Religion & Beliefs

God’s Big Bang

You know Tevye’s song from Fiddler on the Roof, "If I Were A Rich Man?" I would be a rich man if I had a buck for every child of Bar or Bat Mitzvah age who has said to me, … Read More

By / October 23, 2008

You know Tevye’s song from Fiddler on the Roof, "If I Were A Rich Man?" I would be a rich man if I had a buck for every child of Bar or Bat Mitzvah age who has said to me, "I don’t believe in God. I believe in the Big Bang."

Invariably, I answer, "That’s interesting, so do I." This is what I mean by that statement.

Some time around 13.7 billion years ago, our universe began as an infinitesimally small, incredibly hot, dense "something." The term often used for this something is singularity. How is this singularity defined? No one really knows. Where did it come from? No one knows. Why did it appear? Again, no one has a clue.

Yet, as support for those who believe in the Big Bang, most scientists now believe that there was a beginning. This singularity appeared rather suddenly, apparently expanded, then cooled, turning into the universe as we know it today. Notice I didn’t say anything about an actual "bang" because, apparently, no such explosion occurred. Think of a balloon that started to expand and never popped.

My question is why did the universe not completely self-annihilate an instant after the Big Bang? Given the wide swings in temperature, how did Earth come to have an environment hospitable to life? Even the slightest variation of temperature would have made any biological existence on this planet impossible.

Just think what had to happen within seconds of the Big Bang. Nuclear forces were needed to bind proteins and neutrons to the nuclei of atoms. Electromagnetism was needed to keep atoms and molecules together, and gravity was needed to keep all the ingredients for life anchored to the surface of Earth.

In the creation story at the beginning of the Torah, God sends forth energy in the form of sound (God speaks) and light, which generates heat. In the subsequent cooling process, the earth congealed, discrete bodies of water emerged, and the slow process of life began. Evolution of countless species developed over the course of time, millions of years, with a crescendo into humankind. The only way that the biblical story and the Darwinian theory seemingly part company is that the latter sees all this coming about through random mutation and natural selection. Thus, man appears on the world stage as a survivor.

In the Bible, man appears as a God-ordained miracle to be a partner in the ongoing work of creation. In the religious worldview, we don’t have dominion over Earth because we are still standing, survival of the fittest. Rather, we have dominion because we were created in God’s image, and, therefore, our power must be mitigated by moral responsibility for the stewardship of the Earth.

So there’s a remarkable confluence between these two stories. We need to recognize that religion and science need each other now more than ever.Religion needs science to understand how all that God put into place actually operates in the world, to understand the rational basis for what many still regard only with awe and wonder.

Religion needs science to help us come to realize our place in this galaxy and amongst so many others. Science must help us answer awesome questions: Does life exist elsewhere, and if so, can we form a relationship with other life? What do we do with the resulting knowledge that our galaxy is one of many?

Religion needs science to help us harvest stem cells so that we can live longer and in greater health and dignity.

Religion needs science to help us continue the sequencing of the human genome to know our genetic tendencies and help us, therefore, combat the diseases that destroy our bodies, our minds, and ultimately our lives.

At the same time, science needs religion to understand why the earth was created from nothingness.

Science needs religion to understand the purpose of evolution, the meaning of the survival of human beings as the dominant species on planet Earth.

Science needs religion to understand the ethical boundaries of scientific inquiry, when does too much knowledge make us less human than we ought to be, than God intends us to be?

Science needs religion to clearly state that God created us to use our minds in order to stretch the frontiers of scientific knowledge as far as they can go and to use that knowledge in the service of all of God’s children.

Science needs science to be science, and God to be God.

Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the national Human Genome Institute, has said: "You’ll never understand what it means to be a human being through naturalistic observation. You won’t understand why you are here and what the meaning is. Science has no power to address these questions-and are they not the most important questions we ask ourselves?"(Dr. F. Collins, "Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science," New York Times, 23 Aug. 2005)[1]

I hope I made the case my B’nei Mitzvah students. Have I made it with you?

[1] Dr. Francis Collins, "Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science," New York Times, August 23, 2005.

Rabbi Robert Levine, author of What God Can Do for You Now, is guest-blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week.  Stay tuned.