Is the Big Bang Finally Over?

We may all be at the edges of our seats to learn where all of this will take us

Set of Universe Infographics – Solar system, Planets comparison, Sun and Moon Facts, Space Junk made by man, Big Bang Theory, Galaxies Classification, Milky Way description. Vector illustration

The question that forms the title of this blog article is the subject of a recent video on YoutTube. I am embedding the video here so you can watch and listen for yourself. The suggestion, however, that the James Webb Telescope is disproving the “Big Bang”, is overstated. You might even call it clickbait!

Before launching into my thoughts on this, however, what is meant by the “Big Bang” needs to be defined. The terminology is credited to Fred Hoyle. When Hoyle coined the phrase in a 1949 a talk on BBC Radio, he was probably speaking tongue in cheek.

Hoyle (like most scientists of his age) had long believed in a steady state universe. The new evidence indicating that the universe is expanding was like a big bang to them. It rocked the long-held view that our universe is static and unchanging.

The laws of physics seemed immutable. Why wouldn’t scientists believe the universe was equally immutable?

That the evidence that the universe is expanding was unsettling to the accepted “science” at the time is an understatement. As Hoyle was describing the then recent discoveries and the theories that derived from that evidence, he said:

“These theories were based on the hypothesis that all the matter in the universe was created in one big bang at a particular time in the remote past.”

Because these discoveries came as a shock wave to scientists in the first half of the 20th Century. the term, “big bang”, may have been used to characterize how those discoveries were received!

The evidence that the universe is actually expanding raised the specter that the universe isn’t static, and it might even have had an origination “point”. This realization that the universe may have had a beginning wasn’t lost on scientists at the time, and it wasn’t eagerly received.

The term didn’t really “stick” until the 1970’s, and it isn’t really a good descriptor for what we (think we) know happened. It probably wasn’t a “bang” for instance, because no sound was likely generated. The history of the development of this evidence is interesting and can be found on Wikipedia.

The Big Bang does suggest a beginning to the Universe (to put it bluntly). This possibility, of course, has theological implications, another realization that wasn’t lost on scientists who largely viewed the universe through a materialistic lens. That possibility was largely downplayed then, and many scientists have continued to downplay that possibility.

The current suggestion that the James Webb Telescope is disproving the “Big Bang” (the implication of an expanding universe with a “beginning”) continues in that vein. It may be more wishful thinking, however, than reality.

As I understand the James Webb discoveries that are fueling this resurgence in old thinking include images of old stars and galaxies that are more formed than they should be on our standard (Big Bang expansion) model of the Universe. If the universe expanded, I believe the thinking goes, it must have progressed from a simpler state to a more complex state.

This kind of thinking is parallel to the evolutionary paradigm: that life began with a simple, self-replicating molecule, and it progressed to ever increasing complexity over a long span of time. The universe, also, has been viewed in the same sort of way. This is the paradigm of the person who believes in raw, natural processes that developed from the bottom up.

The new images that reveal more highly developed stars and galaxies than we imagined in the earliest stage of the universe is surprising on the progressive view. They do not contradict the fact that the universe is expanding, and it doesn’t disprove the appearance of a “beginning”.

People are “surprised that things grew so quickly”. People are perplexed that stars and galaxies are so well-formed at such an early stage, when they would expect to find “fledgling” galaxies in more undeveloped states.

People are scratching their heads at the appearance of extremely small and extremely large galaxies in the early Universe because it does not comport with the progression of the expansion of the Universe as modern scientists have modeled it before the advent of the James Webb Telescope. It would be more accurate to say that models for how that expansion occurred are being called into question: not the fact of expansion from “a point of beginning”.

We still don’t have evidence that reveals how the universe was formed. We can’t see back that far, and doubt exists whether we ever will be able to see back that far. As the Wikipedia article states: “[T]he Big Bang model does not describe how energy, time, and space were caused, but rather it describes the emergence of the present universe from an ultra-dense and high-temperature initial state.”

The James Webb findings do not negate the evidence we have that our universe is expanding from some very dense “point”. If anything, the findings evoke even more theological implications, perhaps, than the Big Bang models in their modern forms.

The idea that the Universe developed from simple to complex over time is difficult to maintain when stars, galaxies, and other formations in the farthest (and earliest) regions of the universe that we can see are so well-formed and “mature”. (Should I note that this evidence is more consistent with the idea of the universe being created than we previously thought?)

Of course, we have had other clues that this should not surprise us: the expansion inflation model (incorporating an early, extremely rapid and short “burst” of expansion) was necessary to accommodate the short time frame in which the Universe appeared to have “developed” based on what we could see before the James Webb telescope. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised to find even greater “development” at earlier stages.

We shouldn’t be surprised either that modern scientists who are committed to a materialistic worldview are struggling with these things. The materialistic worldview has colored modern science for a couple hundred years, at least..

The expansion of the Universe is what led Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose to the calculation of “singularity” that “proved” the so-called Big Bang (that expansion necessitates a “beginning”). Vilenkin (and some other guy who I can’t remember, lol) determined that even a multiverse that is expanding would have to have a “singularity” (a euphemism, it seems, for a beginning).

So far, modern discoveries have continued to negate good reason to believe in a static universe (which theory was discarded after centuries of use when we found that our universe is expanding) or an oscillating or cyclic universe. Multiverse(s) seem to make sense theoretically, but we will likely never be able to prove it/them anymore than we are likely to see back before the “beginning” of this universe.

Scientists like Neil de Grasse Tyson, Hawking, and Penrose who are committed to finding explanations for these things that do not implicate a Beginner (a/k/a God), will likely continue to try to prove their point. Hawking spent much of the rest of his life after mathematically proving the “singularity” trying to get around “singularity” and its theological implications. Penrose (and Vilenkin) do not concede any theological implications either.

Nothing (much) has changed on that score, but it certainly is producing some head scratching! Some scientists, like Hoyle, who were once very antagonistic about people drawing theological implications from cosmology have backed off their dogmatic stances. Penrose seems to concede the possibility of a legitimate “metaphysical” component to reality, though he “doesn’t go there” in his own thinking.

There certainly is a lot of head scratching going on. These definitely are interesting times. We may all be at the edges of our seats to learn where all of this will take us, though I strongly doubt that we will get definitive answers to our most fundamental questions, like the origin of the Universe, in my lifetime – if ever.

The new discoveries do call into question the expansion models that scientists have developed, but they do not call into question the evidence that the universe is, indeed, expanding. The new discoveries do not align with they way scientists have believed the universe expanded, but the evidence that the universe expanded from a “point” of singularity remains solid.

What Are We Missing in the Story of the Garden of Eden?

Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden and forbid Adam to eat it?

Once again, I am reading the epic of Eden by Sandra Richter. She takes the orthodox, traditional position that Eden was perfect, man fell, bringing God’s creation down with him, and God is redeeming man with creation so that man will live forever in perfection, again, after redemption is complete.

I write recently, poising the question, Was the Garden of Eden Really Perfect? I am leaning in the direction of no, the garden of Eden wasn’t perfect, as I explained in the the article linked in this paragraph, and something is missing from the traditional narrative.

Today, I am posing some other questions that occur to me as I continue to read through Sandra Richter’s fine book. Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden? Did God know men would eat from it? What is the point of the fall and the long road back to redemption?

I don’t claim to have all the answers, or at least not all the right answers. We may not know, and may never know, the answers. Maybe they aren’t for us to know.

Yet, I think God wants us to seek to understand. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” (Proverbs 25:2) My article today is an attempt at better understanding of God’s redemption story.

Surely, God had purpose in placing that tree in the garden, right? God is sovereign and all-knowing, right? Thus, I think the questions I pose today are good for us to consider.

Continue reading “What Are We Missing in the Story of the Garden of Eden?”

Was the Garden of Eden Really Perfect?

Six times in the creation narrative God reviews His creation in different stages, and He calls it “good”.

Sandra Richter in her book, The Epic of Eden, toes the orthodox, evangelical line, that the Garden of Eden was created perfect by God. This echoes the orthodox, western position that Eden was perfect, and Adam ruined the perfection of Eden in his rebellion against God.

This is the traditional view: that God’s world was perfect until Adam ruined it.

Not that Adam didn’t have some help in this rebellion. I am using Adam in the generic sense, meaning those initial humans who made that one fateful choice that God prohibited, committing the first sin that led to death and banishment from the Edenic paradise into which God introduced man.

This is what I learned as a new Christian. Sandra Richter is a theologian, and I am not. At least, I am not a theologian by trade, academic degree, or career.  I respect Richter, which is why I am reading her book, but I am not sure this view is exactly right.

At least, there is another view that I think has some merit. I have come to see some nuance in Genesis that I had not seen before, and it gives pause when I hear the traditional line. I don’t think I have ever written on it, so here goes.

Continue reading “Was the Garden of Eden Really Perfect?”

What is the Basic Order of the Universe? Bottom Up? Or Top Down?

Stephen Meyer says, “I think nature is actually telling us something”

Digital golden ratio

Where does order in nature and the cosmos come from? Stephen Meyer & Saleem Ali recently met up with Justin Brierly on the Unbelievable? podcast to discuss the nature of order in the universe. Saleem Ali’s focus on the comparison between natural order and human social systems in his book, Earthly, Order, is the backdrop for the discussion with Stephen Meyer, who wrote Return of the God Hypothesis.

Saleem Ali’s book, Earthly Order: How Natural Laws Define Human Life, explores the linkage between natural order and societal order. He ultimately argues that mankind should synthesize social structures to match the order found in the natural world for the benefit of mankind and the environment in which we live. In reaching this conclusion, Ali devotes attentions to the beauty of natural order, which he sometimes calls design.

Saleem takes the consensus, scientific approach to the natural order. He assumes that natural order developed from the bottom up: that stars and planetary systems formed from initial cosmological constants present in the fabric of the universe at the instant after the “Big Bang” and that life formed spontaneously from inert matter into self-replicating molecules that grew exponentially more complex over time.

Saleem Ali is the Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware. He has a B.S. degree in Chemistry and Environmental Studies from Tufts University, 1994, and M.S. degree in Environmental Studies from Yale University, 1996, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Planning, Department of Urban Studies and Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2000. Stephen Meyer, who also wrote Signature in a Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, has degrees in physics and earth science from Whitworth College, 1981, and an M.Phil. in history and Ph.D. in philosophy of science from Cambridge University, 1987 and 1991.

In Return of the God Hypothesis, Meyer attempts to show that what we see in nature is better explained by a top down model of order. He argues that “specified complexity” defies a bottom up explanation, and begs for a top down approach. He claims that this is a not a “god of the gaps” argument. Rather, it is the natural conclusion to be drawn from what we observe: that the specified complexity we observe in the world always comes from a mind.

Meyer doesn’t necessarily chart new ground in the evidence or the methods he uses to reach his conclusions. He using principals consistent with good science and the evidence revealed by modern science to argue that they point in a different direction than the modern scientific consensus. He argues that the evidence we see in science is better explained by the conception of top down order and it points to a particular kind of top down order.

I am not going to attempt to describe either book more than what I know, most of which can be gleaned from the descriptions of those books and the descriptions provided by both gentlemen. I am also not going to attempt to get too deep into the conversation between Ali and Meyer. You can watch their interaction yourself if it piques your interest. (Linked in the photo below.)

Saleel Ali’s perspective is the one you have heard. It is the perspective that is included in every textbook (by law). It is grounded in the predominant view: that the universe is self-organizing, and life is self-replicating. His responses to Meyer reflect a carefully guarded reluctance to allow for intelligent agency in the design we see in the natural world.

Stephen Meyer and other people, some religious and some not at all, are questioning the propriety of that reluctance to allow for intelligent agency, or what we might simply call “mind”, in or behind the processes that created the universe and life in the universe. One argument in favor of that view is derived from the scientific experiments intended to show how life evolved on earth, says Meyer:

“I love these new approaches in the origin of life and the simulation experiments that are done to test them. I think that they are telling us something, though, about the importance of, as Thomas Nagel put it in Mind and Cosmos[i], that in addition to physical order there is a reality of consciousness and mind, and, we can see hints of that in life…. You see this actually in the origin of life simulation experiments that are conducted to test these new models, because the logic of simulation experiment is to try to reconstruct conditions that we think might have been present on the early earth, and then see what happens in the present. So our knowledge of those cause and effect processes that we see ensuing will help us reconstruct what might have caused life to arise on planet earth.”

These experiments are a kind of “reverse engineering” of the conditions that might have given rise to life from the inert chemistry of the primordial earth, assuming that life developed in that way. Reverse engineering requires an enormous amount of intentional effort and creative design. It also suggests that our efforts at reverse engineering proves an initial engineering that was also the product of intentional effort and creative design. Meyer continues:

“There is something that has emerged invariably from these experiments, and that is to get the chemistry to move in a life relevant direction, the chemist repeatedly has to impose constraints on what the chemical reactions would naturally do. If you have got reagent A and reagent B, and they are combined, they will make A/B, but they will make a whole slew of versions of A/B…. The chemist has to fish the A/B version three out of that gamesh of possibilities…. What the chemist is doing at that point is excluding some options, electing another…. [Often]what they will do is just buy the reagent that they want off the shelf that has already been purified by an intelligent agent. At each step along the way there is an impartation of information. If you exclude some options and elect others, you are imparting information into your simulation, and that information is invariably coming from the experimenter.”

The impartation of information, of influence, of direction is the activity of a “mind” – a causal agent. By agent, I don’t mean a compound that is, itself, a product of inert matter that always reacts according to its properties; I mean a “will” that is directed by “mind”. A billiard ball is inert until it is stricken by a person with a cue, and then it acts according to its properties and the laws of motion until friction causes it to slow and to stop. Meyer says:

“So, I think nature is actually telling us something. These simulations invariably require the imposition of intelligence to proceed in a life relevant direction. You have to ask, ‘What are they simulating?’ If this is something that is consistently arising in all simulation experiments, maybe they are pointing to a need for a top down explanation (explaining the origin of life) because all of the simulations require top down imposition of intelligence and information into the systems.”

These experiments intended to show the possibility that life might arise spontaneously, given the right conditions, are demonstrations of the importance of outside influence to cause it to happen – if indeed it can happen that way.

The famous Miller-Ulrey experiment still referenced in high school textbooks was heralded as proof of the concept. It comes woefully short, however, in demonstrating that life might have arisen out of a primordial soup. (I explored the limits of that famous experiment in What’s in Your primordial Soup?) In the Miller-Ulrey experiment, the experiment was done with elements that were not known to have existed in the early “primordial soup” of the earth at the time in which we know that life arose.

To be fair, though, they were just trying to show that it’s possible: that life can form on its own, given the right environment. On the other hand, it is a good example of the way in which an intelligent agent (the scientist) must jury-rig an experiment to try to produce the intended result he is trying to achieve.

Continue reading “What is the Basic Order of the Universe? Bottom Up? Or Top Down?”

By Faith We Know God and Our Place in the World

God is greater than the creation He made, that God is timeless, and He will outlast the creation as it is and as we know it

M74, nicknamed the Phantom Galaxy, as seen by the James Webb Telescope

In my daily reading today, I read these verses from the Letter to the Hebrews:

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” 

Hebrews 1:10‭-‬12 NIV

These words were written in the 1st century, and they recall the words in Genesis that were written many hundreds, maybe even thousands of years before:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Genesis 1:1

The statements written in the letter to the Hebrews and in Genesis, long before that, were all written before the revelations of modern science.

We argue today over the passages in Genesis about the creation of the world, whether God did it in seven days or over seven periods of time. Some people say we should take Genesis “literally” (whatever that means), and other people say that the creation account in Genesis is simply poetry and should not be taken literally. There are many people in between, and many people who do not believe or take the Bible seriously either way.

Yet, whether these words are intended to be read as a literal, seven day creation event, seven periods of time, merely a poetic conception or otherwise, they express by faith an understanding that God created the world we live in – “the heavens and the earth”. They also expressed an understanding that God is greater than the creation He made, that God is timeless, and He will outlast the creation as it is and as we know it.

Whatever you believe about the description of creation in Genesis and elsewhere, the understanding is accurate: that the earth and the greater universe as we know it will not remain the same. It is subject to entropy governed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In poetic words, “[The Heavens and the Earth] will wear out like a a garment…. like a garment they will be changed.” In more philosophical terms, the Apostle, Paul, says:

“[T]he creation was subjected to futility….”

Romans 8:20

We don’t need to have a sophisticated scientific understanding of the Second Law of Thermodynamics to realize that the universe is, in a sense, winding down and wearing out, that it is “subjected to futility”. The earth, which is such an incredibly minute part of the universe, will not support the life that teams on it very far into the future.

We live in a very narrow band of time in which creatures such as ourselves can thrive on planet earth, sandwiched between ice ages and other inhospitable fluctuations and epochs space and time. Out time will pass like a flower that blooms one day and is gone the next in relation to the full space/time continuum.

Regardless of any Herculean efforts we give on our part to preserve the environment of this planet as we know it, the laws of the universe guarantee that life will no longer be supportable on planet earth, or anywhere in the universe for that matter, at some point in the future. It is inevitable.

It is remarkable to me that the writers of these ancient texts understood this fact by faith, though they had no hint of the science behind it. Knowing nothing of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, they understood nevertheless that this world will wear out.

They also had faith that the God who created it is the constant. Ignorant of the science, they nevertheless perceived and understood the reality of God, His creation and their place in the world.

Though modern science seems to reveal that our universe had a beginning, just as these ancient writings stated, many modern people who have the aid and benefit of science fail to see or acknowledge the creator. This is not a failing of science, though; it’s a failing of faith.

Though science provides many benefits, science is not essential for our faith or relationship to God. All the science in the world is not sufficient to gain us knowledge of God, as it necessarily rests on faith. At the same time, we can have none of the knowledge and understanding of science and still know God and our place in the world.

I love science, as it reveals the wonder of a universe that God made understandable and searchable by us. By faith we grasp all the reality we need to know, but science reveals majesty and wonder and appreciation of the greatness of our God all the more.

By faith, we also understand that God loves us. We understand that there is more to reality than the physical, space/time continuum. We perceive that God had a purpose in subjecting the creation to futility:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”