Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Ultimate Free Lunch

"I did it! I stopped!" Molly exclaimed. At least once a month Molly has a moment where her breath is taken away by a new experience. I recently taught her how to use the brakes on her bike, and once she did it on her own three or four times, she looked up and smiled at me, knowing that she accomplished a great feat. Now she can come to a complete stop by herself, look both ways for cars, and cross the street safely.

Do you remember the last time your breath was taken away by an experience? How about by observing the world and the Universe around us? For a few years now I have watched a variety of shows on the History and Discovery Channels about the Universe, and I found myself in awe of how amazing and strange it all seems to be. One scientist in particular was able to spark my imagination when considering the vastness of the cosmos: Alex Filippenko. So what did I do? I decided to read his Astronomy textbook, The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium by Pasachoff and Filippenko. My parents were kind enough to get me the textbook for my birthday, and I completed it just a few weeks ago.

The first thing I discovered in my reading was just how massive the Universe is. To set the stage, it is important to know that light travels at the speed of 300,000 km/s - or 186,000 miles per second - (pg. 2), and our own Milky Way Galaxy is approximately 100,000 light years across (pg. 285)! Our galaxy contains "perhaps a few hundred billion stars" (pg. 384) and is one of 100 billion galaxies detectable by our best telescopes. Some stars called Neutron stars are only about 20 or 30 km across and yet a teaspoonful would weigh a billion tons (pg. 349). It is theorized that super massive black holes exist at the center of galaxies.

"As of 2013, the record mass of a supermassive black hole is 9.7 billion solar masses [one solar mass is equivalent to the mass of our sun], in an elliptical galaxy 320 million light-years from us in the constellation Leo, with a contender in Coma Berenices perhaps even more massive" (pg. 373, Brackets Mine).

Next in importance is the strangeness of the cosmos. Black holes, mysterious substances called dark matter and dark energy, and Quantum Physics force me to imagine the abstract in a bizarre new way. Surrounded by such aberrant and uncanny theories and possible discoveries, the textbook was compelled to discuss a recognition long understood by Christians: the Anthropic Principle. The Anthropic Principle basically states:  

"We exist, hence the Universe must have certain properties or we wouldn't be here to see it. ... In a few cases, apparently "mysterious" relationships between numbers were explained with anthropic reasoning. The values of the physical constants (not to mention the laws of physics seem to be spectacularly "fine-tuned" for life as we know it - indeed, almost "tailor-made" for humans. In many cases, if things were altered just a tiny amount, the results would be disastrous for life, and even for the production of heavy elements of molecules." (Pg. 535)

Makes sense, doesn't it? There is obvious complexity in the Universe, not limited to the complex life that we see on Earth, but also in the very composition of elements and the Laws of Physics. Complexity implies there exists design, which then implies a designer. Recognizing this is the reason this university science textbook felt obligated to briefly discuss the Anthropic Principle. I knew before reading this textbook that the authors were most likely coming at the subject from a purely secular and naturalist perspective. They presuppose that there is no god ... no designer ... and that all that is exists as the result of happenstance. Try as they might, one cannot escape the impact of one's worldview even in the realm of scientific analysis. For example, it is unsurprising why scientists who approach the study of the Universe from a naturalist angle interpret the evidence differently than one approaching it from a supernaturalist angle.

Like any good science book, this one began with a discussion of the Scientific Method, and the process by which they discern facts, create and test theories, arrive at scientific laws, and ultimately make conclusions. But the Scientific Method is also in bondage to one's worldview. Throughout the pages of The Cosmos are my annotations in the margins, highlighted sections, and scribbles intended for later use. What I was primarily looking for were the authors' presuppositions, which were surprisingly frequent. Don't get me wrong: presuppositions are not a bad thing - we all have presuppositions. But being unaware of them tends to make you a slave to them, because when unaware you lack the proper recognition to test your own traditions and consider alternate possibilities.

Contrary to what Astronomers previously thought, the expansion of the Universe is not slowing down but is expanding at an accelerating rate (pg. 341)! A mysterious Dark Energy is repelling the Universe further and further apart (pg. 341). It is believed that space itself is being created with the continuing expansion. Logically, if the Universe has been and continues to expand, then as you go further and further back in time we can conclude that the Universe was once very compact and had a beginning, or starting point: "The Universe had a definite beginning in time, called the Big Bang. The Universe isn't infinitely old" (Pg. 483). This begs the question: how did the Universe start? Here is the answer we're given:

"The Universe came from nothing, and its total energy is zero, but it nevertheless has incredible structure and complexity. Physicists are attempting to come up with ways to test this idea in principle, but no method has emerged yet; thus, in some respects it is not currently within the realm of science, which requires hypotheses to be experimentally or observationally testable ... If this admittedly speculative hypothesis is indeed correct, then the answer to the ultimate question is, in the words of Alan Guth, that the Universe is 'the ultimate free lunch!'" (Pg. 533)

We are told that the Universe came out of nothing, that in its first moment was very compact when the Big Bang occurs, thus forming all elements and the Laws of Physics. Something came from nothing, complexity came from non-complexity, life came from non-life, complex life came from non-complex life, and intelligence came from non-intelligence. I hope it is apparent to you that at the root of each of these conclusions lies an underscoring presupposition.

Conversely, here are the conclusions Christianity brings to the table: God created the Universe by His sheer will and power, He sustains it, He designed all the elements and the Laws of Physics, He is the designer and the intelligence behind all things, and He is the reason we and the Universe exist. To be fair, I'm demonstrating that I have my own set of presuppositions. The question then becomes: after testing each set of presuppositions, which worldview can consistently explain such things as the uniformity of nature, the laws governing the Universe, how and why we exist, and human dignity and morality? The worldview that proves to be internally inconsistent demonstrates its own fatal flaw. It is my contention that the Christian worldview, and only the Christian worldview, can properly interpret the world around us, and do so consistently.

Filippenko and Pasachoff impressed me by their willingness to scrutinize the historic view of the Big Bang Theory. They offered two primary problems: (1) The Horizon Problem - the Universe is so uniform, which you wouldn't expect if it were the result of the Big Bang. For example, cosmic background radiation is essentially identical in all directions. (2) The Flatness Problem - the Big Bang theory has no way of explaining "why the overall geometry of the Universe is so close to being flat" (Pgs. 526-527).

But they also offered the predominant theory to help answer both objections: inflation. Developed in the 1980's, the theory of inflation basically states that in the first moments of the Universe, it was much smaller than previously thought. Because the Universe was so compact it could explain how the temperature is so uniform. Then it may have inflated (expanded really fast) at an exponential rate during its first moments. This also could explain how the Universe is so flat (though they don't explain how inflation flattens it out) (pgs. 527-528).

I will admit that I wanted to (and needed to) read the section outlining the theory of inflation multiple times to fully comprehend the argument. One apparent problem is that since the cause of inflation is unknown (whether it is a certain element, or physical force), it is purely theoretical and therefore untestable. Even as an amateur, my initial thought was that since the Universe expanded at a rapid exponential pace, it seems possible within the framework of inflation that if inflation were true the Universe may be significantly younger than supposed. For example, if the Universe expanded so rapidly at the beginning, perhaps stars are as far away due more to inflation than the presupposed speed and time considered under current models. This could drastically (and exponentially) reduce the time it took for the Universe to be as spread out. It seems only logical that this remains a possibility ... again, all within their own framework.

So the theory of inflation is one possible solution to the problems associated with the historic view of the Big Bang theory. But what about the origin of the Universe? Above I cited the authors' acknowledgment that the Universe was created out of nothing, and yet, that is extremely unsatisfying, even to naturalist astronomers. Keep in mind that the law of conservation of energy states that matter cannot be created nor destroyed, which poses a contradiction to the Big Bang theory (pg. 510). 
One answer to how something can come from nothing involves the theories of quantum mechanics:  

"Quantum theory provides a natural explanation for how that energy [the energy that caused the inflation of the Universe] may have come out of nothing. It turns out that particles and antiparticles spontaneously form and quickly annihilate each other, microscopically violating the law of energy conservation" (pg. 532, Brackets Mine).
 They continue... 

"Perhaps many quantum fluctuations occurred before the birth of our Universe. Most of them quickly disappeared. But one of them lived sufficiently long and had the right conditions for inflation to have been initiated. Thereafter, the original tiny volume inflated by an enormous factor, and our macroscopic Universe was born" (Pg. 532).
What concerns me most about this theory is that it is one thing to say that Quantum Physics exists in an already existent Universe, but you're asking me to believe that Quantum Physics may have had an impact in the creation of the Universe before there were Physics ... or the Universe? I'm gullible but not that gullible.

And just when you thought it couldn't get any more strange, another leap is made in attempt to explain all this. Enter: the multiverse.

"Is our Universe the only universe, or could it be one of many? The entire history of our Universe might be just one episode in the much grander multiverse consisting of many (perhaps infinitely many) universes" (pg. 533). 

This recognizably eccentric theory might encompass theories such as parallel universes, and even a "hyperspace" plane containing ours and other universes (Pg. 534). They continue:  

"There seem to be at least three or four ways to produce other universes. For example, distinct quantum fluctuations could arise out of "nothing," some of which give rise to a universe. This "nothing" might be the vacuum of our Universe, or the "nothing" outside our Universe, in some sort of a larger "hyperspace." If a quantum fluctuation out of "nothing" created our Universe, it seems reasonable that such a process may have occurred many times (thereby making the hyperspace a multiverse), perhaps even infinitely many. We do not yet know whether this is a viable process. To find out, we need a fully self-consistent quantum theory of gravity that unites relativity with quantum physics, and theorists are currently quite excited by the potential of superstring theories" (Pg. 534). 

I can't help but single out this statement: "There seem to be at least three or four ways to produce other universes." Not gonna lie, I find this hilarious. Three or four ways? All involving theories such as the multiverse and inconsistent quantum mechanics. They do recognize the need for consistency, but I am awestruck that one would base one's beliefs about the origins of the Universe on recognizably inconsistent theories.

This brings me to my main point. And if you made it this far, allow me to thank you for sticking with me. Which is more logical:  an eternal and all-powerful Creator of all things, or the Universe coming out of nothing by nothing and for nothing? The Scriptures say that "the fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 53:1, NASB). It is foolish for us to approach the subject of astronomy, or any subject, from a worldview that fails to consistently interpret the world around us. Worldviews matter, no matter how much the secular humanist wishes he could be unbiased. You cannot escape from your worldview, for it is the lens through which you see the world.

When the Scriptures call someone a fool, it isn't intended to be a personal insult, but rather a statement expressing a lack of proper judgment. Remember that since all human beings are created in God's image, we all possess the same general revelation of God's existence, character and moral demands: "because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." (Romans 1:19-20, NASB). This is why when we are talking with our fellow man, they know what we're saying is true, even though they naturally do their best to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). The Christian message rings true with all human beings across the globe because we have a common Creator, and we share a common natural condition as we enter this world.

What took my breath away as I read through The Cosmos was the sheer breadth, peculiarity and beauty of the heavens. There is an inherent wonder in the Universe, and I believe that all of creation is a testimony to God's handiwork: "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge" (Psalm 19:1-2, NASB). I'm learning to again have a childlike amazement at the work of God's hands, something I can see in the eyes of my two-year-old. I encourage the reader to do the same.

Thanks for reading,

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