But. . .Why?
The question asked by millions of children everyday is the key to understanding, and is fundamental to appreciating our place in the universe. Why?
Almost from the moment he wakes up everyday, my four-year old asks the question why? dozens of times per day. When you’re four, the questions are mostly mundane: Why can’t I use the iPad? Why didn’t you have an iPad when you were four? Why do I have to eat breakfast? Why can’t you play with me? etc. Sometimes, the questions highlight his rapidly developing understanding: Why is that car red? Why is she sad? Why am I a boy and her is a girl? (We’re still working on personal pronouns.)
When everything is new, why is the most important question to ask.
Turns out, no matter how old we get, why is still a really important question. Why is at the center of nearly every serious inquiry; the heart of understanding why things are the way they are.
A good origin story is almost universally loved. When we see a movie featuring a new superhero, we want to know why she’s here, why she has superpowers, and why she fights for humanity.
Our universe holds the record for the best origin story. According to scientists, however, we’ve only been smart enough for about 10,000 years to ponder the questions: Why are we here and why did it all start in the first place?
The Big Bang
David Christian, a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union and aficionado of “big history”, in his TED talk entitled What Are The Origins Of The Universe, gives a concise recap of the Big Bang theory. The generally-accepted age of the universe, based on a Hubble Constant of 70, is about 13.8 billion years. Inh Jee, of the Max Plank Institute in Germany, and her team recently calculated a Hubble Constant of 82.4 which makes the universe much younger; a mere 11.4 billion years old. Whatever the age, the essence of the Big Bang is that our universe began as a blob (a technical term) of essentially infinite density, super-heated beyond anything measurable, that spontaneously exploded, converting some kind of matter-energy soup into the primary building blocks of matter, beginning the birth of the universe.
There are some really big why questions that the Big Bang theory hasn’t answered yet:
- Why did the explosion happen in the first place? Why don’t we know what the catalyst was?
- Why did it take hundreds of millions of year for stars to form? Why did they form at all?
- Why did planets take another billion or so years to start forming? Why did they form? Why did earth not form until about 4.5 billion years ago?
- Why do certain regions of our vast universe remain chaotic while others are not? Why are vast regions of space just empty?
- Why does our solar system have eight or nine or is it eight or is it thirteen planets?
Those are pretty big questions to consider. Let’s bring them down to the microscopic level and just look at our tiny, infant earth.
According to one Wikipedia article, the earliest undisputed forms of life on earth appeared 3.5 billion years ago. This raises other questions:
- Why did earth develop an atmosphere that favors carbon-based life?
- Why did life appear at all?
- Why does life desire to thrive; to survive? Why do species self-replicate?
- Why is there so much diversity of life on earth?
- Why did some species evolve as herbivores, others as carnivores, and still others as omnivores?
- Why don’t we see the kind of dramatic evolution that started life anymore?
- Why does nature love symmetry?
- Why did humans evolve as a rather unique species on this planet?
- Why do humans make decisions to do things that are contrary to our own survival yet most other species don’t (lemmings excepted)?
A Theological Answer
About half the people who started reading this haven’t made it this far. Half of the remaining readers left when they read this section heading.
I am a firm believer in God. I am also a firm believer in science. I don’t believe the two have to be mutually exclusive.
A belief in God — intelligent design if you want to look at Him that way — helps answer some of the most vexing questions that science has yet to adequately address. We can’t use belief in God or intelligent design to justify ignorance, however. Part of why we were put here in the first place is to spend our lives trying to answer big, complex questions: the really big WHYs of our existence.
- Why are we here?
- Amidst all the intelligent life on earth, why did we, the species homo sapiens, develop the mental capacity to consider the existence of God while no other species did?
- Why do some people believe in God while others don’t?
- Why do some people choose to persecute each other over differing beliefs?
- Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people?
- If there is a God, why does He even allow such things? Why doesn’t He just give us all the answers?
Many people today, both secular and Christian, want us to believe that science and religion cannot live together. Not only is this untrue, but we believe that a thoughtful dialogue between science and faith is essential for engaging the hearts and minds of individuals today. — Tim Keller, Pastor & Author
It is easy for me to accept many of the tenants set forth in the Big Bang theory when framed on top of my foundational belief in God. We may, at some point, come to understand all the intricacies of a great cosmological process that set the birth of the universe in motion. Whatever that explanation, I believe it was God who set it in motion.