Science is truly Catholic, and all true scientific studies are of God, because science explains the mechanisms by which God ordered creation. The universe is governed by mathematical laws and the laws of physics and chemistry that give those who study these disciplines incredible awe at the infinite complexity and wonder of God. Biology and Geology look at the earth, the universe, and living things, and help humans to understand exactly how much exacting care went into creating the world. However, scientists are not omniscient, and there are many “theories,” which are ideas that are widely accepted, but cannot or have not yet been absolutely proven. Evolution is a theory. It is critical to understand that theories are not or cannot be proven absolutely, which is why they are called theories and not laws. However, they can be worthy of belief insofar as they do not deny the Creator or the teachings of his Church. The Big Bang theory, in particular, is perfectly compatible with Scripture and Church teaching, and is a beautiful explanation of what may have happened directly after God willed the universe into being. While not the only theory of the creation of the universe, it is widely accepted in the scientific community and shows the majesty and divine order of Creation.
The theory states that the universe began with a tiny dense point, after which matter began to expand and organize into the stars, planets, and solar systems of the universe. Interestingly, it was a Belgian priest named Georges Lemaitre who first proposed this theory. He reasoned that the universe is expanding continuously, in direct contradiction to Albert Einstein’s belief at the time that the universe was at rest, according to the Vatican Observatory Foundation (VOF). Lemaitre believed that since the universe is expanding, it must first have been much smaller, going back to a dense point of origin. The VOF states that at first the term “Big Bang Theory” was used in derision by other scientists who discounted Fr. Lemaitre’s ideas. However, further study supported Fr. Lemaitre’s ideas and scientists began changing their minds. Einstein ended up calling the Big Bang Theory “the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.”
National Geographic states that the Big Bang, “allowed all the universe’s known matter and energy-even space and time themselves-to spring from some ancient and unknown type of energy.” This statement is extremely important. This “ancient and unknown…energy” is God Himself.
The Catholic Church has some clearly defined teachings on creation and the origin of the universe. In a most basic summation, God created all things, and at some point in creation history, there were a primordial man and woman with immortal souls, who sinned, losing the state of original innocence, and were subjected thereby to death. God did not abandon them, however, but promised to send the Redeemer. The Book of Genesis has beautiful imagery, but does not have to be taken literally by the faithful. When it stated that God created the earth in six days, resting on the seventh, it may not necessarily mean seven twenty-four hour periods, but rather, indeterminate ages of time. This would be compatible with an “old earth” theory, such as the Big Bang. Pope Pius XII counseled the Church in his encyclical, Humani Generis, that although not everything in Genesis may be literally understood, it was in fact inspired divinely, so it must be respected and revered when being discussed in light of scientific theories.
In that spirit of reverence for the book of Genesis, Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: On Evolution, that scholars “serve the truth.” He further recommended that theologians have an up to date knowledge of the most recent scientific developments! Both popes made the clear point that truth is unified-that true science is always compatible with the author of all truth, God. Some scientists may individually be atheists, but scientific disciplines themselves are of God. Pope Francis confirmed this in speaking to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, “The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it.” The Big Bang Theory is truly Catholic-proposed by Fr. Lemaitre and affirmed by our Pope today.
Fr. Lemaitre proposed his theories in the 1920’s, but centuries before, some prophetic frescoes were painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelo would have had no knowledge of modern scientific thought, but he painted God the Father as directing the motions of the planets, in effect painting the Big Bang centuries before it was known to man. In his painting of God creating the sun and moon, God’s hands are outstretched, pointed. God’s face is stern and commanding, directing the placement of the lights of heaven. It is just so that he can be imagined willing the universe into existence, the celestial bodies of the heavens obeying his commands as they expanded and became ordered into the stars and planets. Understanding the Sistine paintings in the light of scientific thought brings a new dimension to prayer life, and unites art and science, which both have their foundation in God the Creator.