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Echoes Of The Big Bang

For centuries the notion of "beginning" [of the universe] was taboo for science; scientists were more comfortable maintaining the Aristotelian model of an eternal universe that kept God out of the picture.

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“Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun,” Dennis Overbye recently informed us in The New York Times. A few years ago, scientists suggested that the Big Bang must have passed a series of phases throughout its development into its present size. The most dramatic phase, the cosmological theory asserts, was the Inflation period, which, immediately after the Big Bang, caused the universe “to swell faster than the speed of light for a prodigiously violent instant.”

This inflationary phase, scientists surmised, must have generated gravitational waves, which should be detectable in the universe, same as the cosmic background radiation detected by Penzias and Wilson in 1978. Last month, scientists were able to identify those gravitational waves. The Big Bang was confirmed, again.

In my book, Awesome Creation, I present a Jewish perspective on the Big Bang (combined with a skeptical view on our cognitive abilities to search cosmogony) based primarily on Maimonides’s world of ideas.

In the first chapter, I explain that for decades the Big Bang theory was considered by the scientific community – and criticized for being – a religious theory. The Big Bang theory was the first time the scientific community entertained the notion that the universe had a beginning.

For centuries the notion of “beginning” was taboo for science; scientists were more comfortable maintaining the Aristotelian model of an eternal universe that kept God out of the picture. In the words of science author Simon Singh: “An eternal universe seemed to strike a chord with the scientific community…. If the universe has existed for eternity, then there was no need to explain how it was created, when it was created, why it was created and Who created it. Scientists were particularly proud that they had developed a theory of the universe that no longer relied on invoking God.”

Since 1930, when the expansion of the universe was discovered by Edwin Hubble and the beginning of the universe seemed more and more evident, secular scientists like Fred Hoyle, Arthur Eddington, and Albert Einstein were frustrated. Reflecting on this sentiment Robert Jastrow wrote: “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

In his book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking summarized in one sentence the reason naturalistic scientists resisted a scientific theory that posited a beginning for the universe: “So long as the universe had a beginning we could suppose it had a creator.”

These scientists rejected the Big Bang theory and tried finding an alternative cosmological model that would circumvent the idea of beginning and still be compatible with the proven expansion of the universe. Contemporary theories include the multiverses theory (our universe is just one universe among a multitude universes, which spontaneously begin from time to time); the Big-Crunch or the Oscillating universe (our universe had a beginning in time, but it will eventually shrink, crush and start again, so there was never really an absolute beginning) or Hawking’s no-boundary universe (the universe is like the North Pole, which does not have an end or a beginning).

These theories, with no factual evidence to support them, were formulated with one main goal in mind: avoiding the uncomfortable question posed by the problematic idea of beginning, i.e., Creation.

In light of the increasing soundness of the Big Bang theory, especially after 1978, scientists like Hawking appealed to the “time-factor,” conveying the perception that the Big Bang model is a God-excluding theory because it postulates that the universe is 13.5 billion years old, not 5,774 as biblical religions believe. His argument was very effective. Many religious people today believe the Big Bang opposes religion because of the pivotal differences regarding time since Creation, overlooking the unlikely correspondence between the first word of the Hebrew Bible, bereishit (in the beginning), and the main novelty of the Big Bang theory – namely, that there was indeed a beginning.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton

About the Author: Rabbi Yosef Bitton was born in Argentina and received his ordination from Israel's Chief Rabbinate. He recently published his first book in English, “Awesome Creation: A Study on the First Three Verses of the Torah.” Rabbi Bitton currently resides in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, where he serves the Sephardic community of Ohel David uShlomo.

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