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Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Big Bang explored

I came across an excellent article that addresses cosmology in some detail and yet is entirely designed for the eyes of the layman. I intend to present some of the article and some attendant comments as a change of pace from the President posts, which will still keep going until done. Notice the questions to be answered by you (if you will) at the end of this post! Let us begin:


Stephen Hawking, the Big Bang, and God


Henry F. Schaefer III

Professor Henry F. (Fritz) Schaefer is one of the most distinguished physical scientists in the world. The U.S. News and World Report cover story of December 23, 1991 speculated that Professor Schaefer is a “five time nominee for the Nobel Prize.” He has received four of the most prestigious awards of the American Chemical Society, as well as the most highly esteemed award (the Centenary Medal) given to a non-British subject by London’s Royal Society of Chemistry. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Moreover, his general interest lectures on science and religion have riveted large audiences in nearly all the major universities in the U.S.A. and in Beijing, Berlin, Budapest, Calcutta, Cape Town, New Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, London, Paris, Prague, Sarajevo, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sofia, St. Petersburg, Sydney, Tokyo, Warsaw, Zagreb, and Z├╝rich.

For 18 years Dr. Schaefer was a faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley, where he remains Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus. Since 1987 Dr. Schaefer has been Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Chemistry at the University of Georgia.


Obviously Dr. Schaefer is well qualified to write on his subject matter. There should be no complaints in that regard.

The Big Bang

Cosmology is the study of the universe as a whole - its structure, origin, and development. The subjects cosmology addresses are profound, both scientifically and theologically. Perhaps the best way to define cosmology is in terms of the questions that it asks. Hugh Ross does an excellent job of stating these questions in his important book The Fingerprint of God (Second Edition, Whitaker House, 1989):

1. Is the universe finite or infinite in size and content?
2. Has the universe been here forever or did it have a beginning?
3. Was the universe created?
4. If the universe was not created, how did it get here?
5. If the universe was created, how was this creation accomplished, and what can we learn about the agent and events of creation?
6. Who or what governs the laws and constants of physics?
7. Are such laws the products of chance or have they been designed?
8. How do the laws and constants of physics relate to the support and development of life?
9. Is there any knowable existence beyond the apparently observed dimensions of the universe?
10. Do we expect the universe to expand forever, or is a period of contraction to be followed by a big crunch?


These are great questions, the kind of questions cosmologists ask and then seek to answer. These are questions that could have natural or supernatural explanations, whether those of you who refuse to consider the supernatural like it or not.

Let me begin by noting the relationship between my own research as a quantum chemist and the field of cosmology. On November 5, 1973, my research group published its first paper on interstellar molecules, the molecules that exist in those relatively empty regions between the stars. Our paper appeared in the journal Nature and was titled "Theoretical Support for the Assignment of X-ogen to the HCO+ Molecular Ion." The motivation for research on interstellar molecules has largely derived from the suggestion that these are the elementary materials from which life might have originated. My research group has continued its interest in interstellar molecules over the years, with many of our papers being published in the Astrophysical Journal, considered by some to be the premier journal in the field. Our most recent paper in the field, titled "Ion-Molecule Reactions Producing HC3NH+ in Interstellar Space: Forbiddenness of the Reaction between Cyclic C3H3+ and the N Atom," appeared in the November 10, 1999 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. Three more recent astrophysical papers involving my research group are in various stages leading to publication.

The idea that the universe had a specific time of origin has been philosophically resisted by some very distinguished scientists. Hugh Ross has done an excellent job of summarizing this resistance. Ross begins with Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), who experimentally confirmed Einstein's (1879-1955) general theory of relativity in 1919. Eddington stated a dozen years later: "Philosophically, the notion of a beginning to the present order is repugnant to me. I should like to find a genuine loophole." Eddington later said, "We must allow evolution an infinite amount of time to get started."

Albert Einstein's response to the consequences of his own general theory of relativity may be reasonably interpreted to reflect a possible concern about the peril of a confrontation with the Creator. Through the equations of general relativity, we can trace the origin of the universe backward in time to some sort of a beginning. However, to evade this seemingly inevitable cosmological conclusion, Einstein introduced a cosmological constant, a "fudge factor," to yield a static model for the universe. He longed for a universe that was infinitely old. In fairness, Einstein later considered this to be one of the few serious mistakes of his scientific career. However, even this concession must have been painful, as Einstein had a strong conviction that all physical phenomena ultimately should be accounted for in terms of continuous fields everywhere (see Max Jammer's 1999 book Einstein and Religion).

Einstein ultimately gave at best reluctant assent to what he called "the necessity for a beginning" and eventually to "the presence of a superior reasoning power." But he never did embrace the concept of a personal Creator, a compassionate God who cares for men and women and children.


Albert Einstein the scientist is almost universally lauded for his brilliance, not just for his ability to translate ideas into formulas, but to be imaginative in his conceptions of the possible. Einstein could think well beyond the envelope!

We know that Albert Einstein struggled with his concept of God for his entire life. At the end of his lifetime he acknowledged the idea of God in some form but was not able to truly define that belief.

~~~~~~~

What do you believe about the questions asked above? Allow me to encourage you to consider your answers by sharing with you my own:

1. Is the universe finite or infinite in size and content?

I suspect that it is finite but I am not entirely sure. It's boundaries may well be, not within dimension but by dimension.

2. Has the universe been here forever or did it have a beginning?

It had a beginning

3. Was the universe created?

Yes, it was created.

4. If the universe was not created, how did it get here?

That is a big problem for those who believe it was not created...

5. If the universe was created, how was this creation accomplished, and what can we learn about the agent and events of creation?

I believe that much of those answers are found in scripture. The Bible describes in a very general way the creation of everything. Knowing that all was created, and by Whom, gives us a frame of reference for studying the Universe and understanding its rules and secrets.

6. Who or what governs the laws and constants of physics?

God created the laws and constants and maintains them.

7. Are such laws the products of chance or have they been designed?

Designed.

8. How do the laws and constants of physics relate to the support and development of life?

The laws and constants were designed to allow life to flourish in the manner in which it is observed to exist.

9. Is there any knowable existence beyond the apparently observed dimensions of the universe?

The Maker of the Universe says that there is existence beyond this observed existence.

10. Do we expect the universe to expand forever, or is a period of contraction to be followed by a big crunch?

If left entirely alone, I would expect the Universe to continue to expand from our frame of reference. We really have difficulty observing anything much beyond, what, 13,000 million light years or so away from our little world and have yet to find an ending or any force that might bring the expanding matter back together.

~~~~~~~

Don't be afraid to cut-and-paste the questions and fill in your own answers. Such questions, asked of oneself, are a part of taking a personal point-of-view audit. More on this subject to come!

2 comments:

Mazement said...

Twenty years ago I thought I knew the answers to most of those questions...the obvious model was "universe of finite size, going through expansion/contraction cycles over infinite time".

But that's not consistent with some of the latest research. There are a couple of different models floating around, but at this point I think the only reasonable answer to those questions is "I don't know."

(That's assuming that we rely on observations from the physical universe. If we look at holy books and other communications from God, then we can get specific answers...the trouble is that people from different traditions have different answers, plus a lot of them seem to be peddling snake-oil. At this point I don't trust any of them. So I'm going to stick with "I don't know.")

creeper said...

I agree with mazement that the only reasonable answer to the questions is "I don't know". I'll give you my hunches though.


1. Is the universe finite or infinite in size and content?

I suspect it's infinite in size, in the dimensions we know.

2. Has the universe been here forever or did it have a beginning?

Been here forever, though perhaps not continuously in the form we know.

3. Was the universe created?

IMO, nope.

4. If the universe was not created, how did it get here?

Why did it have to "get here"?

5. If the universe was created, how was this creation accomplished, and what can we learn about the agent and events of creation?

We don't know how it came about, whether we believe in God or not.

6. Who or what governs the laws and constants of physics?

Why does someone or something have to "govern" them?

7. Are such laws the products of chance or have they been designed?

I'm going with chance, certainly from our limited perspective.

8. How do the laws and constants of physics relate to the support and development of life?

Obviously forms of life not suited to the laws and constants of physics would never have flourished in the first place.

9. Is there any knowable existence beyond the apparently observed dimensions of the universe?

There very well could be some existence, but I doubt very much that it is "knowable" by our limited organic perspective.

10. Do we expect the universe to expand forever, or is a period of contraction to be followed by a big crunch?

No idea.


And I wanted to go back to this one thing that Radar said:

"4. If the universe was not created, how did it get here?

That is a big problem for those who believe it was not created..."


Seems to me it's a big problem for those who believe it was created just the same.

If the universe was created, how did it get here?

Simply throwing your curiosity out the window doesn't mean you've answered the question.