Last week, scientists made a truly spectacular discovery. They believe they found the most direct evidence for the big bang theory—a signal left in the sky after the rapid expansion of space that rippled its own fabric mere seconds after the universe came into being.
Needless to say, this is no small discovery. It calls to mind many questions, some of them answerable, others far less so. Among the immediately answerable questions may be, “Well, how’d they find this, and what does it mean?” According to Jonathan Amos of BBC News, “The aim has been to try to find a residual marker for ‘inflation’—the idea that the cosmos experienced an exponential growth spurt in its first trillionth, of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second.” An American team working in the South Pole, called BICEP2, announced the discovery.
In an AMA on Reddit, Dr. Randol Aikin, co-author and collaborator on BICEP-2 discussed the importance of this discovery for giving an answer to the formation of our universe. “To give a bit more of a complete answer, folks that work in this field, in general, skirt questions about "before" the big bang. In part, this is because different people mean different things when they say "big bang". Some people consider the process of inflation (a period of rapid expansion in the early universe) is itself the big bang. Others will tell you that the big bang is the thing that gave rise to inflation. Our discovery will absolutely help us understand the process of inflation and what gave rise to inflation.”
In terms of the less answerable questions, the blogosphere exploded after the discovery, with questions about the potential repercussions of this most recent discovery amongst those most devout—people who hold with absolutely certainty that God must have created the universe. This fascinating discovery begs a hugely important question: Does this massive step forward in our understanding of the natural causes of our universe—that a mere pattern of light from the early universe could suggest an inciting event in the formation of everything—warrant a shake in one’s faith?
I’m not the man to answer this question, but it would surely be an unfair one to ignore. With every massive scientific discovery, such as the Higgs boson particle and now inflation, it seems more natural evidence is always becoming available for how the universe works.
Of course, this does nothing to diminish the inherent excellence of having faith—it’s a truly wonderful thing. But what’s so fantastic about the information we’re receiving is that it stands to give us more information. Regardless of what you believe, being more aware of where you came from and how you came into being is the end at which many of our queries aim. Maybe this time we can reach over the aisle and hail this discovery for what it is: a massive stepping stone in discovering the origins of our universe. It’s a discovery that ought to move us all, in one way or another.