It may come in handy.
Here's why . . .
The gentleman on the left is Fr. Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian priest, physicist, and astronomer who happens to be "the father of the Big Bang." He was one of the first to publish in support of the idea of an expanding cosmos that took its start in a highly compressed state that Lemaitre referred to as a "primeval atom."
Einstein at first dismissed Lemaitre's hypothesis, which radically departed from the intuitions of physicists and cosmologists back then. But then Edwin Hubble's work backed up Lemaitre and Einstein reversed himself.
So why am I writing about this?
Partly just because I like science but also because there is an apologetic issue here.
Ever since the Big Bang theory has become widely accepted, it has been easy for Christians to point to the event as the start of everything and the moment of God's creation. It could be taken as a scientific validation of one part of the Kalaam cosmological argument for God's existence and thus as evidence for the Creator.
And maybe it is.
But maybe it's not.
For a time there was an alternative hypothesis that had a great deal of currency in scientific circles that maybe we lived in a gravitationally closed universe that oscillated between Big Bangs and Big Crunches and that the event that happened 13.5 billion years ago was just one of the cusps in an endless series of them, so that there was no ultimate beginning.
That view's stock fell precipitously a few years ago with the discovery that the universe is not just expanding but that it's expansion is accellerating due to what is now called dark energy, which actually makes up three quarters of all the mass-energy in the universe.
Because the universal rate of expansion is increasing, it does not appear that gravity can close our universe and cause a Big Crunch, without which one leg of the oscillation cycle wouldn't be there.
Since the discovery of dark energy, Christian apologists have felt on particularly safe ground pointing to the Big Bang as the plausible moment of creation.
And even in the decades before we knew about dark energy, the idea of the Big Bang had so permeated modern Christian thought that it became very easy to read Genesis 1 and identify the Big Bang with the moment that God said, "Fiat Lux"–"Let There Be Light."
Though that's not actually the way Genesis depicts the beginning.
Here's the way Genesis 1:1-3 reads:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
See what I mean?
Light gets created in verse 3, but we already have a darkened universe–complete with waters–in verse 2. Then, as part of making the world a suitable place for habitation, God turns on the lights and starts making other changes, until everything is ready for man.
Either way, we shouldn't be too quick to try to fit the Big Bang into the framework of Genesis 1. As I've written before, Genesis 1 is best taken not as a chronological account of God's work but as a topical organization of God's work that structures the different categories of what God did around the framework of a week.
I think that's what the ancient author meant the original audience to understand by the text, as a careful reading of it shows.
But if we shouldn't try to fit the Big Bang into Genesis 1, can we at least point to it as the moment of creation from a scientific point of view?
here has certainly been a strong inclination on the part of many to do so. Pius XII had such an inclination, which caused Lemaitre to have kittens, afraid that the pontiff would try to do too much theologically with the concept. (HERE and HERE.)
Hypothetically, we could identify the Big Bang as the moment of creation.
But hypotheses can have rival hypotheses, and we should try to test to see which hypotheses are more likely correct.
That's what the folks behind LISA are planning to do.
LISA–the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (INFO HERE)–is a set of satellites to be launched in the next decade or so. They will be placed in a massive triangular formation in space and connected by laser beams which will allow LISA to detect gravitational waves.
This will make LISA the largest gravitational wave detector in existence, powerful enough to detect events within a microscopically small fraction of a second after the Big Bang–far closer than we've been able to measure before.
Now here's the thing . . .
In other words, LISA may allow us to "look" beyond the Big Bang and "see" something there. For example, LISA might detect signs that the Big Bang occurred when two of the branes postulated by brane cosmology collided with each other. Or it might reveal evidence of a parallel universe that our universe budded off of.
Or it might reveal nothing of the kind, leaving the appearance that the Big Bang was, itself, Event One.
If the latter is the case then the apologetic use of the Big Bang will be strengthened, just like it was strengthened when dark energy was discovered, as competing hypotheses will be made less likely.
But the opposite could happen, too. The apologetic value of the Big Bang would be diminished if evidence emerges of a pre-Big Bang universe.
That's no threat to the Christian faith. The faith holds that God created the universe in the past but it does not require that the Big Bang represent the moment of creation. Christians held that there was a moment of creation for ages before the Big Bang emerged as a scientific hypothesis, and if it is later shown that the Big Bang was not the moment of creation then we can simply infer that the moment of creation was father back in time than that.
Christian faith is more than capable of surviving any such discovery.
However, in the short run it would shake some people up, just as it shook people up when modern paleontology and biology started to provide support for the theory of evolution.
It certainly helped, at that time, to point out that some authors had been writing about the compatibility of evolution and the Christian faith for quite a while. This wasn't a threat to the faith because it didn't contradict the faith.
The same thing is true for the idea that the Big Bang is not the moment of creation.
So remember this post ten or so years from now when LISA gets launched.
It may come in handy for someone you know.