Reconciling Religious and Scientific Perspectives of Creation
“In the beginning was the big bang,”[i] writes John Polkinghorne, a physicist turned theologian. As the reader follows through the remainder of his cosmic creation story, the reader is intrigued at how mystical and religious the story sounds. “The space boiled, in the rapid expansion of the inflation era, blowing the universe apart with incredible rapidity in the much less than 10-30 seconds that it lasted. . . . The world suddenly became transparent and a universal sea of radiation was left to continue cooling on its own . . .”[ii] Then, the story unfolds to tell of the creation of hydrogen and helium and the creation of stars. The death of stars follow, which in turn gives rise to conditions that are favorable for the formation of life.[iii]
Though seemingly mystical, the story of the cosmic creation is also the epitome of logic. As we rewind the story of creation, we see a definite causal link between one event and another. Why do we have life? Because we have carbon. Why do we have carbon? Because of the chemical reaction in stars. Why do we have the chemical reactions in stars? Because . . . and this chain will continue, explaining one phenomenon as an effect of another. The story is in fact the triumph of human reason. However, if we rewind the story long enough, we find ourselves reaching a dead end – “In the beginning was the big bang.” A beginning is where there is no before. However, how can something be when there is no prior?
The question of the origin is further complicated when we see how finely tuned the universe is. For the emergence of life, the universe had to have initial conditions at the point of origin that could not have been otherwise – mere chance could not have created us. Must we invoke William Paley’s watchmaker argument again?[iv] Are we to agree with Robert Jastrow when he says, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak: as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”[v] Though Jastrow treats the issue as settled and declares that scientists have finally been “defeated,” it is too early to reach any judgements on the implications the new cosmology has for both science and religion. Our image of the origin of the universe is not yet complete and further investigations must be conducted before the towel is thrown in. Science has still much to offer to help us understand how the universe came to be. Therefore, let us now attempt to solve the cosmic mystery of creation by referring to the great scientific minds as our guide. Let us now rewind the story of the big bang and look into the origins of the universe.
The idea that the universe had an origin was a result of the discovery of the...