Defender's Guide to Science and Creationism

Mark Vuletic

Assertion

Big Bang theory must be false, because explosions are destructive, not creative.

Analysis

I am aware of three different ways in which creationists have argued against the Big Bang by appealing to the destructive power of explosions. The first way is to argue that an explosion could not have created the nearly uniform distribution of matter in the early universe. The second way is to argue that an explosion could not have created ordered cosmological structures like galaxies. The third way (seriously) is to argue that an explosion would have killed life instead of creating it.

I. Was the Big Bang an explosion?

One problem with all of these ways of arguing against the Big Bang is that the Big Bang was not really an explosion at all. When we use the word "explosion," we normally think of things ranging from grenade blasts to supernovas, all of which obviously annihilate both the thing exploding and anything in the vicinity; however, all of these kinds of explosions have something in common that the Big Bang does not: they are material events that happen in space and time. The Big Bang, by contrast, involves the expansion of spacetime itself from a very tiny size to a very large size. There really is no analogy at all between this kind of process and any kind of explosion we are familiar with; hence, there is no reason at all to think of the Big Bang as a destructive event, or to believe that ordered structures could not have arisen in the universe as the expansion took place.

II. Why is the early universe so uniform?

Although the Big Bang was not an explosion, scientists still have wondered how, in practice, the distribution of matter in the early universe came to be as uniform as it was. Although not without some controversy, the accepted explanation right now for this uniformity is that the universe underwent a period of exceptionally rapid expansion (an "inflationary" period) very soon after Planck time, in which the matter was smoothed out.

III. Could the Big Bang have created galaxies?

No one actually argues that the Big Bang directly produced things like galaxies: Big Bang theory simply describes the very early universe. The formation of structures like galaxies are a topic of cosmological investigation separate from Big Bang theory; it is typically thought that such structures developed through more mundane processes like gravitational accretion and shockwaves.

IV. Wouldn't the Big Bang have destroyed life?

In a now defunct website that alleged to be an exposé of the "cult of evolution," one creationist asked: "Do you really expect me to believe an explosion was the deciding factor in the creation of life? I thought explosions, of the magnitude that would send planets flying through the universe, would kill life, not create it!" (I have seen  subsequently seen the question, along with a raft of others of similar quality, posted without attribution on several different message boards. For all I know, it was not even original to the first site).

No one, of course, expects that creationist to believe any such thing; it is quite obvious to anyone who has read any mainstream account of the Big Bang, that the Big Bang has nothing to do with "the creation of life." According to the best current scientific estimate, the Big Bang took place 13.8 billion years ago. By contrast, life on Earth began no more than 4.5 billion years ago. Perhaps it is possible that life existed elsewhere in the universe at an earlier time, but I know of no scientist who claims that the Big Bang created life. Unfortunately, this creationist's failure to do even the minimal research expected of a grade-school student does not keep him from being extremely arrogant and condescending towards the consensus of scholars who have devoted their entire lives to research in cosmology and astronomy.

If I may offer a personal anecdote, this last criticism brings to mind a discussion I once had with a creationist co-worker who asked me my thoughts about the history of the universe (at the time, she was a born-again Christian and I was an agnostic). When I mentioned the Big Bang, she rolled her eyes and said, dismissively, "Oh, isn't that the theory that there was a huge bang, and all of the sudden there were dinosaurs?" I must have done a double-take, but I cared enough about her to try to sketch the actual theory for her, taking her through Planck time, the expansion of spacetime, and the stages of matter in the early universe. All the while, she just stared at me with a patronizing smile fixed on her face, a smile that said she thought it was so sad that I could actually believe there was a huge bang and then all of the sudden there were dinosaurs. I am sure she absorbed nothing of what I said, that she still has never read anything about science apart from creationist literature like the "exposé" above, and that, to this very day, she continues to believe that the Big Bang was something like a nuclear blast in outer space that magically hurled out T-rexes and triceratops. No doubt she also continues to congratulate herself on having more common sense than the entire scientific community. I feel genuinely sad for her: sad at the ignorance and unintended arrogance she probably will remain ensnared in for the rest of her life, sad at the wonders of the natural world she will miss out on just because someone taught her to disdain science. She has been robbed. My memory of her and of so many creationists I have met who are like her, is one of the main things that keeps me working on this guide.

Last updated: 20 Aug 2017

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