No astronomical theory has been subjected to more exhaustive testing than the big bang. The big bang is actually an entire set of models, all of which stand on the following foundational tenets:
- The universe has a beginning that includes the origin of space and time.
- The physical laws by which the universe unfolds have not changed.
- One of these laws is a pervasive law of entropy (the second law of thermodynamics).
- The universe continuously expands from its origin onward.
- Consequently, the universe cools as it continues to expand.
At least three of these fundamental big bang features, and some would say all five, were stated in the Bible more than two thousand years ago.1
One motivation behind the comprehensive testing of big bang models is scientific. Astrophysicists are keen to learn as much as possible about the origin, history, and properties of the universe, with its myriad components. The other motivation is a philosophical and theological one. Everyone, not just astronomers and physicists, wants to know, with reasonable certainty, whether the universe began to exist, given all the questions and implications that would follow:
- What does a cosmic beginning imply about agency (or Agency) beyond matter, energy, space, and time?
- Does Agency imply a personal Being?
- To what degree does the universe require fine-tuning for our existence?
- Can we discern purpose behind the specific features of the cosmos?
- Does any “sacred” account align with what the cosmos reveals to us about itself?
As I explain in my first book, The Fingerprint of God, the big bang model for the origin and history of the universe stirred a strong negative reaction when first proposed in the early part of the twentieth century.2 Many astronomers and physicists openly expressed dismay when they noted the obvious congruence between big bang cosmology and what one familiar sacred text, the Bible, had declared millennia ago about the origin and history of the universe.
Mathematical physicist Sir Arthur Eddington wrote in a published research paper, “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant to me. . . . I should like to find a genuine loophole.”3 Astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle wrote, “It seems against the spirit of scientific enquiry to regard observable effects as arising from ‘causes unknown to science,’ and this in principle is what creation-in-the-past implies.”4 Still later, physicist John Gribbin commented, “The biggest problem with the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe is philosophical—perhaps even theological—what was there before the bang?”5 On this deeply personal, philosophical/theological basis, decades of rigorous, extensive, and repeated scientific testing began and has continued ever since.
Big Bang Upheld
The first tests of big bang cosmology focused on the measured radial velocities of galaxies and the physics of galaxy formation and galaxy survival. Vesto Slipher, Georges Lemaître, and Edwin Hubble conducted these tests in 1917, 1927, and 1929, respectively. The big bang models passed each one.
In 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson detected the cosmic microwave background radiation, the models’ predicted radio remnant of the cosmic origin event—further support for the big bang. The Creator and the Cosmos, 4th edition, describes how astronomers subjected the model(s) to more than a dozen additional independent tests.6 The big bang models passed every one with flying colors and have yet to fail a test.
Recently, a certain pattern in the spatial distribution of large galaxies was observed that, though not a direct challenge to big bang models, seemed to hint at the need for some significant adjustments.7 The big bang would not have predicted, so it was thought, what we see: large disk galaxies (see figure 1) mostly existing in isolation and giant elliptical galaxies (see figure 2) congregating in massive, dense clusters of galaxies. Some astronomers argued that according to big bang models, galaxies of similar mass would exhibit similar spatial distribution.
Figure 1: Andromeda Galaxy, a Typical Large Disk Galaxy
In disk galaxies, stars are predominantly spread far apart from one another along a disk structure.
Credit: David Dayag, Creative Commons Attribution
Figure 2: ESO 325-G004, a Typical Giant Elliptical Galaxy
In elliptical galaxies, stars are densely packed together into a spheroidal or ellipsoidal structure.
Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Space Telescope/STScI/AURA
A team of five astronomers, led by Finnish astronomer Till Sawala, applied the SIBELIUS DARK computer simulation to the big bang model that has been subjected to testing most frequently and thoroughly.8 That model is the standard ΛCDM big bang creation model (where Λ stands for dark energy—the primary component of the universe—and CDM for cold dark matter—the second most dominant component of the universe).
Sawala and his colleagues found that the SIBELIUS DARK simulation, in this context, reproduced in detail the spatial distributions of disk and elliptical galaxies astronomers observe throughout the Laniakea Supercluster (a cluster of galaxy clusters gravitationally connected to one another). Laniakea is the nearest supergalaxy cluster and the one in which our Milky Way Galaxy resides (see figure 3).
Figure 3: Map of the Laniakea Supercluster
Credit: Andrew Z. Colvin, Creative Commons Attribution
In particular, the SIBELIUS DARK simulation performed by Sawala’s team showed that giant elliptical galaxies do, indeed, tend to form along the supergalactic plane, as seen in the case of the Laniakea Supercluster. The simulation showed that disk galaxies mostly form and evolve in isolation, whereas giant ellipticals form and develop in massive, dense galaxy clusters that define the supergalactic plane. Rather than representing an anomaly, the observed distribution of large disk galaxies and elliptical galaxies beautifully matched a key prediction of the standard ΛCDM big bang model.
In the final paragraph of their paper, Sawala and his colleagues write, “The strikingly different distributions of bright ellipticals and disks in relation to the supergalactic plane do not require physics beyond the standard model. They arise naturally in the ΛCDM framework.”9
The team concluded that their simulation and the most comprehensive maps of the distribution of galaxies within the Laniakea Supercluster ultimately produced more evidence in support of, rather than against, ΛCDM big bang models. Their research lengthens the list of scientific tests that ΛCDM big bang models have withstood. Once again, when we learn more about the cosmos, we find a stronger basis for confidence that the biblical writers were supernaturally inspired by the One who brought the cosmos—and all it contains—into existence.
- Hugh Ross, “What Does the Bible Say about the Big Bang?” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, February 6, 2023.
- Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, Commemorative Edition (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2010), 46–47, 53, 57–64, 79, 82.
- Sir Arthur S. Eddington, “The End of the World: From the Standpoint of Mathematical Physics,” Nature 127 (March 21, 1931): 450, doi:10.1038/127447a0.
- Fred Hoyle, “A New Model for the Expanding Universe,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 108, no. 5 (October 1948): 372, doi:10.1093/mnras/108.5.372.
- John Gribbin, “Oscillating Universe Bounces Back,” Nature 259 (January 1, 1976): 15, doi:10.1038/259015c0.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 4th ed (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2018), 33–157.
- A. J. Benson et al., “The Nature of Galaxy Bias and Clustering,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 311, no. 4 (February 2000): 793–808, doi:10.1046/j.1365-8711.2000.03101.x.
- Till Sawala et al., “Distinct Distributions of Elliptical and Disk Galaxies across the Local Supercluster as a ΛCDM Prediction,” Nature Astronomy, published online ahead of print November 20, 2023, doi:10.1038/s41550-023-02130-6.
- Sawala et al., “Distinct Distributions of Elliptical and Disk Galaxies,” p. 5.