Prior to the 20th Century, it was not clear if the universe ever had a beginning. Had it always existed? No one knew. It was a matter of faith. Then a succession of discoveries throughout the 20th Century showed beyond a reasonable doubt that the universe did have a beginning. It wasn’t always here.
First, Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, published in 1916, suggested that the universe had not always existed. Unsettled by the implications of his own theory, however, Einstein added a “cosmological constant” to make his equations support the possibility of a static (and therefore eternal) universe. Then the works of Georges Lemaître and Edwin Hubble in the 1920s demonstrated that the universe is expanding and that Einstein’s cosmological constant was a mistake. This left a lot of astrophysicists very unhappy. Many felt that Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest, was trying to inject religion into physics by suggesting that the universe had a beginning.
Over the next several decades, physicists tried to salvage the eternality of the universe by proposing everything from the Milne model (1935) to the steady state theory (1948). But with the 1964 discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, predicted by Big Bang theorists in the 1940s, the Big Bang theory became the preeminent cosmological model. The question was no longer, did the universe have a beginning? The question became, how did it happen?
As more and more astrophysicists focused their attention on what happened in the first few moments, months and years of the universe, some Christians became upset that the new theoretical models didn’t match up with their interpretation of Genesis. Just as many astrophysicists felt that the expanding universe theory was a ploy to inject religion into science, many Christians have come to feel that the Big Bang is an effort to undermine the biblical account of creation. Other Christians, however, feel that the Big Bang is consistent with the Bible’s account and welcome such compelling evidence for the creation of the universe.
Keep in mind that the Big Bang wasn’t a sudden explosion of energy in some empty part of space at some distant moment in time. According to the theory, all space, time and energy came into existence together in that “bang.” Before the Big Bang, there was no time. There was no space. Then, suddenly, an exceedingly dense, incredibly hot, infinitesimal ball of something – everything, appeared somewhere, somehow for reasons unknown and began to expand rapidly with our whole world inside of it.
It is hard not to see the evidence for the Big Bang as a stunning example of where science and theology intersect. Astrophysicist Dr. Robert Jastrow phrased it this way in his book God and the Astronomers (New York, W.W. Norton, 1978, p. 116): “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” Why? Because, as Jastrow explained in a subsequent interview, “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth….That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact” (“A Scientist Caught Between Two Faiths: Interview with Robert Jastrow,” Christianity Today, August 6, 1982, pp. 15, 18).
If Christians are to have objections to the Big Bang theory, it should only be in the atheistic presuppositions that often go along with the theory. The idea itself, that the universe came into existence due to an explosion, is not necessarily incompatible with the biblical creation account. As one Christian theologian has stated, “I am not necessarily opposed to the Big Bang theory. Rather, I know who banged it.”