The Beginning of the Universe

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In this Post-Modern, secular age, Science is often elevated to the only source of truth. The Cosmos and the Classroom course explores the wonders and the limitations of Science in a secular age. The course draws on scientific knowledge and theological insight and argument to explore the wonder of the universe and its amazing intricate design. Teachers are encouraged to promote a sense of awe and wonder in their students by raising awareness of these features in relevant Science lessons. The course also encourages teachers of Science to explore the nature of scientific truth with their students as well as its limitations, and to consider how they can authentically use the teaching of Science to help students to be prepared to critique the secular understanding of truth. The following article looks at the Beginning of the Universe and is part of the course content.


The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang theory is the cosmological model for the observable universe from the earliest known periods through its subsequent large-scale evolution. The model describes how the universe expanded from a very high-density and high-temperature state, and offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of phenomena. If the observed conditions are extrapolated backwards in time using the known laws of physics, the prediction is that just before a period of very high density there was a singularity which is typically associated with the Big Bang. This theory supports the concept that the universe had a beginning.

The Journey of Science to the Big Bang theory

In 1912, Vesto Slipher measured the first Doppler shift of a ‘spiral nebula’ (spiral nebula is the obsolete term for spiral galaxies), and soon discovered that almost all such nebulae were receding from Earth. Ten years later, Alexander Friedmann, a Russian cosmologist and mathematician, derived the Friedmann equations from Albert Einstein's equations of general relativity, showing that the universe might be expanding. When Friedman looked at Einstein’s equations he concluded ‘if the universe were homogenous & expanding then it must have expanded from a singular initial state at some point in time’ (McGrath, 1999, p.179).

In 1924, Edwin Hubble's measurement of the great distance to the nearest spiral nebulae showed that these systems were other galaxies. In 1929, Hubble discovered a correlation between distance and recession velocity – now known as Hubble's law – the farther away they (the galaxies) are, the faster they move away from us.

Georges Lemaître, a Belgian physicist, independently derived Friedmann's equations in 1927 and proposed that the inferred recession of the nebulae was due to the expansion of the universe. By 1931 Lemaître suggested that the evident expansion of the universe, if projected back in time, meant that the further in the past the smaller the universe was, until at some finite time in the past all the mass of the universe was concentrated into a single point, a ‘primeval atom’ where and when the fabric of time and space came into existence. George Gamow, Ralph Alpher and Robert Hermnan (1948) developed these findings into what became known as the ‘Big Bang theory’ of the creation of the universe.

The Big Bang theory offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observed phenomena, including the abundance of light elements, the CMB, large scale structure, and Hubble's Law. The framework for the Big Bang model relies on Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity and on simplifying assumptions such as homogeneity and isotropy of space. The governing equations were formulated by Alexander Friedmann, and similar solutions were worked on by Willem de Sitter. It indicated that the universe had a beginning.

In 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson’s microwave antennae picked up a hissing sound, an omnidirectional signal. This was the after-glow of a primal explosion; cosmic background radiation. This discovery provided substantial confirmation of the Big-Bang predictions. Further investigation of this phenomenon throughout the 1970s supported the evidence in favour of the Big Bang model, and Penzias and Wilson were awarded a Nobel Prize in 1978.

Since then, astrophysicists have incorporated observational and theoretical additions into the Big Bang model, and its parametrisation as the Lambda-CDM model serves as the framework for current investigations of theoretical cosmology. It is the simplest model that can account for the various measurements and observations relevant to cosmology.

This model was opposed by the New Atheist Sir John Maddox (1960s) because it increased the plausibility of a God (Lennox, 2011, p.30). John Lennox observes that the new atheists are not following the evidence here because it threatens their materialistic or naturalistic presuppositions (Lennox, 2011, pp.29–30).

Unlike Sir John Maddox, Stephen Hawking says the laws of physics explain how the world began and the Big Bang resulted from these laws (Lennox, 2011, p.31). Hawking claims ‘because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing'. However, the laws of physics and gravity itself, are not nothing so this argument is philosophically unfound; it is a logical fallacy. The laws of physics can explain how something works but not how it came to be in the first place. Laws do not produce matter; they are a description of what happens under certain conditions. Theories and laws do not bring matter/energy into existence (Lennox, 2011, p.31).

We must conclude that time and the material universe came into being from a non-material state of nothingness at a finite point in the past and something non-material and non-temporal must have created time and the material world (Murray, 2018, p.175).

Publication bibliography

Harrison, P. (Ed.) (2010). Science and Religion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lennox, J. (2011). Gunning for God: Are God and Faith enemies of reason and Science? Oxford, England: Lion Hudson.

McGrath, A.E. (1999). ‘Models and Analogies’ in Science and Religion: Issues in Science and Religion. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Murray, A. (2018). Saving Truth: Finding meaning & clarity in a post-truth world. Clarity about Science and faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. Accessed 5/11/2019, 1.00pm.

Online Professional Learning Courses

You can learn more in EdComm's online course: The Cosmos and the Classroom.

This online courses provide 6 hours of NESA accredited Professional Development at the Proficient level and is enrolling now.