There was a lot of good discussion on my post last week - Friday Fast Fact: The Big Bang Theory. But a few points came up there and in some other responses that are important to clarify and remember as Catholics.
A lot of Christians say that they believe in the biblical Genesis story, rather than the “Big Bang” theory. Of course, such a statement presents a false dichotomy. It implies that the theory of the Big Bang necessarily contradicts the biblical account of creation. That is not true.
Those that believe in a scientifically literal interpretation of the book of Genesis are known as “creationists” or “fundamentalists.” And they can basically hold those views and be in perfectly good standing with the Church. However, we must leave room for other interpretations of Genesis that are still consistent with the doctrine of Jesus’ Church. Especially when the light of reason leads us there.
The same thing applies to the issue of biological evolution. But that discussion, the origin of life, has nuances of its own we won’t distract ourselves with here. The primary issue here is the origin - or “The beginning” - of everything. What was the cause? And how did it happen?
Philosophical reason tells us there must have been this first cause (some eternal Being we call God). The Bible and our Faith tell us who the cause was. But as to the scientific process of exactly how it all happened…the book of Genesis may or may not give us much help at all.
Does this then mean that the book of Genesis is untrue? Of course not. It just means that the truths revealed in Genesis may be different than the truths you are interpreting. It means it is answering the fundamental questions about ourselves in a particular way.
I’ll give you an example. You ask a man, “who lives in your house?” He could answer by saying, “Me, my wife and our three kids.” That may be truthful. He could also answer by saying, “the whole world lives inside this house.” This may also be truthful, but he’d quite obviously be making a figurative point about how much he cares for those in his house.
But if we were still unsure as to what the man meant, by using our reason, we could probably conclude that the whole world was not literally living inside of his house. And therefore, if we believe the man to be trustworthy, he must have meant something different by his answer.
It’s the same with the story of creation. God has not divinely revealed through the Church the scientific process by which all of creation came about. So we are free to believe in good faith wherever our reason leads us - as long as it does not contradict that which God has revealed as truth.
Cardinal Schonborn gives us a good summary of what the Church does teach on creation:
1. The doctrine of creation says that there is an absolute beginning—“in the beginning God created heaven and earth”—and that this absolute beginning is the free and sovereign act of establishing being out of nothing.
2. The doctrine of creation also says that there are various creatures. This is the distinction of creatures, “each according to its kind,” of which we read in the first chapter of Genesis. This is the work of the first six days as related on the first page of the Bible.
3. We believe not only in an absolute beginning of creation but in the preservation of creation; God holds in being all that he has created. We refer here to his continuing work of creation, which in theology is called the “creatio continua,” the ongoing act of creation.
4. And finally, the doctrine of creation most definitely includes the belief that God directs his creation. He did not just set it in motion once at the beginning and then let it run its course. No, the divine guidance of creation, which we call divine providence, is a part of the doctrine of creation. God leads his work to its final end.
The current theory of the Big Bang does not contradict any of that. And there is a huge consensus among experts on the validity of this theory. So it is certainly reasonable to believe in the Big Bang theory and it is entirely reconcilable with our Catholic faith.
However, it is just a theory. We must be careful to remember that.
In the past, there was also a consensus that the Earth was the center of the universe. Galileo helped us out by revealing that it was actually the Sun that was the center of the universe. Of course, that turned out to be wrong too. Maybe one day we’ll also look back on all of those silly people that believed in a “Big Bang”. Who knows.
And even if the Big Bang theory does hold true…who’s to say it was the first act of creation by God? Cardinal Schonborn says it well:
Do we have here the point at which we should insert our belief in a creator? Do we introduce him as it were at the limit reached by science? Does the creator begin to act beyond this threshold? Let us be careful! We must not be too quick to assume that God produced the big bang, as if in the smallest fraction of the very first second we come up against the wall behind which we find the creator, or reach the point where only the creator can explain what happened.
Everything in its proper place.
If you’d like more reading on this topic, check out this really great article with more from Cardinal Schonborn. And more on Creationism and cosmological and biological evolution here.