Describe the basics of the Big Bang Theory, the argument from design, and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Are any of these theories compatible with the Catholic faith's traditional beliefs about...

Describe the basics of the Big Bang Theory, the argument from design, and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Are any of these theories compatible with the Catholic faith's traditional beliefs about the creation of the universe?

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andrewhays0287 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Big Bang is a model for the origins and structure of the universe. According to the theory, the universe was once a very small singularity that then expanded. In the time following the Big Bang, the elements that form the building blocks of the universe began to coalesce, giving rise to stars and galaxies. The remnants of this expansion can be observed today in the cosmic microwave background, and the universe is still expanding today.  

Despite popular misconception, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is an explanation of the diversity of life, not an explanation for how life arose in the first place (this is called abiogenesis). Basically, evolution by natural selection is driven by environment and mutations. Environmental pressures will favor certain individuals within a population and not others; as a result, those individuals with favorable traits (driven by mutations and variations that exist within a population) will survive and pass on the traits that allowed them to survive. Over time, a population will evolve to become better suited to its environment as its environment changes.  

The argument from design is less specific than the Big Bang (model of the universe) or evolution by natural selection (explanation for the diversity of life). It instead attempts to justify a belief in a god by pointing to perceived design in the natural world. A famous example of this argument is the watchmaker analogy, which asks the listener to imagine stumbling upon a watch. The listener would not assume, the analogy argues, that the watch just appeared as a random coming together of parts. Rather, the listener would assume that the watch was designed by an intelligence. This can be applied to the rest of the natural world as well, as the world shows apparent design in its structure.

As the argument from design is specifically meant to prove the existence of a god, it is most certainly compatible with Catholic doctrine. Regarding the Big Bang, Catholic doctrine is explicit that God created the universe from nothing; however, it is open to the idea that the universe may have arisen gradually after this moment of creation (as the Big Bang suggests). Evolution (and specifically human evolution from previous species) is a little trickier to square with Catholicism. The reality of Adam and Eve is essential for the foundations of Catholic doctrine, specifically that the sin of Adam and Eve brought death into the world and the sacrifice of Christ brings salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

The concession that Genesis uses figurative language may allow for some wiggle room, but the Catholic Church is adamant that the events described did actually happen. A Catholic could argue that Adam and Eve were evolved from prior species before the events of Genesis took place, assuming that the language describing the creation of Adam from the Earth is this "figurative" language the Catechism speaks of. 

Richard Callaway eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The model of the Big Bang Theory explains the origin of the universe, proposing that it sprang into existence from nothing billions of years ago. The theory describes our current universe as the product of the expansion of a single point of extreme density and temperature. Support for the theory rests heavily on the universal nature of the laws of physics and upon the assumption that it is uniform and homogeneous. 

Darwin's theory of evolution explains how life emerged from non-life, and more complex creatures from simpler forms of life through the process of natural selection, resulting in the development new species over the course of time. 

The Argument from Design is the view that perceived evidence exists in the physical and natural world supporting the existence of an intelligent creator. Also referred to as the teleological argument, this view has its roots in ancient philosophy, and is evident in theology across several religions, including the Catholic faith.

The catechism of the Catholic Church supports the biblical view that attributes the creation of the universe, the earth, and all life to God, a single intelligent creator. Thus, the argument from design is most compatible with the view of the Catholic faith.