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Most people have heard of the Big Bang Theory of the origin and growth of the universe at some point in their lives, but few know how the theory developed, and where it is at now. For many Christians, it is a theory that is problematic, at least partly due to a misunderstanding of what the theory actually says, and the motivations of the scientists in formulating and constructing the theory. In this article, I will discuss the science behind the theory, and show how Christians can use this information to argue for a transcendent Creator of all that exists.
The currently accepted version of the story of cosmic origins goes by many names, but one of the most commonly used is “The Hot, Inflationary, Lambda, Cold Dark Matter, Big Bang Theory.” That is one big mouthful, but each part is important and does have meaning. We will discuss each part of the theory and where the words that comprise the theory’s name originate.
First, the “Hot” part of the name comes from a controversy that was important in the 1930s-1940s. The first real evidence for the beginning of the Universe came from the telescope of the American astronomer Edwin Hubble. Working at the Mt. Wilson Observatory in the 1920s he measured the light spectrum shift of 46 distant galaxies in order to determine their motion relative to the Earth. To his surprise, he discovered that not only were almost all of them were moving away from the Earth, but the more distant the galaxy, the faster it was moving away! After confirming his findings, he realized that if all of the galaxies were speeding apart now, they must have been closer together in the past, even to a single point.
When Sir Fred Hoyle, the noted physicist from England heard about Hubble’s findings he was very disturbed. He believed that a creation event was “philosophically troubling,” so he worked to find a way around it. He proposed what came to be known as the “Steady State Theory” in which there is a continuous creation of new matter within a continuously expanding space. However, Hoyle’s theory of “cold” creation was soon demonstrated to be wrong.
In 1964 two Bell laboratory scientists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson constructed a device to measure radio emissions in the microwave range from our galaxy. They attempted to calibrate the device by aiming it at empty space, at an area away from visible stars or galaxies. To their surprise, they discovered that there was an energy signature everywhere they measured, an energy equivalent to about 3o C above absolute zero. Though that may seem very cold, it indicates that a universe that cools as it expands must have begun at a finite time ago. It was later determined that the only source of energy that be measured to be the same everywhere and in every direction, would be the residual heat from the initial creation event. Many other experiments have demonstrated that there must have been a hot creation event. Penzias and Wilson had discovered the “Hot” of the Hot, Inflationary, Lambda, Cold Dark Matter Big Bang Theory.
Three mysteries that emerged after the general acceptance of the Big Bang Theory were: 1) why was the measured geometry of the universe so flat, 2) why are the background temperatures measured across space so uniform, and 3) why can we find no magnetic monopoles? The geometry of the universe could have been spherical, flat, or hyperbolic, that is, globelike, flat, or shaped like a saddle. When the extremely difficult measurements were made, it was determined that the geometry was very nearly perfectly flat. If the early universe expanded at a steady rate, the geometry should have been more spherical.
The second mystery was why the temperature measured across wide ranges of space was so even, homogeneous. If the early universe expanded at a steady rate, the temperature across wide spaces should have been much more uneven, as one area cooled faster than others that were further away. In order to be so even, they must have been causally connected in some way, but how?
The third mystery was the question of the missing magnetic monopoles. Magnetic monopoles would be a massive subatomic particle carrying an isolated north or south magnetic pole.¹ They should be more prevalent in the universe, yet they have never been observed. In 1980 physicist Alan Guth proposed his theory of an “Inflationary Universe,” in which during the time period of 10⁻³⁵ and 10⁻³³ seconds after the creation event the universe expanded at an exponential rate. This expansion took place while the universe was no bigger than a grapefruit, and solved the three mysteries at once. Physicists are still looking for the “smoking gun” evidence for inflation, but it does solve the other problems.
Now that we have a basic understanding of the “hot,’ and “inflationary” parts of the theory, it is time to move on to “Lambda” part. Though it has been known that the universe is expanding for close to 90 years, it was only in 1998 that scientists from two research teams discovered that the expansion of the universe was accelerating.² This leads us to two interesting questions: 1) How can we know how far away the stars truly are? and 2) How can we know that the universe is expanding?
The first method for determining the distance to stars is by simple parallax. Just as our two eyes give us stereo vision which our brains convert to distance estimates, two observatories on opposite sides of the Earth measuring the angle to nearby stars can give us a distance by using the same parallax. An even greater separation of observations at opposite ends of the Earth’s orbit would give us an even greater angle to calculate star distances, out to about 65 light years.³ However, to get any measurements usable to greater distances, we need something better, an object emitting light at a standard output, a “standard candle.” But how?
If you light a candle and hold it in from of your face it looks very bright. If you move the candle further away it dims in appearance. A candle a block away from an observer is much dimmer than one that is a foot away. The same concept works in astronomy. A star that is near to us (such as our sun) appears much brighter than one farther away. The problem comes in determining the star’s absolute brightness (true luminosity) versus its apparent brightness (how it appears to us). How can we know how bright a star truly is?
In the first decade of the twentieth century an observer at the Harvard College Observatory, Henrietta Leavitt, observed and compiled 1,777 Periodic Variables, stars whose luminosity rose and fell over a period of time. She noticed that stars which were the brightest had the longest periods in their cycles.⁴ It was later determined that this was true in an absolute sense, and using that data astronomers were able to measure distances accurately to a range of 20 million lights years.
For even greater distances it was the discovery of Type 1A Supernovae that helped to make accurate measurements possible. Type 1A supernovae consist of a binary (double) star system, one of which must be what is known as a White Dwarf star, a star that has a mass about ½ of our sun, with a size around that of the Earth.⁵ That means that it is extremely dense; a teaspoon of the material would weigh about 5 tons on the Earth!
Because of its high mass and therefore strong gravity, the White Dwarf draws in matter from its companion star and begins to grow. When it reaches a mass of 1.4 times that of our sun it explodes, releasing light 5 billion times brighter than our sun. Because Type 1A supernovae release energy and light at a very precise value, we can use them as our Standard Candle for measuring very great distances. This allows us to know the distance to this kind of supernova out to a distance of 13 billion light years. This gives us the distances to make really interesting discoveries.
As mentioned earlier, we’ve know that the universe must be expanding since Edwin Hubble announced in 1929 that he had studied the red shift of many “spiral nebulae” (actually other galaxies) and determined that the vast majority were moving away from us. This, combined with a corrected version of Albert Einstein’s famous General Theory of Relativity showed that the universe was expanding, and therefore must have begun.⁶ In 1998 two teams of astronomers using the data from Type 1A supernovae discovered that not only was the universe expanding, but that expansion was accelerating. This property of the universe that causes it to not only expand, but at an increasing rate is variously called the Cosmological Constant (after Einstein), Dark Energy, or by the more technical name, Lambda. The “Dark Energy” name comes from the fact that no one is certain what that energy is, or how it works. It is merely the hypothesized reason for the stretching out of the cosmos.
The final part of the theory is “Cold Dark Matter,” which leads to the obvious question, what is Cold Dark Matter (CDM)? CDM is matter which weakly interacts with light, and is thus not visible (dark), and does not heat up (cold). Why do scientists believe that this kind of matter must exist? Because it explains certain curious phenomena, such as the rotation speed of stars in galaxies, and the appearance of Einstein Crosses where they should not be.
If you measure the rotational speed of the planets in our solar system you notice something very interesting, the closer that a planet is to the sun, the faster it moves through space. If you measure the rotational speed of the stars in galaxies you see something strange, the stars at the outer parts of the galaxies are moving at almost the same speed as those closer to the center. It is almost as if the stars are somehow gravitationally bound to each other, but with a strength that cannot be accounted for by the masses of the stars, or intervening observable debris.
The second line of evidence for the existence of Dark Matter is the existence of what are known as Einstein Crosses. An Einstein Cross occurs when some distant bright object, such as a supernova, is blocked from our direct sight by an intervening object, such as a galaxy, but we can see images of the more distant star at four points around the cluster, forming a cross.⁷ Einstein Crosses were first observed in 1979, though they were predicted by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity in 1915.⁸ The mystery occurs when we add up the mass of the stars in the intervening galaxy and find that there is not enough mass to bend the light to form the Einstein Cross. What can account for this missing mass?
While there are several candidates for the missing mass, the first is Axions, a theoretical subatomic particle, which if it existed in sufficient numbers could account for that mass. Other candidates include MACHOs, (Massive Compact Halo Objects) such as Black Holes, Neutron Stars, very faint stars, or large planets, or WIMPs, another category of theoretical subatomic particles. We cannot see them, but they can account for the missing mass needed to explain the rotation of galaxies, or the Einstein Cross discussed.
Finally, we reach the Big Bang part of the name. Though many people have heard of the Big Bang Theory (the scientific theory, not the television comedy), few are aware that it attempts to model the growth of the universe from its beginning to its current size. The theory has gone through many changes and refinements over the years, but one thing has not changed; It is the theory of the origin of all matter, energy, space and time! We have examined the various parts of the theory, but now we should discuss how this helps make an argument for the existence of God.
So what can all Christians do with this information? First, we need to recognize that the Big Bang Theory is more frightening to atheists than to anyone who believes in a Creator God. If you are a Young Earth Creationist, be comfortable in using this information in an A Fortiori argument. You can grant the deep time to the non-believer and still have science on the side of the Creator. Second, recognize the that many scientists and their followers are simply trying to follow the evidence, and not simply trying to rule God out of the equation. Some do, some don’t follow the evidence well, but reasoned arguments and evidence will do more to convince them than name calling. Finally, exult that the evidence for the largest miracle in the Bible is on our side!
What can we reasonably infer from this information? We can say that since the theory describes the origin of space, time, matter and energy, the source (Creator) must be none of these. These things began with the universe. Therefore, it is reasonable to infer that the creator is non-spatial (infinite), non-temporal (timeless), non-material (spiritual), and not made from physical energy. This sounds like a brief description of God, though we must use other arguments to reach the God of the Bible. This is the reason why some astronomers and physicists believe that the Big bang Theory is the strongest evidence for the existence of God.
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1. Ross, H. (1991). The fingerprint of God: recent scientific discoveries reveal the unmistakable identity of the Creator. Orange, CA: Promise Publishing Co.
3. A light-year is how far light travels in one year, so by multiplying the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) by a year’s worth of seconds we reach the very large number of 5.88 trillion miles in one year!
5. A White Dwarf is a star that has collapsed at the end of its life cycle. The more massive it is, the smaller it is.
6. Einstein’s original version of his General Theory of Relativity contained a “Cosmological Constant” in order to make the universe static and unchanging.
7. A Globular Cluster is basically a giant ball-like mass of stars.
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Don is a member of the Southern Evangelical Seminary’s T.E.A.M., and a volunteer apologist with the scientific apologetics ministry Reasons To Believe. He has a Master’s degree in Biblical/Theological Studies from Luther Rice University, and a Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary.