Who put the bang in the big bang
Special to the Western Catholic
February 21st, 2011
that the universe started with a "big bang" out of an unimaginably
small, hot and dense structure was a fascinating discovery.
It suggested that the universe had a beginning. But why did it
happen? Christians point to God as the ultimate cause of the
universe and in his sermon on the feast of the Epiphany, Pope
Benedict reminded us of this.
Recent discussion on this topic followed the publishing of books
about a physical theory that explains why the big bang happened.
For a long time, physicists had argued that questions about the
cause of the big bang are meaningless as the big bang is also the
origin of time, so there can be nothing before it. Others argued
that the universe's expansion would eventually end and turn into a
contraction, and what we call the big bang is just one of an eternal
cycle of universes forming and collapsing again.
The most recent physical theories emerge out of attempts to explain
all the forces of nature in one unified way, a "theory of
everything." In this theory, our universe is just one of many
universes that emerge somewhat like bubbles in boiling water.
The cosmos in which these universes form is seen as timeless or
eternal and defined by nothing more than the laws of physics. Our
universe has a beginning and an end, but the universe-creating
cosmos simply exists.
This is a fascinating theory. The mathematics behind it is far too
difficult for me to understand, so I am in no position to judge its
validity. My interest is how this relates to the understanding of
reality beyond what we can observe and measure. Is this theory the
answer to the question why there is something rather than nothing?
We are creatures of this universe and it is fundamentally impossible
for us to make any observations of universes other than our own. If
they existed, we could never know them.
Mathematical theories explaining the origin of the universe are
therefore metaphysics, not physics. They are not about the physical
world, but about why there is a physical world. And I readily admit:
if string theory becomes a theory of everything that can also
explain the big bang, it would be a tremendous success for the human
intellect. I hope they got it right.
However, my faith in God the Father, the creator of heaven and
earth, remains entirely unshaken. Should I believe that the ultimate
cause of everything is eternally existing laws of physics, or that
it is the triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit? If the physical
world is fully explained by the laws of physics, were there really
nothing left to explain?
Rather than thinking about the big bang, it is the experience of
being a human person that should be the starting point of our
metaphysics. As persons in relationship with other persons, knowing
and (I hope) loving each other, we are able to grasp that the
meaning of our lives goes beyond what is known as physics.
The nature of this "beyond" must come out of the knowledge of love
and what it means to be a person. This points to the relationships
between the divine persons of the Trinity as the true reason why we
exist and why there is a cosmos with laws of physics for us to
(This article was originally published on Brother Joachim's online
blog where he writes about science and religion:
More writings by Joachim
Ostermann, OFM can be found on