God and the Big Bang

This essay was written as part of my Master’s degree and looks at the way in which God may be understood in a contemporary context, with relation to the Big Bang cosmological understanding of the origins of the universe.

1.0 Introduction

Since the Hubble Deep Space telescope captured images that suggested an expanding universe, the theory of the Big Bang has served as the most widely accepted account of how everything in existence came into being. The question of our origins had, up until this point, been largely answered by theologians such as Anselm, Aquinas and Paley; they each offered a philosophical argument for the existence of God which appeared to demonstrate that the cause of everything rested with the divine. The introduction of Big Bang cosmology into contemporary thought changed the way in which humanity understood the origins of the universe and called the traditional doctrine of God as creator, into question.

[The] exaltation of science is…implicitly made at the expense of the humanities, which include theology and religious studies. (Peacocke 2001: 5)

Arthur Peacocke highlights that science appears to have eclipsed theology, which in turn has led many to reject traditional religious claims about the origins of the universe; this is arguably because the two fields of study offer contradictory accounts. Theologian Charles Raven suggests that we must not categorise the universe into things that are spiritual and physical, that instead we must ‘tell a single tale which shall treat the whole universe as one and indivisible’ (Raven cit. McGrath 2010: 49). Whilst this goal may seem impossible, there exist theologians who attempt to achieve this.

This essay aims to analyse contemporary approaches to the theology of God that appear to acknowledge Big Bang cosmology. By challenging the apparent contradictions posed by secular[1] Big Bang cosmology, this essay aims to assess the claim that belief in God is incompatible with scientific knowledge.

1.1 Setting the debate into context

There are two main elements that contribute to the context of this discussion. The first is founded in the relationship between science and theology, in particular, religion as a whole. The second element of the debate is an issue surrounding the language use seen in the Old Testament account of creation and the subsequent theologies of God that have emerged from it.

1.1.1 Modes of Interaction between Science and Religion

Alister McGrath discusses the common modes of interaction between the fields of science and religion, of which there are four: (1) conflict, (2) independence, (3) dialogue and (4) integration. The context of this essay comes from the fact that science and religion and often seen to be in conflict. In order to fully understand this context, the relevant modes of interaction between science and religion will be discussed.

Perhaps the easiest position to acknowledge is that of (1) conflict. McGrath helpfully points out that this model of interaction may also be understood as ‘warfare’ (McGrath 2010: 45); evidence of this may be seen in examples from social networking website, Twitter:

There’s no debate between science (reality) and religion (superstitious mythology). (@logicrocks on twitter.com accessed 14/10/14)

The argument isn’t evolution vs creation; it’s logic and reason vs superstition and ignorance. (@simba_83 on twitter.com accessed 14/10/14)

Despite the above examples being particularly focused on the biological principal of evolution, what these tweets show is evidence of conflict between science and religion. The authors of these tweets have dismissed religion entirely and have adopted a purely scientific approach to understanding, in this case, the origins of life. Richard Dawkins is often accepted as the most prolific proponent of this position (McGrath 2010: 46); his 2006 publication The God Delusion is perhaps the best known example of his position against religious ‘truth’ claims.

It must be noted however, that the hostility between science and religion is not one-sided. Conservative sects of Christian and Islam hold extremely strong views in opposition to scientific ‘truth’ claims (McGrath 2010: 46). One example of this is the Westboro Baptist Church found in the state of Kansas in the United States (www.godhatesfags.com accessed 30/11/14). In a recent interview with Jack Wu, a politically engaged member of the church, it is made clear that this Christian group views science in a very negative way. When asked about teaching evolution in Kansas schools, he said:

So we go by his word in Genesis…where it says [H]e created the heaven and the earth…that’s what the truth is. On the other hand you have evolution, a consensus of lies started by an editor named Satan. (Wu cit. Mehta 2012: www.patheos.com accessed 30/11/14)

The above discussed examples demonstrate only a fraction of the debate between science and religion. In the context of this essay, it can be suggested that the conflict between science and religion is based on an  incompatibility between the two. Science can often be seen to make belief in God redundant (akin to the views expressed by Dawkins), and religious beliefs about the origin of existence appear to be incapable of ‘fitting in’ with scientific theories.

The theories posed throughout this essay fall into the mode of (3). Dialogue moves past conflict and attempts to build a bridge between the two academic fields; in this respect, proponents within each field acknowledge and respect each other’s views and remain open to input and influence by their respective opposite (McGrath 2010: 47-48). The (2) independence model may be seen as limiting in the quest for ‘peace’ between science and religion, and dialogue recognises this. Stephen Jay Gould puts forward a theory of independence in his Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) (1997) in which he claims that because science and religion are expressing ideas about distinctly different concepts, then the two cannot have any interaction with each other (Gould 1997: 7).

The NOMA theory posited by Gould appears attractive in that, should such a position be adopted, it may lead to a reduction in academic tension as science and religion would be seen to ‘ignore’ each other. However, dialogue provides us with the acknowledgment that in the contemporary world, science and religion will at some point cross paths with each other, and so the total isolation of these seemingly opposing fields is unattainable.

1.1.2 The Issue of ‘World’

One cannot deny the fact that the Bible plays a pivotal role in doctrinal formation. The understanding of God as creator comes from the book of Genesis: ‘In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth…’ (Genesis 1:1 ESV). ‘The Creation of the World’ is the title bestowed upon Genesis 1 in the English Standard Version[2] and is the focal point of the following discussion. The term ‘world’ and ‘Earth’ are often understood to be synonymous, as a definition of ‘world’ demonstrates: ‘the Earth; the Earth and its inhabitants’ (Chambers Concise Dictionary 1997: 1239). Although the opening line of Genesis has provided Jews, Christians and theologians with an understanding of the origin of existence, one could argue that it is in fact extremely limiting.

An example of the use of ‘world’ in theological thought can be found in Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument. Aquinas writes:

We find that there is a sequence of efficient causes in the observable world. (Aquinas 1997: 11) (italics added)

Whilst Aquinas’ language use is actually in-line with modern astronomical language concerning the universe[3], the fact that his theological account appears to concern the existence of God solely with planet Earth is troubling. Of course Aquinas’ context must be taken account of here. The notion of the universe did not exist during the Middle Ages and thus Aquinas cannot be expected to have had any knowledge of such, but the fact remains that much of theology that relates to creation uses the term ‘world’, which is inherently limiting and defeating if God is to be understood as the creator of everything.

It is clear from the description of the world which God is creating that it is meant to be understood as the Earth: ‘…and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters’ (Genesis 1:2 ESV). For a theology of God to be consistent with what is known of existence away from Earth, then it must acknowledge what science can show us through telescopes and observation. If God cannot have any theological significance to the other planets, solar systems and galaxies that we can see to exist, then what does this say of the traditional understanding of God? If God only created the planet Earth, what of his omnipotence? Would that mean that there are other gods for the different planets, thus eradicating God’s uniqueness and position of the sole origin of everything? This debate goes much further than silencing the arguments that exist in social media; the understanding of God’s relationship to the rest of the cosmos is of crucial importance, not only to understanding Christianity, but our existence as a whole.

What this suggests is the need for a theology of God that, whilst remaining true to scriptural claims about God’s nature, must also be founded in logical and reasoned theories that too remain consistent with contemporary scientific evidence.

The discussion between cosmology and God[4] is a ‘key theme in the theology-science debate’ (Clayton 2010: 347), and further emphasises the need for the issue to be explored more thoroughly. Perhaps the biggest scientific hypothesis that theology must overcome is that of the Big Bang theory, understood as a cosmological singularity from which everything in existence (not just the Earth as seen in classical creation narrative and subsequent theologies) once originated (Clayton 2010: 347). Indeed much like Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument that insisted that everything in existence stemmed from a single cause, the Big Bang, based on astronomical observations of the universe, has come to be the most accepted theory for the origins of the cosmos. Many within atheistic circles regard the classic Big Bang hypothesis as ‘inconsistent with’ the existence of God (Smith 2003: 196).

1.2 Atheism and the Big Bang

It is important to discuss the contemporary understanding of what is meant by the Big Bang. As the exact nature of the physics and astronomy go beyond the discourse of this essay, the discussion offered of it will be brief.

Observations made by astronomer Thomas Hubble in 1929 suggested that the stars he saw were in fact moving away from us on Earth, and that this ‘phenomenon’ would be shared no matter where one was observing from in the universe (Everitt 2005: 68). From this it was deduced that the further back we go in cosmological history, the smaller the universe becomes, hence at some point roughly 15 billion years ago, there existed a single point from which the entirety of existence came (Everitt 2005: 69). This single point of infinite density in which the universe as a whole once resided may often be understood as, what Stephen Hawking describes as, a singularity.

For the purposes of this discussion, let us take Hawking’s own description of a singularity in that it is ‘something that intersects every past-directed spacetime path’ (Smith 2003: 197-198), and so points to the beginning of the universe. Smith explains that Hawking’s theory of singularities is merely proof that the Big Bang singularity ‘happened’, it does not account for the nature of the singularity; it is Hawking’s theory of ignorance that provides us with this discussion (Smith 2003: 198).

Hawking describes a singularity as:

[a] place where the classical concepts of space and time break down as do all the known laws of physics… (Hawking cit. Smith 2003: 198)

This breaking down of the physical laws of the universe does not happen because of humanity’s ignorance or a lack of understanding of what actually happens, more it reflects the inability for us to predict the future series of events, akin to the unpredictability of quantum level physics (Hawking cit. Smith 2003: 198). Herein we may find our first objection. Smith asserts that the Big Bang ‘event’ was, in hindsight, unpredictable and without any set course or direction; further to this he goes so far as to claim that the Big Bang may only be serving as a theory best suited to our understanding at this time, until a more complex and thought-out quantum mechanical theory can be introduced, as is ultimately suggested in Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (1992).

One of the classical ways in which God is thought of in Christian theology is that ‘He’ is ‘unchanging and self-sufficient’ (McGrath 2011: 204). Taking what we know of the scientific understanding of the Big Bang as offered by Smith and Hawking, then it is clear to see this first contradiction and inconsistency. For God to exist as the singularity from which the universe was created, ‘He’ would have to demonstrate the observable characteristics of such a singularity; such traits would infringe on ‘His’ immutability and would thus create a different God to that described in traditional theology.

Supporting the idea of incompatibility between the Big Bang and God, Richard Dawkins sets out to argue ‘why there almost certainly is no God’[5]. His work is mostly concerned with biological science and its incompatibility with God, so this essay shall turn to look at his refutations of Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument, found in Chapter 3 of The God Delusion.

According to Dawkins:

Even if we allow the dubious luxury of…a terminator to an infinite regress…simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God. (Dawkins 2006: 101)

He rejects the idea that the terminating point of the infinite regress of space-time, is God. In this rejection, he makes it clear that he does not see any logical reasoning to attribute the ‘terminator’ with the classic characteristics of God; these being omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence (and omni-benevolence). He explains his rejection based on the scientific fact that the smallest component that something can be broken down and traced back to is an atom. He argues that there is nothing to suggest that the component to which the universe can be ‘traced back to’ is God (Dawkins 2006: 102).

There appears to be no relationship between this understanding of the origins of the universe and a theocentric account. There is nothing written in Smith’s nor Hawking’s work that alludes to the possibility that a singularity, defined as where the basics of physical and mathematical law break down (Hawking 1992: 46), also has properties of an all-loving, all-powerful and all-knowing God.

Hawking later discusses in A Brief History of Time that, taking a quantum understanding of the origins of the universe, the way in which we understand the universe may be completely different to that expressed in a Big Bang cosmology. Hawking discusses the idea that the universe may actually be ‘boundless’, without any edges and without beginning or end (Hawking 1992: 140-141). Whilst he still accepts the possibility of the existence of an original singularity in the form of the Big Bang (Hawking 1992: 139), under the notion of a limitless universe he questions the place and relevance of God:

But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator? (Hawking 1992: 141)

The conclusion that may be drawn from the above discussion is that scientific accounts of the Big Bang singularity are incompatible with traditional theological accounts of God. There appears to be no relationship between the physical and observable existence of singularities[6], and the theological suppositions of the nature of God’s existence. This apparent contradiction between the two spheres of intellectual discipline has led to a lack of communication and ultimately, conflict. In addition to this, the limitless universe theory suggested by Hawking seems to remove the possibility for an act of creation, as is traditionally understood in theological accounts of God. As with the dialogic mode of interaction, this essay will now explore theologies of God that attempt to break down this contradiction, in order to accept both the Big Bang theory and God’s existence.

2.0 God and the Big Bang

2.1 God as ‘personal Creator’

William Lane Craig writes with Quentin Smith in Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology (2003); a discussion between a theist (Craig) and an atheist (Smith) as to how best the Big Bang and the origins of the universe should be understood. We have already seen Smith’s argument[7] regarding the incompatibility of God and the scientific understanding of the Big Bang, which was also supported by Stephen Hawking. In Craig’s chapters, he attempts to refute Smith’s claims of incompatibility and ultimately, God’s non-existence.

Craig begins his theistic defence by setting out the classical Cosmological Argument, this is to say that:

  • Everything that begins to exist has cause for it to come into existence.
  • The universe exists.
  • Therefore, there must be a cause of the universe.

At this point, nothing can be understood of the nature of this causing agent of the universe and by Craig’s own admission, this merely argues for the necessity for the universe to have a cause (Craig 2003: 4). Craig’s argument requires an expansion that is fully grounded in the Cosmological Argument akin to that of Aquinas.

One of the major assertions by Craig is that the universe was created by ‘something beyond it and greater than it’ (Craig 2003: 64). This could be argued to be perhaps the most commonly accepted statement of faith by theists upon reflection of their beliefs of the origins of the universe, the common failing however is that such a claim is rarely substantiated. Craig expands his Cosmological Argument by discussing the impossibility of an ‘actual infinity’ in the regress of time (Craig 2003: 9). He states that whilst the concept of infinity may work in mathematics and theoretical physics, it remains just that: theoretical (Craig 2003: 9). He uses an analogy of a library to explain this point.

Craig imagines a library with an infinite number of books that are either coloured red or black. He asks us to imagine that there then exists an infinite number of books for every colour that exists (Craig 2003: 12). This leads us to attempt to conceptualise an infinitely large library which, from anyone’s perspective seems absurd. Although an abstract metaphor, it does in fact demonstrate Craig’s initial point: whilst infinity may exist as a mathematical concept, it cannot be applied to anything in the real world.

When we consider the fact that a Big Bang singularity as explained by Smith and Hawking would have existed in the real world, we must then attribute to it the characteristics of non-mathematical, real world entities. Once we have done this, we may be able to conclude that the singularity credited as being the beginning of the Big Bang is itself finite. Despite Hawking’s definition of a singularity explicitly suggesting that the laws of physics and mathematics do not bind singularities, due to the theoretical breakdown of said laws, it must be understood that if something is itself finite, then an efficient agent must have caused it.

The next part of Craig’s Cosmological Argument owes part of its formulation to Immanuel Kant:

…let us assume that it has a beginning…there must have been a time in which the world was not…no coming to be of a thing is possible in an empty time, because no part of such a time possesses…a distinguishing condition of existence rather than of non-existence… (Kant cit. Craig 2003: 65)

Based on what we have discussed on the finitude of the Big Bang singularity, it must be understood that there existed a period in cosmic history before the Big Bang singularity occurred. Kant describes this period as an ‘empty time’, where the coming into being of something is strictly impossible; ‘no condition exists at one moment rather than another’ (Craig 2003: 65) which could have caused the universe to come into being. What Craig can be seen to be suggesting is that there must have existed some eternal being capable of choosing to create the Big Bang singularity, as had there not been said being, the conditions for such an anomaly (scientifically speaking) to occur, would have never arisen. We know that universe exists because of our own existence and consciousness, thus reinforcing the fact that there must have been an efficient cause that willingly created ex-nihilo (Craig 2003: 67).

2.1.1 Challenges to a ‘personal Creator’

Craig’s use of Kant’s philosophy and his critique of actual infinities may appear robust but it is by no means without challenge. Let us first take Craig’s argument against the existence of actual infinities; Nicholas Everitt challenges Craig’s metaphor on logical grounds. He accepts that the metaphor successfully demonstrates a logical absurdity, as we know that there cannot in any possibility, exist an infinite number of written books, as there are only a finite number of people in history who have written a finite number of books (Everitt 2005: 65). This however, tells us nothing of actual infinities; the metaphor talks about the characteristics of an analogous library containing imaginary books, and thus has no logical force (Everitt 2005: 65).

The philosophy of Kant, upon which Craig relies for his own argument in favour of the existence of a ‘personal Creator’, could be argued to be based heavily on the idea of the non-existence of actual infinities. If infinity can indeed exist, as Hawking has been shown to suggest, then what room is there left for a Creator? However, the challenge to Craig’s metaphor whilst accurate, cannot be seen to answer the problem of actual infinities as a whole. Admittedly, Craig’s metaphor does appear weak, but that does not suggest that his argument against actual infinities is to be disregarded completely. It is extremely difficult for one to imagine an infinite regress of time to which no initial cause is present and based on this, Kant’s philosophy can be awarded credit; there must have existed some cause in order for the Big Bang event to occur. The issue lies with Kant and then Craig’s assumption that whatever this first cause is, it must be some form of ‘personal Creator’, lending itself to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Craig philosophically demonstrates how the existence of God may be understood in conjunction with a Big Bang cosmology. However, Craig fails to answer whether the God of his argument is in fact the God of traditional Christian theology (see Craig 2003: 67). Whilst Craig’s philosophy is deeply rooted in reason and experience of our own existence, he seemingly neglects any aspect of scripture when constructing his argument. Although the notion of a personal God is found in scripture, it is not elaborated upon by Craig and perhaps could be grounds upon which to dismiss his theory. However, regardless of this fact, Craig still provides a successful logical theory as to assert God’s existence and involvement with the Big Bang.

As the coming discussion of the Anthropic Principle aims to demonstrate, when considered in conjunction with the idea explained above, the existence of a ‘personal Creator’ that appears consistent with traditional accounts of God is heavily implied.

2.2 The Anthropic Principle

Alister McGrath criticises Dawkins’ scepticism surrounding Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument by justifying that its initial formulation in the Middle Ages did not serve the purpose of proving God’s existence, more it acted to ‘settle inner consistency’ about belief in God (McGrath & McGrath 2007: 7); it confirmed why believers’ faith was justified, rather than attempting to convince non-believers. Based on this, to criticise the Cosmological Argument on the grounds that it is erroneous to assume that the ‘Uncaused Cause’ is God, is irrelevant and does not formulate enough of a contention to the issue explored in this essay. What is needed however, is a discussion of how God’s existence may be justified by examining what we are able to determine by observation and rational enquiry.

The idea of God as a designer found support as early as Aquinas and was fully articulated in the 19th Century in William Paley’s Natural Theology (Bowker 2004: 960). The classic Teleological Argument formulated by Aquinas and Paley may only be seen to concern itself with the idea of creatio continua, or ‘continuous creation’ (Russell & Wegter-McNelly 2002: 55). As Russell and Wegter-McNelly point out, the idea of continuous creation is a topic that should be left to the ‘discussion of biological evolution’ (2002: 55), as Darwin’s theory highlights how life on Earth continues to evolve (be created). Dawkins criticises Paley’s argument on the grounds that Darwin’s theory of evolution by Natural Selection has rendered the place for a designer God irrelevant (see Dawkins 2006: 103). What is required, is a teleological understanding of God that accounts for the creation of the universe; a justification for accepting a creatio ex nihilo cosmology.

            ‘The overall chemical composition of the universe was determined by         physical conditions during the first seconds of the Big Bang…the        elements on which life depends are the product of nuclear reactions   within stars.’ (Osborn 2011: 152)

Lawrence Osborn offers us a small insight into how the numerous elements and chemicals that exist today came into being. From an atheistic perspective, it could be argued that nothing more needs to be said on this matter, however the philosophical idea of Anthropic Coincidences suggests that there may be more to be said about the early universe.

These coincidences are so named because it is understood that if the conditions in the few seconds after the Big Bang had differed by up to as little as 3 per cent, then the chemical composition of the universe would have been dramatically different to what is understood to be now (Osborn 2011: 152). Should the chemicals required for the formation of stars not have been formed, then it is justified to say that the elements on which life is dependant would too, not have formed.

Arthur Peacocke states that the conditions that allowed for the emergence of the vast array of living organisms seen present on planet Earth are so ‘finely-tuned’, that they could not have happened by mere accident; Peacocke’s line of argument infers that a ‘personal Creator’, akin to that seen in Craig’s philosophy, is responsible for the creation event (see Peacocke 1993: 106). This personal ‘Creator’, Peacocke argues, is ‘fundamental to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition’ (1993: 106) and adds a new dimension to the debate of God’s involvement with the creation of everything.

The personal Creator to which both Craig and Peacocke have now referred is a recurring theme in this discussion. However, Peacocke’s explanation of this Creator allows us to infer more of God’s nature than Craig’s initial Cosmological philosophy. If we take into account the idea that the conditions in which to create life are immensely improbable to naturally replicate, then we may speculate that this Creator holds an element of all-powerfulness, in that He[8] was able to overcome all natural boundaries in order to manipulate the conditions to ensure that life would emerge. Further to this, the mere fact that humanity is able to contemplate and ponder its own existence clearly demonstrates this Creator’s benevolence, in that He maintains the conditions (certainly of our planet’s place in the Solar System) at a constant, so as to ensure that life can continue to flourish. Peter Hodgson explains:

            Since we are indeed here, then of course the universe must be such as    to allow our emergence. (Hodgson 2005: 188)

The notion of a telos (purpose) of the creation of the universe finds sympathy with what has come to be understood as the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP). In contrast to the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP), which states that the fine-tuning of the universe created conditions that could have led to the emergence of life (Ewart 2013: 4), the SAP determines that this fine-tuning of the universe created conditions that would have inevitably led to the emergence of life (Hodgson 2005: 188). Hodgson uses the examples of the values for the velocity of light and the mass of electrons; these values exist as constants, bound by the requirement to allow the eventual evolution of humanity (2005: 188). Freeman Dyson, a theoretical physicist, maintains that because there is such a large number of these ‘coincidences’ that are in fact implicit for the emergence of life, then ‘the universe knew we were coming’ (Dyson cit. Ewart 2013: 3).

If we take the SAP as the most convincing form of this argument, the eventual emergence of humans, capable of contemplating its own existence[9] some billions of years after the initial Big Bang creation event, was the personal Creator’s plan from the outset. The purpose (telos) of the universe was to allow humanity to emerge; this was accomplished by the numerous finely-tuned conditions that have sustained our planet’s capability to support life for more than 250 million years[10]. In addition to supporting a revitalised version of a teleological argument, the notion of the universe’s purpose may also be seen to support evidence for God’s omniscience. It is also important to note that, the fact that God was aware of the conditions required in order to allow for the eventual emergence of humanity billions of years into the future, demonstrates that He has the power of all-knowing.

The Anthropic Principle, as keeping with the trend of this discussion, is deeply rooted in logical thought based on philosophical and scientific theory. Although not explicitly stated in any account of the Anthropic Principle, the SAP appeals to a theistic interpretation of God (cf. McGrath 2010: 155). The God of theism and His attributes find their source within scripture[11], thus  strengthening the SAP’s contributions to this discussion. Where Craig’s approach  to understanding God and the Big Bang alone failed, was its apparent lack of appeal to scriptural sources. Here, the SAP bases its argument on justifying the existence of the traditional theistic God found within Christian scripture; it achieves this justification through rational enquiry and by applying the experience of our existence in the universe.

2.2.1 Challenges to the Anthropic Principle

Despite the fact that the Anthropic Principle appears to have offered a revitalised and contemporary version of a teleological argument, there exists challenges to its integrity as a means of explaining the existence of God in a way that can be seen consistent with Big Bang cosmology. Perhaps surprisingly to some, not all these challenges are articulated by those within scientific circles; it is actually the case that numerous scientists are in fact supportive of the Anthropic Principle (see Barr 2011: 139), albeit not explicitly for the purpose of proving God’s existence.

Alister McGrath comments on the point that from these Anthropic Coincidences, it is derived that the universe is understood as anthropocentric (McGrath 2010: 154). Arthur Peacocke shares a discontent with the name of these coincidences and suggests that they be instead named ‘biotic principles’ (2001: 70), but the point of contention for McGrath remains the same even if we take account of Peacocke’s suggested redaction. McGrath criticises the Anthropic Principle on the basis that it appears to suggest that all potential life in the universe must be carbon-based. Many respected scientists hold the view that life on planets other than Earth is a distinct possibility (www.bbc.co.uk accessed 02/01/15); with these Anthropic Principles in mind, it assumes that any of this extraterrestrial life must share a similar make-up to that of organisms found on Earth:

            …our location within a biophilic universe inclines us to propose that the     entire cosmos possesses such properties… (McGrath 2010: 156)

Of course there is no proof to suggest that there is indeed any life in the universe other than that found on Earth, but the point remains that the Anthropic Principle assumes much about things that we cannot, under any current circumstances verify or falsify. The possibility of life existing elsewhere in the universe may call into question the entire human understanding of God and its relationship to Him; it is an area to which little theological enquiry has been awarded and so further discussion of which cannot take place.

Further objections to the Anthropic Principle find themselves when the possibility of multiple universes is considered. Stephen Hawking suggests that the SAP (Strong Anthropic Principle) invokes the idea of multiple universes in order for the theory to hold any credence; these universes may consist of different conditions, some of which could be completely hostile to the emergence of human life (Hawking 1992: 124).

Whilst the theory of multiple universes may still allow for the existence of God as Creator, the scientific rebuttal to God’s existence in this context is that the so called Anthropic Coincidences to which God has been credited for manufacturing, are in fact not coincidences at all! If indeed humanity inhabits but one of the many universes created as a result of the Big Bang singularity, we do so because the conditions of this specific universe allowed for the emergence of carbon-based life; it would have been impossible for carbon-based organisms to emerge in another of the multiple universes were the required conditions had not developed:

            …we appear in the one we do because it just happened to have the fine    tuning permitting us to do so. (Polkinghorne 1990: 23)

Following this line of argument it appears to reduce the apparent uniqueness of humanity’s place within the cosmos and with it, the teleological element of a personal Creator’s action in creating the universe. Humanity may think it that the conditions that allowed for its emergence were so improbable and coincidental, but perhaps it is mistaken. Perhaps it is just by scientific chance that such conditions existed; after all, had science been different, ‘we would not be here!’ (Hawking 1992: 125)

The challenges to the Anthropic Principle may appear robust enough to warrant its connection to the existence of God impermissible, but Polkinghorne makes a valid argument in defence of God’s existence. He states that as humans, we only have knowledge and experience of one universe and to speak of anything other than it is to enter the realm of metaphysics (Polkinghorne 1990: 23). It could be argued that what Polkinghorne is attempting to suggest, is that despite the theory of multiple universes, the one in which humanity inhabits is the one to which it owes its curiosity and enquiry. The arguments that lend themselves to supporting God’s involvement with fine-tuning the early universe do so successfully, and to speak of there existing one universe which is the way it is because of God’s will is not a meaningless statement. God created the universe the way it is so that beings, capable of coming to know Him, could evolve (Polkinghorne 1990: 23).

3.0 Conclusion

This essay has discussed ways in which the traditional theological understanding of God may be understood in a way that can be seen as consistent with Big Bang cosmology. The context of this debate has been clearly outlined; by discussing the conflict between science and religion demonstrated by proponents of both, and issues with language in the Genesis account of creation, the importance for this discussion was highlighted. Some of the most common challenges to the existence of God from both Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking were elaborated upon, in order to make clear the specific objections formulated by atheists, based on a scientific acceptance of Big Bang cosmology.

A philosophical/theological refutation of these challenges was sought by discussing Craig’s notion of the necessity for the existence of a ‘personal Creator’ and then the concept of the Anthropic Principle was discussed at length. Craig’s argument in favour of the existence of a personal Creator appeared philosophically sound, in that it used logic and reasoning to explain why a Creator was needed in order to ’cause’ the Big Bang singularity. It was found lacking however, in its failure to appeal to traditional theistic accounts of God found in scripture. When considered in conjunction with what is understood of the Anthropic Principle, the traditionally understood concepts of God’s nature may be explained and it further points to a teleological understanding of the universe, as God’s purpose (telos) was highlighted. The success of the Strong Anthropic Principle was highlighted; whilst still applying rationality and experience to its argument, its implied apology of the theistic God lent itself to having a firm basis within scripture.

The discussions against the Anthropic Principle appear to speculate much above the station of theology and indeed science. To speak of multiple universes and the supposed inaccuracy of assuming all life in the cosmos is not carbon-based, whilst offering interesting points of discussion, do nothing to solidly render the Anthropic Principle ineffectual. As Polkinghorne accurately argues, humanity is only capable of examining one universe, should that be in a scientific or theological way. We should focus our efforts into understanding the place that has been granted to us either by God, or by mere scientific miracle.

The discussion above is a clear example of where science and religion can be seen in dialogue with each other; such was an aim of this essay to demonstrate. Only through a continuation of such dialogue in the wider academic and indeed social spheres, can the conflict shown earlier in the discussion, be overcome.

4.0 Bibliography

Aquinas, T (1997) Thomas Aquinas on Proofs for the Existence of God in McGrath, A (ed) The Christian Theology Reader Oxford: Blackwell

Barr, S. M. (2011) Modern Physics and Ancient Faith Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame

Bowker, J (ed) (2004) The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions Oxford: Oxford University Press

Clayton, P (2010) Theology and the Physical Sciences in Ford, D (ed) The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology Since 1918 Oxford: Blackwell

Craig, W.L. (2003) The Finitude of the Past and Gods Existence in Craig, W.L. & Smith, Q Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology Oxford: Clarendon Press

Dawkins, R (2006) The God Delusion London: Transworld Publishers

Everitt, N (2005) The Non-Existence of God London; New York: Routledge

Ewart, P. (2013) The Physical Sciences and Natural Theology in J. H., Watts, F. & Manning, R. R. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology Brooke: (Oxford Handbooks Online, online publication date: June 2013) Oxford University Press

Gould, S. J. (1997) Nonoverlapping Magisteria; Natural History 106 (March 1997): 16-22; New York: Harmony Books pp. 269-283 accessed from http://www.colorado.edu/physics/phys3000/phys3000_fa11/StevenJGoulldNOMA.pdf (03/11/2014)

Hawking, S (1992) A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes London: Bantam Press

McGrath, A & McGrath, J.C. (2007) The Dawkins Delusion London: SPCK

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Scripture and Dictionary References

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Schwarz, C et al. (1997) Chambers Concise Dictionary Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd.

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BBC Extraterrestrial Life: available at

http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/space/universe/questions_and_ideas/extraterrestrial_life accessed on 02/01/15

Mehta, H (2012) An Interview with Jack Wu, the Westboro Baptist Church Member Running for Kansas State School Board: available at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/10/03/an-interview-with-jack-wu-the-westboro-baptist-church-member-running-for-kansas-state-school-board accessed on 30/11/14

Redd, N.T. (2013) How Big is the Universe?: available at http://www.space.com/24073-how-big-is-the-universe.html accessed on 29/10/14

Twitter: @logic_rocks Tweet from 14/10/14: available at https://twitter.com/logic_rocks/status/522131550109196289 accessed on 14/10/14

Twitter: @simba_83 Tweet from 14/10/14: available at https://twitter.com/simba_83/status/522132177052397571 accessed on 14/10/14

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[1] Strictly non-religious.

[2] The New English Bible (1970) Oxford; Cambridge: Oxford University Press; Cambridge University Press

[3] The observable universe relates to everything that is detectable by telescopes and satellites in the whole of space. See Redd, N.T. (2003) How Big is the Universe? on www.space.com.

[4] Philip Clayton refers to this as ‘creation’. See page 347 in Ford, D (et al.) (2010) The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology Since 1918 Oxford: Blackwell.

[5] To quote the title of Chapter 4 in The God Delusion.

[6] Singularities are found at the centre of Black Holes, where mathematical and physical laws seemingly fall apart (See Hawkins 1992: 86). The Big Bang singularity is similar in nature; nothing definitive can be said of the Big Bang singularity due to its purely theoretical nature.

[7] Section 1.2 of this essay.

[8] The pronoun ‘He’ is used in order to remain consistent with Christian language use when referring to God.

[9] As per Ewart’s language of ‘observers’. See (Ewart 2013: 4).

[10] 250 million years ago marks the beginning of the Triassic Period – the earliest period of time in which dinosaurs were the dominant species on the planet.

[11] Based on a definition of theism (Bowker 2004: 968).

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