Final Word

Is the world going from big bang to big bang?

Big bang.jpg

Who have it right, the theologians or the scientists, when it comes to the beginning and the end of the world?

When contemplating this question a number of words, terms, names and theories come to mind, starting with God, creation, revelation/s and Armageddon for the theologians and big bang, evolution appropriated by the scientists.

It needs to be said right up front that there is nothing near a singular view on the subject among either one of the two groups – theories, beliefs and ‘insights’ abound. There are many debates between and within the two groups, often heated, long-running and ongoing.

But when we unpack some of those words, terms and theories at the heart of the broad debate, there just might be a possibility that both sides are correct.

Apocalypse and revelation

If we start with the word ‘apocalypse’ and its modern definition, we find that it generally reads as follows: “…an event involving destruction or damage on a catastrophic scale” – as in a “big bang”?

When you dig a bit deeper into the origin of this word, you discover that it comes from Greek word apokalyptein, meaning to uncover or reveal as in ‘revelation’. It migrated to Late Latin as apocalypsis and from there to Anglo-French as apocalypse. It arrived in English somewhere in the 13th century.

John of Patmos, while imprisoned by the Romans on the Island of Patmos, wrote in chapter 20 of the last book of the Bible about a “revelation” he received about a thousand-year reign of Christ/Messiah upon earth.

Today we know this writing of John as the book of Revelation. But it was originally called Apokalypsis (the title rendered into English as Apocalypse in 1230). It became Revelations in the translation by John Wyclif in 1380.

This book, more than any other, has shaped the view, or belief it you want, of Christians about the “end of time” or the world – a time of much tribulations leading to the ending of this age and the arrival of God's Kingdom.

In modern times the term 'apocalypse' has come to be used, widely and very loosely, for the expected end of the world and for the more scientific-minded, in quite a literal sense of the word.

Armageddon

Another term, which has also been introduced by “John of Patmos” in chapter 16: 16, and popularised in the modern culture of science fiction (by many regarded as in itself a form of “prophetic revelation”) is ‘Armageddon’.

As one source puts it: “Hundreds of authors have written books on the subject and dozens of movies have been produced depicting the ‘final battle between good and evil.’ Scientists and world leaders alike use the term to refer to the end of the world as we know it – the annihilation of mankind through nuclear, chemical and/or biological warfare.”

John wrote: “Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” (The New International Version of the Bible, 2001) For him it is a place where the kings of the earth under demonic leadership will wage war on the forces of God at the end of history.

In modern dictionaries ‘Armageddon’ is generally describe as “… the site or time of a final and conclusive battle between the forces of good and evil”. At times it is even more generally used to refer to events like an “environmental Armageddon”.

While some more agnostically inclined scientists warn that mankind could bring about its own final destruction and the end of the world as we know it, by a nuclear war, it is interesting (revealing?) to look at the origins of the term.

It most probably comes from the Palestinian city of Megiddo, located on a pass commanding a road connecting Egypt and Syria. In the times known to the John of Patmos it was the scene of many military encounters owing to its strategic location between competing empires.

This provokes the question: Is it mere coincidence that, according to many analysts, the same region presently poses the biggest danger of triggering a nuclear war?

Will this be the source of the “… flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder” that John wrote about?

But then it could also come from the postulation by some scientists that the world might just experience another ‘big bang’ in the cosmos that sees the earth clashing with other heavenly bodies.

Reality and symbolism

Even within the broader theological community the debate between the dispensationalists, interpreting John’s revelation of an apocalypse in concrete terms, and the “symbolist” followers of Emanuel Swedenborg has been going on for at least three centuries.

Into this whole debate around science on the one hand and religion on the other and of creation versus big bang, one can drop the theory of biological evolution, first proposed by Charles Darwin in his 1859 seminal work The Origin of Species.

The word ‘evolution’ from the Latin evolutionem, meaning “unrolling (of a book)”, was first used in English in 1620 to mean “an opening of what was rolled up”.

Darwin himself uses the word only once in his book, and illustrating the often false basis of the argument between religion and science, wrote: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” [Abridged version of Origin of Species]

Final word

To my mind there is no need to make a choice between religion and science over either the beginning of the world or its possible end. It all hinges on whether one’s perception of God is that of a magnificent “magician” or as the greatest scientist of all.

by Piet Coetzer

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Final Word

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