Does the Big Bang prove or disprove the existence of God? You decide.
As a fan of the original Star Trek series, I was never bothered by the fact that the Starship Enterprise had no problem finding Type M planets spread out across the universe. For those not familiar with Trekkie lingo, a Type M planet is an Earth-like planet with an atmosphere and climate suitable for humanoid habitation.
In the early days of the Space Race, when Star Trek was first on the air, many assumed that our planet wasn’t particularly special, that further exploration would reveal a variety of planets capable of sustaining human life. Today, most scientists have departed from this sense of certainty. Despite early hopes of finding hospitable planets around Gliese 581, the more we learn about our universe, the less likely it seems that we will find another Earth-like planet in the vast reaches of space.1
Our planet is a rare phenomenon; only the precise tuning of cosmic forces allows Earth to sustain carbon-based life. Fancy-sounding forces like gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear force, and the cosmological constant all operate within extremely narrow parameters. Were any of them to shift up or down by the slightest degree, the universe would either fly apart or fold in on itself. Bottom line? Life as we know it would be impossible.
Scientists who calculate the odds of life happening as an isolated convergence of the elements come up with mind-boggling numbers; some estimates of the probability have exceeded one in the number of atoms in the universe.2
The fact that we are present here in this world seems nothing short of miraculous. The uniqueness of our solar system, our position within that system, the composition of our atmosphere, and the precise physical laws by which our universe can exist . . . all these facets bespeak intelligent design by a super-natural agent.
Find that sentence offensive or asinine? Let me explain.
Though the previous statement might seem “religious” and therefore “unscientific,” it is important to remember that religion and science need not be viewed as mutually exclusive.
Would an anthropologist who discovered and studied Stonehenge be considered unscientific if he argued that the stones did not assemble themselves? Of course not. A scientific analysis of the stones confirms that they were not arranged by natural, random forces of erosion but by intelligent agents.3
Given, if the anthropologist concluded that God had arranged the stones, he would be guilty of indulging in a subjective, religious response. Whenever possible, a reasonable, natural explanation—human beings built Stonehenge—should be favored over an untestable, supernatural one—God built Stonehenge.
But what of the fine-tuning of the universe? Man could not have designed the factors that led to his own existence. So what made our world possible?4
Farewell, Steady-State Universe. Hello, Big Bang.
A century ago, the answer to that question would have been easy: according to the “steady-state universe” theory, the universe has always existed.5 Given enough time, it might have randomly produced the necessary parameters.
But this answer can no longer be supported by scientific evidence. Over the last fifty years, scientists have amassed an impressive amount of data that points to a startling conclusion: our universe had a beginning.
At a specific moment approximately 13.7 billion years ago, matter, space, energy, and time came into existence in a creative explosion known popularly as the Big Bang. Before the Big Bang there was simply nothing. A strange thought, isn’t it?
Though Mark Vuletic, along with a number of physicists, has argued for the presence of “virtual particles” that “come into existence in otherwise empty space for very brief periods of time,” the prevailing cosmological model maintains the theory that the Big Bang came out of nothing.6 At the same time, the predominant philosophical model holds that something cannot come from nothing.
If both theories are accepted as reliable, we are faced with almost unavoidable theistic implications. Who but an eternal, uncreated being who exists outside of time and space could have preceded and initiated the Big Bang? Just such a being is what theists believe God to be.
For those who accept the Bible to be true, the Big Bang came as no surprise. Whereas all other ancient religious books hold that matter was eternal and that the gods had evolved out of that matter, the Bible alone proclaimed that God (not matter) was eternal.7
For those who are uncomfortable with any overlap between science and religion, the news came as a bit of a shock. For decades, the idea of the Big Bang was fiercely resisted by scientists who preferred to live in a “steady-state” universe.
Much of that resistance, it can be argued, was motivated by the clear theistic implications that accompany the idea of a universe that came into being ex nihilo—out of nothing. This resistance is still with us today as many scientists work to explain the Big Bang apart from a God-figure.
Perhaps, as physicist Stephen Hawking has suggested, our universe is just one of multiple universes (or multiverses).8 Given trillions of these potential universes, he argues, it is not unreasonable to expect that one would end up like ours.
But there is little empirical evidence for this supposition. Where is this “machine” that keeps pumping out failed universes in an attempt to find one that works? And by what natural laws does the machine operate, since, as physicist John Lennox has maintained, there can be no laws of nature until there is a nature to be guided by laws?9
Though Hawking is one of our generation’s greatest scientists, there is something vaguely discomfiting about his multiverse theory. It is almost as if Hawking, finding himself unable to come up with a naturalistic method by which one universe could come into being, has countered by suggesting that not one, but billions of universes sprang spontaneously out of nothing.
Such a theory, I would propose, can ironically only be accepted on faith . . . lots of faith. It winds up seeming almost irrational to examine the Big Bang outside the realm of a super-natural being.
As astronomer Allan Sandage, winner of the 1991 Crafoord Prize in astronomy, put it: "I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing."10