The Big Bang and Genesis


The physicist Michio Kaku has written an article for the Wall Street Journal that comments on the most recent Nobel prize that was awarded to John Mather and George Smoot for their work on the Big Bang. Kaku points out that one of the principle architects of the Big Bang theory, George Gamow, was never awarded a Nobel prize for his work. This miscarriage of justice may have been because of his playfulness that didn't quite match some people's expectations of what a physicist was supposed to be like. Writes Kaku:

Some have argued that no one could take him seriously because he was an amateur cartoonist who wrote children's books (e.g., the classic "Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland" series, which were the first to inspire generations of schoolchildren, myself included, to the wonders of quantum physics and relativity). Others have said it was because he was too colorful a figure, notorious for his practical jokes. He once added physicist Hans Bethe's name, without his permission, to a paper written by him and his student Alpher, so it could be called the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper. He was also famous for his silly limericks. He once wrote: "There was a young fellow from Trinity / Who took the square root of infinity / But the number of digits / Gave him the figits; / He dropped Math and took up Divinity."
Gamow and some of his students proposed back in 1948 that the Big Bang was so hot that it left behind a background radiation as a kind of afterglow that is still with us today. This prediction was later borne out by radio astronomers in 1965, who then won a Nobel prize for their discovery. This discovery was a key proof of the Big Bang theory, a theory still accepted by scientists.

Kaku, in his article, pointed out that "this echo from the Big Bang makes up a significant fraction of the static you hear on the radio. Says Kaku,
It's a disgrace that Gamow and his students never got the Nobel. But perhaps they got something even more important. Prizes come and go. But the ultimate testament to their monumental work comes out every night, when the residual radiation they predicted fills up the entire night sky, bathing all of us with the glow from Genesis itself.
I am always a little weary when anyone conflates Genesis with the Big Bang theory. As John Shuck has pointed out in his blog, Genesis has no literal scientific value, because it was constructed from a cosmology that prevailed during the time that Genesis was written but that we know to be untrue. Figuratively speaking, we can talk about Genesis as having theological value. Genesis makes general theological statements that may still ring true to us in some way--statements about God's creative role in the universe--but its scientific merit is nonexistent.

As Marcus Borg writes in his book Reading the Bible Again For The First Time,
To the extent that there is a literal affirmation in ancient Israel's creation myths, it is simply this: God is the source of everything that is. As one of my seminary professors said several decades ago, "The only literal statement in Genesis 1 is 'God created the heavens and the earth.'"
(p. 72)
Borg also points out in the same book that the creation story, with its refrain after each day that "God saw that it was good", is also a theological statement about the nature of reality. Says Borg, "against all world-denying theologies and philosophies, Genesis affirms the world as the good creation of the good God. All that is is good."

These are the theological truths that can be gleaned from Genesis--but theological truths are not the same as scientific truths. The Priestly authors who wrote chapter 1 of Genesis knew nothing of the Big Bang; their cosmology was primitive and fundamentally wrong by contemporary scientific standards.

It is true that the background radiation leftover from the Big Bang lives with us as a constant reminder of the initial phases of the creation of our universe. But, I would argue, the creative process in which God participates is still with us today. God did not stop creating at the moment of the Big Bang. And in a sense, all that preceded us, including not just the Big Bang but everything that followed it, is still with us in some sense, has left its legacy with the universe. Everything that came before has influenced in some way all that came after. If the world is in constant creation, as I believe it is, then every act of creation is incorporated into every creative act that follows it.

It is therefore not just the case that the echoes of the Big Bang are still with us. Our own legacy lies before us, influenced by every action we make.