The evolution of theories about the origin of the universe has surely proceeded at a rapid pace upon entering the 20th Century. New telescopic devices permitting people to see parts of the universe never before imagined, in new ways never before conceived, have advanced man’s theoretical capabilites on explaining the origin of the universe, a task that has been a part of intelligent man’s life for thousands of years. However, up until very recently, perhaps even this century, most of the theories of origin have been religious in nature.
When we speak of having a religious nature, we speak of faith. Religious beliefs are held upon faith; no rational explanation is required or sought after. Examples would inlcude the origin myths of the ancient Greeks, whose fiery gods battled and bore children and eventually formed the universe as we know it today, or the origin myths of the Judeo-Christian tradition, whose god spoke, and beheld a universe before him, or even the origin stories of the Hopi Indians whose ancestors descended from a first man in a world far below the present one and who climbed up through four successive worlds along a reed and emerged into the world we know today.
As one would observe who studied the various origin myths of the world, the majority are deeply dependent upon a faith in the existence of a Divine Being, a First Creator who started it all but who cannot be seen. Such faith is not dependent upon scientific proof of such a Divine Creator. These are the stories that explain how our universe came to be, the work of Divine purpose.
Zeus, god of gods Genesis, the Old Testament Ascension of the Hopi people But what about today? What about the men and women of the 20th Century, those who live in advanced nations, whose cultural meanings are derived from rigorous scientific proof and rationality? When man can no longer have faith without reason, what is he to believe? Especially, what is he to believe about his origin, and the origin of the universe in which he lives? Can he continue to put faith in a divinity he cannot see, in a god whose presence is not needed to explain the mechanisms and mysteries of nature? Can he function without reasonable explanations of the world around him? I do not believe so, at least to a certain degree, and this is confirmed in 20th Century man’s desperate dash to explain the world in one big swoop, with one big theory, with one unifying notion of the universe, from its largest masses to its smallest particles.
And the idea of a Divine Being is nowhere to be found. However, despite modern man’s attempts to incorporate all of his knowledge under the faculty of reason, he can never function entirely without faith, a faith in the things he can never know in his lifetime. He must always accept that his powers of reason are limited, that not everything can be explained, as close as his theories may come. Even the modern theories of the origin of the universe, the origin myths of 20th Century man, cannot explain everything in accordance with scientific proof, and therefore must rest, however, softly, upon his faith. Let us examine the modern story of the Origin of the Universe.
The Big Bang Theory
The story is told, by such modern-day astrophysical and mathematical prophets as Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, and others, of a time when the universe was nothing like it is now– galaxies had not formed, planets were not in existence, even the elements which we recognize so easily today were not even in their stages of infancy. Nothing was like it is now. The universe was unrecognizable, because essentially, it did not even exist. Let me explain how these conditions first came to appear possible in the minds of astronomers. In 1929, Edwin Hubble made the incredible discovery that wherever one looks in the sky, one can see that distant galaxies are moving rapidly away from each other.
In other words, the universe is expanding. At earlier times, it follows, all the matter in space would have been much closer together than it is now. In fact, it would have all been in the same place. But could this make sense? Since then, astronomers have hypothesized the circumstances of how the matter in the universe went from being very close together to very far apart, as it is perceived today. The predominant theory to emerge is known popularly as the Big bang theory. Here is the picture of the origin of our universe that it paints… At some point in the history of time, perhaps some ten to twenty billion years ago, all of the matter in the universe was extremely close together. In fact, it was so close together that it was all in the same place, the exact same point. This point, of infinitesimally small size, had infinite density. The curvature of space-time was infinite. Essentially, the universe was curved into itself. At such a point, the general theory of relativity breaks down, according to its own principles, and all the laws of science known to man today break down with it.
Mathematicians call this type of point a singularity. The singularity at the beginning of the universe was in a condition for which man has no ability of prediction. Our mathematical and physical laws cease to apply, and we can neither say what will come after nor what came before. At this point, man’s ability to describe the state of the universe is extremely limited. The laws of physics under such a condition are not known. Indeed, nothing then would be recognizable to man, or comparable to the state of the universe which he observes today. Therefore, man cannot say why the events which happened next did so; he can only say that they happened…. For an unknown reason, the universe suddenly began to expand. An expansion would automatically result in a decrease in temperature. Thus, the condition of the universe began to change immediately, and slowly the particles which we recognize today began to take shape and form. 10-43 seconds after the big bang, still under very high energy, particles such as quarks, electrons, antielectrons and some possible others began to form.
Their behavior of decay and collision at this time is still very much unknown, but theories such as the Grand Unification Theory attempt to describe the activity of particles at such high energy. 10-34 seconds after the big bang, quarks and antiquarks are formed at a high rate as a result of the collisions of particles at such high energies. These particle/antiparticle pairs were produced at the same time that some were being annihilated. However, for whatever reason, they were being produced much faster or with more frequency than they were being annihilated. The universe, at this point, is now the size of an orange. By the time 10-10 seconds has elapsed, the antiquarks, as a result of collisions with quarks, have been completely annihilated and have disappeared. These collisions also resulted in the formation of photons. Also at this time, protons and neutrons have formed.
Finally, one full second after the initial moment of expansion, at a temperature of approximately ten billion degrees, the universe began to take a recognizable form: there were mostly photons, electrons, and neutrinos, and their antiparitcles, along with some protons and neutrons. The protons and neutrons started to bind together to form the nuclei of elements we know today as hydrogen, helium, lithium, and deuterium (heavy hydrogen). With three minutes passed, at a dropping temperature of one billion degrees, the matter that has already formed couples together with radiation. This radiation is still detectable today. Jump forward now 300,000 years, and the expanding universe still does not resemble the universe in which we live. Matter and radiation begin to decouple as electrons bind with nuclei.
There is now background radiation. Jump forward again one billion years and finally things begin to take shape. Clusters of matter form quasars, protogalaxies, and stars which burn hydrogen and helium forming heavier nuclei, and newer elements. Finally, we stop at about 15 billion years after the big bang, possibly our present day, and what do we have? Solar systems have condensed around stars. Atoms begin to link to form complex molecules. Some of these molecules link to form living matter. The universe is still expanding, possibly even accelerating. The expansion of the universe is modeled after the expanding surface of a balloon. Galaxies, like points on the surface, would be expanding away from every other point, such that no one point is the center. (Source for previous info: Hawking, Stephen, A Brief History of Time, 1988.) Whew…..!! The story is undoubtedly a long journey. This is the origin myth of modern man, unlike any other myth in the history of mankind. What are the implicatiosn which this theory has? What are its qualities? How is it similar to ancient stories of creation, and how is it different?
As I mentioned before, the theory of the big bang essentially is not dependent at all upon the existence of a supreme Deity. While it does not prove that such a Divinity does not exist, it surely makes a case for the universe in which one is not necessary. I would like to quote Stephen Hawking on the matter, a matter which he has surely considered deeply with every irreverent insight he has had over time. In his A Brief History of Time, he writes, “Existence [prior to the Big bang] can be ignored because it would have no observational consequences. One may say that time had a beginning at the big bang, in the sense that earlier times simply would not be defined…One could still imagine that God created the universe at the instant of the big bang, or even afterwards in just such a way as to make it look as though there had been a big bang, but it would be meaningless to suppose that it was created before the big bang. An expanding universe does not preclude a creator…” (p. 14-15)
So what does it mean if the modern origin myth, unlike almost every other in the past, is not based upon the action of a Divine being? Has modern man lost all ability and desire to have faith? Must he believe things based solely upon reason, that is, what can be proved with rational thought and scientific proof? At first, it may appear so. Many people like to imagine that science and reason are incompatible with faith. In fact, many people simply like to imagine that modern man has deteriorated in his capability for irrationality and imagination. However, these modern theories, like the big bang theory, are incredible works of imagination! Surely, they find their value in their correspondence to experential fact, by what science can prove, by what it can predict, but it came from one man’s mind!
These theories do not explain everything! In fact, some of them open up more mysteries than they solve. It is upon faith which theories like the big bang rest. We have faith in the matthemtical systems which derived it; we have faith in the observations which confirmed it; we have faith in the laws of science which supported it. In the end, we have faith in ourselves, in our own capabilites of reasoning and imagining. We have faith in the human being. The big bang theory, while it differs in the fact that it is a stated theory (that is, open to debate and change) rather than a myth (like ancient lores, which were accepted as truth), is very similar to ancient cosmologies of the origin of the universe. Indeed, they all appear fantastical when we reflect upon them.
The most popular theory of our universe’s origin centers on a cosmic cataclysm unmatched in all of history—the big bang. This theory was born of the observation that other galaxies are moving away from our own at great speed, in all directions, as if they had all been propelled by an ancient explosive force. Before the big bang, scientists believe, the entire vastness of the observable universe, including all of its matter and radiation, was compressed into a hot, dense mass just a few millimeters across. This nearly incomprehensible state is theorized to have existed for just a fraction of the first second of time. Big bang proponents suggest that some 10 billion to 20 billion years ago, a massive blast allowed all the universe’s known matter and energy—even space and time themselves—to spring from some ancient and unknown type of energy.
The theory maintains that, in the instant—a trillion-trillionth of a second—after the big bang, the universe expanded with incomprehensible speed from its pebble-size origin to astronomical scope. Expansion has apparently continued, but much more slowly, over the ensuing billions of years. Scientists can’t be sure exactly how the universe evolved after the big bang. Many believe that as time passed and matter cooled, more diverse kinds of atoms began to form, and they eventually condensed into the stars and galaxies of our present universe.
Origins of the Theory
A Belgian priest named Georges Lemaître first suggested the big bang theory in the 1920s when he theorized that the universe began from a single primordial atom. The idea subsequently received major boosts by Edwin Hubble’s observations that galaxies are speeding away from us in all directions, and from the discovery of cosmic microwave radiation by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. The glow of cosmic microwave background radiation, which is found throughout the universe, is thought to be a tangible remnant of leftover light from the big bang. The radiation is akin to that used to transmit TV signals via antennas. But it is the oldest radiation known and may hold many secrets about the universe’s earliest moments. The big bang theory leaves several major questions unanswered. One is the original cause of the big bang itself.
Several answers have been proposed to address this fundamental question, but none has been proven—and even adequately testing them has proven to be a formidable challenge. The Universe is all of spacetime and everything that exists therein, including all planets, stars, galaxies, the contents of intergalactic space, the smallest subatomic particles, and all matter and energy. Similar terms include the cosmos, the world, reality, and nature. The observable universe is about 46 billion light years in radius. Scientific observation of the Universe has led to inferences of its earlier stages. These observations suggest that the Universe has been governed by the same physical laws and constants throughout most of its extent and history.
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that describes the early development of the Universe, which is calculated to have begun 13.798 ± 0.037 billion years ago. Observations of supernovae have shown that the Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. There are many competing theories about the ultimate fate of the universe. Physicists remain unsure about what, if anything, preceded the Big Bang. Many refuse to speculate, doubting that any information from any such prior state could ever be accessible. There are various multiverse hypotheses, in which some physicists have suggested that the Universe might be one among many, or even an infinite number, of universes that likewise exist.
Origin of the Universe
The universe is believed to have originated about 15 billion years ago as a dense, hot globule of gas expanding rapidly outward. At that time, the universe contained nothing but hydrogen and a small amount of helium. There were no stars and no planets. The first stars probably began to form out of hydrogen when the universe was about 100 million years old. This is how our Sun originated about 4.49 billion years ago. Many stars came into being before the Sun was formed; many others formed after the Sun appeared.
This process continues, and through telescopes we can now see stars forming out of compressed pockets of hydrogen in outer space. In 1992, instruments aboard the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite showed that 99.97 percent of the energy of the universe was released within the first year of its origin. This evidence seems to confirm the Big Bang theory, which holds that the universe originated from a single violent explosion (a big bang) of a very small amount of matter of extremely high density and temperature.
Astronomers also theorize that 99% of the matter in the universe is invisible, or dark matter, composed of some kind of matter that is difficult to detect.