How We Got The Phrase “The Big Bang”

Is God Eternal? Part 1

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Psalm 19:1 (ESVS) The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Were you triggered by the title? Just mentioning the phrase “The Big Bang” evokes controversy among many Christians. Understanding the phrase begins with understanding how God is related to time.

Certainly God is eternal… or is he? The answer requires a much deeper explanation, so stay with me. This is not a trick question.

C. S. Lewis had a strong inner argument against God’s ability to answer prayer. He could not understand how God could listen to millions upon millions of prayers all at the same time. It was not math or science that brought him to the conclusion that God had all the time in the world. What he did not know was that the reason God can hear all our prayers is precisely because he is not eternal.

Eternity is based in time. While it has no end, it most certainly had a beginning. Our Father is timeless which is why he says his name is “I AM.” The difference between eternity and timelessness is not merely a semantical slight of tongue. His timelessness is the key to his central character. This concept of a beginning of time and the universe itself first erupted into the scientific world because of the rivalry between astronomer Fred Hoyle and radio astronomer Martin Ryle both of Cambridge University.

On the heels of Albert Einstein’s theories of Special Relativity in 1903 and General Relativity in 1916, came the little known Paul Dirac. Building on Einstein’s theories, the Dirac equations laid the foundations for quantum theory or the theory of the tiny parts of our universe. Astronomers and physicists suddenly became focused on how the enormous universe and the unimaginably small atom were related and came to be.

A Belgian priest named Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître who was also an accomplished physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain put forth the theory that the universe was expanding. If the universe was expanding everywhere one looked into the sky, it necessarily meant that it must have begun that expansion from one central focal point. In other words, the universe had a beginning.

Despite astronomer Edwin Hubble’s clear confirmation of Lemaître’s theory, Fred Hoyle held that the universe was in a steady state having no beginning and no ending. Martin Ryle thought the universe was in a highly condensed state at its beginning in the long past before it exploded into the expanse we see today. Their rivalry was bitter, and in a 1949 BBC radio production, Hoyle egotistically mocked the notion that the universe had a beginning by calling Ryle’s theory the “Big Bang.”

Hoyle postulated that if the universe was in a steady state that the density of the galaxies from the earth out to the edge of the universe would uniformly be the same. If, however, the universe was expanding as Ryle said, there would be a greater galaxy density as one approached nearer and nearer the edge. In 1961, Ryle’s radio astronomy data proved just that. The universe did indeed have a beginning. Hoyle was defeated, but his derogatory phrase the “Big Bang” stuck.

Confirmation that the universe was expanding raised many more questions. If there was a beginning, then all the matter in the universe must have been unimaginably compressed at some single point called a “singularity.” How is that possible? Where did the all the matter come from? How had it formed? How long ago did this happen? If there was a so called Big Bang, would we be able to appreciate any evidence for it today?

Some thirty-seven years early, the primary components of the universe were clearly demonstrated. In 1925 using the spectrum of light coming from all visible stars, Cecilia Payne proved that 98% of the universe was comprised of hydrogen and helium. These are the lightest elements. Hydrogen which has one proton and one neutron is fused into helium with two protons and two neutrons. All the heavier elements such as carbon, oxygen, and on up to iron account for less than 2%. They are formed as stars begin to run out of the smaller elements of hydrogen, helium, etc. Elements larger than iron are formed by fusion when stars explode into supernovae.

In 1948, big bang proponents Ralph Alpher and George Gamow suggested that the singular point where all the matter of the universe was compressed consisted of only the components of protons, neutrons, and electrons called quarks. As the universe expanded from that singularity and the unimaginably high heat fell below a critical temperature, these quarks first formed hydrogen which then began to fuse to form helium. From there the universe began to expand. Alpher postulated that we should be able to detect the radiated energy from this beginning event even now though ever so faint in all directions. This visible light being stretched over the course of the expansion of the universe should now be perceptible as microwave radiation.

There was no known way to detect this radiation until 1964 when radio engineers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson began working with an odd horn-shaped radio antennae owned by Bell Labs. Despite their attempts to calibrate the antenna, they found an annoying hiss which they could not eliminate. Curiously, it was present everywhere they pointed the antennae in the sky. They had accidentally discovered this cosmic background microwave radiation of creation that Ralph Alpher had predicted.

The universe indeed had a beginning, and the just as that verse in Psalms says, the heavens proclaimed his handiwork. Jeremiah puts it in the strongest terms possible.

Jer. 31:37 (ESVS)    Thus says the LORD:
    “If the heavens above can be measured,

        and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel
    for all that they have done,
        declares the LORD.”


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