Dr. Michael Strauss is a practicing particle physics employed as a professor at University of Oklahoma. He does research in particle physics at CERN, a large hadron collider. It’s safe to assume that he knows something about experimental physics.
Here’s what he writes about Christians and the Big Bang at his new blog:
When my children were young, I would often drive to the home of the person babysitting my kids, usually a young teenage girl, pick her up, then drive her back to my house. In the car I would ask questions about her interests or her school. In addition, I would sometimes ask a question that intrigued me since I am a scientist and a Christian, “Do you think the Big Bang is a theistic theory or an atheistic theory?” Now that question is not on most people’s list of babysitter interview questions, but I was interested to know their answer even though it would not affect their monetary tip. Every time I asked this question I always got the same answer, that the Big Bang is an atheistic theory. This is just one example of the fact that many kids growing up in an evangelical church environment have the perception that the Big Bang is an idea which removes God as the creator. It seems that many Christians may disdain the Big Bang.
Subsequent conversations with people of all ages have shown me that many individuals (1) don’t really understand what the Big Bang is, (2) don’t know the scientific evidence for the Big Bang, and (3) don’t comprehend the theistic significance of the Big Bang. So let’s explore these ideas a little bit.
Here is his overview of the scientific evidence for the Big Bang:
There are three primary observations that are best explained by the Big Bang. First, the universe is expanding so that it must have had a beginning of expansion in the past. Second, because the universe was once very hot, we can still see the remnants of that heat in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation. The latest measurements of the CMB spectrum made by the Planck satellite (shown above) agrees almost perfectly with theoretical calculations using the standard Big Bang cosmological model (see the plot at the end of this post). Third, the theory predicts the amount of primordial light elements that should have been created in the first few minutes of the Big Bang, like hydrogen and helium. Again the observations and the theoretical calculations align almost exactly. A few other observations are supported by Big Bang predictions, like the distribution of galaxies and primordial gas. The agreement between what we measure and what is expected from a Big Bang is so remarkable that just about all scientists accept the Big Bang as the origin of our universe, despite its implication that the universe had a beginning.
Does this scientific evidence support theism, or atheism?
Because we don’t have any observations that tell us exactly what happened “in the beginning” of our universe, we can only speculate. But let me point out the obvious. All of the observations we do have, and all the theoretical calculations, and even some projective calculations like the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem (which I should probably blog about at some time) give credence to the conclusion that all of the space, time, matter, and energy of this universe had a beginning. The Big Bang is a misnomer for it is not some kind of explosion since there was nothing that existed to explode. It is the origin of the universe. So if this universe had a beginning, then the cause of the universe can not be a part of the universe. The cause must be transcendent, like the Christian idea of God. Is the fact that all the evidence points to our universe having a transcendent cause proof for God? No, but it is extremely powerful evidence. If one hundred years ago you had predicted that scientists would obtain unambiguous evidence about the history of the universe for 13.8 billion years, all of its lifetime except the first fraction of a second, and that all of the evidence would point to an actual beginning consistent with a transcendent cause, I don’t think anyone would have taken you seriously. But that is exactly what has happened. Theists could not have outlined a better scenario to support theism. The scientific facts are completely consistent with the statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Now I’ve had conversations with atheists about this scientific evidence during my lifetime. And the conversations always go like this: I lay out the experimental evidence and theoretical evidence for a cosmic beginning, and they start to talk about science fiction: Star Wars and Star Trek. But there are also famous atheists who have tried to account for the Big Bang cosmology in their atheistic worldview.
Here’s Oxford University professor of physical chemistry (and atheist) Peter Atkins explaining how he grounds the Big Bang cosmology:
Easy! Nothing actually exists, according to Peter Atkins.
What about a theoretical physicist, like Lawrence Krauss? Well, he just redefines the nothing that causally preceded the origin of the universe so that it is actually something. Pure speculation, and it goes against the experimental scientific evidence we have. Exactly what you’d expect from a man who wrote a book about the physics of “Star Trek”.
You don’t get to start with the laws of physics in the Big Bang cosmology. You don’t get to start with an electron. You don’t get to start with a quantum vacuum, nor even quantum foam. You start with nothing: no matter, no energy, no space, and no time. From that state, the universe begins to exist. Atheists hate the Big Bang cosmology. And they also hate the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the Big Bang that allows the universe to support complex, embodied intelligent life. (Another miraculous evidence for God that is opposed by the anti-science fundamentalists).
I see resistance against the use of scientific evidence to support the existence of God from many pious pastors like Al Mohler, Russell Moore, etc. Some pastors think that you can just read the Bible out loud to someone and it will convert them to Christianity, as if the words of the Bible, in and of themselves, were some sort of incantation. It’s sort of like the “burning of the bosom” that Mormons are supposed to have when reading the Mormon Bible, which Mormons use in place of evidence, since they don’t have any. Many fideist pastors adopt this Mormon approach to trusting in God. Never mind that Jesus offered his resurrection as evidence of his claims to divinity to skeptics. Apparently, These pious pastors know better than Jesus how to evangelize non-Christians, and they’ve decided that the magic words fideist approach is better than use of scientific and historical evidence. It’s really annoying that the pious pastors have so much more influence in churches than the witness of experimental science, which is just God speaking to us through nature. I’d trust scientific evidence over an uneducated fundamentalist pastor any day of the week.