Pantheism’s Big Problem with the Big Bang

Christians ought to be careful with how we refer to the Big Bang, or more specifically we need to be very aware of what exactly we mean when we affirm it as an event that happened in the history of our universe. Christian theology is very friendly to the general idea of the Big Bang, considering it the initial physical act of God’s Creation of our universe. While I freely utilize and believe in the Big Bang, we should be careful to understand that often, particularly in secular circles, it is meant to be understood as the explosive creative event of physical matter within our universe by entirely physical (or material) causation. Simply put, whatever caused the Big Bang was physical, it was not the work of a transcendent being, that is, God. The use of the word Big Bang, often implies this materialist understanding of it. As long as we recognize this massive worldview shaping distinction, and know in our minds what exactly we mean when we say the “Big Bang,” I believe Christians should not shy away from the term. 

Within certain circles of American Evangelicalism there is still a knee-jerk, fundamentalist like, negative reaction towards the very words Big Bang. Yet, once you start engaging in even a modest level of apologetic literature, even within very conservative circles you find an almost completely opposite reaction. Within these circles the tendency is to be over eager in adopting the scientific arguments for the Big Bang, which should be held in check with a modest humility that does not rest one’s faith in creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) on the fact that science certainly seems to demonstrate that fact. As Christians, we are to believe in creation out of nothing, because it is clearly taught in Scripture and as it is vital to a proper understanding of who God is. The warning I’m offering here is stated clearly by C.S. Lewis when he writes, “We must be very cautious of snatching at any scientific theory which, for the moment, seems to be in our favor.”1 

That said, there are obvious reasons why Christians of all kinds utilize the evidence and arguments for the Big Bang, as C. John Collins writes:

Even if the big bang does not prove that creation from nothing took place as inferred from Genesis 1:1, it is highly compatible with that theological conviction. As a beginning of the universe as we know it, it cannot be the result of physical causes within the universe and thus it puts a sharp point on questions of purpose and ultimate causation.2 

When it comes to the beginning of the universe, the atheist or materialist is put against the ropes by the Christian theist. Christians naturally expect to find a beginning as the Bible starts with very well known words, “In the beginning…” Naturalism and materialistic philosophies did not expect to discover a finite universe. Very prominent members of the scientific community who were of those philosophical persuasions seriously resisted the idea of the Big Bang in its early developments, specifically due to their philosophical expectations, and even their philosophical preferences.3 As NASA scientist Robert Jastrow famously put it when referring to the unexpected finding of a universe with a beginning:

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 mountain 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.4

There is a lot of Christian thought and energy that goes into trying to raise awareness on this very point, that when it comes to the beginning of our universe Christianity has a better, more probable, explanation of the evidence than naturalism does. Yet, that is often the scope of the target; for the argument continues, but only with the naturalist. Too often we forget the pervasiveness of both syncretistic forms of pantheism and the raw full-blooded pantheism that a very large number of human beings believe in. What are we to say to them about the evidence of the Big Bang when comparing worldviews? In his latest book Return of the God Hypothesis, Stephen Meyer turns his focus towards the pantheist:

Though a pantheistic worldview affirms the existence of a god, it fails to explain the origin of the universe for much the same reason that naturalism does. The god of pantheism exists within, and is coextensive with, the physical universe. Thus, a god as conceived by pantheists cannot act to bring the physical universe into being from nothing physical, since such a god does not exist independently of the physical universe. If at some finite point in the past the physical universe did not exist, then a pantheistic god would not have existed either. If the pantheistic god did not exist before the universe began, it could not cause the universe to being to exist.5

The evidentiary problem for the pantheist is much the same as the naturalist. Pantheism’s belief that god (brahman) is one with the physical world (prakriti), and that this very oneness is the grounds for all being, is not compatible with the belief that the physical universe came into existence a finite time ago. As the god of pantheism lacks ultimate transcendence beyond this universe, it is does not have the explanatory resources to explain how both its god and the physical universe (which are united as one) both came into existence a finite time ago as demonstrated by the vast array of evidence in support of the Big Bang.6 Christianity on the other hand expects a beginning, affirms a self-sustaining and free personal agent, that is our personal creator God who transcends the physical world, and who stated so many billions of years ago, “Let there be..” And there was. 

Notes:

  1. C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (1970; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 90
  2. C. John Collins, Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1-11, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 261
  3. Stephen C. Meyer, Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2021), 87-110 
  4. Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (New York: Norton, 1978), 107; sourced from: Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 116
  5. Meyer, Return of the God Hypothesis, 257; emphasis mine
  6. Ibid. 256

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