resembles.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • David Egan

            No, we all share the exact same reality. That's the beauty of it - it doesn't matter what anyone thinks or believes, reality just keeps marching on.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Hmm I did not know you were from Puerto Rico and grew up in a deeply Catholic Hispanic culture...Boy the things we learn here at SN.

            Bienvenido Compatriota! Espero que las playas esten muy buenas y que el coquito este frio!! ;-)

            "VIva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • David Egan

            You're confusing reality and experiences. Obviously, our experiences are different but they all came in the context of the same reality.

          • Vuyo

            David, are you saying 'reality' is like 'truth' in that you really can't say "my truth" or "your truth", it's "the truth" whether you believe it or not?

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Hmm Once again you set me straight. I never realized that been Hispanic was just an experience and not part of my reality as a human being
            .
            I think this thread has ran its course. It is way of topic. Let just agree to disagree on that one, Ok?

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            David, just a quick note. We're aiming for charitable dialogue here, so insulting someone's view as "a bunch of mumbo jumbo"--even if that's how it seems to you--is completely unproductive. At best, it doesn't contribute to the conversation; at worst it's insulting and distracts people from your otherwise interesting objection.

          • David Egan

            I guess it's a good thing I edited my original post. That was the nicest way I could state it.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            David, if true that's an unfortunate shortcoming. In the future, we'll delete any comment that demeans someone's belief as "a bunch of mumbo jumbo."

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Not only that, there is no DNA evidence of supernatural intervention. Our ancestors form a contiguous chain of difference by tiny degree with the rest of the animal kingdom. We find no place in the chain for insertion of a non-material interaction, just as we don't in the development of each individual human being from a single cell.

          • Steven Greydanus

            Q.Q: What would "DNA evidence of supernatural intervention" look like? What sort of "place in the chain for insertion of a non-material interaction" would you expect to find, if Christian belief were true?

          • ZenDruid

            A completely new and original genome.

          • Steven Greydanus

            "A completely new and original genome." Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word 'non-material' that I wasn't previously aware of. :-)

          • ZenDruid

            What's non-material about "genome", pray tell?

            A genome is the sequence of ACGT that is read from nuclear DNA.

          • Steven Greydanus

            "What's 'non-material' about 'genome', pray tell?" Exactly my point: A new genome would be a material interaction. I was questioning Q. Quine's assertion that "We find no place in the chain for insertion of a non-material interaction." My question was what sort of evidence for "a non-material interaction" might look like. For instance, if God supernaturally elevated a population of hominids to a kind of spiritual life not shared with other animals, what genetic evidence would there be for that? "A completely new genome" seems to be a non sequitur response to that question.

          • ZenDruid

            The non-material interaction would inevitably result in a material consequence. To support the claim that Homo sapiens are specially created, the material evidence would be there.

          • Steven Greydanus

            "The non-material interaction would inevitably result in a material consequence." If God infused a new kind of non-material life into a population of early hominids, presumably there would be "material consequences" in the sense that they would behave differently, but I can't see why they might not be biologically indistinguishable from other early hominids.

            "To support the claim that Homo sapiens are specially created, the material evidence would be there." Specific, testable hypotheses, please.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Well, it is a question. A non-material "soul" is postulated, but there is no DNA sequence for that, that we could even envision. When a single cell is starting to undergo development such that its daughters will eventually form either a human or a chimp, the difference is DNA is very small, but one, supposedly develops with a non-material control system while the other gets only, what processing in its neurons, can produce. (And if the ball of human cells splits into twins, the non-material part somehow gets doubled?)

          • Steven Greydanus

            I agree with everything in this description. In other words, you're doing a good job of describing the implications of the Christian claim.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Steven, I don't know. We hear that the religious believe in "special creation" for humans that makes an unbridgeable gap re all other animals. As Genesis has been found not to be literally true, that idea has been retrenched back to some kind of supernatural intervention along evolution to make that come to the same result. We see brain structure changes that correlate with greater abstract thought capabilities, but no changes that are not consistent with natural processes.

          • Steven Greydanus

            Q. Quine: The idea that Genesis isn't literal history is nothing new in Christian thought. Christian writers such as Origen, Augustine, Jerome, Aquinas and Wesley didn't take the seven days of Genesis 1 and the sequence of events described therein as a dogma of faith.

            "We see brain structure changes that correlate with greater abstract thought capabilities, but no changes that are not consistent with natural processes." Once again, I'm not sure why you would expect to find something different here. The biblical claim has never been that the morphology of the human brain is somehow "incompatible with natural processes."

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Well, if our actions have a "free will" based on a non-material part, that part has to have a way to interact with the firing of our material neurons in our material brains. We don't see that. Contrary to Genesis, we don't see our species as "made" in the image of anything, just evolved along a branch of the tree of life with all the other animals that have ever lived.

            Q. Quine: The idea that Genesis isn't literal history is nothing new in Christian thought. Christian writers such as Origen, Augustine, Jerome, Aquinas and Wesley didn't take the seven days of Genesis 1 and the sequence of events described therein as a dogma of faith.

            That is what I meant about "retrenching." Parts of Genesis were picked up from Mesopotamian creation mythology during the Babylonian captivity, and not all the internal contradictions were ironed out during the redaction at the time of Ezra. While the internal contradictions were papered over in exegesis the advance of science has continued to present contradiction with fact that has forced the doctrinal position to take it more and more metaphorically. As this article points out, trying to pump some credit back in through the Big Bang, is not going to help.

          • Steven Greydanus

            "Well, if our actions have a 'free will' based on a non-material part, that part has to have a way to interact with the firing of our material neurons in our material brains. We don't see that."

            We haven't ruled it out either. For instance, it might be that some aspects of the behavior of the brain is in some meaningful way entangled with nondeterministic quantum processes. Atheist physicist Roger Penrose, among others, has argued that consciousness itself might be a quantum process. Very small structures in the brain such as (per Penrose) microtubules in the cytoskeletons of neurons, or (per Sir John Eccles) the presynaptic vesicular grid, might allow quantum processes to affect the behavior of the brain. Or quantum processes might interact with the brain in some other way entirely. (Hat tip: Stephen Barr.) Or, well, something else might be true.

            "Parts of Genesis were picked up from Mesopotamian creation mythology during the Babylonian captivity, and not all the internal contradictions were ironed out during the redaction at the time of Ezra."

            I'm very much familiar with all of this; in fact, it's crucial to how I understand the stories of creation and fall as the word of God. Genesis wasn't dictated by a voice from heaven. It's a literary composition, a redaction -- and, significantly, a critique -- of earlier pagan myths. It's a work of theological reflection, carried out under the illumination of the Holy Spirit and in the light of a Jewish faith that Christians believe had been shaped and was being shaped under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

            "While the internal contradictions were papered over in exegesis the advance of science has continued to present contradiction with fact that has forced the doctrinal position to take it more and more metaphorically."

            "More and more metaphorically" is not a helpful characterization. Myth is different from metaphor, for one thing.

            "As this article points out, trying to pump some credit back in through the Big Bang, is not going to help."

            I agree with the author (a close friend, FWIW) that attempting to read some kind of prescient, prescientific knowledge of the Big Bang into Genesis is not the right way of responding to the text.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            We haven't ruled it out either. For instance, it might be that some aspects of the behavior of the brain is in some meaningful way entangled with nondeterministic quantum processes. Atheist physicist Roger Penrose, among others, has argued that consciousness itself might be a quantum process. Very small structures in the brain such as (per Penrose) microtubules in the cytoskeletons of neurons, or (per Sir John Eccles) the presynaptic vesicular grid, might allow quantum processes to affect the behavior of the brain. Or quantum processes might interact with the brain in some other way entirely. (Hat tip: Stephen Barr.) Or, well, something else might be true.

            All of which would be testable. Putting in the word "quantum" does not equal "magic." All of chemistry depends on "quantum processes" but trying to get to something beyond the conventional chemistry going on in neurons requires a way to set up and maintain a quantum superposition of states. That is not easy because any interaction with the surroundings collapses superposition. The basic speculation by Penrose-Hammeroff et al. does not stand up to testing. If it did, the quantum computing folks would be wiring up neurons inside their machines. When you stick your head in a MRI machine, the intense magnetic field that lines up your quantum spin, does not wipe your consciousness, but enough alcohol will. You can look at temperature and radiation exposure and any number of other physical things that impact quantum states, and get no correlation with consciousness any where near the correlation with known electro-chemical processes in neurons.

            Furthermore, the genes that determine our neurons (and their microtubule scaffolding) are almost exactly the same as in our primate cousins. We have a different arrangement of neurons and the modules they form, but not a difference at the lower level. So far, the so called "quantum consciousness" ideas have not given us any "there" there.

          • Steven Greydanus

            I'm familiar with the critique, and the defense, and while it seems to me the question remains open, I have no brief for quantum consciousness. I'm not addressing the problem of consciousness specifically, only a possible basis for nonmaterial reality interacting with material brains (whether that nonmaterial reality is a soul or something else, such as an angel, or the Holy Spirit).

            Certainly, quantum superposition of states would have to collapse for a particular outcome to be realized, just as at the end of an hour Shrodinger's cat is really either alive or dead, not 50% alive and 50% dead. That doesn't mean the system isn't open to a nondeterministic outcome -- that the cat's fate is already determined from the outset.

            If ape brains are capable of being influenced by nondeterministic quantum events, that could mean that there is a nondeterministic component to ape behavior by which nonmaterial reality could interact with their brains -- if there is any nonmaterial reality present to act upon them. Theologically, we could say that God could choose to give apes souls, but that He hasn't done so. Alternatively, He might act directly upon apes, or permit angels to do so, without violating any deterministic laws.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            You seem to be conflating the non-material with the non-deterministic. When I am using "non-material" I am alluding to the supposedly supernatural, or at least something that purports to operate outside natural processes. At the lowest quantum scale, nothing is deterministic but that does not make what happens somehow outside the material world.

            Some do speculate that our entire world is a computer simulation consisting on only information, itself. Some are trying to find artifacts at the edge that would constitute evidence for that, but I am not holding my breath.

          • Steven Greydanus

            "You seem to be conflating the non-material with the non-deterministic." On the contrary, I thought your ape example had made this distinction pretty nicely. Nondeterministic quantum events are occurring all the time, everywhere; this isn't reason to believe in nonmaterial reality, but it does represents a possible point at which material events might be influenced from outside material reality without violation of natural laws. The question is whether such manipulated quantum events might cumulatively influence non-quantum events without any apparent violation of natural laws. For that I suppose you'd need a very sensitive system, like Shrodinger's trunk. Does anything the brain offer such sensitivity to quantum events? I don't know. Some people working on related problems seem to think it does, or it may. It's an interesting question.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Thanks, Steven, I have considered that. Just as statistical sampling becomes more reliable as the number of samples increase, quantum sensitivity decreases as you move up from quarks to protons to atoms to chemical elements to molecules to enzymes to cell nucleus to whole cells to cells differentiated to be neurons to clusters of neurons to ganglia to brain modules, etc.

            What we find, each time we look, is brain activity that looks like it is generated by known interaction of neurons following nothing below the level of organization (statistical quantum result) of electrochemistry. Looking at things that go wrong with our brains is one of the main clues that we are not getting any help from somewhere else. I recommend you read through this very good blog post on the subject of searching for any kind of supernatural part in there: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/a-ghost-in-the-machine/

          • stanz2reason

            The 'simple logic' is a bit more complicated than that. In the way we define one species from another is it's ability to procreate with other members of it's species. Were we to go back 10, 20, 50 generations, we'd all pretty much be able to mate and reproduce with those populations. Were we to go back 100, 200, 500 generations (say 10,000 years), we'd still be able to mate and procreate very widely. However, were we to go back 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 generations we'd start to see a fairly dramatic change in the appearance of our distant relatives, but more importantly we'd find we weren't able to procreate. This phenomena wouldn't happen for 1 person or 1 generation. We'd find we (as a species) were able to procreate with 99% of the population going back hundreds of generations, then slowly that number would drop, eventually to 0%.

            Perhaps were we able to trace backwards to the first specimen whom very few, perhaps only 1 living human could procreate with, you could say in a sense there was a 1st human, though with a few caveats.
            1) Were we to fast forward 20,000 generations into our own future, we'd find that none of our progeny would be able to procreate with this Adam/Eve. In a real sense the 'real' Adam & Eve are different people for generations that are spread far enough apart.
            2) The first man & first woman were likely many generation apart
            3) Our 'Adam' & 'Eve' were likely to be otherwise ordinary, with the exception that the slightest variation between them and their parents allowed them to be able to procreate with a very distance descendant from an arbitrarily chosen time period

            A biology expert would be able to give a more nuanced explanation beyond my layman's understanding.

    • Steven Greydanus

      Kacy,

      While Catholic anthropology doesn't insist on any of the details of the story of Adam and Eve or the fall narrative, and doesn't require us to reject anything regarding evolutionary theory, it does posit two primordial, metaphysical events at the dawn of human history.

      First, the creation of man in the image of God. At some point, God intervened in history and elevated mankind to a status qualitatively different from that of other animals, to a state of spiritual life, not just biological life. With this new spiritual life comes a capacity and vocation to know and love God in a way not shared the animals, as well as a type of freedom, moral knowledge and responsibility different from animals.

      Second, the fall of man. When mankind was first raised to spiritual life, our first parents enjoyed some kind of harmony with God that we no longer have. Some act of rebellion or defiance by which human nature was adversely affected. Human nature was thus transmitted in this deficient condition, in need of a renewal of spiritual life, a spiritual regeneration.

      This is necessarily an article of faith. Genesis doesn't claim to offer historical access to primordial human experience, in the way that the Gospels do claim to offer meaningful historical access to events in and around the life of Jesus of Nazareth. By "historical access" I mean access based in the process of historiography, records of events that were witnessed and reported. Even biblical literalists who affirm the factual reliability of the early stories in Genesis do so on the basis of divine inspiration, not the credentials of the text as a historical document in the sense that the Gospels are historical documents.

      • cowalker

        This naturalistic interpretation of the creation myth (which has the advantage of being superficially compatible with evolutionary theory) makes the concept of Christian Salvation even less rational and appealing than it is when based on the literal Biblical creation myth. A hybrid God-man had to choose to be tortured to death to restore the broken harmony between God and humans? That was the only possible solution? Eve and the snake can be written off as myth but the blood sacrifice of the crucifixion must be taken literally?

        The other huge problem with this is that it leaves us with a universe designed from the start (whether directly or indirectly) to develop multiple species (including humans) doomed to experience scarcity, predation, disease, old age and death. According to this interpretation, human failings have little to do with the existence of most suffering, and they never did. Well that's what I always thought too, and it fits perfectly into a universe that developed according to physical laws that are NOT the product of a benevolent creator.

        If suffering was included for the purpose of refining fallen human nature to prepare their souls for heaven, what is the purpose of billions of years of exactly parallel animal suffering?

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Kacy, on our Recommended Books page, you'll find an excellent (and slim!) volume written by Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI) titled 'In the Beginning…': A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall. I highly recommend it to better understand how Catholics view the Creation account in Genesis.

      • Jim

        The story of Adam and Eve as logic and reason demands is
        a.creation myth that symbolizes birth and death. God said to
        this first couple, if you eat the fruit (of thy womb) you will die.
        The tree ( the body ) in the middle of the garden ( the genitals)
        is manipulated by the Snake (symbolic of carnal knowledge).
        The leaves (covering the torso and legs) is symbolic of shame.
        When the Buddha sat under the tree and declared he was not
        going to move until he understood why misery and death exist,
        he waited patiently until God whispered in his ear, “ Desire ”.
        Original sin could very well well be called Original mortality.
        It is ironic, that the first person born, Cain, turned out to be a murderer, while Able, the good guy, turned out to be the first
        person (in this allegory) to kill. But you would have to be well
        versed in eastern deism to understand a possible reason why.
        .

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnny.vo.5817 Johnny Vo

    Science and religion are two different things. It doesn't matter how much you want to mix them together, when you're through shaking the jar, they just separate again, just like they were before. That's just the way it is.

    Most scientists are not atheists, they seem to get along OK. Little kids always want to shake the jar, it's part of the learning process but it's not necessarily going to yield up the secrets of the universe.

    Ya never know though. Shaking the jar was the way gunpowder was invented and things have never been the same since. Keep trying but don't do it around the other children.

    • physicistdave

      Johnn Vo wrote:
      >Most scientists are not atheists, they seem to get along OK.

      Well, actually, the overwhelming majority of top scientists reject God: check out the famous Larosn-Witham study.

  • ZenDruid

    ...But we’re not there at present. Scientifically, there is still a lot
    about the Big Bang that is a mystery. We just don’t understand it. The
    evidence shows that it happened, but not why it happened. We have
    very little clue about that scientifically — and there may well be no
    scientific answer. It may be that God just did it, and did it in a way
    not susceptible to scientific study.

    If there is one bit of apologia I'd like to see disappear, it would be the "I don't understand the mechanism, ergo Goddidit" bit.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I agree. If only to rid ourselves of the opposite notion of "I understand it, therefore God can't possibly have been involved in any way."

      • stanz2reason

        If only to rid ourselves of the opposite notion of "I understand it, therefore God can't possibly have been involved in any way."

        ... which of course isn't the argument put forth, rather 'based on currently available evidence it's highly likely that things happened like 'this', and that 'this' does not require a supernatural being to be a sufficient explanation'

        Good try there though.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          The latter part of your response begs the question, since it assumes to know what's under discussion: whether a particular explanation is sufficient without God. For example, using Aristotle's language, science might explain with perfect clarity the efficient and material causes of the universe--which it so far doesn't--while still leaving the questions of formal and final causes unaddressed. Thus the efficient and material causes do not always (and almost never) produce a "sufficient explanation."

          • ZenDruid

            As a student of analytic philosophy, my understanding is that Aristotle's metaphysics is a broad exercise in speculative logic. Reality is much more dirty.

          • stanz2reason

            Brandon, you're taking what I said out of the context of this particular thread.

            The original thread was a request of sorts to avoid the 'god of the gaps'.

            The reply from Ted, which itself was a gross mischaracterization of an atheist position, suggested that once we understood something (which implies that the explanation was have is sufficient and doesn't beg any additional questions as you suggest), we automatically eliminate god, as if we're guilty of our version of 'god of the gaps', perhaps something like 'nil-god of the known'. I think our position is a little more nuanced than that.

          • articulett

            In science, god is equivalent to saying "it's magic"-- since we can not even agree on a definition of this god much less how we'd distinguish it from a demon or advanced alien or a false god (whatever that might be) or a mythological god or something that isn't god --or nothing at all (since most gods have no measurable aspects of themselves). It's not a real answer... it doesn't really explain anything... it just bolsters the faith of believers.

            Even if we had a good definition of god, we'd want to know more... Which god? How do you know it wasn't several gods? How? When? How do you know? How can an immaterial being affect material? Create material? Answers involving god raise more conundrums than they explain and so they aren't real answers. We have no way of distinguishing such answers from mythological explanations or matrix scenarios or claims about advanced aliens being involved.

            What do you imagine is the difference between saying "God did it" and "It's magic!". In terms of furthering actual understanding, they are equivalent in science. They are useless answers for people interested in the truth.

            All real answers are sufficient without gods-- just as all real answers are sufficienct without appeals to alien visitors or demons or fairies. These sorts of things must be substantiated to exist before they can ever be considered valid answers to anything. I know that in your head your 3-in-1 god is real-- but that doesn't mean it's real outside your brain.

          • David Egan

            This entire site can be summed up by this cartoon:

            http://tinyurl.com/mtkt7z3

          • David Egan

            Here's the cartoon...

          • articulett

            I have that on a shirt!

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            In science, god is equivalent to saying "it's magic"-- since we can not even agree on a definition of this god much less how we'd distinguish it from a demon or advanced alien or a false god (whatever that might be) or a mythological god or something that isn't god --or nothing at all (since most gods have no measurable aspects of themselves).

            Which is why I avoid using those terms, if possible. They almost always are interpreted by people as something other than what I mean, especially with the big "G" language trick imparting undisclosed attributes. See my post from a few years ago about "Holy Words."

          • articulett

            I agree-- and I enjoy your posts!

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Thanks, and likewise, I'm sure. :-)

        • TheodoreSeeber

          When I drill down into "currently available evidence" what I normally find is "my personal bias and bigotry".

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

        We have a good theory of what makes lightning happening. Yes, that does not mean that Zeus "can't possibly have been involved in any way" but it takes that hypothesis into the class of differences that don't make a difference.

        • ZenDruid

          Zeus?! That's Thor, you heretic! ;-)>

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            I'm sending Baal after *you*!

        • TheodoreSeeber

          The trouble is, they do make a difference- just not the one you'd expect.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            What differences would those be?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            The one internal to your personal neurolinguistic programming. Or are you saying you never tried to hack your own brain?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            So, a psychological difference? Hacking your own brain presents the kind of problem you face when trying to lift yourself up above the floor by pulling on your own bootstraps.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Not at all- it is in fact the primary purpose of prayer, when looked at from a certain direction.

            Not that anybody so arrogant as to think their brain is already perfect will ever try it, of course. But yes, the biggest effect of being religious in general, is the change in your own thinking.

            http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-chaplet-of-tarski-fatima.html

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Not at all- it is in fact the primary purpose of prayer, when looked at from a certain direction.

            Self hypnosis seems to me to be the primary effect of prayer, and that can link in the placebo effect to have real physical changes. As we know from neuroscience, neurons that fire together, wire together, so we would expect that long time practice of prayer or meditation will change the physical wiring in your brain. Here is an interesting study of that: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/enlightened-living/201007/the-science-psychology-and-metaphysics-prayer

          • TheodoreSeeber

            And thus, the clear difference is in fact the wiring inside your own skull, isn't it?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            A difference in belief? Yes, if one group believes that lightning comes from Zeus and another believes in natural causes for said lightning, then the belief makes a difference. I was talking about the difference between allowing that Zeus might be doing it (which cannot be disproved) and accepting the elimination of that hypothesis as in the elimination of the phlogiston idea as the basis of heat. If people did believe in Zeus and picked doing sacrifices to Him over installation of lightning rods (something like that happened when B. Franklin was trying to get people to use his invention) then that would be difference that made a difference. As it happened, enough houses (and churches) burnt down where protected structures did not, so we don't have that debate going on, anymore.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            And of course, if explained properly, all one needs is a prayer to go along with the lightning rod and nobody needs have anything burnt down at all. It is merely a matter of not only understanding the universe, but understanding people as well. And that is why *BOTH* versions need a bit of a rethink.

      • Rick DeLano

        I am afraid the problem of the atheists is large and getting larger by the day, Theodore.

        The LCDM Big Bang universe cannot possibly- *by definition*- have resulted in anisotropic large-scale distribution of matter.

        Fudge factors can be- are being!- introduced ex post facto as we speak, but the epicyclic nature of the resulting Rube Goldberg contraption is quite apparent to cosmologists- especially those who appreciate the insight of Max Planck regarding scientific progress and funerals.

        But it is so much worse than merely anisotropic large scale distribution of matter, Theodore.

        It is anisotropic large scale distribution of matter arranged on a great circle around the sky centered upon Earth.

        Rather remarkably like the Bible originally claims.

        http://arxiv.org/pdf/1305.4134.pdf

  • VelikaBuna
  • physicistdave

    Upthread, Brandon declared (not to me):

    >In the future, we'll delete any comment that demeans someone's belief as "a bunch of mumbo jumbo."

    Hmmmm. So Brandon,would you prefer "clear and obvious nonsense" to "mumbo jumbo"?

    Traditional standards of honest debate discouraged demeaning your opponent as a person, but certainly allowed demeaning his beliefs.

    The truth is that most non-believers of my acquaintance view core Christian beliefs as utter, obvious, and complete nonsense. If you choose to delete any comments to that effect, you will be left with very, very little honest debate on this site.

    I get the impression that you think that many atheists view Christianity as at least semi-plausible, with some degree of credibility, but just not totally convincing. For better or worse, I can't think of any atheists with that perspective.

    What say the atheists here?

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

    • Michael Murray

      most non-believers of my acquaintance view core Christian beliefs as utter, obvious, and complete nonsense.

      Count me in !

      • frodiak

        I have never met an atheist, but I know they exist.

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          Frodiak, we are all around you. Even some clergy are atheists, but are stuck in a position where they feel that they can't come out and say so. http://www.clergyproject.org/

        • Sample1

          Are you in a Federal prison?
          Mike

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Dave, thanks for the comment. There's a clear difference between mocking a belief as "a bunch of mumbo jumbo", a claim which adds nothing to discussion, and something like this:

      "From what I can tell, and please tell me if I've misunderstood, you believe A. But I guess I just don't see how you could believe A in light of B. The latter, if true, would seem incompatible with A."

      The difference is that instead of just flippantly dismissing a belief as "mumbo jumbo" you respectfully show why it's wrong.

      Finally, you say:

      "Traditional standards of honest debate discouraged demeaning your opponent as a person, but certainly allowed demeaning his beliefs."

      There's nothing wrong with demeaning beliefs if by demeaning we simply mean pointing out a belief's shortcomings in a fair and respectful way. But if the goal is to merely to mock, then we have a problem.

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

        Brandon, I do agree that we make more progress if we all try to limit our negative comments about others and their imputed intents. I know it is not going to be easy for you to be the one who has to draw the line, here, on what goes too far. Do try to appeal to our better angels.

        Good luck. :-)

        (Honestly, no sarcasm intended.)

      • physicistdave

        Brandon wrote to me, as his suggestion of a good objection from atheists to Christians:

        > "From what I can tell, and please tell me if I've misunderstood, you believe A. But I guess I just don't see how you could believe A in light of B. The latter, if true, would seem incompatible with A."

        You’ve confirmed my point for me.

        You gave a schematic example of a failure of logic, as if this is what most atheists believe is the problem with Christian beliefs.

        But, my point is that few if any atheists (not a single one among my acquaintances) think that the problem with Christianity is simply that Christians have simply made a logical error, have simply misevaluated evidence, etc.

        It seems obvious to me, and to most atheists I know, that Christians are not guilty of a mere slip of logic but rather are choosing for some strange reason to adopt a patently absurd, obviously ridiculous, and monstrously evil system of beliefs.

        And, I think the strange reason they are doing this is rather clear: “religion is a badge of group identity.” The obvious absurdity of Christianity is not a bug; it is a feature.

        Just as a new frat member proves his loyalty to the frat by tolerating the absurdity of “hazing,” so also the Christian proves his loyalty to the Church by publicly adhering to beliefs that are obvious nonsense.

        As I said above, “I get the impression that you think that many atheists view Christianity as at least semi-plausible, with some significant degree of credibility, but just not totally convincing. For better or worse, I can't think of any atheists with that perspective.”

        Your response confirms my point: you seem to think that there are a significant number of atheists who think that Christianity merely suffers from a few logical errors or some modest misinterpretation of the evidence.

        No. I, and nearly all atheists I know, think that Christianity is so obviously wrong that all any adult of normal intelligence has to do is stand back from his group allegiances and look at Christianity and start laughing.

        But, most Christians very much do not want to stand back from their group allegiances.

        Dave

        • JefZeph

          “religion is a badge of group identity”

          St. Anthony the Anchorite would have had a good laugh over that one. I find it rather comical myself.

          • physicistdave

            JefZeph wrote to me:

            >St. Anthony the Anchorite would have had a good laugh over that one.

            I take it you do not actually know much about Anthony?

            He was a bit of an ancient rock star: He ran a community of monks near the end of his life. Villagers helped feed him when he was lazing around out in the desert. Etc.

            Joining a social group does not mean you spend every moment with the group: it is a matter of identity not hangin' with you buds every single minute.

            And, Mad Anthony clearly did choose to identify with the group of Christians. He could have chosen the group of Manichaeans, or perhaps the Mithraists.

            Or he could have chosen to be sane and just lived his life himself without committing to any of those groups.

            But, sadly, he chose the badge of group identity of Christianity.

            Pathetic guy.

            Dave

    • mriehm

      I enjoy these religious discussions but I also really get turned off when the conversation deteriorates into name calling, as it so often does. I try to remain civil, and avoid a downturn in the tone of the conversation.

  • anilwang

    While it is true, that Genesis 1 is not a scientific textbook, it does clearly state that God created the heavens, the earth, sea creatures and man in his own image (from preexisting matter). The Hebrew word created is something only God can do, it means create out of nothing. So one would expect that there is something special about these creations that might be tested for. In all other cases, God says "let there be", meaning that there was some existing process in place God allowed to move forward according to his plan. This part is likely not testable.

    So we should not be shy about stating the testable parts of the Bible. A 100 years ago, "common wisdom" was that Pontius Pilate didn't exist, the Septuigint was a "poor translation of the Hebrew", the universe was eternal, there was no evidence that Hebrews existed 3000 years ago, the Shroud was a medieval forgery, etc. Only the naive and religious fanatics held they existed. If Catholics of old had no qualms about asserting the truth of all these along with the truth of Eucharistic miracles, the Miracle of the Sun, and countless other miracles, why shouldn't we do also. While it is true that the point of Catholicism isn't to lay out specific scientific claims, we need to avoid the Gnostic extreme as well. Catholicism isn't just a "spiritual religion". It refers to real events in real history. If these events didn't happen, Catholicism is a false.

    One by one the above "unsubstantiated claims" proved false. Granted the science of tomorrow may change verdicts,...., but they can easily change back at a later date. It's not the first time its happened, so we shouldn't be worried regardless. The only thing we need to keep guard against is tying our faith to a particular science. When the Church implicitly did that in the Galileo affair, it prove embarrassing, when it was shown that the universe didn't run on Aristotelian physics. The same could be said for Jansenist and the Newtonian clockwork model of the universe.

  • Mary Catelli

    It is somewhat amusing to note cosmologists admitting that they resisted the notion of the Big Bang precisely for its theist connotations.

    But it is also wise to note that it's also proof that our wishes can lead our wits astray.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      ... precisely for its theist connotations.

      Mary, which cosmologists were those; do you have a citation? Proponents of an established scientific view are always skeptical of a new idea, and the steady state proponents were resistant of this new "primordial atom" idea, especially Fred Hoyle who sarcastically labeled it "Big Bang."

  • sonny

    According to Fr Stanley Jaki OSB, even Fr Lemaitre warned against using scientific theory to "prove" scriptural verity. The

  • Howard Richards

    I totally agree. Of course terms such as "earth," "waters," and "light" need not mean what we mean by those terms in day-to-day life -- as St. Augustine noted 1600 years ago -- but it is a mistake to tie ourselves to any one theory from physics. However, as a physicist myself I am very skeptical that it will ever be able to confirm any theories about "the universe before the Big Bang." Some theories that posit such an existence are likely to remain forever unverified and unfalsified.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roger.hane Roger Hane

    I'm very pleased with this article. Jimmy is emphasizing how little we can definitively conclude one way or the other from what science has discovered so far. He's throwing up a big Caution sign to every one, which I think is great. I would just warn him against begging the question of God's existence by assuming the "would seem" statement in the second paragraph is proven, and assuming God's existence from there on.

  • DAVE

    Great article and I agree Genesis I isn't a scientific argument, but there is a flaw in your interpretation of verse 2 above:
    "Formless and void" in Hebrew (tohu vabohu) are nonsense words and seem to exist NO WHERE ELSE in Hebrew (and maybe semitic) writings. So, formless and void become the most logical translation, but for what kind of situation? Also, let's not forget that the waters and 'the deep' represent chaos in early Hebrew (and other early) cosmologies. The Spirit hovering 'over the surface' indicates, not simply a positional but a relational situation -- beyond and above the chaos. Which heightens and makes utterly complete the chaotic situation of whatever was the state of existence (non-or otherwise) of the universe. One that could only be described by the original author as Tohu va Bohu. Nonsense.
    It seems to me that to argue that there was some sort of pre-existent world is just as much a leap as claiming the universe started at a single-bang. Either way it doesn't matter.... God created it. We know that, because that's what God revealed.

  • 42Oolon

    I think the story of the creation of matter before light is a serious problem for apologists. We know scientifically that this cannot have been the case, so then this text must be symbolic of something. But symbolic of what? God's power? Why show your power by getting the series of events wrong? Would this not have been much clearer if He inspired the text to say. "In the beginning, there was God, foreeverlasting and never-beginning. God created all dimension, time and firmament on the first day which he drew forth from a point immeasurably small yet immeasurably heavy. From this God caused the firmament and the Heavens to be..." etc. This seems equally, if not more powerful and would be less misleading. Compared to my example, the text suggests that the God does not transcend time and space. Created light after matter and so on. I think you need to drop this part of Genesis as being not inspired by God. or redefine your God as being wrong about how he created the Universe.

  • David

    Mr. Akin, you say:
    "There is another thing we need to be careful about, which is identifying the Big Bang as the moment of the physical universe came into existence. It may well have been. I would love for us to find a way to prove that scientifically."
    Really?

    You also say:
    "...If we one day get solid evidence of something physical existing before the Big Bang, what would the implications be?"
    I think that we may have more causes for concern.

    Dr. Russell Humphreys says in "Starlight and Time Revisited" on YouTube:
    "... Why would the experts (in the big bang) make such a hard thing to understand. Is it required by the facts of science? And the answer is no. It results from assuming the Copernican principle or the cosmological principle. This principle is arbitrary and evolutionary."
    The experts in the big bang also say: "We are not able to make a cosmological model without some admixture of ideology... You can't just start from the observed facts about the cosmos and build a unique cosmological theory. You have to stick in some other ideas."
    According to Dr. Russell Humphreys:
    Scientist supporting the big bang theory (Richard Gott) assume that "we got where we are by sheer accident, and that's the central assumption of materialistic, naturalistic evolution." That's "rejection of a purposeful Creator, who has purposes behind what is..." "So, Christians who advocate that the big bang theory happened have to realize that at its heart is an evolutionary theory they are unwittingly supporting, a naturalistic view of the universe because this is at the central heart of the big band theory. The Bible contradicts this principle..."

  • andybbn

    There is also the fact that we do not have physical theories that work for singularities. As it stands, time is not even defined at a singularity with infinite density. The statement "The universe started at the Big Bang" may well be false.

  • geekborj

    I agree that the Genesis creation account offers nothing for empirical sciences. However, it can be used to provide reasonable points.
    1. God created the entire Universe (or Multiverse or Multi-multiverses ad infinitum).
    2. God created the entire Universe ex nihilo.
    3. The Creation Account is not in opposition to the empirical findings about our Universe.

    As for the Genesis account quoted in this article, God is depicted to have created the earth "formless" and "void" before light was created. I think it would be consistent to interpret this as God having the "seed" or "idea" of the earth in the very beginning though without the material part yet. Consistent with the Thomasian interpretation (as I would understand), everything was already created as potentiality the moment God created everything from nothing (at least the material realm). It was out of God's goodness that he allowed his creations to participate in the creation process --- pro-create all the fine details while along the way supporting all the events.

    When God creates a tree, He first creates the entire Universe and then creates the seed and plants it in the soil.

  • 2005wsoxfan .

    Hello, I have to admit that a lot of this physic stuff is over my head. From what I understand Jimmy is saying that as Christians we should not as of yet hang our hat on the Big Bang Theory being the absolute beginning of the universe since this has not been proven with certainty. There could very well be other causes to the existence of our universe such as multi-verses etc. that may have proceeded the BB. However, from what I understand doesn't the BGV Theorem state that no matter what, Multi-verses, String Theory etc. that there is still a beginning? Thanks and Peace Be With You!