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AX The Big Bang Theory

THE BIG BANG THEORY

Is there a conflict between the big bang theory and what the Catholic Church teaches?

First have a look at the video about the big bang on your right which explains the theory.

As you can see there is a lot of complicated physics that is needed to help explain what is going on. You don't need to know the complex details to come to a reasonable understanding of what is happening. Basically, the whole universe has been expanding for about 13.7 Billion years. If we go back in time to the very start of the universe, we have the whole universe, all of it, in a single dot called a singularity. All the stars, planets, galaxies, everything was squashed into a single dot. This is how Stephen Hawking explains it, "At this time, the Big Bang, all the matter in the universe, would have been on top of itself. The density would have been infinite. It would have been what is called, a singularity. At a singularity, all the laws of physics would have broken down." This singularity existed at the start of our time scale, that is at t=0 sec. The video you just saw starts 'less than a billionth of a second after the big bang' since it is not possible to make sense of the universe at t=0 sec.

The first most important point to realise is that no one can use science to explain what is happening at the start of the big bang. 

Why can't science explain what is happening at the start of the big bang? Density is calculated by dividing the mass by the volume. As the volume gets smaller, the density gets larger. If the volume is zero, then the density would be infinite. But an infinite amount can't exist, therefore it is impossible to mathematically deal with that particular situation. At this point it can become difficult to understand the different types of responses so lets map out the possibilities. We will be creating cariactures (a cariacture is a comic picture of someone that exaggerates particular aspects) of these positions. 

Science:

1) Science can only create theories based on experimentation.

2) Science can develop theories that can fill in the gaps that are unable to be experimented on.

3) Science will be able to answer all possible questions.

There are not many people who would hold to the first position. Most scientists would hold the second position since most of the content in science is based on filling in the gaps of experimentation. The third position is not science, but a way of thinking called scientism. Scientism is often claimed to be science. Unfortunately there are many people who believe scientism is science.

Those who believe science has proven there is no God are followers of scientism. While science does fill in some gaps where experimentation can't be used it is still limited to concepts of physical laws not spiritual laws. Science can't prove or disprove whether you have a soul. This is a different kind of question which is outside of the competency of science and is a philosophical question. Philosophy is the study of all the deeper questions of our existence, eg Do I have a soul? What will happen to me after I die? What is love? Do I have a purpose to my existence? Science can't answer these questions. Science is limited.

Science will always have more questions than answers. Life is mysterious. We have discovered atoms, subatomic particles (electrons, protons and neutrons) but protons are made up of three other subatomic particles (two up quarks and one down quark). Are these particles made up of other smaller particles? There is much still to be learnt. This is my point. Our current amount of knowledge exists within boundaries of the unknown. There is more that we don't know, than that we do. We don't like to admit it, but its true.

Philosophy and religion does not fill in the gaps of science, but answers different questions to science.  Science answers questions of how, but philosopy and religion answers questions of why. Generally philosophy will use logic to try to work out answers to these why questions, while most religions contain some kind of revelation of these answers given by some kind of Ultimate Reality.

There are some people who claim that since there are gaps in science, there must be an Ultimate Reality to explain it. This position is called, "The God of the gaps". This is not the Catholic position and those who follow this line of reasoning will generally be shown up since science will normally be able to fill in the gaps. That is what science is for and it is a good thing that science is expanding.

We can now return to the Big Bang theory to better understand these concepts. The statement, "God created the Big Bang" is a religious or philosophical one, not a scientific one. It will never be a scientific one since science can never prove God (nor disprove God). As soon as we talk about God we are no longer doing science. Because we don't know everything, it is still possible science could develop theories about the universe before the Big Bang. This would still be compatible with Catholicism since whatever was there, God could still be the one who put it there in the first place. And only God will be able to explain why it is there. If we push this line of reasoning to its extreme we would end up with a material universe that has always existed. Even then Catholicism has no problem with that possibility since it would not disprove the existence of God. Even St Thomas Aquinas allowed for that kind of possibility (ST I, 46, 1). So we can now reiterate some absolute truths.

1) Science cannot disprove or prove God.

2) The Big Bang is fully compatible with Catholicism.

3) It is not science to say that science will answer all questions, but scientism which is erroneous since it believes science can answer questions beyond its competency.

4) Science is good and will continue to make incredible discoveries which will refine our understanding of the universe since we will always know less than what is possible to be known.

We can now apply this understanding to a real situation. Stephen Hawking develops a hypothesis that rejects "the direct intervention of God" for the start of the universe. He goes on to explain, "But one wouldn't have to appeal to something outside the universe, to determine how the universe began. Instead, the way the universe started out at the Big Bang would be determined by the state of the universe in imaginary time. Thus, the universe would be a completely self-contained system. It would not be determined by anything outside the physical universe, that we observe." He states this because, "By contrast, the Big Bang is a beginning that is required by the dynamical laws that govern the universe. It is therefore intrinsic to the universe, and is not imposed on it from outside." Hawking is using science to explain the Big Bang, but he has not explained how the self contained system got there in the first place. He just accepts that as a presupposition. It is important to realise that the Catholic Church would have no issue with such a scientific proposal. Fr George Lemaitre in a way agrees with this understanding, "“As far as I can see, such a theory [the Big Bang] remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being… For the believer, it removes any attempt at familiarity with God… It is consonant with Isaiah speaking of the hidden God, hidden even in the beginning of the universe.” This last quote was in response to Pope Pius XII's use of the Big Bang as a scientific validation of the Catholic faith. It is important to accept both what Stephen Hawking and Fr George Lemaitre are trying to establish. They both want to eliminate what is called, "the God of the gaps." The God of the gaps is a way to use God to explain scientific concepts which we don't fully understand yet. Both Lemaitre and Hawking don't want to jump to a conclusion about how the universe came to be since it is beyond our scientific grasp. Science is a self contained system and so no God explanation is needed. Lemaitre agrees. Hawking does not believe there is a God. All he can do (and ever do) is demonstrate that there is no God of the gaps. But the Catholic God is not a God of the gaps. So he can't disprove there is a God, but he can disprove that God is not a part of science in that he is a factor within science's own explanation. Fair enough. Science itself does not lead directly to faith. 

We can use philosophy based on science to be able to make the jump from science to God, since it is in the scope of philosophy to do this, which is beyond science. Philosophy can look at the evidence and recognise the possibility of God being the author of the universe in the first place, whether it came into existence at the Big Bang or had always existed in "imaginary time". While philosophy can recognise that it is reasonable to believe that God is the ultimate cause of the universe, it cannot rule out other possibilities and therefore leaves it to faith to make that jump. As soon as you believe that God created the universe, you are now in the realm of religion and not philosophy. Religion is about personal belief. 

Interestingly enough there is much in science that is 'believed' to be true without evidence.

We can now more completly understand the perspectives of Hawking, Lemaitre and pope Pius XII. Hawking correctly recognises that science can theoretically explain how the Big Bang came about, but he incorrectly believes this would disprove God since God can still be the creator of even a universe that has always been around. Lemaitre correctly agrees with Hawking that science can't 'prove' God. Pius XII incorrectly made the jump from science to God using science. If he had worded it from a philosophical perspective then he would not be wrong in proposing that it is possible to come to belief in God based on the evidence of the Big Bang. As you can see it can be tricky to get the wording and perspectives correct and that is why there are so many arguments in this area.

Science and religion are fully compatible. If there is a conflict, it is due to going beyond the competency of science (scientism) or beyond the competency of religion (fundamentalism) or both. Science does provide many means for coming to a belief in a personal God and many scientists had an epiphany (experience of God) during their research as they realise how incredible the universe is and how wonderful God must be to make it so good.

The point is, Catholics have no problem with the Big Bang theory since it was a Catholic priest who came up with it in the first place. As we will see, there is no contradiction between science and the Catholic Church. But let us explore the Big Bang theory a bit more.

 If you want to learn about Lemaitre's faith please read, "The Faith and Reason of Father George Lemaître."

The question of faith is beyond science's grasp since it enquires of the 'why' of things, not the 'how'. Science is a 'self-contained system' but as humans we are not just scientists, we have desires that go beyond this universe. 

If you want to explore other questions that appear to go against the Catholic faith please check out: flat earth, evolution and Galileo.

If you want to start to explore the question of our desires which go beyond the universe, then please check out: free will, truth and love. 

 

SUMMARY

Science and religion are fully compatible. Science deals with the how and religion with the why. Science can only do science and is not able to deal with philosophical or religious questions. Science can not prove or disprove God. The discoveries of science can be used by philosophy to prove the existence of God, but this proof is not a scientific one. Fr George Lemaitre first developed the Big Bang theory. He did not believe it scientifically proved God. Pope Pius XII said that it did based on Lemaitre's discovery and Lemaitre disagreed with him and convinced him to no longer make such statements. The Catholic God is not a God of the gaps or the explanation for scientific things which science hasn't explained yet.

If science were to prove that the universe always existed, this would not be a problem for Catholics since even St. Thomas Aquinas saw this possibility as compatible with God. God can explain why there is an eternal universe in the first place and only an eternal God could sustain an eternal universe.

Submitted by rjzaar on March 29, 2016 - 11:31pm
Modfied: April 1, 2017 - 1:49am
Topic(s): 
apologetics
level: 
Intermediate

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