People who belong to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faith families have long held a notion that the universe as we know it was created by God, and many believe that the initial act of creation occurred in an instant. Modern cosmologists use different terminology to avoid making theistic suggestions. Nevertheless, the process seems fairly similar. Beginning with nothing, something popped into existence. That something started out infinitesimally small, and it got really big, really fast.
How fast? In a tiny fraction of a second. A fraction so small, it can be hard to understand. For example, consider the whole number 1. If you divide it into ten pieces, each of those pieces represents one-tenth. Written as a decimal, one-tenth is 0.1. One hundredth is 0.01. One thousandth, 0.001. The series can continue indefinitely with the fractions representing smaller and smaller pieces every time a zero is added to the string between the decimal point and the one.
To represent extremely big numbers or minutely tiny fractions, scientists use a method called scientific notation. In essence, it indicates the number of decimal places in a way that doesn't require writing out all of the zeros. For example, 100 would be 12, a one, followed by two zeros. Fractions are indicated in a similar way using a minus sign to show how many decimal places are involved. One hundredth (0.01) would be 1-2. One thousandth (0.001) would be 1-3, and so on.
One thousandth of a second is called a millisecond. It is a time frame commonly used to measure the blink of an eye, a process that generally takes about 100 to 400 milliseconds. One hundred or four hundred milliseconds equal 0.100 or 0.400 seconds.
Cosmologists believe that the universe may have grown from its initial appearance to something billions upon billions of times bigger in a much smaller fraction of a second than the blink of an eye. That initial moment in time is measured as lasting from 1-36 seconds until 1-33 or 1-32 seconds. In other words, if the duration began at a moment identified as 0.000000000000000000000000000000000001, it lasted until 0.000000000000000000000000000000001 or 0.00000000000000000000000000000001. That's a moment so short it is still all those zeros away from approaching one second. In other words, in an instant.
The scientific theory explaining this possibility is called cosmic inflation. It was initially proposed by Alan Guth and other physicists in the 1980s. In May 2014, Guth and two others were awarded the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics for their work related to cosmic inflation.
One of the consequences of the hypothesis was that gravitational waves should have been created. Recent experimental data obtained in Antarctica by a special telescope called BICEP2 seem to provide an indication of these gravitational waves, although the findings have yet to be confirmed.
Here are some links for more information about BICEP2 and its implications for cosmology:
- For non-scientifically trained readers, "Ripples from the Big Bang," produced by The New York Times provides an explanation.
- For the technically minded, more details can be found from the Harvard CMB Group and the BICEP2 2014 Results Release webpage.
People of faith should exercise caution before celebrating this as scientific confirmation of creation, however. Although it may be fun to appreciate an apparent convergence of theoretical and theistic understanding, neither should be held as the final word. As human understanding continues to expand in both realms, new discoveries and new revelations may expose things that haven't yet even been imagined.