~ The Big Bang and a Big God ~
Years ago when I first taught science, a parent asked me, "How can you be a science teacher and a Christian?" Well, for starters, science and spirituality or theology are not in opposition unless one makes science his religion. There are many scientists who are devout followers of Christ and many who came to embrace biblical truth through their study of science.
The Bible actually has a friend in science. Just one branch alone, archeology, has verified the historical accuracy of over 30,000 biblical references. One notable example stood unverified for 3000 years, that of the Hittite Empire which was recorded only in the Bible ( 2 Kings 7 and other places). It was only during the 20th century that discovered Egyptian monuments and Assyrian texts pointed to the past existence of the Hittite people, and subsequent expeditions verified the capital of the empire with over a 1,000 year prominence had been located east of Cenhara, Turkey.
Of course there are notable standouts in science that oppose biblical teaching, the foremost of which is the theory of evolution. But again, this theory gives many scientists, Christian or not, problems to resolve, although it is taught as the prevailing secular explanation of the existence of life because it is the only one society has to offer. Christians who wish to participate in the refuting of evolution, to be credible and taken seriously, must understand the theory first. To argue that we could not have evolved from "monkeys" does not help the cause of the faith since evolution does not teach this. Instead, evolution postulates a "common primate ancestor" and that would be one area to address in refuting the theory.
The other major biblical-science contention involves the existence of matter, energy and the universe itself. I once heard a Christian radio commentator say, "I'll believe in the big bang theory if they believe in the Big God whose word brought it into being." The same person remarked, "In order to have a concentrated cosmic egg that started everything, you need a cosmic chicken." Indeed, many keep asserting that matter and energy could not have come out of nothing, therefore a timeless, almighty, infinite Creator must exist. However, and again, we best should know what science has discovered. In this case also, science is a friend of the faith.
Let's consider an astounding discovery in physics. In this scientific discipline, a "vacuum" is considered to be absolutely empty space. Imagine a container that could withstand any amount of outside force and pump everything out of it. Imagine a place of absolute nothingness. Not one atom, not one photon, not one "elementary particle," and no way for any to get in. Pure "pre-creation nothingness," as it were. Now for the astounding observation of quantum physicists: elementary particles suddenly emerge, interacting and annihilating each other, and appearing again!
The Newtonian term of "vacuum," which we still use to describe parts of outer space, needs a new word. Many have been suggested. Dr. Brian Swimme (California Institute of Integral Studies) writes, "I use 'all - nourishing abyss' as a way of pointing to this mystery at the base of being." (The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, Orbis Books, NY, 1996) Science does agree with Christians that the "cosmic egg" of the Big Bang theory needs a "base of being" or, to capitalize one letter, "a base of Being." Science doesn't claim to understand this any more than we understand the timeless, non-beginning of a God-Creator that always was and always will be. But the base of Being is known, as a mystery that exists, by all of us, students of science and theology.
I see a wondrous connection of this scientific discovery to the opening words of St. John's book of the Gospel. There are four gospel accounts because during the 1st century AD there were four major audiences. Matthew wrote to the Jewish nation, an account best understood by those familiar with the Old Testament and Jewish thought and culture. Mark wrote to the Romans, a people of facts and action, which typifies Mark's rendition style. Luke had the Greek people in mind with his account, specifically addressing Theophilus, a name meaning "lover of God." Like Greek thought and philosophy, Luke wrote with precision and supporting documentation. A fourth ethnic and cultural group were dispersed throughout the Holy Land, especially along the trade routes and cities of commerce, people of the near and far East, the countries from which the Magi came to worship Jesus when He was only a toddler. Eastern thought is more mystical and "other worldly" and it was these people John had in mind when he wrote the gospel that recorded more of Jesus' direct teachings and expositions than the other three.
St. John gets right into Eastern mystical thought in the first few verses. Where the other writers would probably have written, "In the beginning Christ already existed...," leaving no room for debate in Jewish, Roman or Greek minds, John uses the term "the Word already existed," or, in the original language, "the Logos." The Greek meaning of Logos is a combination of a thought or concept and the expression, utterance or manifestation of that concept. John writes that the Logos was with God and is God, that "Everything came into existence through Him, the Logos."
Now you might be wishing John would have just used the word "Christ." However, an Eastern thinker of that day would have understood clearly what John was teaching. The people of the land of the Magi already had cultivated the concept of "the base of Being" regarding the physical world as a shadow (or the more poorly translated word, "illusion") or utterance of "reality," the base of Being. Now John was telling them, "Guess what? That mystery of your base of Being was the Christ who walked among us!" The scholars (i.e. "wise men") of the East already knew this and were looking for the incarnate Word. That's why some of them made the long and dangerous journey to worship the Christ child. They knew who He was before the Jews and Romans did!
Two thousand years later, western scientists encountered something in the laboratory so baffling and mysterious they needed a new word, such as the "all - nourishing abyss," to describe a creative process where something does emerge out of nothing. St. John, however, would tell them that the seeming "nothing" is the all-present Logos, through whom all things come into existence.
Some people of science will smile at the wonder of something emerging from a complete vacuum of pure space, or a bird emerging from what used to be glop in an egg, and say, "Hello God! Holy be Your Name and ways!" Others will scratch their heads and work on revised theories to explain away divine mysteries. We join David in praying, "You are all around me - in front of me and in back of me. You lay your hand on me. Such knowledge is beyond my grasp. It is so high I cannot reach it." (Psalm 139: 5-6) But we can experience it. The Holy Spirit of the Logos wants to live in us, animate us, and give us an infinitely loving life in Him that will never end. Read all about it in St. John's book.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © June 30, 2001
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