The last half century has revealed a stark contrast between what secular scientists expected to find concerning the big “origins” questions and what scientific research actually uncovered. In part one of this brief series, I’ll discuss how this contrast played out regarding the origin of the universe. In future installments, I’ll consider the origins of the solar system, the Earth, life, and the human species.
The Origin of the Universe
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) speculated that the cosmos was eternal. And since the eighteenth century Enlightenment, secular thinkers have often argued that the physical universe was eternal in age and possibly infinite in extent. It was viewed as being a brute reality without beginning and therefore without need of a cause. The skeptical mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell insisted (in his famous BBC debate with Catholic philosopher Frederick Copleston on the existence of God) that the universe is “just there.”
In the first half of the twentieth century the view of cosmology known as the steady-state theory was popular among secular scientists. This view reflected the belief that the universe somehow contained a continual energy source that allowed the cosmos to remain in a constant state of existence. Philosophically speaking, an eternal universe would seem more consistent with an atheistic, naturalistic view of reality. For if the universe is eternal, then it needs no causal explanation, thus no need to postulate God as a necessary causal agent. (Though, ironically, atheists often fail to appreciate that if God exists as an eternal [and necessary] being, then he as well would need no causal explanation.)
Big Bang Cosmology
Over the last 40 years, however, big bang cosmology has undergone extensive testing and has emerged as the prevailing scientific model for the origin of the universe. According to this well-established theory, the universe (including all matter, energy, time, and space) came into being about 14 billion years ago. This inception was a singular beginning. The conclusion, then, is that the universe is not eternal. Thus the basic big bang cosmological model has now replaced the steady-state (eternal universe) theory. And while the big bang is being refined as a theory, most leading astrophysicists argue that this cosmological theory is here to stay.
But a universe with a singular beginning from nothing was the last thing that secular scientists thought would be discovered. The problem for the atheistic naturalist is how much big bang cosmology resembles the biblical doctrine of creation ex nihilo (God created the universe from or out of nothing [no preexisting materials]: Genesis 1:1; Proverbs 3:19; Romans 4:17; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 11:3).
So while secular scientists thought they would discover an eternal, self-sufficient universe, what they actually discovered is a universe that had a singular beginning and is, therefore, a contingent reality in need of a necessary causal explanation. Thus, the cutting-edge scientific explanation concerning the universe’s origin (a singular beginning of all things) seems to comport best with theism rather than atheistic naturalism. While many scientists were no doubt surprised by this discovery, Christian theologians, on the other hand, expected it.
This series was inspired by Robert M. Bowman Jr.’s outline notes in Scripture: Outline Studies in Authority, Canon, and Criticism (used at Biola University). For more on the big bang and other competing cosmological theories, see Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos.
|Part 1 | Part 2|