In 1978, Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias would be awarded the Nobel Prize for physics. What had they discovered? In a nutshell, they discovered evidence for the beginning of the universe. These two men were working for Bell Labs attempting to measure “high latitude radiation from the Milky Way.” They were using the world’s most sensitive radio receiving device designed to pick up extremely low temperature radiation. In order to detect the extremely low temperature radiation they were looking for (the Milky Way radiation) they needed to get rid of any other “background noise” that would interfere. After accounting for and removing the other “noise,” they found that there was radiation they were picking up from beyond the Milky Way. Up until that time, many scientists believed in a “steady-state” theory of the universe that basically said that the universe was eternal. Many people had problems with this theory and other ideas were formulated. A few concepts that are out there include the Eternal Inflation/Multiverse Theory, the Oscillating Universe Theory, and other ideas that include things reminiscent of the movie the Matrix. Some of the theories seem pretty fantastic. It seems that many of them want to avoid the implications of a beginning, which the evidence for the Big Bang seems to point to.
Before Penzias’ and Wilson’s discovery of the background radiation, many scientists had put forth an idea of a Big Bang. These scientists believed that the universe exploded into existence from nothing. “Creatio ex nihilo,” is the Latin phrase used by scientists meaning creation out of nothing. A couple of these early Big Bang Theorists, Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman actually predicted that there would be a low level background radiation from the initial explosion…a sort of after-glow of creation. In 1948 they predicted that this background radiation would have a temperature of 5 degrees Kelvin. When Penzias and Wilson discovered the radiation, they found that Alpher and Herman were really close, as the actual temperature was 3 degrees Kelvin.
I sometimes enjoy reading modern scientists’ thoughts on origins, space, time, life, etc. I’ve enjoyed reading some of Stephen Hawking’s writings such as A Brief History of Time. I consider any and every idea based on whether it is logically coherent, consistent and whether it jibes with what I know of science. I’m not as concerned with the certifications or titles of the person sharing the idea as I am the validity of his/her arguments. That being said, I recognize that I am a person with presuppositions and biases. I am not alone in this. Everyone has them. Including the scientists. What I have found in listening to many ideas regarding the beginning of the universe, is that that at some point the theorist begins to use language that sounds more meta-physical than physical. There are often attributes of the universe described using deistic qualities or, nonsensical descriptions of time before time began.
The difficulty of the Big Bang for many is that it necessitates a beginning. But, this beginning is very different than anything ever witnessed or experienced. This would be the beginning of time, space, matter, and mass, EVERYTHING in the physical universe. There are innumerable difficulties for the thinker who believes that the physical universe is all there is. One difficulty is what, or Who caused the beginning. The attributes of the cause/Cause would necessarily transcend time, space, matter, etc. To state that affirmatively, one would say that the Cause would be immaterial, timeless, and infinitely powerful. One could also argue that the Cause would be personal as it/He chose to create something from nothing. The ability to choose an action versus inaction, or to actualize the potential universe, seems like it would require a mind. I have my biases. I get it. But, I’d encourage you to read some of the science that seeks an explanation apart from a cause like the one I describe. You will quickly see that there are biases throughout as well.
Earlier today I read excerpts from a recent interview with Stephen Hawking in which he was seeking to describe time before time and the universe before the universe. Professor Hawking has a brilliant mind and has contributed much to science particularly in the fields of quantum mechanics, physics, mathematics, and cosmology. Still, there are times when I read the ponderings of his gifted mind and wonder what pushes him past the simple yet astonishing truth that an Infinite, Powerful, Timeless, Loving Creator brought this all in to being. I’ll close with a couple of quotes by Robert Jastrow, the former Dartmouth Professor, physicist, astronomer, and NASA scientist.
"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries." God and the Astronomers (Norton 1978)
Jastrow, who referred to himself as an agnostic and a non-believer, concluded in a 1982 Christianity Today interview:
"Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact."
Until next time when we’ll discuss the appearance of life in our universe.
Each day we go into the world with the opportunity to make an impact. Each person whose paths cross ours matters. Lives intersect for a reason. I believe there is One who directs our steps to these sometimes seemingly random meetings. My goal for these encounters is that I make a difference. That is my desire for those who venture across my blog. I hope you are blessed and it makes a difference for you.