Religious interpretations of the Big Bang theory
Since the emergence of the Big Bang theory as the dominant physical cosmological paradigm, there have been a variety of reactions by religious groups regarding its implications for religious cosmologies. Some accept the scientific evidence at face value, some seek to harmonize the Big Bang with their religious tenets, and some reject or ignore the evidence for the Big Bang theory.
The Big Bang itself is a scientific theory and as such stands or falls by its agreement with observations. However, as a theory which addresses the nature of the universe since its earliest discernible existence, the Big Bang carries possible theological implications regarding the concept of creation out of nothing. Many atheist philosophers have argued against the idea of the Universe having a beginning – the Universe might simply have existed for all eternity, but with the emerging evidence of the Big Bang theory, many theologians and physicists have viewed it as implying theism; a popular philosophical argument for the existence of God known as the Kalam cosmological argument rests in the concepts of the Big Bang. In the 1920s and 1930s, almost every major cosmologist preferred an eternal steady state universe, and several complained that the beginning of time implied by the Big Bang imported religious concepts into physics; this objection was later repeated by supporters of the steady-state theory, who rejected the implication that the universe had a beginning.
The view from the Hindu Puranas is that of an eternal universe cosmology, in which time has no absolute beginning, but rather is infinite and cyclic, rather than a universe which originated from a Big Bang. However, the Encyclopædia of Hinduism, referencing Katha Upanishad 2:20, states that the Big Bang theory reminds humanity that everything came from the Brahman which is "subtler than the atom, greater than the greatest." It consists of several "Big Bangs" and "Big Crunches" following each other in a cyclical manner.
The Nasadiya Sukta, the Hymn of Creation in the Rigveda (10:129), mentions the world beginning from a point or bindu through the power of heat. This can be seen as corresponding to the Big Bang theory.
THEN was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it. What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?— Rig Veda X.129.1
Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day's and night's divider. That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever— Rig Veda X.129.2
Several prominent modern scientists have remarked that Hinduism (and also Buddhism and Jainism by extension as all three faiths share most of these philosophies) is the only religion (or civilization) in all of recorded history, that has timescales and theories in astronomy (cosmology), that appear to correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology, e.g. Carl Sagan, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Robert Oppenheimer, George Sudarshan, Fritjof Capra etc. Sir Roger Penrose is among the present-day physicists that believe in a cyclical model for the Universe, wherein there are alternating cycles consisting of Big Bangs and Big Crunches, and he describes this model to be "a bit more like Hindu philosophy" as compared to the Abrahamic faiths.
At the November 22, 1951, opening meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Pius XII declared that the Big Bang theory does not conflict with the Catholic concept of creation. Some Conservative Protestant Christian denominations have also welcomed the Big Bang theory as supporting a historical interpretation of the doctrine of creation; however, adherents of Young Earth creationism, who advocate a very literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis, tend to reject the theory.
Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, has taught that the universe has "neither beginning nor ending". In the Tablet of Wisdom ("Lawh-i-Hikmat", written 1873–1874). Bahá'u'lláh states: “That which hath been in existence had existed before, but not in the form thou seest today. The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different.” The terminology used here refers to ancient Greek and Islamic philosophy (al-Kindi, Avicenna, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and Shaykh Ahmad). In an early text, Bahá’u’lláh describes the successive creation of the four natures heat and cold (the active force), dryness and moisture (the recipients), and the four elements fire, air, water and earth. About the phrase "That which hath been in existence had existed before, but not in the form thou seest today," 'Abdu'l-Bahá has stated that it means that the universe is evolving. He also states that "the substance and primary matter of contingent beings is the ethereal power, which is invisible and only known through its effects... Ethereal matter is itself both the active force and the recipient... it is the sign of the Primal Will in the phenomenal world... The ethereal matter is, therefore, the cause, since light, heat, and electricity appear from it. It is also the effect, for as vibrations take place in it, they become visible...".
Writing for the Kyoto Bulletin of Islamic Area Studies, Haslin Hasan and Ab. Hafiz Mat Tuah wrote that modern scientific ideas on cosmology are creating new ideas on how to interpret the Quran's cosmogonical terms. In particular, some modern-day Muslim groups have advocated for interpreting the term al-sama, traditionally believed to be a reference to both the sky and the seven heavens, as instead referring to the universe as a whole.
Mirza Tahir Ahmad, head of the Ahmadiyya community, asserted in his book Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth that the Big Bang theory was foretold in the Quran. He referenced the verse 30 of the Sūrat al-Anbiyāʼ, which ostensibly mentions the initial singularity:
Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe?
This view that the Qu'ran references the initial singularity of the Big Bang is also accepted by many Muslim scholars outside of the Ahmadiyya community such as Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, who is a Sufi scholar, and Muhammad Asad, who was a nondenominational Muslim scholar. Further, some scholars such as Faheem Ashraf of the Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc. and Sheikh Omar Suleiman of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research argue that the scientific theory of an expanding universe is described in Sūrat adh-Dhāriyāt:
And the heaven We constructed with strength, and indeed, We are [its] expander.
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The Big Bang theory strikes many people as having theological implications, as shown by those who do not welcome those implications.
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Both theists and physicists have seen the big bang theory as leaving open such an opportunity for a theistic explanation.
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From theologians to physicists to novelists, it is widely believed that the Big Bang theory supports Christian concepts of a creator. In February 1989, for example, the front-page article of the New York Times Book Review argued that scientists argued that scientists and novelists were returning to God, in large part through the influence of the Big Bang.
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THE KALAM COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT Perhaps the best known and most clearly formulated version of the cosmological argument that incorporates the fundamental concepts of big bang theory is found in the work of William Lane Craig.
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It will be clear that this type of argument relates directly to modern cosmological research, particularly the "big bang" theory of the origins of the cosmos. This is also true of the kalam version of the cosmological argument, to which we now turn.
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One reason for initial resistance to the Big Bang theory was that, unlike the rival Steady-State hypothesis, it proposed that the universe has a beginning – a proposition that for some had unwelcome religious implications.
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Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin's notorious chief ideologue, said in a speech in 1947 that Lemaître and his kindred spirits were 'Falsifiers of science [who] wanted to revive the fairy tale of the origin of the world from nothing ... Another failure of the 'theory' in question consists in the fact that it brings us to the idealistic attitude of assuming the world to be finite.'
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In the Vedic cosmogonies, the question of what caused the primordial desire does not arise; like the Big Bang of modern cosmology, the primal impulse is beyond all time and causation, so it makes no sense to ask what preceded it or what caused it. However, in the Hindu cosmology which we find in the Puranas and other non-Vedic Sanskrit texts, time has no absolute beginning; it is infinite and cyclic and so is kama.
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There are also other cosmological models of the universe besides the Big bang model, including eternal universe theories – views more in keeping with Hindu cosmologies than with traditional theistic concepts of the cosmos.
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The theory is known as the 'Big Bang theory' and it reminds us of the Hindu idea that everything came from the Brahman which is "subtler than the atom, greater than the greatest" (Kathopanishad-2-20).
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Our study shows that modern scientific findings do indeed influence modern Muslims’ understanding of the Quran’s cosmogonical terms, concepts and narratives by modifying the older Tafsir sources, even deviating from them altogether and offering fresh ideas.
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