The title of this column puns on the theater, modern science, and mid-1900s slang. I’ll get to some specifics about that later, but first I want to address a question I read recently in a scientific magazine: “In what direction of the sky did the Big Bang take place?”
I don’t know if the question was by a sincere, though ignorant questioner, or from someone who wanted to pooh-pooh modern science. The first type of questioner needs to be enlightened. The second type of questioner needs to be ignored. Modern science tells us that all things, and even space itself, had their origin in some sort of a big bang. So, if you want to look at the location of the big bang, look into a mirror for every part of you and even the space you occupy was once in the big bang!
As we look through our best telescopes, we see closer and closer to the activity of the big bang as it expands spherically around the entire universe. We are not looking at our own history, but rather at the type of history every part of the universe has undergone. To see our own history, we would need some sort of mirror to reflect it back to us. When we map the distance to the moon by radar, the signal that comes back to us is actually a bit of our history from about two-and-one-half seconds in the past.
While it it is not possible to see the details of our history (apart from home movies and the like), it is possible to see histories of other parts of the universe which were similar to our own. This is made possible by such instruments as the James Webb and Hubble telescopes. How big is the universe? You really don’t want to know, but I’ll tell you anyway! According to the Boston Museum of Science, the universe spans some 46 billion light years. That is the distance light travels in a year (about six trillion miles) multiplied by 46 billion years!
That 46 billion light years includes more than 15 billion light years our telescopes can see in all directions plus the thickness of the big bang frontier hidden by at least two layers of opaque ionization, plus the distance of expansion during the past 15 billion years.
The world as understood by our ancestors at the time the Bible was composed was much smaller; the sky, the dry land, the sea. The Book of Genesis describes the coming into existence of that world. It was by the creative power of God according to plan. The science was primitive (sky, land, sea), but the theology was secure: it came about by God’s plan, not by accident.
The world as understood by scholars today is vastly larger and more complex than what was understood 3,000 years ago by scholars of that time, but the theology is the same. God created all things according to plan. Whereas Genesis describes six “days” for creation according to tasks, not time, we now speak of ages of the cosmos and ages of development of the earth as geologic ages, i.e. periods of development, not time.
In Genesis, the plan is accomplished by the word of God, In our understanding today, the plan is guided by the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics along with various laws of physics, chemistry, geology, biology and evolution.
The Greek philosopher Parmenides, who died in 460 B.C., gave the world an important insight into reality. Some who have taken university courses may recognize the Latin form of that insight: “Ex nihilo, nihil fit.”
For those who are thankful they have forgotten the Latin language completely, that translates as: “From nothing, you get nothing.”
The Big Bang Theory says that everything was formed from a big bang. That would include space and time! So whether we are speaking of the beginning as described in Genesis or in the Big Bang Theory, there is still needed the creative event: “Let there be!”
Indeed, God made the scene, all the world to be seen, in a very BIG BANG .
Father Buote is a retired priest of the Fall River Diocese and a frequent contributor to The Anchor.