Search This Blog

Monday, September 18, 2006

Big Bang Part Three - Implications

Continuing to hear from Dr. Schaefer....

It is an unusual day when newspapers all over the world devote their front page headlines to a story about science. But that is exactly what happened on April 24, 1992. Announced on that date were the results of the so-called "big bang ripples" observations made by the cosmic background explorer (COBE) satellite of NASA. These ripples are the small variations in the temperature of the universe (about 2.7 degrees Celsius above absolute zero) far from heavenly bodies. These observations were remarkably consistent with the predictions of the Big Bang Theory. The particular item that the London Times, New York Times, etc. seemed to pick up on was a statement by George Smoot, the team leader from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. He said, "It's like looking at God." For obvious reasons, this headline captured the attention of thinking people throughout the world. In the euphoria that followed, Stephen Hawking described the big bang ripples observations as "the scientific discovery of the century, if not all time."

A somewhat more sober assessment of the big bang ripples observations was given one week later in the Los Angeles Times by Frederick Burnham, a science-historian. He said, "These findings, now available, make the idea that God created the universe a more respectable hypothesis today than at any time in the last 100 years."

Now here is a matter of scientific study leading to a possible acknowledgement of the existence of a Creator God. Not a matter of philosopy or faith, but scientific study. Reading on...

George Smoot, leader of the COBE team of scientists, and I were undergraduate classmates at M.I.T. We both arrived in September of 1962 and graduated in June of 1966. I do not remember meeting George Smoot, but his last name was famous within the M.I.T. community from the first day of our freshman year. However, the fame of the name Smoot was not such as to suggest that George would become one of the world's most famous scientists 26 years following his graduation from M.I.T. Social fraternities were very popular during our years at M.I.T. In fact, about one-third of the undergraduate student body lived in these fraternities, which were located across the Charles River from M.I.T. Students were encouraged to join a fraternity in the week before the beginning of their freshman year. One of the "better" fraternities was named Lambda Chi Alpha. I visited Lambda Chi Alpha, but chose instead the best fraternity at M.I.T., namely Sigma Alpha Epsilon. For those of you who believe that American social fraternities excel primarily in drunkenness and debauchery, let it be noted that it was a full ten years later that I became a Christian.

(I was considering pledging to SAE before I was drafted into the Army, so my primary remembrances of fraternity activities are limited mainly to poker and tackle football games on the lawn across the street from SAE house. Just a useless factoid.)

Returning to the story, in 1958 Oliver R. Smoot, Jr., a new member of Lambda Chi Alpha, is said to have consumed an excessive amount of a common chemical reagent, namely ethyl alcohol. In a semi-conscious state, this Smoot, 5'7" tall, was rolled across the Harvard Bridge by his fraternity mates numerous times. On the next day, the Harvard Bridge was smartly adorned with Smoot markers. At every ten Smoots (an interval of about 56 feet) brightly painted markers noted the achievement. The total length of the Harvard Bridge was boldly proclaimed at both ends to be 364.4 Smoots plus one ear. During the 1963-1964 academic year, my fraternity decided that Smoot was getting far more credit than he deserved. One of our members, Fred Souk, declared that he was fully the equal if not the better of Smoot in every respect. So we went out in the dark of night, painted out the Smoot marks, and replaced them with Souk marks. Fred was a bit taller than Smoot, so the total number of Souks did not quite match the old Smoots. As it turned out, this action enraged the members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. The Souk marks were obliterated the very next night, and replaced with the venerable Smoots, which continue to this date to be repainted regularly on the Harvard Bridge. I must confess to some surprise that when I read George Smoot's semi-autobiographical popular book about the big bang ripples, titled Wrinkles in Time, I found no mention of the most celebrated achievement associated with his name, the immortal Smoot marks. However, on his web site George Smoot acknowledges that Oliver R. Smoot, Jr. is "a distant relative." Apparently, the only Smoots ever to attend M.I.T. were Oliver R. Smoot, Jr., George Smoot, and Oliver's son Stephen Smoot.

Not everyone was ecstatic about the Smoot observations that revealed the so-called "big bang ripples." Certainly, those who had argued so strongly and passionately for a steady state model of the universe did not appreciate the interpretation of these results. The latter group included most prominently two senior scientists, Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-), the British astronomer, and Geoffrey Burbidge (1925-), a distinguished astrophysicist at the University of California at San Diego.

We may continue to probe the philosophical implications of these big bang ripples observations by assessing a statement of Geoffrey Burbidge (made during a radio discussion with Hugh Ross) concerning these matters. Burbidge discounts the most obvious interpretation of the new experiments. He remains a strong advocate, in the face of seemingly overwhelming evidence, of the steady state theory. Remarkably, Burbidge stated that the COBE satellite experiments come from "the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang." Of course George Smoot took strong exception to this statement. In his popular 1993 book Wrinkles in Time Smoot does write cautiously "There is no doubt that a parallel exists between the big bang as an event and the Christian notion of creation from nothing." Burbidge did say something in the same interview that is indisputable, however. He predictably favored the steady state hypothesis and claimed that his view supports Hinduism and not Christianity. That is correct, because the steady state theory of the universe, were it to be true, would provide some support for the never ending cycles of existence taught by orthodox Hinduism.

Note that here the scientist (Burbridge) is ignoring evidence, making fun of it in fact, because it doesn't fit into his world view....Kind of like how evolution-believing scientists behave towards Intelligent Designers, maybe?

Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist turned generalist, has written very persuasively on this topic. He again brings us to the philosophical implications. Ross states in his book The Creator and the Cosmos (Third Edition, Navpress, 2001) that:

"By definition, time is that dimension in which cause and effect phenomena take place. If time's beginning is concurrent with the beginning of the universe, as the space-time theorem says, then the cause of the universe must be some entity operating in a time dimension completely independent of and pre-existent to the time dimension of the cosmos. This conclusion is powerfully important to our understanding of who God is and who or what God is not. It tells us that the creator is transcendent, operating beyond the dimensional limits of the universe. It tells us that God is not the universe itself, nor is God contained within the universe."

Perhaps some readers are inclined to say "So what?" If you fall into that category, may I remind you that well more than one billion people on this planet believe either that God is the universe itself or that God is contained within the universe. If the Big Bang Theory is true, it creates serious philosophical problems for these world views. Some scientific discoveries do have profound metaphysical implications. An entire book on this subject, titled The Dancing Universe, (1997) has been written by Dartmouth College physics professor Marcello Gleiser. Without displaying any theistic sympathies, Gleiser confirms much of what Ross states above. His flow chart on page 303 labeled "A Classification of Cosmogonical Models" is of special interest. Gleiser asks the question "Is there a beginning?" to provide a primary sorting of world views. On the left side of Gleiser's diagram a positive answer to the above question leads via a particular path to creation by the sovereign God of the universe, as described in Genesis. On the right hand side, a "no" answer in regard to a beginning leads by another path to a rhythmic universe, as perhaps exemplified by the dance of Shiva in Hinduism. The resistance of several streams of Hinduism to the Big Bang Theory was recently highlighted at a symposium sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C. (April 1999). In prepared remarks Hindu philosopher Anindita Baslev of Aarhus University in Denmark quoted from the ancient texts of her religion and summarily dismissed the discussions of big bang mechanics as "cosmological speculations."

So have Hindus joined with evolutionists in closing their minds to the evidence on philosophical grounds? Apparently so, and they must, because the implications of the Big Bang findings begin to eliminate the possibilities of Hinduism being anything but a made-up religion.

Following the remarkable financial success of Stephen Hawking's 1988 book A Brief History of Time, a number of distinguished physicists have tried their hands at the same literary genre. In this context I would like to quote from a book that I do not necessarily recommend to the general reader. This particular book is by a brilliant physicist, Leon Lederman, a Nobel Prize winner and also a gifted and dedicated educator. Lederman's book is called The God Particle and although the title sounds very appealing, the best material is in the first few pages. The remainder of the book is largely a case for the building of the SSC, the Super Conducting Super Collider, a proposed massive particle accelerator near Waco, Texas that was torpedoed by the U.S. congress some years ago. Therefore, reading the book today is a bit of a Rip Van-Winkle experience. But the first section is wonderful; it is in fact a good summary of what I have attempted to say in this lecture thus far. Leon Lederman states:

"In the very beginning, there was a void - a curious form of vacuum - a nothingness containing no space, no time, no matter, no light, no sound. Yet the laws of nature were in place and this curious vacuum held potential. A story logically begins at the beginning. But this story is about the universe and unfortunately there are no data for the very beginning. None, zero! We don't know anything about the universe until it reaches the mature age of a billionth of a trillionth of a second - that is, some very short time after the creation in the Big Bang. When you read or hear anything about the birth of the universe, someone is making it up. We are in the realm of philosophy. Only God knows what happened at the very beginning."

In candid moments, outstanding cosmologists make statements rather similar to that quoted above. For example, Stephen Hawking states that "The actual point of creation lies outside the scope of the presently known laws of physics." M.I.T. professor Alan Guth, critical contributor to the "inflationary" understanding of the Big Bang Theory," is often considered to be the American counterpart of Hawking and has said analogously "The instant of creation remains unexplained."

Hmmm. The Bible begins by stating: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep..."

If the Bible was written by a few Jewish priests and shepherds, they sure had a great understanding of the beginning of the Universe that modern scientists are just beginning to share! Unless it was God telling us what we are finding out by scientific means: The Universe is something created out of nothing and sometime created out of no time.


The next Big Bang post will bring the famous Mr. Hawking into the spotlight. Also, carnival time is just around the corner! The Darwin is Dead Carnival, and the poetry Carnival, are both to be published this month.

Those of you who were interested in 20th century Presidents, be of good cheer. We'll be posting more on that this week as well. Cheers!

No comments: