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The Language of God, Chapter 3

By B.J. Marshall

After his prelude, Collins begins at the beginning: The Big Bang. He talks about what it is, asks what came before it, and argues that it cries out for a divine explanation. The Big Bang doesn’t just cry out for an explanation – no, no, no – it cries out for a divine explanation. Nothing like checking your biases at the door when doing that science thing, right?

We saw previously that he knows what a theory is, so this guy knows how to do science. I was a little disappointed, though, when I saw he hadn’t laid out many lines of evidence for the Big Bang. And, given a recent poll that only 33% of Americans agree that the universe began with the Big Bang, I really would have liked to have seen Collins give a fully credible account. Granted, he does a pretty decent job explaining Einstein’s cosmological constant, but that only goes so far as to lend support to Edwin Hubble’s observations of redshift that led to the conclusion that the universe was expanding. The only real lines of evidence Collins provides for the Big Bang are the cosmic microwave background radiation and the theory’s ability to predict concentrations of hydrogen, deuterium, and helium – called nucleosynthesis.

Collins doesn’t lay out all the lines of evidence for the Big Bang as I wish he had, so I’ll add them here, courtesy of AstronomyCast:
Collins’ list:

  • Cosmic microwave background radiation
  • Nucleosynthesis

Additional lines of evidence:

  • Things are older as we look at things further away, with the example of the Hubble Deep Field.
  • Olber’s Paradox, which states that in a stable, infinite universe, the night sky should blaze with the light of the stars that lie in all directions, even those far away. Since this is not the case, the universe is not infinite and must have had a beginning.

OK, so we now have four lines of evidence for the Big Bang. But we aren’t exactly sure what the Big Bang is. Collins states that physicists are in agreement that the universe began as an “infinitely dense, dimensionless point of pure energy” (p.65). This is regularly referred to as a singularity, but there’s a problem with that: Scientists really haven’t been in agreement over this. Here are some interesting hypotheses:

  • Hawking, Ellis, and Penrose published works from 1968-1970 that would refute Collins’ claim that a singularity is a dimensionless point of pure energy. For, as is a common misconception, the singularity did not appear in space; rather, space, time, matter, and energy all appeared in the singularity! Before the Big Bang, according to their model, nothing existed.
  • Hartle-Hawking no-boundary models have the Big Bang representing the limits of time without the need of a singularity.
  • Other models, like brane cosmology and chaotic inflation, invoke string theory and a possible multiverse.

Collins thinks the Big Bang begs the question of what came before that: namely, who or what was responsible? Specifically, Collins talks about faith traditions that maintain that God created the universe from nothingness (ex nihilo). However, Lawrence Krauss gave a lecture at the 2009 Atheist Alliance International meeting discussing a universe from nothing. (Note: this YouTube video is about an hour long, but totally worth it.) In the discussion, Krauss points out that the total energy of the universe is zero! Quoting from an adaptation of The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium, 1st edition, by Jay M. Pasachoff and Alex Filippenko, found on the Astronomical Society of the Pacific:

The idea of a zero-energy universe, together with inflation, suggests that all one needs is just a tiny bit of energy to get the whole thing started (that is, a tiny volume of energy in which inflation can begin). The universe then experiences inflationary expansion, but without creating net energy.

What produced the energy before inflation? This is perhaps the ultimate question. As crazy as it might seem, the energy may have come out of nothing! The meaning of “nothing” is somewhat ambiguous here. It might be the vacuum in some pre-existing space and time, or it could be nothing at all – that is, all concepts of space and time were created with the universe itself.

Collins finds his answer – God did it – from astrophysicist Robert Jastrow: “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements and the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same; the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy” (p.67).

The essential elements and the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same?!? Hmm, let’s compare (oh, and we’ll only choose one of the two Genesis creation myths). I found a nifty image showing how attempting to harmonize the creation myth to evolutionary epochs fails miserably. But also note how fruit trees come before the sun, moon, and stars. Our sun is about 4.5 billion years old. Land plants (clade embryophyta) didn’t appear until the Paleozoic era, which was between 543 and 248 million years ago. And let’s not forget that the Bible considers the moon a great light (Gen 1:16). But that’s just one of those pesky details that differs.

Finally, Collins says that he has to agree with Jastrow and that he “cannot see how nature could have created itself” (p.67). This is textbook God-of-the-gaps arguing right here. I could shake my head and say, “Oh, that wacky Collins!” as we see one more expert trying to render an expert opinion on a field of which he’s wholly unqualified, but I know what harm it does when people read stuff like this. My parents gave me this book as a Christmas present last year, which happened to be the first Christmas since my open deconversion. My parents were utterly convinced that Collins’ book would bring me back into the fold. After all, Collins is a smart guy, right? Now, every occasion is greeted by horrible apologetics; they gave me “The Case for a Creator” for my birthday. *sigh*

Other posts in this series:

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...