Life + Outdoors » Field Notes

God and the Big Bang


Where's God when you need Her? If anywhere (big "if"), right there on the far left, quantumly fluctuating. It's all downhill after that. - COURTESY OF NASA
  • courtesy of NASA
  • Where's God when you need Her? If anywhere (big "if"), right there on the far left, quantumly fluctuating. It's all downhill after that.

... a universe with no edge in space, no beginning or end in time, and nothing for a Creator to do.

Carl Sagan, introduction to A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Many years ago, a friend asked me if I believed in God. "I don't think so," I replied. "Do you believe in nature, then?" she persisted. "Yes, of course I do," I said. "Well then, you believe in God." Which pretty well took care of that. Truth is, I don't know if I'm an atheist or not. You know there's something you don't believe in -- that's what the "a-" is about in the word. And you know a bunch of theists, people who believe in God, or god, or gods. The problem is that you don't really have a clue what exactly it is they put their faith in, so you're left with the uncomfortable feeling that there's something vague out there -- a concept, an entity, a force, something like a person only bigger and better -- that theists do believe in; and you may, or you may not, because you just don't know what it is they're talking about.

I can appreciate what the late maverick physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynmann said about the whole issue. When a colleague, Ralph Leighton, asked him what he meant by describing himself as a "non-believer," Feynmann responded, "You describe it; I don't believe in it." He wasn't, according to Leighton, saying he didn't believe there was a god; he was saying that any god you can actually describe was too limiting for him to believe in.

Some Christian apologists claim that the "Big Bang" offers a good reason for believing in a deity, coming as a response to problem of creation ex nihilo, that is, how do you get something out of nothing? Presumably something must have gotten the whole mess of a universe started in the first place, right? Sounds like a job for God the Creator. Yeah but ... who created God? Proto-God? And how can we even talk about time-pre-creation, when the concept of time depends on at least something to be present? (About 1,600 years ago, Saint Augustine side-stepped the problem by proposing that time was part of God's creation. For Augustine, there was no "before.")

Even before Genesis' evocative concept of a time when earth was "without form, and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep," Babylonian mystics imagined chaos, in the form of the dragon Ti'amat, as the original primordial stuff. (Hebrew tehom, deep, in its feminine plural form tehomot, is cognate with Ti'amat, belying the origin of the Genesis creation story.) Nowadays, most cosmologists imagine a God-free Big Bang emerging out of "quantum fluctuations": a Nothing that is really Something. Do I believe in quantum fluctuations? Er, sure, I guess. Call 'em "God" and we've got a deal.

Barry Evans ([email protected]) wonders who he was before he was born.


Add a comment