Religious interpretations of the Big Bang theory
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Since the acceptance of the Big Bang theory as the dominant physical cosmological paradigm, there have been a variety of reactions by religious groups as to its implications for their respective religious cosmologies. Some accept the scientific evidence at face value, while others harmonise the Big Bang with their religious tenets, and others completely reject or ignore the evidence for the Big Bang theory.
The Big Bang itself is a scientific theory, and as such stands or falls by its agreement with observations. But as a theory which addresses the origins of reality it carries theological implications regarding the concept of creation ex nihilo (a Latin phrase meaning "out of nothing" ). In addition, many theologians and physicists have viewed the Big Bang as implicating theism; a popular philosophical argument for the existence of God known as the Kalām cosmological argument rests in the concepts of the Big Bang. In the 1920s and 1930s almost every major cosmologist preferred an eternal steady state Universe, and several complained that the beginning of time implied by the Big Bang imported religious concepts into physics; this objection was later repeated by supporters of the steady state theory, who rejected the implication that the universe had a beginning.
The view from the Hindu Puranas is that of an eternal universe cosmology, in which time has no absolute beginning, but rather is infinite and cyclic, rather than a universe which originated from a Big Bang. However, the Encyclopædia of Hinduism, referencing Katha Upanishad 2:20, states that the Big Bang theory reminds humanity that everything came from the Brahman which is "subtler than the atom, greater than the greatest." It consists of several "Big Bangs" and "Big Crunches" following each other in a cyclical manner. The Nasadiya Sukta, the Hymn of Creation in the Rig Veda (10:129) mentions world beginning from a point or bindu, through the power of heat. This can be seen as being corresponding to The Big Bang theory. Several prominent modern scientists have remarked Hinduism to be the only religion (or civilization) in all of recorded history, that has timescales and theories in Astronomy (Cosmology), that appear to correspond to those speculated by modern science, e.g. Carl Sagan, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg, Robert Oppenheimer, Nikola Tesla, Eugene Wigner, George Sudarshan, Fritjof Capra, etc.
Pope Pius XII declared, at the November 22, 1951, opening meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, that the Big Bang theory does not conflict with the Catholic concept of creation. Some Conservative Protestant Christian denominations have also welcomed the Big Bang theory as supporting a historical interpretation of the doctrine of creation; however, some adherents to Young Earth Creationism, which advocate a very literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis, reject the theory.
"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?? "[Quran 21:30]
Such beliefs would, however, condradict the story of Adam and Eve in the Quran, and so the Big Bang is not universally accepted by the muslim population.
Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, has taught that the universe has "neither beginning nor ending". In the Tablet of Wisdom ("Lawh-i-Hikmat", written 1873-4) Bahá'u'lláh states: “That which hath been in existence had existed before, but not in the form thou seest today. The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different.” Dale E. Lehman and Julio Savi show a possible relation of this statement with the Big Bang theory.
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The Big Bang theory strikes many people as having theological implications, as shown by those who do not welcome those implications.
- Harris, J.F. (2002). Analytic Philosophy of Religion. Springer Press. ISBN 978-1-4020-0530-5.
Both theists and physicists have seen the big bang theory as leaving open such an opportunity for a theistic explanation.
- Eric J. Lerner (2010-12-15). The Big Bang Never Happened: A Startling Refutation of the Dominant Theory of the Origin of the Universe. Vintage Books. ISBN 9780307773548. Retrieved 16 March 2012.
From theologians to physicists to novelists, it is widely believed that the Big Bang theory supports Christian concepts of a creator. In February 1989, for example, the front-page article of the New York Times Book Review argued that scientists argued that scientists and novelists were returning to God, in large part through the influence of the Big Bang.
- James Franklin Harris (2002). Analytic Philosophy of Feligion. Springer Science. ISBN 9781402005305.
THE KALAM COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT Perhaps the best known and most clearly formulated version of the cosmological argument that incorporates the fundamental concepts of big bang theory is found in the work of William Lane Craig.
- McGrath, A.E. (2011). Science and Religion. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-4443-5808-7.
It will be clear that this type of argument relates directly to modern cosmological research, particularly the "big bang" theory of the origins of the cosmos. This is also true of the kalam version of the cosmological argument, to which we now turn.
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One reason for initial resistance to the Big Bang theory was that, unlike the rival Steady-State hypothesis, it proposed that the universe has a beginning – a proposition that for some had unwelcome religious implications.
- Kragh, H. (2008). Entropic Creation. Ashgate Publishing. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-7546-6414-7.
Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin's notorious chief ideologue, said in a speech of 1947 that Lemaître and his kindred spirits were 'Falsifiers of science [who] wanted to revive the fairy tale of the origin of the world from nothing ... Another failure of the 'theory' in question consists in the fact that it brings us to the idealistic attitute of assuming the world to be finite.'
- Sushil Mittal, G. R. Thursby (2004). The Hindu World. Psychology Press.
In the Vedic cosmogonies, the question of what caused the primordial desire does not arise; like the Big Bang of modern cosmology, the primal impulse is beyond all time and causation, so it makes no sense to ask what preceded it or what caused it. However, in the Hindu cosmology which we find in the Puranas and other non-Vedic Sanskrit texts, time has no absolute beginning; it is infinite and cyclic and so is kama.
- John R. Hinnells (2010). The Routledge companion to the study of religion. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0415473284.
There are also other cosmological models of the universe besides the Big bang model, including eternal universe theories – views more in keeping with Hindu cosmologies than with traditional theistic concepts of the cosmos.
- Sunil Sehgal (1999). Encyclopædia of Hinduism: T–Z, Volume 5. Sarup & Sons. ISBN 8176250643.
The theory is known as the 'Big Bang theory' and it reminds us of the Hindu idea that everything came from the Brahman which is "subtler than the atom, greater than the greatest" (Kathopanishad-2-20).
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- Swami Ranganathananda (1991). Human Being in Depth: A Scientific Approach to Religion. SUNY Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-7914-0679-2.
- Ferris, T. (1988). Coming of age in the Milky Way. Morrow. pp. 274, 438. ISBN 978-0-688-05889-0., citing Berger, A. (1984). The Big bang and Georges Lemaître: proceedings of a symposium in honour of G. Lemaître fifty years after his initiation of big-bang cosmology, Louvainla-Neuve, Belgium, 10–13 October 1983. D. Reidel. p. 387. ISBN 978-90-277-1848-8.
- Pope Pius XII (1951-11-02). "Ai soci della Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze, 22 novembre 1951 – Pio XII, Discorsi" (in Italian). Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- Russell, R.J. (2008). Cosmology: From Alpha to Omega. Fortress Press. ISBN 978-0-8006-6273-8.
Conservative Protestant circles have also welcomed Big Bang cosmology as supporting a historical interpretation of the doctrine of creation.
- The Quran on the Expanding Universe and the Big Bang Theory
- Asad, Muhammad (1984). The Message of the Qu'rán. Gibraltar, Spain: Dar al-Andalus Limited. ISBN 1904510000.
- Translated by Muhsin Khan, 21:30, http://quran.com/21/30
- Sahih International, Quran 51:47
- Esslemont, J.E. (1980). Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era (5th ed.). Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-160-4.
- Lehman, Dale E. (2005). Cosmology and the Bahá'í Writings.
- Julio, Savi (1989). The Eternal Quest for God: An Introduction to the Divine Philosophy of `Abdu'l-Bahá. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. p. 134. ISBN 0-85398-295-3.
- Leeming, David Adams, and Margaret Adams Leeming, A Dictionary of Creation Myths. Oxford University Press (1995), ISBN 0-19-510275-4.
- Pius XII (1952), "Modern Science and the Existence of God," The Catholic Mind 49:182–192.
- Ahmad, Mirza Tahir, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth Islam International Publications Ltd (1987), ISBN 1-85372-640-0. The Quran and Cosmology
- God and the Big Bang: featuring Professors Peter Bussey, Gerald Gabrielse, Owen Gingerich, Nick Saunders, and Jennifer Wiseman. It discusses the connection between the Big Bang and God from a Christian perspective.
- Big Bang Theory and Religion, by Ron Kurtis, Physicist
- Cosmic Controversy: The Big Bang and Genesis 1 published by the American Scientific Affiliation, an organisation of Christians in the sciences.
- Oliver, Simon. "Creation and Science". Bibledex Verses. Brady Haran for the University of Nottingham.