The Big Bang and the Mind of God

I agreed to give a public lecture on science and religion here at WIT next week, as part of the SophiaEuropa Research Project on Culture, Technology and Religion. I’ve decided to talk about the Big Bang model – after all, the origin of the universe is a topic of interest to most people, and it’s interesting to consider whether science and religion converge or diverge in their approach to the topic.

How to go about it? I think I’ll start with an overview of the physical evidence for the Big Bang model, and touch on the theoretical framework in which it rests. Then it’ll be fun to consider how the singularity problem fits with models of Christianity. A few points I’ve noticed in my reading around I think I’ll touch on…

1. Philosophers and theologians tend to consider scientific models as if they were pure theory, ready to be overturned at any moment. I don’t think this is right as it ignores the role of evidence in the scientific method. Modern science is often incomplete, but rarely downright wrong (for example, the evidence suggests that general relativity is a more accurate theory of gravity than Newton’s Universal Law, but we send men to the moon using Newtonian gravity and it works fine). Because the scientific method is based on evidence that doesn’t go away, new theories do not ‘overturn’ old ones, they broaden and deepen them.

2. Another common misconception is the ‘fine-tuning’ of nature: it is amazing that all the various constants of nature are so suitable for the universe and life on earth to have evolved as it did. But this should never be stated without some reference to ‘unification’ – as physics progresses, we discover more and more arbitrary parameters turn out not to be independent, but deeply related to a tiny number of fundamental parameters (for example, where we once thought there were four fundamental ‘forces ‘of nature, each with it’s own coupling constant, modern theory predicts that there was probably one fundamental force, that gradually split off into four..)

3. You might think the’singularity’ fits very well with the Christian view of a creation and a creator – and so it does at first sight. But one must consider the predicitions of modern theory carefully..

(i) The ‘before’ problem’: according to the modern theory of gravity, classical general relativity (no allowance for quantum), there is no ‘before’ the bang. This is because space and time , matter and energy, all began at a singularity (Hawking /Hartle theorems show unequivocally that relativity implies that an expanding universe began as a singularity). If there is no ‘before’, it’s hard to see how the creator creates. (Don’t forget there is an awful lot of experimental evidence that relativity is correct, if incomplete)

(ii) However, there is a get-out clause – once the universe shrinks within the size of an atom, quantum physics will come into play, and physics simply doesn’t don’t have a good description of what happens to gravity at these scales

(iii) The ‘first-cause’ problem: on the other hand, quantum theory creates it’s own problem for the ‘first-cause’ argument – it is simply not true in quantum physics that everything has a cause. Tiny particles of matter/antimatter routinely spontaneously appear and annihilate without any cause, so long as the time interval is short enough (it’s a consequence of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and there is v strong evidence form particle physics that this effect really exists).

(iv) The ‘something from nothing’ argument: where did all the energy come from? My favourite answer to this is that it didn’t – for all we know, it’s possible the total energy of our universe could add up to zero, if we include the effects of negative potential energy or vacuum energy.

Indeed, putting relativity and quantum together, one has the modern theory that the birth of the universe may have been a quantum fluctuation, inflated to the size of the universe. This idea must must be taken seriously as more and more evidence for inflation is becoming available!In summary, I think I’ll try the tack ‘let’s see how far we can push science without invoking a creator’, and conclude with Hawking’s observation…” God might be like the Queen and parliament – you can have royalty if you like, but it’s not strictly necessary!…”


Filed under Uncategorized

7 responses to “The Big Bang and the Mind of God

  1. Aoife

    Interesting article!

  2. coraifeartaigh

    Thanks Aoife, hope it makes sense – have the tackle the ‘Mind of God’ half of the argument next! Cormac

  3. Pingback: physical constants

  4. 007.james.blonde

    Hey Cormac you asked for a comment so here you go!! :-)

  5. cormac

    Hey James, hope the exam went ok.
    It’ll be a good test of a theory of mine – I suspect that if you give a class one hour to write everything they know about the Bang (without reference materials), what you get back is far more coherent than if you give the same class a month to write an essay…
    We’ll see! Cormac

  6. Aleksandar Mikovic

    Dear Cormac,

    Your article is very interesting because it clearly spells out the basic philosophycal/religios problems implied by the Big Bang model of the universe.

    The problem of “before” and creation can be resolved from the Platonic point of view by assuming that the complete history of the universe has always existed in the Platonic world of the ideas (or in the space of mathematical structures, as Max Tegmark calls it in his “Mathematical Universe” hypothesis), and therefore no act of creation is necessary. However, this means that all other possible universes exist, which naturally leads to the landscape/multiuniverse idea. For me, the weak point of the Tagemark approach is that time/change is not explained, and
    implicitely he takes the position that time is an illusion or an artefact related with local observers. I think that passage of time (change) is fundamental and when incorporated in the Platonic approach leads to the concept of actualization, i.e. of all possible universes in the Platonic world ours is actualized. This then leads to the concept of the “actualizator” i.e. God.

    Related to the problem of before, note that the relation of total order, which is used on the real line representing time, cannot be extended to the set of complex numbers (plane), although on any line in the plane a relation of total order can be induced.

    As far as the first cause problem is concerned, I agree that there is randomness in quantum theory, but I think that it is too much to assume that important things like creation of our Universe was governed by the usual quantum mechanics. Related to this is the something from nothing problem. Even if one assumes that quantum gravity obeys the laws of Quntum Mechanics, the initial state can not be considered nothing, i.e. something without structure, since it is a state in the QG Hilbert space, and as such must have
    an intricate structure in order to reproduce what we see. The fact that the total energy of universe is zero, is not relevant, since the energy is one of many variables which have to be used in order to define the initial state.

    I like the Hawking analogy about necessisty of God. One can have various philosophycal sistems where God is necessary or not. The big question is which one governs our universe, and I beleive that it is one where God is necessary.

  7. Eric M

    1) You assume that God does not play an active role in creation. At the singularity, our physics breaks down. The initial conditions are critical for our existence.
    2) I don’t think this addresses the “fine tuning” question. Again, this would bring you back to the initial conditions where our physics breaks down! Without worlds, elements, atoms etc., we don’t have a possibility for a world with life. A naturalistic explanation is very weak!
    3) You assume that this universe is required for God to exist. From a theological perspective we believe that God is transcendent. This can fit well with the Big Bang Theory. You also mention about matter and antimatter how they spontaneously appear and annihilate themselves. From a molecular view of gases, you could say the same thing but yet God claims to control the wind. The spontaneity of matter is controlled by God. As Jesus calmed the storm over the sea, so he controls the fundamental particles of our existence. Even if the net energy is zero, you still need the perturbation to allow our universe! The fact that we are here is another good reason to believe in God. The Second Law of Thermodynamics does pose serious problems for evolution, contrary to what many say. You still need the mechanism which allows all the detailed processes. The Darwinian mechanism lacks precision, compared to real thermodynamic mechanisms that we create in real life. Also, we must not forget the problem of the origin of the first cell!