“Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.” St. Augustine
One year, after discussing “The Big Bang Theory” in the Biodesign Class, unbeknownst to me, Maria, a thoughtful, shy Latina student went to church the following Sunday. After the service, she approached her priest and asked, “Father, if God made the Universe, who made God?” The priest’s face turned red, he stooped down and whispered sharply in her ear, “We don’t ask questions like that!;” pivoted on his heel and stormed off.
“Why did he get angry with me?” she asked.
Not unlike the local priest, there is a story that the Pope once asked Stephen Hawking not to try to inquire about what happened before the Big Bang, and Hawking agreed. Perhaps, not because he wanted to comply with the pope’s wishes, but because it is fundamentally impossible to find out something that happened before the beginning of time. It is as if we walked into a movie theater that had a movie running for 14 billion years and tried to understand how it began.
In 397 A-D, Augustine of Hippo wrote, Confessions: Thirteen books, which, according to some scholars, is the greatest collection of books other than the Holy Bible. It had a profound impact on the evolution of Christianity and Western Civilization.
He may have formulated the first known version of the “Big Bang” theory by pointing out, “there was no ‘then’ when there was no time” and “when God created the Heavens and the Earth, he created time itself as well.”
In his early studies, Einstein favored The Steady-state Theory which my students thought was lame because it failed to address the beginning of the Universe. Later he arrived at his General Theory of Relativity, one of the rules of which states that time is fundamentally bound to matter and gravity, and that without matter there would be no time. Although his approach was different, the general idea was proposed by Augustine 1550 years earlier.Photo:
In 1929 Einstein was no doubt influenced by a major breakthrough when astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered “The Red Shift Theory,” which led to the “Big Bang Theory.” At first, he was skeptical and quipped, “I find the idea of a Universe with a beginning irritating.”
When students asked me what I thought about the “Big Bang Theory,” I suggested that it just might be the ultimate synchronicity. It is an unparalleled event that has no known cause. Currently scientists generally agree that the Universe came from a particle of “super-matter” about the size of a grain of sand. Perhaps synchronicities are God’s way of playing with us.
A group of scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, have spent billions of dollars searching for the “God Particle,” but have not succeeded. Although, in 2012 they discovered the Higgs boson particle, like all matter/energy its origin remains enigmatic. This would not surprise Meister Eckhart (13th century mystic/scientist/philosopher) who predicted that the answers to the great mysteries of the Universe will not be solved by science.
As I approached presenting the “Big Bang Theory” to each new class, I did so with great hope and enthusiasm that the lesson would become a pivotal event in the students’ learning process. I proposed that if scientists were willing to proclaim that the Big Bang was the origin of the Universe, they should also be willing to allow that a diametrically opposed event, perhaps a “Gib Gnab,” was also possible. In that case the Universe would deconstruct itself back to a state of, not only universal entropy, but absolute nothingness; the total absence of space and time. It was not uncommon for students to respond; “You are putting my brain in a bind!”
Astrophysicist Robert Jastro (God and the Astronomers) opined; “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the last mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
There is little doubt that Albert Einstein, one of the world’s greatest scientific minds, understood this when he wrote:
“The scientists’ religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.”
She may not have known it, but Maria was resonating with Einstein’s spirit:
“I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”