Many people labor under the misconception that all Christians believe the universe to be a mere 6,000 years old, created by God in the span of 6 days. After all, that’s what the Bible says, right? (Not quite, but we’ll save that for another post). At any rate, those same people often perceive Christians as ignorant and irrational beings with an axe to grind against science, most likely because, in their minds, science has been systematically dismantling Christians’ belief in a “God-myth” for the last several hundred years.
The truth of the matter couldn’t be more different. When considering the universe and how it got here, a truly critical approach leads directly to God. Prevailing scientific thought, rather than dismantling the belief in a Creator, actually goes hand-in-hand with it. It is the “rational” atheist who is left pushing a rather nonsensical idea that Nothing + Nobody = Everything.
Let’s take a few minutes to unpack all this. We’ll start by looking at some of the theories that have been postulated, at one time or another, for the origin of the universe. There have been many, but we’ll focus on three of the big ones: The Eternal Universe Theory, The Oscillating Universe Theory, and The Big Bang Theory.
The Eternal Universe Theory
This theory, now scientifically discredited, argued that the universe has always been here, and will always be here. It was cited as a means of explaining away God, saying that because the universe has “always been,” it needed no Creator. By now, it’s clear to physicists that the universe is 100% subject to the laws of time and space. It had a beginning, is subject to entropy, and will have an end.
Reason tells us that if something is eternal, then it transcends time and space. The universe transcends neither. In short, it’s not eternal.
The Oscillating Universe Theory
This is an interesting theory that combines elements of the Eternal Universe and the Big Bang. It says that our universe represents just one iteration in an eternally repeating cycle. Our current universe, it says, was born in a “Big Bang” that threw all matter outward with unimaginable force, and it’s still expanding outward today. Eventually, however, the outward momentum from the Big Bang will dissipate, and gravity—the mutually attractive force between all objects with mass—will take over. The universe’s expansion will slow, then stop. As gravity begins to dominate, the universe will then begin to collapse in on itself at a faster and faster rate until all mass and energy converge into one point, resulting in another “Big Bang” and the birth of a new universe.
This idea of an endlessly recycling universe seems to make some sense, except that it is totally wrong. For starters, it suffers from the same problems as the Eternal Universe Theory. At its core, it is arguing that the universe is an eternal “perpetual motion machine.” But, clearly the universe is not eternal, so a critical thinker can poke holes in this theory. The Oscillating Universe Theory merely pushes back the problem of origins. Since this cycle of universes is subject to space and time, then it had to have an absolute beginning. So, what got it all started?
The fatal blow to the Oscillating Universe Theory came when scientists proved that the universe is actually expanding at an accelerating rate. Basically, the universe is getting bigger at a faster and faster rate, accelerating outward more quickly every second. Obviously, gravity is not overcoming the Big Bang’s momentum, and something else is actually pushing the universe apart. That “something” is called “Dark Energy” by physicists, and they are still working to understand it.
The fact is, the universe will never collapse in on itself. Instead, it will just continue to expand until it experiences heat death and totally evaporates many trillions of years in the future.
The Big Bang Theory
In its current form, the Big Bang Theory makes the most sense to modern physicists and seems to be reasonably well-supported by current scientific thought. On a personal note, it also happens to be the one that I believe. It says that about 14 billion years ago, the universe suddenly “popped” into being from nothing. At that instant, all matter and energy—and time and space—came into being. Nanoseconds after this event, the universe existed in a hot, dense mass that expanded outward rapidly. As it expanded and cooled over millions of years, stars could eventually form. From those first stars, other elements were “manufactured” and eventually, our universe as we know it evolved. That universe is still expanding today. As we said earlier, the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate and will ultimately experience heat death and disappear.
So, the Big Bang Theory tells us that before the universe, there was nothing: No space, no matter, no energy, no time, no nothing. Void. Then, there was everything. That “everything” had a beginning and will ultimately have an ending. All of a sudden, the prevailing theory for the universe’s origin is beginning to sound a bit familiar (check the book of Genesis). The problem is, the Big Bang Theory still leaves an unanswered question: What caused it?
This universe is clearly subject to all the laws of physics. After all, our laws of physics explain the very mechanics by which our universe operates. However, its origin totally violates those laws.
Computer simulations of the early universe, when run in reverse, totally break down at that instant of creation. It makes no sense, and the models just choke on it. Simply put, you can’t get something (everything) from nothing. Science still can’t figure out how we obviously did get something from nothing. Every effect needs a cause.
A rational thinker will tell you that this awesome but temporary universe, which is subject to the laws of time and space, could not have violated those laws and simply created itself from nothing. There had to be another force that got the ball rolling. That force would have to transcend the laws of physics and be beyond the constraints of space and time. That force, that “Prime Mover,” is God.
Science is an incredibly useful and helpful discipline. It helps us to understand how the universe works, and affords us some mastery over it. However, science will never disprove God. On the contrary, the more we learn through science, the more evidence we see for the existence of God. In fact, it is actually becoming more and more difficult for an intellectually honest atheist to remain so. The contortions of logic required to maintain that belief system are becoming more unmanageable every day.
Image Attribution: By Adam Evans [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons