Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Tell me about the Big Bang!

Richard Dawkins, the well-known evolutionary biologist and atheist, received the following letter today from someone in Massachusetts.

As he's doubtless had more than a few such letters to respond to, he opened it out to members of his forum to formulate a response.

The original letter reads as follows:

Dear Darwin's Intellectually Fulfilled Atheist Friend:

I have a bit of a problem trying to understand the Big Bang which resulted in the formation of our Universe.
I wonder if you could consult with your fellow atheist, Philip Pullman (whom I understand is a fellow Professor at Oxford University -- ) and explain how the Big Bang resulted in a magnificently complicated but orderly Universe, instead of the largest pile of rubble imaginable.

Lawrence McNeil

PS If Oxford University offers a course which might be entitled The Wisdom of Atheism I would be interested in taking it over the internet.

Here's how I'd respond if the letter was passed to me to handle:

Dear Lawrence,

Before you attempt to get your head around the formation of the universe, there are a few less grand things you need to understand first.

Firstly, the scientists who specialise in this area are called cosmologists, so for the best explanation you should really direct your query to one of them.

Philip Pullman is not a Professor at Oxford University, although he did study there (he got a third-class BA in English). He is not a cosmologist, he is a writer, mostly of fiction.

Richard Dawkins is not a cosmologist either. He is an ethologist and evolutionary biologist.

Whilst both these men could, I'm sure, give you a good summary account of the "Big Bang" model of the universe, you would really be better contacting a cosmologist.

Or reading a book.

Perhaps you've had a bad experience with books in the past, and certainly some of the books that purport to explain the universe and how we came to take our place within it contain many contradictions and don't really add up.

The Bible is one widely read example of such a book, and in all honesty I find myself unable to recommend it as a good starting point for anyone wanting to understand how our universe came to be the way it is today.

But not all books are like this - some are genuinely interesting, clear and to the point, and explain today's understanding of how the universe was formed with minimal technical jargon.I recommend you have a read of Bang! The Complete History of the Universe.

Once you've read that, if it doesn't satisfy you, it should at least give you a better understanding and therefore a basis for formulating more specific questions on details you want more information about.

I wish you the best of luck on your journey towards understanding!

yours sincerely,


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