Creation, Holy Scripture, Philosophy of Nature, Theology, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

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

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