Religious interpretations of the Big Bang theory

Religious interpretations of the Big Bang theory

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Since the creation of the Big Bang theory, many religious interpretations of the Big Bang hypothesis of physical cosmology
Physical cosmology
Physical cosmology, as a branch of astronomy, is the study of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the universe and is concerned with fundamental questions about its formation and evolution. For most of human history, it was a branch of metaphysics and religion...

 have been offered. The Big Bang itself is a scientific hypothesis, and as such stands or falls by its agreement with observation
Observation
Observation is either an activity of a living being, such as a human, consisting of receiving knowledge of the outside world through the senses, or the recording of data using scientific instruments. The term may also refer to any data collected during this activity...

s. But as a hypothesis which addresses, or at least seems to address, creation itself, it has always been entangled with theological implications. In the 1920s and '30s almost every major cosmologist preferred an eternal universe, and several complained that the beginning of time implied by the Big Bang imported religious concepts into physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

; this objection was later repeated by supporters of the steady state theory
Steady State theory
In cosmology, the Steady State theory is a model developed in 1948 by Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold, Hermann Bondi and others as an alternative to the Big Bang theory...

. This perception was enhanced by the fact that the hypothesis' inventor, Georges Lemaître
Georges Lemaître
Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître was a Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain. He was the first person to propose the theory of the expansion of the Universe, widely misattributed to Edwin Hubble...

, was a Roman Catholic
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 priest
Priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

 as well as a physicist and astronomer.

Buddhist View



Buddha's view of the universe can be found in a Buddhist
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 scripture called "Agganchcha Suttra". According to Buddhism, as everything else, the universe itself is subjected to impermanence
Impermanence
Impermanence is one of the essential doctrines or three marks of existence in Buddhism...

 and therefore has a beginning and an end. When the existing universe is dead, all the beings have to move into a special set of worlds called "Brahma Loka", which are independent of the physical universe. Billions of years after, an empty space is created for a being to have rebirth. A being with strong Karma (past action) enters there. He is called Great Brahma. Due to the will of this being, some other beings also get rebirth in this space as Brahmas. However, the state of Brahmas are only suitable for the beings of higher mental state, i.e. who are not attached to sensual pleasure. Therefore, non-Brahmas want the existence of a physical world. As a result of their collective will, with the help of Great Brahma, a new physical universe with space and time is created. This is the Big Bang. Then the universe gradually evolves into a state where it can host life, where these beings with the desire to have sensual pleasure can get rebirth. This cycle happens forever, and this total lifetime of the universe is called a kalpa.

Christian and Jewish views


Lemaître
Georges Lemaître
Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître was a Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain. He was the first person to propose the theory of the expansion of the Universe, widely misattributed to Edwin Hubble...

 himself always insisted that, as a physical hypothesis, the Big Bang has no religious implications; and yet the congruence between his scientific and religious beliefs is apparent in his famous description of the beginning of the universe as "a day without yesterday"—alluding to the creation account in Genesis. George Gamow
George Gamow
George Gamow , born Georgiy Antonovich Gamov , was a Russian-born theoretical physicist and cosmologist. He discovered alpha decay via quantum tunneling and worked on radioactive decay of the atomic nucleus, star formation, stellar nucleosynthesis, Big Bang nucleosynthesis, cosmic microwave...

 had no compunction in describing the graphs of conditions in the Big Bang as "divine creation curves", and sent a copy of his book The Creation of the Universe to the Pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

; yet even he favored an oscillating model in which the Big Bang was not a literal beginning. In recent times, scientists like Francis S. Collins (in his book "The Language of God") would favor a divine explanation for the Big Bang. He argues that only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that. To this day, many people's reactions to the Big Bang hypothesis, both positive and negative, are influenced by how well it can be harmonized with their religious and philosophical world view
World view
A comprehensive world view is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and...

s.

Some interpretations of the Big Bang hypothesis go beyond science, and some purport to explain the cause of the Big Bang itself (first cause). These views have been criticized by some naturalist philosophers as being modern creation myths. Some people believe that the Big Bang hypothesis is inconsistent with traditional views of creation such as that in Genesis, for example, while others, like astronomer and old Earth creationist Hugh Ross
Hugh Ross (creationist)
Hugh Norman Ross is a Canadian-born astrophysicist and creationist Christian apologist.He has a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics, and later established his own ministry called Reasons To Believe, that promotes progressive and day-age forms of old Earth creationism...

, believe that the Big Bang hypothesis lends support to the idea of creation ex nihilo
Ex nihilo
Ex nihilo is a Latin phrase meaning "out of nothing". It often appears in conjunction with the concept of creation, as in creatio ex nihilo, meaning "creation out of nothing"—chiefly in philosophical or theological contexts, but also occurs in other fields.In theology, the common phrase creatio ex...

("out of nothing").

A number of Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 and traditional Jewish sources have accepted the Big Bang as a possible description of the origin of the universe, interpreting it to allow for a philosophical first cause. In particular, Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII
The Venerable Pope Pius XII , born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli , reigned as Pope, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City State, from 2 March 1939 until his death in 1958....

 was an enthusiastic proponent of the Big Bang even before the hypothesis was scientifically well-established, and consequently the Catholic Church has been a prominent advocate for the idea that creation ex nihilo can be interpreted as consistent with the Big Bang. This view is shared by many religious Jews in all branches of rabbinic Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

. Some groups contend the Big Bang is also consistent with the teaching of creation according to Kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

.

The 17th Century English poet Francis Quarles
Francis Quarles
Francis Quarles was an English poet most famous for his Emblem book aptly entitled Emblems.-Career:Francis was born in Romford, Essex, , and baptised there on 8 May 1592. He traced his ancestry to a family settled in England before the Norman Conquest with a long history in royal service...

 in his Feast for Wormes mentions "God's all producing blast which blew up the bubble of the world", which, presumably by chance, is a concise description of the Big Bang Theory in ordinary language.

Nahmanides


In his last work "Commentary on the Torah", Nahmanides
Nahmanides
Nahmanides, also known as Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman Girondi, Bonastruc ça Porta and by his acronym Ramban, , was a leading medieval Jewish scholar, Catalan rabbi, philosopher, physician, kabbalist, and biblical commentator.-Name:"Nahmanides" is a Greek-influenced formation meaning "son of Naḥman"...

, the famous 12th century Jewish philosopher, describes the universe expanding and matter forming.

Hindu view


Science writers Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan
Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books...

 and Fritjof Capra
Fritjof Capra
Fritjof Capra is an Austrian-born American physicist. He is a founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California, and is on the faculty of Schumacher College....

 have pointed out similarities between what they consider the latest scientific understanding of the age of the universe, and the Hindu concept of a "day and night of Brahma", which is much closer to the current assumed age of the universe than other creation myths (when taken literally). The days and nights of Brahma posit a view of the universe that is divinely created, and is not strictly evolutionary, but an ongoing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth of the universe. According to Sagan:
The Hindu religion is the only one of the world's great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which time scales correspond, no doubt by accident, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long, longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scale still.


Capra, in his popular book The Tao of Physics
The Tao of Physics
The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism is a book by physicist Fritjof Capra, published in 1975 by Shambhala Publications of Berkeley, California. It was a bestseller in the United States, and has been published in 43 editions in 23 languages...

, wrote that:
This idea of a periodically expanding and contracting universe, which involves a scale of time and space of vast proportions, has arisen not only in modern cosmology, but also in ancient Indian mythology. Experiencing the universe as an organic and rhythmically moving cosmos, the Hindus were able to develop evolutionary cosmologies which come very close to our modern scientific models. One of these cosmologies is based on the Hindu myth of lila—the divine play—in which Brahman transforms himself into the world.


The Hindu cosmological view of a cyclic universe has received further support from recent activity in loop quantum gravity theories [Bojowald 2007; Corichi and Singh 2008] that postulate that the existing universe is identical in terms of its physical laws to a previously contracting universe across the Big Bang window.

Singularity


The Qur'an
Qur'an
The Quran , also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God . It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language...

 declares that in the very beginning the whole universe (heavens and the earth and what is suspended between them) was in the form of a single entity which may be referred as the proposed "singularity".
"Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were joined together as one united piece, then We parted them? And We have made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?"
Imam Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari
Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari
Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari was a prominent and influential Sunni scholar and exegete of the Qur'an from Persia...

 (839-923 CE) quoted Ibn 'Abbas - the Companion of the Last Prophet of Islam Muhammad
Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

 ,that the heavens and the earth were united and joined together.

The Expanding Universe


Verse [51:47] says in one translation "And the sky (i.e. universe) was built by Us with might; and indeed We are the expanders", and in another "We will continue to expand it. In the Noble Quran translation, which is sponsored by the Saudi government for being the most accurate translation in the english language, says in verse [51:47] "With power did we construct the heaven, Verily, We are able to extend the vastness of space thereof." This verse has been interpreted to be a reference to what is now known as the metric expansion of space
Metric expansion of space
The metric expansion of space is the increase of distance between distant parts of the universe with time. It is an intrinsic expansion—that is, it is defined by the relative separation of parts of the universe and not by motion "outward" into preexisting space...

. In the Quran Allah (God) is eternal, however space (i.e. the universe) is not. Scientist today have not been able to justify through observation and experimental valid evidence that the universe was created by nothing or that it came from any provable source, they are only sure that it came into existence from an unfathomable source(i.e. Allah), and that it began to expand. Scientist have also concluded that the universe is indeed and extremely powerful entity (i.e. its vastness). They also know that because the universe was able to expand, it was able to cool down and allow matter (i.e. planets and stars) to form. One must conclude from verse[51:47] that only the creator of space could have known at a time (1400 years ago) when there were no telescopes, that the universe was created powerfully in the eyes of humans, and that it is expanding.

Beginning of Time


In Islamic view point nothing is infinite except God. Time is also finite with a beginning.

Taoist view


It has been proposed by some that a suggestion of a Big Bang can also be found in Taoism
Taoism
Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...

, a branch of Chinese philosophy. The first verse of the Tao Te Ching
Tao Te Ching
The Tao Te Ching, Dao De Jing, or Daodejing , also simply referred to as the Laozi, whose authorship has been attributed to Laozi, is a Chinese classic text...

 is:

… It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang; The named is but the mother that rears the ten thousand creatures, each after its kind.

See also

  • Big Bang Theory
  • Qur'an and science
  • Issues in Science and Religion
    Issues in Science and Religion
    Issues in Science and Religion is a book by Ian Barbour. A biography provided by the John Templeton Foundation and published by PBS online states this book "has been credited with literally creating the contemporary field of science and religion."...

  • Kalam Cosmological Argument
    Kalam cosmological argument
    The Kalām cosmological argument is a variation of the cosmological argument that argues for the existence of a First Cause for the universe. Its origins can be traced to medieval Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers, but most directly to Islamic theologians of the Kalām tradition. Its historic...


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