Just so you know

All right. I have ideas. I think about stuff. So here is the spot for stuff I'm thinking about and want to be able to share more broadly and possibly promote. Like I have time for this.

Everything is provisional at this point and subject to change in the future - as far as the blog is concerned. In real life some things will remain unchanged.

Also, our children are not really named Lenny and Linus. We are not that cool.

Feel free to share, rant, disagree, but please remember that I'm an actual person who tries to be respectful. I'd love it if you are and do to.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Faith and Science: Some Details of the Big Bang

I wasn't going to do a follow-up on my creation vs. evolution post.  It went pretty well.  I had a few discussions on Facebook and everyone was friendly.  Plus, I don't have a whole lot more information on the topic to enlighten you with.  But then I saw this post on Buzzfeed which is described as a series of questions by self-identified creationists for Bill Nye.  Some of the questions make me a little bit crazy.  Maybe I can add something to this discussion.

I'm not a scientist.  But I am married to one.  An astrophysicist to be precise.  A Christian man of great conviction and integrity who studies the far reaches of the universe and teaches a class about a topic called "cosmology."  It's about what we know about the universe - also how, throughout human history we have conceptualized and sought to understand it.  Including origins.  Including the"Big Bang Theory" which is questioned in the above post.

Early in our marriage the pastor of the church my husband and I were part of at the time decided to preach a sermon on The Big Bang Theory.  The problem was that he didn't check with the person in his midst who actually had read the scientific papers on the theory and knew what science does and does not claim on the topic.  In the conversations that followed I learned a few facts.

First of all, scientists do start with a few assumptions which some who read and believe in the Bible may disagree with.  Scientists believe that we are not in a special time or place in the universe.  They make their conclusions based on the idea that the natural laws that we observe here and now have applied and will apply in all time and space.

The questions in the Buzzfeed post and some questions and statements I've heard in person from Christians make me think that some people have some misconceptions about these assumptions.  For one thing, people often assume that because scientists only consider the physical universe that they are ruling out the existence of any other reality.  This may sometimes happen, but it is not necessary for someone to take science seriously or to use it as a tool to understand the universe.  Science is a system - a way of observing and exploring the world in order to understand it better.  It values direct, quantifiable observations and rejects appeals to authority.  It sticks to a specific set of knowledge and answers certain types of questions.  It does not comment on even the possibility of the existence of a god who does not exist in the physical realm.

"But," you may say, "I have seen evidence of God all around me.  I see the beauty of a sunset, the wonder of a baby's birth, the amazing complexity of the genetic code.  How can these things be random?  They speak of a mind - a creator."  Maybe so, but until they find some way of directly observing that mind scientists will continue to slog along by observing with the tools they have now.

Second, the Big Bang Theory is based on direct observations and measurements.  Since light takes time to travel to earth astronomers are looking both at distant places and past times in the universe. Assuming that the principles they observe now apply uniformly allows them to draw conclusions about what happened in the past and what will happen in the future.

Third, "Big Bang" is not a very good name.  It implies an explosion of something into something else, which is what we always experience now.  But the theory actually describes a movement of something - matter, energy, space - into....nothing.  I can't really get my head around that.

Fourth, so far, scientist do not have an explanation for where the stuff came from.  And by definition the theory only describes what happens starting from an extremely (astronomically) small portion of time after the movement actually starts.  There is still mystery.  There is room for a creator.

Fifth, astronomers are not so heavily invested in this particular model of how the universe works that they can't admit that previous observations might have led to incorrect conclusions.  Is the expansion of the universe speeding up or slowing down?  The understanding of this question has completely reversed in the past couple of decades.  This does not mean that scientists have no idea what they are talking about.  It means that they make conclusions based on the data they have and as the data becomes more complete their conclusions can be more accurate.  This is fine because they are not asking you to believe anything.  They are trying to understand.

When we get closer to home science does make conclusions and predictions that we end up acting on.  That is a more complicated question and it has to do with the body of evidence - observations and experiments are repeated by different scientists and in different ways.  It gets messy.  But right now I'm sticking to the implications of this one area.

So what's the point?  The Big Bang Theory does not jive with a literal interpretation of the Biblical creation narrative.  It points to a time period much longer than a day during which the universe changed in order to reach the point we observe now.  But scientists who study the theory are not trying to disprove the existence of God. They are using the tools they have to make conclusions about the universe.

Is it possible to interpret scripture in a way that fits with the current scientific evidence?  Possibly.  But personally I don't feel the need to do that.  That's probably a topic for a different post.  Could God have created a universe that only appears to have an incredibly long "lifespan"?  Possibly.  But I don't understand why He would do that.  Could the nature of time have changed at some point?  Possibly, but if so it would most likely have left some kind of evidence which may, at some point be detectible.  The nature of time is something that physicists are extremely interested in.   

Ultimately I believe that we (the Evangelical Christian community) should really take a look around us.  The Bible is not a scientific text.  Science is not a religion.   Using our senses and intellects to observe the world is not a threat to God.  Believing that God ultimately is responsible for the existence of the world is not a threat to science.  But closing our minds to what we might observe because we need the facts to conform to an idea we already have....that isn't consistent with what I believe about the Bible or God.  And it isn't what I see happening in science.  I'd love it if we didn't do that. I'd love it if we decided to use the tools we have and embrace the exciting challenge of learning as much as we can about the world.

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