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The Big Bang

Lawrence Bush
March 31, 2018

The Big Bang theory about the origin of matter in our expanding universe was proposed on this date in 1948 inThe Physical Review by Ralph Asher Alpher and George Gamow. (Gamow, an eminent Soviet physicist who had ‘defected’ to the U.S. in 1934, added the name of Hans Bethe as an author so that the byline — Alpher, Bethe and Gamow — would read like a pun on the first three letters of the Greek alphabet.) Their work affirmed that the extreme conditions at the start-up of the universe could explain the existing abundance of its most common elements. The phrase, “Big Bang,” was coined in derision by astronomer Fred Hoyle on BBC radio two years later. Ralph Alpher, a Ph.D. student, performed most of the mathematical computations involved in the theory, and his dissertation defense was attended by many members of the press. Alpher received the National Medal of Science in 2005. While the Big Bang theory has been invoked by modern kabbalists as an argument for God’s existence, many physicists see it as actually mooting a role for a Creator deity.

“[The pope] told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God.I was glad then that he did not know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference — the possibility that space-time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation. I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death!” —Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.