“What if I don’t believe in the Big Bang?”

Good morning.

During one of today’s lessons, I received an email from a student asking the question above. As a science teacher, I’ve encountered this question before, usually when we study evolution, but my response applies equally to other fields of science – not just biology. I think it’s important to remind students and families about the key difference between the scientific and spiritual realms, and we will address the student’s question in my class later this week. I’ve pasted my response to this student below, with the student’s name changed for privacy reasons.

Hi Mr Kremer.

I was just wondering, what if you don’t really believe in the Big Bang? What if you believe in another theory?
Thank you
Curious Clinton, 8Z
That’s a good question Clinton, and for a lot of people it’s a tricky one. Part of the confusion is based on use of the word ‘believe’ instead of the more appropriate words ‘observe’ and ‘measure’.  Beliefs don’t need observable, measurable evidence. Observation means using only what we can directly sense and measure.

Science is based on observation and study of the natural world. We come up with ideas to try to explain what we can observe, and then we design ways to test those ideas – scientific experiments. If the idea fails the test, we reject it. If the idea is supported by the test, we build on it and go deeper, adding more detail so that we have a more complete picture of how the idea/process works. We keep doing this over and over again, and we have other people test the same ideas, until one of 2 things happens:

  1. the idea fails a test, and we reject it as being ‘not correct’
  2. the idea continues to be supported by observation, and we continue to build on it

So within science, it’s not really accurate to say that we ‘believe’ in an idea like the Big Bang Theory, or evolution by natural selection, or gravity. Rather, we accept the evidence that supports these theories. These theories have been tested many different ways by many different people and have always been supported by observation – what we can see, hear, smell, or sense. That means we consider them to be true up to the moment when one of them fails a fair test. If one of them fails a fair test and is disproved, scientists will no longer accept the theory as a valid explanation for how the world works.

One classic example is our understanding of the structure of our solar system. Before people developed the telescope, which allowed us to directly observe the other planets and their moons, the Geocentric model (Earth at the center of the solar system, with the Sun and the other planets orbiting around Earth) was accepted as scientific fact because it passed all the tests available at that time. But once we invented telescopes and were able to accurately see that moons orbit around other planets and those planets orbit around the Sun, we recognized that the ‘Geocentric’ model wasn’t correct – it failed the test of observation. So we developed a new idea called the Heliocentric model, which has proven correct everything we have been able to observe so far.

At some point in the future, when we have better technology that lets us make even more precise and accurate measurements and observations about our Universe, we may decide that the Big Bang Theory is wrong. When and if that happens, we will reject the BBT and start using a new, better explanation for how the Universe began.

Does that help? It was a really good question, and we will talk about it in class soon.

cheers

Mr K

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Neil deGrasse Tyson on this topic: “One of the beautiful things about science is that it’s true whether you believe in it or not.”

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