Eternity of the world and big bang

Ted Davis (
Thu, 18 Sep 1997 09:30:44 -0400

I am fascinated by the current discussion of the age of the universe and
various scientific speculations (I hesitate to call them "theories," at
least not in the ordinary sense, because they strike me more as guesses than
as educated guesses. But I could certainly be mistaken). IMHO, big bang is
highly consonant with CEN (Creatio ex nihilo): the world looks like it had a
beginning, which is what we would expect it to look like, given CEN. This
isn't a proof of anything at all, but coherence counts for something. At the
same time, caution is recommended for the usual reasons.

It might be instructive to realize that this very issue (the world's alleged
eternity in time) is the one which gave Aquinas the most difficulty in the
13th century, when he struggled to reconcile Christianity with Aristotle.
The latter asserted/assumed the eternity of all things that now exist, incl.
life forms in their current forms -- the "whole shebang." Medieval natural
philosophers, such as Giles of Rome, followed him in arguing for this.
Aquinas, however, asserted the double truth on this (here I interpret him in
a way that might invite dispute from other historians, better informed),
acknowledging that reason said eternity while revelation said a finite age.
He came down on the side of revelation, but not without admitting (I
believe, in a moment of weakness) that the essence of the doctrine of
creation was the dependence of the world on God, not its actual origination
by God: covering his tracks, I think, in case Aristotle proved right in the
long run.

Why do I believe Aquinas was mistaken? Because of the history of CEN as a
doctrine. Here I advise interested parties to examine the essay by Ted
Peters in Robert J. Russell, et al (eds), Physics, Philosophy, and Theology
(Notre Dame). Peters shows that CEN arose out of Jewish theological
reasoning on the moral supremacy of God and the inconsistencies of drawing
other conclusions from this about the origin of all things. Christians
affirmed this because they had directly experienced the power of God in the
resurrection: a God who can reorder matter to give Christ a glorified body
must have ultimate power over matter, must indeed have given matter the
properties and forms that it has; must, in other words, have created it.

Thus, I urge caution on both sides. While we mustn't ever cannonize ANY
scientific theory, we must also hold to the witness of the resurrection and
its corollary, CEN. Unlike Thomas, we shouldn't say that dependence rather
than origination is the real meaning of the doctrine of creation. Instead,
we should affirm BOTH parts of this essential truth, and wait for the day
when speculative minds are prepared to admit that "virtual vacuums", "high
states of entropy," or whatever they prefer to call conceptual entities of
this sort, ain't "nothing" -- that which is not any thing -- and that the
universe "began" in a very real sense, whether or not we can define its
moment of "beginning" in a formal sense.

Ted Davis