I'm doing some research and am trying to determine whether the creation story of Genesis, chapter 1 (7 days-let there be light) is consistent with the Big Bang Theory. I am finding sources that contradict one another. I'd like to know if the Genesis story of creation is consistent with the Big bang theory solely from a Catholic point of view.
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The Catechism of the Catholic Church has
Thus it may be seen that Catholic teaching, expressed in the Catechism, does not depend on the literal truth (or not) of Genesis 1. Other than a few brief words of literary analysis, it expresses no opinion — although St Augustine of Hippo certainly did. What is important is that Genesis 1 testifies that God created all that exists, and did so from nothing.
Although God is continually revealing himself and his methods, scientists have not reached the origin of creation, either by observation of the deep universe or by theoretical calculation. Even if one posits that the Big Bang was the means by which creation was effected, it is thought that everything emanated from a singularity: a point of infinite density and zero size — nothing.
128: Gen 1.1
The 1909 Pontifical Biblical Commission said:
See this for more info. So for Catholics there is no inconsistency.
Pope Pius XII spoke of the compatibility of the Catholic faith and the Big Bang theory in his 22 November 1951 speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. (Unfortunately, I don't know of an English translation of it, but this machine translation isn't too bad.)
To answer the question of whether "the Genesis story of creation is consistent with the Big bang theory solely from a Catholic point of view" we must define exactly the Catholic point of view and the Big Bang theory.
The Catholic point of view is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, points 290, 293 and 296. By the first and last, quoted by Andrew Leach in his response, to be an orthodox Catholic you must believe that God created freely and out of nothing, from a beginning of time (i.e. not from an infinite past), the totality of what exists outside of Himself. This is stated more succintly but with much greater magisterial weight in the Constitution "Dei Filius" of The Ecumenical Council Vatican I, Chapter 1 "On God the creator of all things" (quoted by Catechism #293):
As only the EWTN link shows, this passage of "Dei Filius" quotes in turn from a canon of the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215:
Therefore, Catholic doctrine requires you to believe the essentials of the Genesis account as stated above, but not the details. You are not required to believe that the six days were current 24-hour intervals or that plants and trees were actually created before the sun was.
Holding then the essentials of the Genesis account as required by Catholic doctrine, and not those details which contradict the findings of natural science, the account is consistent with "Big Bang Theory" as long as you impose on the latter the constraint of an absolute beginning, t=0.
Now, I placed "Big Bang Theory" (BBT) in scare quotes on purpose, because the meaning of the term is no longer univocal. If you are not interested in the subject, you can leave it at that. Otherwise, go on reading.
Today, the precise meaning of BBT requires making explicit the role of cosmological inflation. Historically, the first version of BBT, around 1930, was:
The Catholic-consistent flavor of that is creation ex-nihilo of the singularity, a state of extreme density. Now, to account for observations of flatness and homogeneity while avoiding theism-favoring extremely special initial conditions, atheist scientists developed the hypothesis of cosmological inflation, resulting in the second version of BBT, around 1980:
With the Catholic-consistent flavor thereof being the same as above. As the hypothesis of inflation makes a number of observational predictions which make it falsifiable, and as those predictions have been all verified by observations, the hypothesis currently enjoys a status of very high plausibility. The new problem is that, of the several possible models of inflation, current observations strongly favor inflation models which themselves require extremely special initial conditions to get started, which specifically exclude a previous "hot" initial state. Which allows a third plausible version of BBT, which is Catholic-consistent by design:
The beauty of this (currently wholly plausible) version is that it is consistent not only with the essentials of the Genesis account, but also with the details of days 1 and 2. It is described here:
The "problems" (not for Christians!) that make this version plausible are explained in my June 14 comment at the bottom of the discussion under this article: http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/physics-culture-and-theistic-cosmology-models/