The typical onlooker could be forgiven for thinking that there is no common ground between Christianity and science. On the one hand they may hear Christians emphasising that the universe was created by God, whist on the other hand they may hear scientists stating that the universe was created through a ‘Big Bang’. Ever since the Big Bang theory was first mused in the 1930’s it has gone from being distrusted to universally accepted by scientists. It might seem to the onlooker that the theory becomes more trusted each decade by everyone except Christians. It is highly ironic therefore that the Big Bang theory actually owes its existence to a Christian minister and physicist.
The founder of the Big Bang theory
Georges Lemaître was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and a professor of physics and astronomer at the Catholic University of Louvain. He was the first scientist to propose the theory in the early 1930’s, calling it the ‘hypothesis of the primeval atom’. The term ‘Big Bang’ was coined by Sir Fred Hoyle in the late 1940’s who was himself a sceptic of the theory because the creation of the universe seemed to imply the existence of a creator.
Why do Christianity and science appear to be in conflict?
The reason why some Christians struggle to accept the Big Bang theory is because the first chapter in the first book of the Bible (Genesis 1) states that God created the heavens and the earth in six days. A literal interpretation of this narrative would seem to be clearly incompatible with the Big Bang theory.
Deriving the Big Bang theory from the Bible
In my topic, Christians aren’t required to believe in a 6 day creation, I show how many Christians interpret Genesis’ creation narrative less literally, often believing that God worked though evolution to create new species.
These Christians tend to view Genesis as a metaphorical or a theological narrative rather than one that accurately describes the physical world. However, a Jewish scholar, rabbi and philosopher called Nahmanides through a careful study of the Bible derived a description of the Big Bang. Astonishingly, he lived from 1194 AD to 1270 AD, centuries before the Big Bang theory was even conceived of by scientists. Modern science now predicts that the universe, immediately after the beginning of the Big Bang, contained an intense amount of energy, which, as the universe expanded, became a plasma and finally matter. Here is an extract of Nahmanides biblical commentary, which describes this:
…At the briefest instant following creation all the matter of the universe was concentrated in a very small place, no larger than a grain of mustard. The matter at this time was very thin, so intangible, that it did not have real substance. It did have, however, a potential to gain substance and form and to become tangible matter. From the initial concentration of this intangible substance in its minute location, the substance expanded, expanding the universe as it did so. As the expansion progressed, a change in the substance occurred. This initially thin non-corporeal substance took on the tangible aspects of matter as we know it. From this initial act of creation, from this ethereally thin pseudo-substance, everything that has existed, or will ever exist, was, is, and will be formed.
To interpret this from Biblical scriptures would seem almost miraculous. I know nothing of how Nahmanides might have done this, so I’m reluctant to draw too strong a conclusion here, but this clearly shows us that there need not be any conflict between the disciplines of Biblical study and science. Indeed, many prominent scientists who are also Christians would probably agree.