by Vern S. Poythress, Ph.D., Th.D.
[Originally published online at https://www.truthaboutangelsanddemons.com/questions-in-angels-and-demons/evidence-god-created-earth.html May 13, 2009. Used with permission.]
… he [Leonardo Vetra] told you and the Pope that he had made a scientific discovery with profound religious implications. He had proved Genesis was physically possible, and that intense sources of energy—what Vetra called God—could duplicate the moment of Creation. –Maximilian Kohler, in Dan Brown, Angels and Demons, 439.
High energy physics
Can modern experiments in high energy physics “duplicate the moment of Creation”? The rhetoric is sensational; the reality is more down-to-earth.
Particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN have been built to deliver higher and higher energies to single atomic particles. The particles are then made to collide, sometimes using two equally energic beams in opposite directions for maximum effect. The higher the energy, the deeper physicists can look into the structure of the particles.
According to current thinking about the origin of the cosmos, the highest energy concentration of all time existed at the beginning of the universe, the “Big Bang.” What is meant by the “Big Bang”? By tracing the motions of galaxies backwards in time, astronomers calculate that about 14 billion years ago the entire matter in the present universe was condensed in a single point of extremely high energy. From that point the present universe expanded explosively. The initial explosive expansion is called “the Big Bang.” Present high energy experiments do not achieve nearly the energy density that is postulated for the Big Bang. But by getting closer to the initial high energy densities, physicists hope that they may find out more about physical laws governing high energies. Those discoveries may help them to understand in greater detail what may have happened shortly after the Big Bang.
Dan Brown’s fictional character Kohler says that intense sources of energy could duplicate the moment of Creation. That is not completely correct. Intense sources of energy can approximate the time just after the Big Bang. But the Big Bang itself cannot be duplicated. All of existing physics, including the physics conducted in particle accelerators like CERN, relies on the physical principle of the conservation of energy: energy can be neither created nor destroyed. But that principle is not valid for the actual moment of creation. The Big Bang represents a stupendous amount of energy. Where did it come from? Physicists have no clear answer—though there are speculations at the edge of currently well-established theory.
The uniqueness of the Big Bang
The Big Bang leaves many physicists uncomfortable, because they like to have explanations for everything. And the Big Bang seems to come out of nowhere. It looks uncomfortably like the moment of creation that the Bible describes: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The Bible teaches creation “out of nothing,” that is, with no pre-existing material. The Big Bang looks just like such a creation.
In the early days of the Big Bang theory, cosmologists were also considering an alternative called the “steady state” theory, which postulates that the universe has always been around with more or less its present appearance. But how can such a theory deal with the fact that galaxies are gradually moving farther apart? The steady state theory postulates that matter, in the form of atomic particles like protons and electrons, may gradually be coming into existence throughout the known universe, thereby replenishing the matter being lost by the outward movement of galaxies. This matter supposedly is coming into existence at a very low, undetectable rate. In retrospect, this hypothesis is unattractive, because it has to postulate repeated violations of the fundamental principle of the conservation of energy. In addition, other observations, like the observation of background microwave radiation throughout the universe, seem to confirm the Big Bang theory. But in earlier days, some preferred the steady state theory because the Big Bang theory left no explanation of the Big Bang itself. The Big Bang itself stood out like a sore thumb.
Today cosmologists agree that the Big Bang was real. But they debate whether something else came before it. They discuss oscillating models, where the universe repeatedly collapses to a point and then re-expands. (But most current opinion thinks that the present universe will never stop expanding, and hence will never collapse and oscillate.) Cosmologists also discuss the possibility of multiple universes, perhaps in huge numbers.
But at present there is no hard experimental evidence for any of these possibilities. Why then the flurry of exotic speculation? Why not just stop with the Big Bang? But that leaves the Big Bang itself without any further explanation. Unless—unless we say that the Big Bang is the moment of creation, and that behind it stands God.
And here is the parting of the ways. Do we believe in a personal God, a God such as the Bible describes, or not? If we do believe in God, the Big Bang is quite in harmony with our belief. If we do not, we look for a substitute, in the form of impersonal, mechanical, physical effects that will offer a further explanation. Either way, we are showing a kind of “faith”: either in God or in a God-substitute, something that will be the ultimate explanation and that will in the end be the causal source for the universe. Those who believe in God might suspect that the search for other possibilities, given the absence of evidence, is faith in the dark, and that it is motivated by wanting to avoid God. That is what we humans have been doing for a long time. The Bible is the story of man’s flight from God and desire to be a little god, to run his own life independently.
The questions posed by the Big Bang do not all go away even if people make up stories about oscillating universes and multiple universes. We still have to confront the fact that all the talk about universes presupposes the existence of an even more fundamental reality, namely the existence of physical laws governing the course of the universe. What are these laws, and where do they come from? This question about law increases the mystery. We need to ask, not only about the galaxies and the stars, but about the laws. The galaxies and the stars can be traced back to the concentration of energy in the Big Bang. But what about the laws, which are just as essential to our understanding? In a sense they are even more essential, because even the postulation a universe or universesbefore the Big Bang presupposes the existence of these laws, which govern all time.
The laws, it turns out, have the attributes of God. They reveal God. But that is another story.
Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006. See especially chapter 1 on scientific law, and chapters 7-10 on the relation of creation in Genesis to modern science.