Reflections on the Latest Big Bang Discovery

March 20, 2014 | 9 comments

Over the past few days the world of cosmology and astrophysics has gone “supernova.” Researchers affiliated with the BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica announced that they had discovered empirical evidence for a key part of the Big Bang theory, cosmic inflation. One aspect of this discovery that I found really interesting is that it forms an almost perfect parallel to a discovery that was made sixty years ago.

The First Telescope Discovery

In the early twentieth century, the Belgian priest and physicist Georges LemaÎtre concluded that Einstein’s new theory of gravity, called general relativity, would cause a static eternal universe to collapse into nothingness. Since Einstein’s theory was sound, this only meant one thing: The universe was growing, and had a beginning in the finite past. Fr. LemaÎtre and Einstein would discuss the cosmic consequences of the theory while walking around the campus of Cal Tech, and although Einstein was skeptical at first, in 1933 he proclaimed that LemaÎtre’s theory of an expanding universe was one of the most “beautiful theories he had ever heard.”

Fr. LemaÎtre called his theory “the primeval atom,” but another physicist, Fred Hoyle, mocked the theory with the term “Big Bang.” Hoyle believed that theories of the universe beginning to exist from nothing were “primitive myths” designed to put religion into science. Fr. LemaÎtre’s status as a Catholic priest did not help the situation. In response to Fr. LemaÎtre, Hoyle argued for what he called the “steady state theory” of the universe and claimed that there was no empirical evidence for Fr. LemaÎtre’s model. Einstein was also skeptical that no “cosmic rays” or after effects from the Big Bang had ever been discovered.

However, in 1965 Bell Laboratory technicians Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson used radio telescopes to detect a faint, uniform “glow” of static coming from all directions of the sky. At first, they thought this uniform glow was merely bird droppings contaminating the telescope! But after a thorough cleaning, the static turned out to be radiation in the form of microwaves coming from deep space.

According to the Big Bang model, right after the “bang” the universe was a white-hot ball of plasma before it cooled and formed stars and galaxies. Particles that had been flying around since the very beginning of time cooled and turned into microwaves, traveling to fill the whole cosmos. Today, this radiation is called Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (or CMBR, which is pictured below).

This discovery was so monumental that Penzias and Wilson won the Nobel Prize for it, and Fred Hoyle admitted it refuted his steady-state model of an eternal universe: “[It] is widely believed that the existence of the microwave background killed the “steady state” cosmology. . . . Here, in the microwave background, was an important phenomenon which it had not predicted.”

Enter Inflation

But this wasn’t the end of the story. As scientists studied the Big Bang they came across several problems that they weren’t sure how to resolve. One was the “flatness problem,” which couldn’t explain why the density of matter and energy in the universe almost perfectly aligned to a very precise value that gives the universe a “flat shape” (or one where parallel lines expand and never intersect). The other was the horizon problem, which could not explain why different parts of the universe possessed “equal temperatures” even though the universe was not old enough for particles from those different parts to interact with one another. Even if the particles were travelling at the speed of light, there would not have been enough time for them to cross our huge universe and mix together until their “temperatures” became even.

In the 1970’s an American cosmologist named Alan Guth proposed the idea that the universe did not expand at a slow, constant rate from the Big Bang. Instead, the universe expanded at an exponential rate from just a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Stephen Hawking says the expansion of the universe would be like a penny expanding to the size of the entire Milky Way galaxy (or 100,000 light years across) in a few seconds. This inflationary expansion would have “locked in” both the universe’s flatness and even temperatures while it was very small and then blown those features up to fill the entire universe we see today.  But for decades this theory had the virtue of being elegant and explaining a lot, but it also had the vice of not being supported by empirical evidence . . . until now.

BICEP2 shows that there are distinct “gravity waves” in the microwave background radiation. These waves are the final “blown up” effects of very small “quantum disturbances” that made up the universe 13.7 billion years ago before the inflation event. What the Bell Labs radio telescope’s discovery was to Fr. LemaÎtre, the BICEP2 telescope’s discovery is to Andrei Linde, another pioneer in inflationary cosmology. A video team even captured the emotional moment when Linde learned that the theory he had been toiling over for decades had finally been confirmed with an empirical observation.

What Should Catholics Think?

I’m glad that most news articles covering this story didn’t drudge up the tired “science vs. religion” trope. But, I could count on my local U-T San Diego newspaper to include this gem in their coverage of the discovery:

The finding strengthens scientists’ support of the Big Bang theory, although it’s likely to be challenged by some theologians who see the hand of a divine creator in the rise of the universe.

Which theologians? Sure there are some Christians who think the universe was created at the same time the Babylonians were brewing beer, but the Catholic Church has affirmed that,

“The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers” (CCC 283).

This discovery does not disprove the idea that the universe requires a necessary being in order to sustain it nor does it disprove the idea that the universe began to exist in the finite past. Even if inflationary theory explains why some of the constants in the universe (such as the strength of gravity) have the life-permitting values they do, inflation alone does not overturn the conclusion that our universe’s life-permitting laws of nature were designed. Instead, it merely pushes the problem back one level. Resorting to inflation to explain the fine-tuning of the universe’s constants and conditions would be like saying that the case of a dart hitting a bull’s eye can be explained by “projectile theory” apart from the actions of any intelligent agent.

The fact is that this discovery has no bearing whatsoever on either the existence of God or any other Catholic teaching. It is perfectly compatible with the view that God created the universe from nothing for the good of intelligent creatures to come to know him.


Ever since he converted to Catholicism at the age of seventeen, Trent Horn has had a passion for explaining and defending the Faith. After earning a degree in history from Arizona State University, Trent traveled the country training pro-life advocates on college campuses to engage opponents in...

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Salonsar War - Shillong, Kentucky

Greetings All !!!
Thanks Trent and all at Catholic Answers for enriching our knowledge with your insightful and heart-warming articles (no sarcasm intended).
Now, to the Big Bang.
Is the Universe really 13.7 billion years old or is it under 10,000 years old (about 6000 years if we strictly stick to Scripture)?
Well, let's turn to Scripture. Here's some meat to chew on :
> Genesis 1:31 : "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good"
If God made that statement 13.7 billion years later, some 190,000 years ago (supposedly when 'modern' humans came on the scene (Day Six? ) then he declared so after billions of years of death, natural selection, destruction, harmful mutations, diseases, cancers, carnivory, etc. Is that the awesome God we serve?
> Exodus 20:9-11 : "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. ... For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.
God gave us the 7 day week, modelling it on his work of Creation. Dare we say that the word 'day' (or 'yom' in hebrew) have different meanings here (with respect to time) in a single command of God. Are we to work for 6 literal days coz God did it in 6 billion years? Does that make any sense?
> Genesis 1:1-31 :
The word 'day' in Genesis (hebrew 'yom') when used in conjunction with the words 'morning', 'evening', or 'night' and/or with a numeral, always mean a literal solar day. The way it is done so in Genesis --morning, evening, the first day / morning, evening, the second day, etc.-- can only mean a literal solar day.
> Mark 10:6 (Jesus lecturing the Pharisees on Marriage) : "But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female."
God made Adam and Eve on Day 6 (the first week) and not after thousands or millions of years (which would not be 'at the beginning').
Friends, that was just some of the scriptural support for a literal creation. The traditional, patristic, magisterial Catholic teaching of Creation has always pointed to a literal understanding of Genesis 1-11. Science should be and is always in harmony with Scripture. Facts are facts; it is the interpretation of facts which we should be wary of.
Even when we turn to nature, which God created for his glory, we find that bulk of the evidence points to a young universe and earth. Please do visit www.kolbecenter.org (a catholic website), www.answersingenesis.com, www.creation.com, www.icr.org--- where natural evidence is analysed and dissected for our enlightenment.
To God be the Glory.
God Bless.

March 21, 2014 at 7:14 am PST
#2  Andrew Miller - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

"If God made that statement 13.7 billion years later, some 190,000 years ago (supposedly when 'modern' humans came on the scene (Day Six? ) then he declared so after billions of years of death, natural selection, destruction, harmful mutations, diseases, cancers, carnivory, etc. Is that the awesome God we serve?"

All this has happened in the past 6000 years, too, so yes, it is the same, awesome, God.

March 22, 2014 at 11:01 pm PST
#3  Salonsar War - Shillong, Kentucky

Hey Andrew,
Yes, all this has indeed been happening in the past 6000 years too, but that was AFTER THE FALL. After Adam and Eve first sinned, we and all of creation incurred a curse and things have never been the same again. God made that statement just after Creation and BEFORE sin entered the world. So before the fall, things HAD to be 'very good' for a perfect God to make such a declaration; and "death, natural selection, destruction, harmful mutations, diseases, cancers, carnivory" simply can not be part of his perfect plan.

If God has worked out our Salvation with such detail, then I believe he worked out our Creation with equal detail.
Creation & Salvation --- both handiworks of our Awesome God.

Scientific discoveries do indeed help us to admire our Creator more, but if the 'interpretation' of the data discovered starts to erode or undermine our faith which is built upon God, his Word and his Church, then we should be very careful and wary about wholly accepting whatever we read in a textbook or a science journal.
You see, this world of ours is becoming increasingly anti-christian and secular, chiefly because the current ruler of this world (Satan) is constanly trying to deceive us, which is what he is good at and which he has been doing so since we got here.

Discernment--- that's the key word -- and it's something we can master if we stick closely to God's Word.
Andrew, hope this helps.
God Bless.

March 23, 2014 at 7:08 am PST
#4  Jacek Machura - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"> Genesis 1:1-31 :
The word 'day' in Genesis (hebrew 'yom') when used in conjunction with the words 'morning', 'evening', or 'night' and/or with a numeral, always mean a literal solar day. The way it is done so in Genesis --morning, evening, the first day / morning, evening, the second day, etc.-- can only mean a literal solar day."

Well, above interpretation of "literal solar day" is pretty childish. During first three days of creation "solar day" didn't exist since light to govern the day was created on day fourth. Therefore creation DAY has nothing to do with solar day and is probably worth of couple of billion solar years.

March 24, 2014 at 7:17 am PST
#5  Salonsar War - Shillong, Kentucky

Hey Jacek,
You made a good point there. If 'solar' is 'of the sun' and the sun was created on day 3, then 'literal solar day' would not fit the line. It should have read something like 'literal 24-hour day'. Nevertheless, the point I was trying to make was that the 'day' in genesis can not be anything other than the normal 24-hour day we experience now.

Please note-- the light and darkness to govern day and night was created on DAY 1, NOT Day 4. The sun was created on day 4, NOT the light. The Earth was also created on day 1, and all it takes to have a day-night cycle is a rotating Earth and light coming from one direction.

>Genesis 1:3-5 : And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the FIRST DAY.

Again, there is no room even for 1 year (in the genesis 'day'), leave alone a billion years.

Friend, God is the author of the Bible, and the message he wants to convey to us from the very first chapter itself is very strong and that's the reason why the language he used here is so detailed and rich in expression that it leaves no room for metaphor or any other explanation.

Big bang or small bang, it's God's Word I trust most.

> Isaiah 40:8 : The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

God Bless.

March 24, 2014 at 11:26 am PST
#6  Abbott Lee - Chatsworth, New Jersey

I urge those that have concerns about creation / evolution; and the six days of creation, to keep our limited human capacity to understand the infinite ability of God in its proper prospective. For those who take the six days of creation literally, there would appear to be a conflict of timing, i.e. six days vs millions of years; however, this conflict only exists if one denies God’s ability to do in six days, what appears to man to have taken millions of years. This mentality of denial would also conflict with scripture concerning the first miracle of Jesus when he turned water into fine wine at the wedding of Canna. Enologists understand that the natural process of grape juice and stems becoming wine takes several years for fine wine. Scripture clearly states that, Jesus turned water into fine wine instantly at the wedding of Canna. God at times transcends the natural course of the science that God himself created; miracles are an example of this. Just because we do not understand why or how God does something, does not mean that we do not believe what God has done.
In my opinion, the order of creation (days 1-6) in Genesis Chapter 1 is very consistent with; the primeval atom theory, speciation, and evolution. The first chapter of Genesis describes; creation of heaven and earth (matter) from nothing, what God created and in what order in which He created it (time frame) and why he did so. God instructed all the kinds of life form to be fertile. Then God created mankind in his image and gave us dominion over all living things. I see no reference to how God did this. True science is the how which God has created. I do not think that there is a conflict between good science and scripture. How could there be since God created it? We must be careful not to judge scientific theory based on distortion / abuse of that theory, by someone who rejects God and “attempts to prove God is either not real, or not necessary”
Historically, the science of creation / evolution has been largely advanced by the Judeo–Christian faith’s love for and longing to understand more about God, and his genius, orderly design of creation. This knowledge has in many ways been paramount for Christians to fulfill Christ’s command to love one another, especially thru advancements in medicine and food production.
Another issue is teaching Genesis in public schools: Genesis should be taught as an ancient historical document which is highly compatible and complementary to modern theory of creation and evolution (which we know is God’s science)

March 29, 2014 at 1:17 pm PST
#7  Salonsar War - Shillong, Kentucky

Friends,
Out of love and with gentleness, and for wont of space here, I exhort and urge you to please go through 'The Traditional Catholic Doctrine of Creation' in www.kolbecenter.org. Here you will read about the Traditional, Patristic, Magisterial, TRUE and purely Catholic teaching on Creation with quotes from Popes, Bishops, Councils and Fathers, urging us to uphold special creation and the literal historical truth of Genesis 1-11.
Friends, there is ABSOLUTELY no room for evolution or long ages in the Creation account. Evolution (Macro-evolution, to be precise) is a COMPLETELY FALSE doctrine, the main objective of which is to mislead Christians and keep us away from the fullness of truth of our Creator.
The Church affirms and urges us to admire and give all credit to our Creater for all his works (cosmos, life, etc). There is no doubt about that but we Catholics have to move on, get our basics and foundation right (Genesis account of Creation) and start defending our Faith, because the enemy has already sensed our weakness in this matter (our acceptance of evolution as a viable answer to our origins) and has already made inroads (theistic evolution being taught in catholic schools and seminaries!!). We need to wake up!! We need to protect our children from the culture of death!
Evolution is of the devil--plain and simple. God created us specially and in his image and we did NOT evolve from sub-primates.
The order of creation (days 1-6) in Genesis Chapter 1 is NOT AT ALL consistent with; the primeval atom theory, speciation, and evolution.
Genesis is NOT compatible and complementary to modern theory of creation and evolution (which we know is the devil’s science).
The 'conflict' of timing (6 days vs millions of years) is absent when you read Scripture. Let's not forget that the 'idea' of millions of years did not come from the Bible but from outside God's word, and that too, only in the last few centuries.

If we literally accept and believe what Jesus said about the Eucharist (eat his body and drink his blood), then why don't we literally believe what he said about his Creation (for in 6 days, he created...). The language of Genesis 1 is so beautiful, why do we want to corrupt it with ideas and words like evolution, billions of years and worse --'theistic evolution'.
If evolution (without God) is a lie, then 'theistic evolution' is a bigger lie, because it comes from those who already believe in him and are exposed to his Word.

Friends, I am sorry if my words hurt and if I have not been gentle, but this topic is so close to my heart and I truly want us Catholics to guard ourselves and our children against false teachings.
Trent, I thank you for posting this topic and for hearing us all.
God Bless.

March 31, 2014 at 12:06 pm PST
#8  Andrew Miller - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Evolution is not of the devil; it is of science, borne of the beautiful minds that God gave us. Science takes physical evidence and makes reasonable conclusions based on that evidence, but does not speak a word about God or Creation; that is the purview of religion, and our Holy Catholic Church has agreed many times that evolution is compatible with our faith, given a few parameters which we would both accept.

Your views are not unprincipled, nor are they incompatible with our faith, but they are incompatible with science, lest you believe in some sort of trickster God. I would rather believe in the method that honors and respects both God's word and the marvelous intellects that he gave us.

April 13, 2014 at 9:35 pm PST
#9  Lee Harris - Milwaukie, Oregon

Hi Trent, this isn't directly related to the blog post - but in your video "Who is Jesus" you refuted the "Zeitgeist" video claim that Sirius lined up with three other stars on December 25th by asserting that "Stars don't move in relation to each other. It's astronomically impossible." My question is: Is it impossible? Isn't everything in the Universe moving in relation to everything else through expansion (except those objects held together by binding force)? What about rotating binary stars? I must be misunderstanding something, because I know from your work that you're well aware of these things...

May 8, 2014 at 8:05 pm PST

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