Whether God is an old man with a white beard, as portrayed by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or whether, on the contrary, God is a badly organized committee just blundering along, are theological questions beyond the scope of this web site. Consequently, when it comes to Creation, we’ll stick to the scientific news we read in the New York Times and witness on BBC TV.
Now, the cosmological news this season comes from astronomers at the South Pole who believe they’ve found evidence that in the trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Moment of Creation, or Big Bang, the universe expanded at a truly terrific rate and took on the smooth shape it appears to have today. They also believe they’ve found evidence of gravity waves – and no one has ever done that before.
The image above shows the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation, and those twists and turns were presumably produced during the period of terrific expansion, or inflation, which occurred very shortly after the Big Bang went bang! We don’t think the image is a suitable substitute for Michelangelo’s painting of God creating the sun and moon and planets, but what it portrays is evidence that our universe did undergo rapid expansion. Of course, the evidence will be queried and tested by other cosmologists before it gains complete acceptance.
Calling the Moment of Creation the Big Bang really shrinks it down rather a lot, and reduces it to an almost trivial phenomenon. Even so, it’s a difficult moment to envision. Most people – and this includes physicists, too, especially when they draw on the blackboard or make cinematic dramatizations of the event – imagine a vast volume of empty blackness and then a tiny white speck that explodes and is the BIG BANG. The problem with that vision is that prior to the event there’s nothing there, and by nothing we mean nothing at all – no big empty volume of blackness. Remember, prior to the Big Bang there’s no space. No, not even empty space.
Below is one of Michelangelo’s images from the Sistine Chapel showing God creating the sun and moon and other astronomical bodies. He looks rather angry, but maybe that’s because creating the cosmos is hard work, even for God — or maybe that’s just Michelangelo’s personal irritation coming out as he’s trying to paint while lying on his back on scaffolding way up close to the ceiling, with drops of paint spattering him.