Our universe is dotted ‘with over 100 billion galaxies, and each one
contains roughly 100 billion stars. It is unclear how many planets are
orbiting these stars, but it is certain that at least one of them has evolved
life. In particular, there is a life form that has had the capacity and audacity
to speculate about the origin of this vast universe.
Humans have been staring up into space for thousands of generations,
but we are privileged to be part of the first generation who can claim to
have a respectable, rational and coherent description for the creation and
evolution of the universe. The Big Bang model offers an elegant
explanation of the origin of everything we see in the night sky, making it
one of the greatest achievements of the human intellect and spirit. It is the
consequence of an insatiable curiosity, a fabulous imagination, acute
observation and ruthless logic.
According to a Chinese creation myth that dates to 600 BC, Phan Ku the
Giant Creator emerged from an egg and proceeded to create the world by
using a chisel to carve valleys and mountains from the landscape. Next, he
set the Sun, Moon and stars in the sky; he died as soon as these tasks were
finished. The death of the Giant Creator was an essential part of the creation
process, because fragments of his own body helped to complete the world.
Phan Ku’s skull formed the dome of sky, his flesh formed the soil, his bones
became rocks and his blood created rivers and seas. The last of his breath
forged the wind and clouds, while his sweat became rain. His hair fell to
Earth, creating plant life, and the fleas that had lodged in his hair provided
the basis for the human race. As our birth required the death of our creator,
we were to be cursed with sorrow forever after.
Unfortunately, the scientific community has to admit that all these possible answers, from rebounding universes to spontaneous quantum creation, are highly speculative and do not yet properly address the ultimate question of where the universe came from. Nevertheless, the current generation of cosmologists should not be downhearted. They should rejoice in the fact that the Big Bang model is a coherent and consistent description of our universe. They should be proud that the Big Bang model is a pinnacle of human achievement, because it explains so much of the universe’s present by revealing its past. They should go out and tell the world that the Big Bang model is a tribute to human curiosity and our intellect. And if a member of the public should ask the toughest question of all, ‘What came before the Big Bang?’, then they might consider following St Augustine’s example.
In his autobiography, Confessions, written in about AD 400, the philosopher and theologian St Augustine quotes an answer he has heard to the theological equivalent of ‘What came before the Big Bang?’: What was God doing before He created the Universe? Before He created Heaven and Earth, God created hell to be used for people such as you who ask this kind of question.
Simon Singh, Big Bang, 2004.