The Big Bang, the Steady State and Continuous Creation
The Big Bang is not a new theory. It is an ancient theory simply recast, or re-discovered, in modern terms. Like the Steady State and Continuous Creation, it has been argued by theologians and philosophers since long before the birth of Christ.
The ancient argument regarding the origins and destiny of the universe is simply put: Did the universe come into being at a single point ("In the beginning..."), is it eternal (an automatic manifestation of God's perfection), or is it coming continuously into existence (as God continuously creates every living and non-living thing?).
The first argument is most generally accepted today, going under the modern name of the Big Bang. Though the Big Bang is most generally accepted, it is not without controversy, and there are many who have not accepted it as the final word (the present writer included).
The second argument, that the universe is eternal, is not so well accepted today, and generally not so well understood. This argument (now called the Steady State) is tied to the argument of Continuous Creation, which is also not so well accepted. In the view of some earlier theologians and philosophers, the universe must always have existed, for to argue that there was a time before the universe came into being is to argue that there was a time when God was not creative. And God, who in Christian philosophy, is perfect, must always be creative, for creation is a necessary aspect of God's perfection. If God is not creating, God is not perfect, and therefore is not God. (Obviously, being perfect, God does not experience fatigue, which is a lack of energy. His day of rest, then, on the seventh day, was a day of `re-creating' - or `recreation', as it were.)
St. Augustin weighed in with the Big Bang, accepting that the universe came into being, ex nihilo, and at a single point in time. Apparently, he was quickly challenged with the question, "What was God doing before time began?" (or, before the Big Bang?), prompting his famous retort, "Preparing a place in hell for people who ask impertinent questions." Though Augustin confessed his helplessness by declaring the question impertinent, others took it seriously enough to attempt an answer. Some argued that God was creating other universes prior to this one, an earlier version of our modern oscillating universe. The theory of the oscillating universe holds that the physical universe expands from a single explosion, then ultimately collapses upon itself into an infinitely dense singularity, which explodes again, repeating this process in endless cycles.
Of course, this ancient version of the oscillating universe prompted much discussion among the ancient cosmologists - did God use the same material to create each new universe, or did He start out with new stuff each time? If He used the same material, can we truly say this is a new universe? If he used new material each time, is this not rather wasteful? To what end is God continually creating and destroying so many universes?
When the questions came to this point, the ancient theologians explained that the ways of God are mysterious to Man, and can never be completely understood by the human mind. This is true, for even in postulating a universe without God, the universe is more than any human mind - or even all human minds together - can comprehend. But, though true, the argument is also a cop-out, the same kind of cop-out offered by modern cosmologists when we ask them to clarify the conditions that gave rise to the Big Bang: "Before time started, nothing happened, and it's all unknowable anyway, so stop pestering me with these impertinent questions."
When we are rebuked for asking the imponderable, we are perfectly within our rights to remind the rebukers that it is they who raised these questions. We were otherwise perfectly content to accept that the universe (or, in our definition here, the grounds of our sensory experiences) is eternal - this is the view we had as children. We simply accepted the existence of things. Even as an adult, I am still content with the view of an eternal universe, even more so when I observe that it does not raise the logical impossibilities implicit in the view that the universe, time, and space have `start' and `stop' points.
The questions of where the universe came from, and when (assuming it `came from' anywhere), is not by any means a modern question. It is ancient, and has provoked ceaseless controversy in theology, philosophy, and now science. We are simply naive (or guilty of what I have heard called `chronological chauvinism' - the belief that we live in special times and under special conditions that make us more sophisticated than our ancestors), if we assume that a question that has been passionately argued for millennia has been settled in the last fifty years. It has not.