Now this is interesting. A new theory–the plausibility of which I am not in a position to assess–suggests that there was no Big Bang. The universe is spatially finite, but temporally infinite. So there was no “beginning” to the universe:
“In cosmological terms, the scientists explain that the quantum corrections can be thought of as a cosmological constant term (without the need for dark energy) and a radiation term. These terms keep the Universe at a finite size, and therefore give it an infinite age. The terms also make predictions that agree closely with current observations of the cosmological constant and density of the Universe.”
Of course, if I understand relativity correctly (my main sources being Star Trek and Wikipedia), it is also perfectly possible that the Big Bang was not the beginning of the universe in any absolute sense, only of space and time as we know them. So what physics calls “the universe” may be simply one event within a macro-universe or multiverse. Like I said, I don’t pretend to understand any of it. I just think it’s cool.
But what does it mean for Christian faith?
To me, it is fascinating what sorts of cosmological possibilities are taken to be problematic at any given time. Most Christians are quite comfortable with the Big Bang. If anything, it seems to be quite conducive to a doctrine of creation, because it suggests that the universe had a beginning. The only real exception is six-day creationists, for whom both cosmological and biological evolution are problematic, since they are seen as contradicting the scriptural account of creation. What is funny is that for some people in earlier times, the Big Conflict between Christian faith and (what we may somewhat anachronistically call) science was that the Bible depicted a progressive creation over a period of time (albeit a short one), but the universe was obviously created fully formed in a single moment! An imperfect universe could not be the creation of a perfect God! But to others among our ancestors, the problem was the apparent eternity of the world (or at least the infinite past).
If we find ourselves confronted again with this latter possibility (and only time and further research will tell if it gains widespread acceptance in the scientific community), we are fortunate that we are not the first ones to face it. Many Christian theologians and philosophers–not the least of them being Thomas Aquinas–have thought that it would be impossible to prove that the world had a beginning, and creatively reckoned what creation means without one.
At the risk of oversimplification (getting warmer, but still not my area of expertise), the basic idea is that God’s activity does not take place in space or time like human activity. It is of a completely different order. Even if time had no beginning, God is still the creator of time. Infinite extension of time is not the same thing as eternity, and God dwells in the latter.
So what does our scripture and the teaching of our church mean when it says “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth….” As always, the fathers and mothers are one step ahead of is. When the Greek texts says ἐν ἄρχῇ and the Latin says in principio, certain fathers took this to mean “in the principle,” namely, the Logos, the one we call Jesus.
Now that means something for Christian faith.