This week’s DYK is from Chapter Six of “God and Spirituality” by Glenn Chesnut: An eternal universe, or one with a beginning in time? The theory of the Big Bang, which said that the universe had a beginning in time, went to the beginning of the twentieth century: Edwin Hubble published his first observations on the red shift (expanding universe), in 1929. But in reaction to this, some physicists and astronomers tried to come up with arguments which would show that the physical universe had no beginning in time and that it was eternal and had always existed. Many of them openly acknowledged that their primary motivation was to undermine the idea of God. If the universe had always existed, then (they believed) there would no longer be any need for a God.
So what was called the steady-state theory, for example, defended by scientists like Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold, and Herman Bondi, argued that the universe has been kept in existence from all eternity, in spite of its perpetual expansion, by the continual spontaneous appearance of new matter, in space. Other astronomers and physicists tried to devise cyclic models, such as the theory of an oscillatory universe, in their attempt to deny any beginning to the universe. In theories of this sort, it was argued that each Big Bang introduced an expansionary phase which continued until gravitational attraction finally halted the expansion and started a period of contraction which ended in a Big Crunch. But out of that, another Big Bang would explode, followed by another contraction into a Big Crunch, and so on, in such a way that the universe would continue to exist—alternately expanding and contracting—for all eternity.
The discovery in 1964 of the cosmic microwave background radiation which had been predicted in the theory of the Big Bang put an end to these particular attacks. It is now generally acknowledged that the Big Bang theory is fundamentally correct: that our universe had a beginning in time around 13.7 billon years ago (according to most current calculations), where it exploded into existence at a point in space and began an expansion which is still going on and is still accelerating.
Atheistic physicists and astronomers who upheld the theory of the Big Bang tried to fend off any talk about God at work in this event by referring to it as a “singularity,” a word which gave a quasi-scientific aura to that part of the theory. But what the word singularity means is an event which is like no other events which science has ever observed and which seem to violate the laws of nature at the most basic level. In old fashioned English an event of this sort is called (and has been called for many centuries), not a singularity, but a supernatural event. That means exactly the same thing, but makes it far clearer that the present universe came into existence out of the great eternal Mystery, that ground of being which Jews, Christians, and Muslims call God. Attempts are still being made to devise theories which would account for the existence of the universe where everything could be explained on the grounds of natural physical law, without bringing in any concept of a supernatural being. But all of these theories involve the claim, at one level or another, that one has successfully devised a perpetual motion machine by claiming they have gotten around the problem of the fist law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy) as well as the second law of thermodynamics (entropy and arrow of time problem). But a perpetual motion machine is still a piece of hokum, the sort of thing that is only peddled by con-men and frauds, even if we build one as big as the universe. Next issue: How the utopian fantasies of modern atheism turned sour.