Most evenings when the boys are at our house, sometime between the end of the school day and bedtime, the TV will land on the TBS channel of our local cable company, and we will all laugh at the antics of Leonard and Sheldon, Wolowitz and Koothrappali in the syndicated episodes of The Big Bang Theory.
I’ve been watching the show for years and was amused when I married and moved into a house with four males to find how very much they all loved the show, too. It was a happy accident if ever there was one. To be sure, not every episode contains suitable language or content for 10-, 12-, and 15-year-old boys, but we have learned to laugh quietly and answer only the questions asked.
One question that has been asked isn’t about the objectionable dating habits of the show’s characters or the fact that Koothrappali can talk to women only after he puts down a couple of cold ones. It’s about the name of the show itself.
In each episode, when producers cue the theme song, my youngest stepson can’t stand to hear the words, “it all started with a big bang.” At the top of his lungs, as if to drown out the theory as much as the lyrics, he often sings over the television, “it all started with God.”
“That’s stupid,” he’ll say. “The Big Bang isn’t true. God created everything.”
“That’s right,” I tell him. “We believe that God created the universe.”
“Then why do they say it was the Big Bang?” he asks. “They must not believe in God.”
And then, because I want him to know that things aren’t always so simple, I say, “There are some people who believe in God who also believe in the Big Bang Theory. They believe God caused The Big Bang.” I’ve actually met people who believe that. Maybe you believe that. But that’s not really the point. Not for my stepson.
I remember being young and confused about science. My spiritual life in Christ didn’t begin until I was 13, so I had had about 7 years of public school training on theories of origin to sort through when I started reading the Bible. For a while, I held very innocently the competing notions that I had evolved from an ape and I was created in God’s image. As my church education began to contradict what I learned in biology and chemistry, though, I wasn’t sure what to think.
Eventually, the mysteries of science became too overwhelming. For some reason, believing in a God I couldn’t see was much easier than trusting that the cells in my body were dividing at a miraculously fast pace. I understood how truth and love interacted much more easily than hydrogen and oxygen. It was just water.
Add to my confusion a chemistry teacher who struggled to explain key concepts, and I ended up a teary honor student who somehow aced the class by gleaning from the textbook what I needed to know to pass tests and nothing more. I refused to take physics from the same teacher my senior year, so my high school science career ended with only biology and chemistry. In college, I fulfilled my general education science requirement by taking a course called “Science for Living.” I was obligated to take no college level math. So much for the STEM fields.
For years, I’ve told people that I’m not the math and science type. And it’s true, really. I love painting and poetry; reading and writing. But I also look up at the stars, sometimes, and wonder. When I bake, I know enough to hold the vinegar away from the baking soda until just before I put the muffins in the oven. And when I run, the wind at my back makes me faster.
Sometimes, I wonder if those early days of trying to reconcile my faith and science curbed my appetite for knowledge about the way things work. I fear that like Scott Russell Sanders, faith and science cannot coexist in my life. In his essay, “The Force of the Spirit,” Sanders talks about his staggering belief in spiritual things. “Until I was twenty or so I embraced that faith, hoping for heaven, then I gradually surrendered it under the assault of science, and in dismay over witnessing so much evil carried out in Christ’s name” (238). Sometimes, these things happen as a result of each other.
Lately, with the theme song of The Big Bang Theory knocking around in my brain and the old fears of apostasy still heavy on my heart, I’ve become curious about science. I purchased Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, as a place to start, and though I realize that not all science is about origins, Bryson’s book starts there. Chapter One: “How to Build a Universe.” It’s all about the Big-Bang-induced, 13.7-billion-year-old universe emerging from vacuum energy and expanding to dimensions of at least a hundred billion light years across in one ten million trillion trillion trillionths of a second.
I don’t really get all of that, of course. I struggle to believe that anyone can. But the fact that I’m not alone in that — that even scientists themselves struggle with it — makes me want to keep reading.
It may be that our universe is merely part of many larger universes, some in different dimensions, and that Big Bangs are going on all the time all over the place. Or it may be that space and time had some other forms altogether before the Big Bang–forms too alien for us to imagine–and that the Big Bang represents some sort of transition phase, where the universe went from a form we can’t understand to one we almost can. ‘These are very close to religious questions,’ Dr. Andrei Linde, a cosmologist at Stanford, told the New York Times in 2001.
And the answers science offers seem to require a great deal of faith, it seems to me.
So far, the best thing I’ve learned from scientists? This: “we can’t really be the center of the universe–think what that would imply.”
That’s one scientific fact my faith would agree with.
Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. New York: Broadway Books, 2005. Kindle.
Sanders, Scott Russell. Earth Works. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2012. Print.