Wolfgang Smith & The Pitfall of Astrophysical Cosmology

Wolfgang Smith on the Big Bang vs. Christian Faith“We propose now to look at the big bang scenario from a theological perspective. Leaving aside the question as to whether this cosmology is factually correct, we shall treat it as a kind of myth or icon, a symbol to be read. What, then, does the big bang signify? What above all strikes one is the idea of a temporal origin: the notion that the universe ‘did not always exist.’ This is not to say that ‘long ago’ the world did not exist, for time as we know it refers to cosmic events and cannot therefore antedate the universe itself: ‘Beyond all doubt,’ says St. Augustine, ‘the world was not made in time, but with time.’ What big bang theory affirms, rather, is that the universe has a finite age; the question, now, is whether this implies an act of creation ex nihilo. I would argue that, from a strictly logical point of view, it does not. But this is actually beside the point: we are now ‘reading the icon,’ a task which is not simply a matter of logical analysis. In its iconic import, I say, the big bang picture does overwhelmingly suggest what Christianity has always taught: namely, that the universe was brought into being some finite time ago through a creative act. As Pope Pius XII declared in 1951, in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Science:

‘In fact, it seems that present-day science, with one sweeping step back across millions of centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to that primordial Fiat lux uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation…Hence, creation took place in time; therefore, there exists a creator, therefore, God exists!’

It would seem from this animated papal expression of assent that the impact of big bang cosmology upon Christianity is bound to be salutary; but such proves not to be the case. I contend that the new cosmology has in fact exerted a baneful influence upon Christian thought, and has contributed significantly to the deviations and vagaries afflicting contemporary theology; how can this be? The answer is simple: icons can be dangerous, lethal actually, due to the fact that the icon itself can be mistaken for the truth, ‘the finger for the moon’ as the Chinese say. And this is what has actually happened in the case of the big bang: we are dealing, after all, with a scientific paradigm declared by the leading authorities to be factually true. Now, the problem is that in its factual as distinguished from its symbolic significance, the big bang scenario is flatly opposed to the traditional Christian cosmogony based upon Genesis. Take for instance the biblical fact that the Earth and its flora were created before the Sun, Moon and stars: surely this rules out all contemporary theories of stellar evolution, even as it rules out all contemporary theories of stellar evolution, even as it rules out all Darwinist claims. Theologians, as we know, have for the most part responded to this challenge by ‘demythologizing’ the first three chapters of Genesis; but in so doing, I contend once again, they have taken a wrong turn. Placing their trust in a man-made theory, which moreover stands demonstrably on shaky ground, they have contradicted the inspired teaching of the Fathers and the Church. Let it be said once again that the first three chapters of Genesis, taken in their literal historical sense, cannot be denied without grave injury to the Christian faith. The point has already been made implicitly in the preceding chapter: in bringing to light the content of biblical cosmogony, we have at the same time demonstrated its central importance to Christian doctrine. Whatever contemporary theologians may say in their pursuit of ‘scientific correctness,’ the fact remains that the teachings of Christianity presupposes the biblical cosmogony, even as the Redemption presupposes the Fall. It is utterly chimerical, thus, to imagine the doctrine of Christ actually makes sense in a big bang universe; and one might add that the biblical cosmogony has in fact been mandated by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1909. In a definitive response to eight questions relating to ‘The Historical Character of the Earlier Chapters of Genesis’ the Commission explicitly denies the validity of ‘exegetical systems’ which exclude the literal historical sense of the first three chapters.

Getting back to big bang cosmology, I would like to point out that this doctrine is evidently all the more compelling to a Christian public on account of its obvious symbolic signification: what could be more wonderful, after all, than a scientific cosmology bearing witness to the primordial Fiat lux! In conjunction with certain other scientific developments, the new cosmology has thus fostered a major movement of reconciliation between the scientific and the religious communities. Book titles such as ‘God and the New Physics’ (by physicist Paul Davies) or ‘God and the Astronomers’ (by the astronomer Robert Jastrow) have come to abound, and it is hardly possible, these days, to keep up with the profusion of seminars and symposia on ‘science and religion’ being held all over the world. And everywhere one encounters the same message of ‘peace and harmony’ from both of the former contestants. There is however a price to be paid on the part of religion: wherever a conflict does arise – as between Genesis and the big bang – it is always Christianity which is obliged, by the presiding experts, to conform its teaching to the latest scientific theory. It appears that a certain fusion of science and religion is now in progress on a world-wide scale, which threatens to transform Christianity into some kind of ‘theistic evolutionism’ more or less akin to the quasi-theology of Teilhard de Chardin.

In a word, the new cosmology is not quite as innocuous as one might think. So far from being compatible with the truth of Christianity, it proves to be one of the most seductive and potentially lethal doctrines ever to threaten the integrity of the Christian faith: a dogma amply capable, it seems, of ‘deceiving even the elect.’ The devil, they say, gives us nine truths, only to catch us in the end with a lie: could big bang cosmology be a case in point? Could this be the underlying reason why an atheistic science has now promulgated – to everyone’s amazement! – a doctrine which, on the face of it, glorifies God as the creator of the universe? It has at times been suggested that there is indeed a connection between a scientific enterprise and the demonic realm; this has been seriously affirmed, for example, by the late Orthodox Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, and again by the Catholic historian Solange Hertz. It is not easy, of course, to document such a connection; but the surmise of demonic influence is neither irrational nor indeed improbable. When it comes to a major onslaught against the Catholic faith, it behooves us to recall the sobering admonition of St. Paul, which may well bear also upon the point here at issue: ‘Put on the armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. We wrestle not against the flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’ The demonic connection then, of which we speak, may prove in the end to be more than a pious fantasy.”

– Wolfgang Smith, Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions – 


– Lucas G. Westman

4 thoughts on “Wolfgang Smith & The Pitfall of Astrophysical Cosmology

  1. It is important to understand that for a Catholic, i.e., a person not tempted by the simplistic notion of “literal” biblical interpretation, the Big Bang theory of the Universe really says nothing about the Creation ad nihilo, by God, of the Universe. Physical science explains physical transitions, i.e., changes in the world as constituted by energy and matter, and brought about within time and space. Creation concerns the absolute ground of justification for the Universe as something from nothing. The influence of Big Bang cosmology on Christian belief is positive, insofar as the theory remains a metaphor for God’s act of creation; the influence is potentially harmful insofar as one is mistaken for the other. The latter can be considered a part of the rationalism that has invaded Catholic doctrine in the past several hundred years.

    It is important for philosophers to understand that the question of the Universe being finite or infinite in temporal duration is simply not well defined in purely physical terms; first, because temporal duration cannot be invariantly defined under the conditions presupposed by general relativity; second, because physiochemical conditions in the early universe might readily be insufficient to maintain necessary conditions for the maintenance of a physical time variable. It is also important to note that the existence of a Universe infinite in past duration does imply that that Universe is onto-logically self-sufficient. Aristotle understood that.

    My (1960’s) generation was taught in Catholic catechism that “the Bible is not a science book”; an admonition meant to imply a peaceful coexistence between science and religion. As is now clear, naive claims of this kind never did suffice. They still don’t-


  2. Another important point for Christians to note when they read about the famous atheist and materialist physical cosmologists (their theories appear all the time in the “News” section of the paper): atheist scientists still strive to build a cosmology in which a Divine Creation ex nihilo is not necessary – a Universe that creates itself, if you will. How close can one get to doing this?j
    Well,energy and mass are not conserved in the early Universe, neither separately or together. So the Universe can get very small under physical law. Also, a lot of structure can be “emergent” from simpler structure. So the Universe can get quite simple without Divine intervention. What basic elements of creation from nothing seem to human intuition to be irreducible; thus essentially Divine?
    First, there must be a Void; an Ether; a nothingness or space; a bare potentiality within which something could come to be. Second, there must be an Idea of the Universe, of what structure might eventually emerge. Third, there must be an impulse; an act of will that it should Be Thus. These three provide a minimal foundation for the essentially Trinitarian or threefold nature of God-With-Us. God Within-Himself is unknowable. But a God who could be Creator must be like this-


  3. Wolfgang Smith supports his contention that the big bang theory is opposed to traditional Christian cosmogony based on Genesis with one example: “Take for instance the biblical fact that the Earth and its flora were created before the Sun, Moon and stars: surely this rules out all contemporary theories of stellar evolution, even as it rules out all contemporary theories of stellar evolution [sic], even as it rules out all Darwinist claims.” If the Genesis account is to be taken as Smith understands it, i.e. as a literal scientific account of creation in time, then we would have to accept that the Earth’s flora could flourish without sunlight. However, it is unlikely that such a belief would have been held by the inspired author if he lived in an agrarian society that understood something about growing plants for food. St. Augustine’s view, as explained by St. Thomas Aquinas in the first part of the Summa Theologica, is that the six days of creation do not denote a temporal succession of days measured by the solar circuit (since the sun was not made till the fourth day), but rather six classes of things known by angels (ST I, q. 58, a. 6; q. 57, a. 7, ad 1). St. Thomas repeatedly cites this view of Augustine with great respect, and treats Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis as a credible alternative to other more literal views (q. 74, a. 2).

    Moreover, the findings of the Pontifical Bible Commission of 1909, under the authority of Pope St. Pius X (hardly a modernist), do not exclude allegorical readings as long as they do not conflict with the foundations of the Christian religion specified in question 3 of that document (https://thesocraticcatholic.com/2017/02/08/pope-st-pius-x-responses-of-the-biblical-commission/comment-page-1/#comment-805). The responses to questions 4 through 8 of the 1909 commission allow for non-literal readings “when reason forbids us to hold, or necessity impels us to depart from, the literal sense” (q. 5). Fortunately, the Catholic tradition does not pit faith against the legitimate findings of science and common sense.


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