Do you believe in the Big Bang theory, or Creation?

If, by 'Creation', you mean the literal interpretation of the Old Testament story of Genesis, you are asking me to compare two things that have nothing to do with each other.

First of all, you are asking a scientist whether they 'believe' in something. The problem is that the theories we create are not systems of belief, they are explanatory statements that account for the types of mathematical 'laws' that we find in our data. These theories are not pulled out of a hat, but are based upon a pyramid of knowledge that has been experimentally confirmed. So for scientists it is not a matter of 'belief' that we accept newton's law of gravity. It is a matter of what we expect to happen if we step out of a 30th-floor window.

Secondly, the biblical story is not a scientific one, whereas Big Bang theory is a scientific 'story'. You cannot compare and judge two descriptions of an event based on systems of knowledge that have no common denominator. The methods of scientific investigation and experimentation, the process of asking questions and challenging the answers, and the process of constructing falsifiable theories, are the fundamental tools of the scientific approach to acquiring knowledge about the world. This is not the same process and rules of operation that biblical literalists use to argue the merits of the Creation story.

Religious explanations for physical phenomena, whether it is the origin of the universe or oganic life, are ill defined. Some religious communities see them as the literal word of God while others see them as alegories not meant to be taken literally at all. Those that view Genesis as literal fact rather than testable hypothesis, focus their activities on finding 'evidence' that substantiates it, and no one tries as hard to investigate alternate non-supernatural evidence that could refute it except in a half-hearted way. The most often used argument against Big Bang theory is that scientists, like sheep, flock to this theory and in some grand conspiracy, suppress all evidence that refutes this theory. This argument works because very few non-scientists have a clue about the history of science. Do you really think that if some scientist could prove that quantum mechanics or Einstein's relativity were false, that he/she would be vilified? Or do you think that he/she would receive a Nobel prize? The most astounding ideas about the physical world have come from the minds of scientists, not from philosophers! This proves that when it comes to the major ideas in science, there is tremendous pressure to innovate and find better explanations for the data at hand. This process knows no bounds, respects no preexisting authority, and is slavishly devoted to testing all ideas against the searing, hard reality of concrete experimentation and observation.

The process of science does not require you to 'believe' anything. If you were to jump off your chair, it is not a matter of belief that will change the outcome, it is a matter of Newton's theory of Universal Gravitation that dictates what will happen. You do not have the choice to quibble over whether it is 'only a theory' that explains what will happen next. Your destiny as a physical object can be computed to 10 decimal places by this 'theory' and that is the only standard we use in science to determine the value of a theory; Are its predictions compatible with the evidence?

The Genesis Story, taken literally, makes no predictions that are testable to falsify it, unless like a careful shot in billiards, you line up the investigation so that it only yields the outcome demanded by the literal interpretation of Genesis.

I believe that the scientific story is far more accurate as a story about the physical world. Among western biblical scholars, those individuals who actually take the time to look critically at the Bible, there is unanimity that the scientific story is not at all in conflict with Genesis. Even the Pope accepts Big Bang theory as a fleshed-out description of God's handiwork!

If you now argue that Big Bang theory is just a theory and that all theories are not proven fact, then you have just reduced all of science to some kind of silly passive process of recording events with no meaningful certainty in interpreting them. This is, of course, a meaningless quibble which many people have difficulty with, especially those vocal few who wish to insert Creationism into our schools as an equally scientific 'theory' of the beginning of the universe. Their proposal for 'balance' falls on receptive ears because who would not want the process of investigation to be a democratic one with all voices respected for their views. The problem is that the advancement of science has nothing to do with democracy or with what feels good and makes sense. Quantum mechanics and relativity don't make much sense to anyone, and relativity certainly doesn't make anyone feel good. Like the slogan on the T-shirt says " The speed of light is not just a good idea, it's the LAW".

Return to Dr. Odenwald's FAQ page at the Astronomy Cafe Blog.