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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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You may be interested in the fact that Georges Lemaitre, a Roman Catholic priest, proposed the Big Bang Theory. At the time, the alternative theory was Steady State Theory. As time passed, the Big Bang Theory became the dominant view. Apparently, Lemaitre didn't felt any contradiction, and he was a Catholic priest. It's his calling to serve God and science. ;) –  Anonymous May 15 at 4:15
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Although a Catholic priest/cosmologist did develop the Big Bang Theory, I cannot speak for the Church. –  Anonymous May 15 at 4:17
    
Not from a Catholic point of view, but see: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/6932/… –  DJClayworth May 15 at 17:32

3 Answers 3

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has

289 Among all the Scriptural texts about creation, the first three chapters of Genesis occupy a unique place. From a literary standpoint these texts may have had diverse sources. the inspired authors have placed them at the beginning of Scripture to express in their solemn language the truths of creation — its origin and its end in God, its order and goodness, the vocation of man, and finally the drama of sin and the hope of salvation. Read in the light of Christ, within the unity of Sacred Scripture and in the living Tradition of the Church, these texts remain the principal source for catechesis on the mysteries of the "beginning": creation, fall, and promise of salvation.

290 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth":128 three things are affirmed in these first words of Scripture: the eternal God gave a beginning to all that exists outside of himself; he alone is Creator (the verb "create" — Hebrew bara — always has God for its subject). the totality of what exists (expressed by the formula "the heavens and the earth") depends on the One who gives it being.

295 We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom.141 It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance. We believe that it proceeds from God's free will; he wanted to make his creatures share in his being, wisdom and goodness: "For you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."142 Therefore the Psalmist exclaims: "O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all"; and "The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made."143 God creates "out of nothing".

296 We believe that God needs no pre-existent thing or any help in order to create, nor is creation any sort of necessary emanation from the divine substance.144 God creates freely "out of nothing".145

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
141: Cf Wis 9:9
142: Rev 4:11
143: Pss 104:24; 145:9
144: Cf Dei Filius, cann 2–4 (1869)
145: Lateran Council IV (1215)

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Yes, St. Augustine was the only of the Fathers of the Church to hold that םוי ("yom") only means a 24 day. Since there is no unanimous consent among the Fathers on this, Catholics are free to believe םוי ("yom") means a longer duration of time. –  Geremia May 21 at 2:56

Some Christians believe that the universe was created with apparent age, i.e., that it appeared fully formed, mature and complete, looking older than it actually was. For such Christians, the big bang is completely consistent because it is a description of how the universe appeared to have been created, not necessarily how it was created. The common argument against this position is that it makes God deceptive, but you would only be deceived if you first ignored God's revelation of how he acted.


A further explanation for this theory:

The universe God created has a few fundamental physical laws. One is the law of conservation of mass/energy: it is impossible for matter or energy to come into existence in the universe that did not exist before. (Ignoring quantum mechanics, in which case it would appear to come from other interactions, which we can detect now.) This is true even when God acts miraculously. When Jesus turned the water into wine the wine appeared much older than it really was. If you had tested it with today's technology you would have been able to detect the types of grapes it had been made from, the wood of the barrels it was stored in, the time it had matured. Jesus could not have made excellent wine that wasn't old, because young excellent wine can't exist.

The simplest miracle God could do is create a single particle, such as a photon. But God couldn't create a photon in a way in which the photon would have appeared to have spontaneously come into existence. The photon would appear to have been travelling in a straight line for all time before.

There is only one fully stable state for the universe: a singularity. The universe cannot appear to be infinitely old. So when God created the universe it must necessarily have appeared to come from a singularity. In a sense, the big bang is inevitable.

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This isn't a bad answer, but it's not a Catholic answer, and therefore not appropriate for this question. –  Flimzy May 15 at 21:02

The 1909 Pontifical Biblical Commission said:

The word “day” [םוי = yom] need not be taken in the literal sense of a natural day of 24 hours, but can also be understood in the improper sense of a longer space of time.

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.)

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Fundamentalists are aware that words have multiple meanings, but that when a word is considered in its context some of those meanings are excluded. That said this is a fair description of the Catholic position on the days of creation, but it doesn't specifically mention the big bang. –  curiousdannii May 21 at 3:10
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@curiousdannii: I've edited it. thanks –  Geremia May 21 at 3:31
    
It's now a good specific answer! :) –  curiousdannii May 21 at 3:47

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