In the Beginning
The First Cause
The text of the Bible begins with a familiar and very simple statement:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.
It goes on to describe, in poetic language, how the creator gave shape to the heavens and the Earth, and then populated the heavens with sources of light, and populated the Earth with life. Genesis 1 is a beautiful summary of the creative process. It is not my purpose to analyze this ancient text until later in this book (see Chapter 7). At this point I just want to note that the authors of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, like the vast majority of humankind, past and present, saw a divine creator as the simplest and most satisfying explanation for our existence.
Were these authors ignorant fools? Or is there something in the human psyche or spirit that naturally perceives the reality of our maker? Something that scientists have perhaps neglected because it is beyond experimental confirmation?
In philosophical terminology, we are talking about the need for a first cause. The science of cosmology has progressively increased our understanding of cause and effect, an understanding of how what we observe is explained by what has happened before, taking us ultimately back to the beginning of time, at which point science reaches its limit. Those of us who are wise should acknowledge that limit and open our minds to what the universe might be telling us about its creator.
For many decades, astrophysicists were unsure how much matter was in the universe, and therefore whether the force of gravity was sufficient to slow and ultimately reverse the expansion. The notion that, in the far distant future, the universe might re-converge to a single point in a "Big Crunch" appealed to some as a means of removing God from the picture. In this hypothesis of the "Oscillating Universe", we live in just one of an infinite number of universes that have repeatedly exploded, collapsed and exploded again, with no beginning and no end.
For me, this theory just seeks to delay the ultimate need to acknowledge a first cause. In Chapter 5 we will see how the theory that life on Earth was seeded from another planet just delays the need to explain the ultimate origin of life. In the same way, the oscillating universe just forces an explanation for the origin of the universe back to its previous incarnation, and then by a process like mathematical induction or recursion, attempts to push it into the "too hard basket" of the infinite past. Ultimately, its supporters are still left to explain the meaning of existence, to explain why hydrogen atoms, and the intricate and beautiful laws of physics, could come into existence spontaneously without any cause.
However, for most scientists, it is not philosophy that rules out the hypothesis of the oscillating universe, but recent discoveries in astronomy. In 1998, two teams of astronomers announced that, not only was the universe expanding, but that the rate of expansion was accelerating. The studies looked at the redshifts of supernovae. They found that the farther away a galaxy is from Earth, the faster it is accelerating away. As the force of gravity acts to slow down the expansion, the studies indicate that there must be a different, repulsive force pushing the galaxies apart. This force has been dubbed "dark energy", but I think that is an inaccurate description considering the cause of the acceleration may be a property of space itself. In any event, it means the universe will never collapse under its own gravity. Without such a collapse, an oscillating universe is impossible.
Like it or not, that leaves only one plausible explanation. For the universe to have a beginning, the cause must lie outside of time, space and the laws of nature. It must have a metaphysical cause, a cause beyond physics. To most people on Earth, past and present, that means God.
In his book "God and the Astronomers", world famous astrophysicist Robert Jastrow faces up to this dilemma when he concedes:
For the scientist who has lived by faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains 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.
Prediction: 20, 50, 100 years from now:
Science will have no solution to the problem of first cause. It will not be able to provide any compelling explanation for the origin of the material that gave birth to the universe. If the origin from nothing is explained in terms of equations expressing the laws of nature, science will still have no explanation for the origin of those laws.
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