Tag Archives: cosmology

For God Rolled the Dice and the Universe Came to Be

roll-the-dicePhysics cannot describe what happens inside a black hole. There, current theories break down, and general relativity collides with quantum mechanics, creating what’s called a singularity, or a point at which the equations spit out infinities.

But some advanced physics theories are trying to bridge the gap between general relativity and quantum mechanics, to understand what’s truly going on inside the densest objects in the universe. Recently, scientists applied a theory called loop quantum gravity to the case of black holes, and found that inside these objects, space and time may be extremely curved, but that gravity there is not infinite, as general relativity predicts.

-by Clara Moskowitz
Space.com Assistant Managing Editor
“Space-Time Loops May Explain Black Holes”
Space.com

Clara had me at “space and time may be extremely curved, but that gravity there is not infinite.” About forty years or so ago, I took my first Astronomy class at UNLV. Yes, I know. That was back at the dawn of time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, or at least it may seem that way to some of you. It certainly makes my knowledge of Astronomy rather antique compared to the advances science has made since that time. But I still enjoy reading a few popular (that is, easy to digest for the average person) articles on such topics.

In those undergrad days (the first time I was an undergrad), I wrote a couple of papers about areas of Astronomy that particularly interested me. One was the end products of stars. What happens to a star when it runs out of fuel to burn? If the star has a mass of three times or more of our own sun, it collapses into a black hole. When I was going to school, general relativity said that a black hole was a singularity and that its mass was infinite. Today, the latest theories suggest otherwise.

Exciting stuff.

My other favorite topic was Cosmology or the theory of the origin of the universe. I found a small book written by a Swedish scientist that involved Matter and Anti-Matter as active components in the origin of the universe, but it was a minority theory then. Today, it’s non-existent.

But Space.com has a really cool and readable article on what we know to date about the “Big Bang” and what followed afterward.

Probably a lot of Christians coming across this blog post are going to raise an eyebrow or two. At the little church were I worship, both the Head Pastor and one of the Associate Pastors have both told me they don’t believe in an “old universe.” They seem to believe, like many conservative Christians and not a few religious Jewish people, that the Earth is anywhere between about ten to fifteen thousand years old.

All of this millions and billions of years stuff as described in the Big Bang article doesn’t work for them. Why? Because of how they read the beginning chapter of Genesis which is literal. God created the Earth and everything else in six (they believe) literal days. The Hebrew word used for “day” in chapter one of Genesis is almost universally translated “day” as in a twenty-four hour period.

Given an inconsistency between human scientific observation and theory and the record of the Bible, they choose the Bible every single time. Biblical sufficiency pretty much demands it.

Or does it?

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-7 (NRSV)

sky-above-you-god1Especially the first verse of the above-quoted Psalm tells us that God is revealed by the universe itself. We should be able to look at the stars, examine the heavens, and understand that there is a God. This is known as general revelation or the environment and everything we observe in it reveals the existence of God. The more specific revelation, which gives us lots of other details, declares God as well. It’s the Bible.

But should the two revelations conflict? I would think not. We should see them both fitting together like interlacing fingers of the left and right hand of man. Even if a person has never seen a Bible or heard of Christianity and Judaism, simply observing the universe, all of creation in all of its details, is intended to illustrate that there is a God. The Bible reveals many of the specific details of how God interacts with human beings, using principally the Jewish people and the nation of Israel as a model.

So what do we do when the Genesis story and our astronomical observations and theories conflict? What do we do when the Bible says that the Earth (and presumably all of the universe) was created in six literal twenty-four hour periods, and astronomical observations and theories conclude that our solar system wasn’t formed until the universe was already nine billion years old?

A Bible literalist will say that the Bible is always correct and human scientific observation and theory is wrong. A scientist (one who is not religious) will conclude that the Bible is full of hogwash and our best scientific observations and theories present the facts accurately to the best of our ability to interpret them.

But what if they’re both right?

If we believe God and David as he wrote the nineteenth psalm, then the universe is supposed to be a revelation of God even as the Bible is, so they must agree.

But how can they both be right when on the one hand, we have a matter of six days and on the other we have billions and billions of years?

I don’t know.

Ultimately, I don’t have to know, but like Albert Einstein famously said, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” Actually, all that means was Einstein believed the universe should be founded upon solid, deterministic laws. He was probably thumbing his nose at Quantum Mechanics (QM) which is much more dependent on probably and uncertainty in the universe. But he sells the point that the universe should make some sort of sense, at least as far as communicating to human beings that only God could have brought the universe into being. The “Big Bang” was a “spoken Word” (If you’ll read the Big Bang article, you’ll see that the initial tiny, tiny fraction of a second of the start of the universe wasn’t an explosion as we think of such a thing).

Actually, it’s not the awesome vastness of the universe that communicates God to me but the incredible weirdness that QM describes. The idea that “atoms exist in quantized, discrete states, loop quantum gravity posits that space-time itself is made of quantized, discrete bits, in the form of tiny, one-dimensional loops” inside a black hole is beyond bizarre and this, more than anything, tells me there is a God, one whose mind is incredibly and infinitely creative. His universe is shouting at us to pay attention. None of this happens by accident and no human being could have cooked this up.

The more we look, the more incredible and the more surprising the universe gets. We used to think that the universe was composed pretty much of ordinary atoms, the stuff we can see all around us every day. Now, we think that only about 4.3 percent of the universe is made up of atoms (75% hydrogen and 25% helium, with just an itsy, bitsy fraction of the rest being heavier elements, including the stuff that makes you and me), while the rest if full of much more exotic energy and matter.

According to an article by Stephen Hawking, God may well “play dice” with (or introduce uncertainty and some randomness into) the universe (there’s a notice at the beginning of the article that says I can’t reproduce any portion of the content, so I can’t include a quote…maybe Hawking’s cranky over his rather sad boycott of Israel…but I digress). It’s this uncertainly that, rather than suggest the universe came about through a random or unguided (uncreative, unintelligent) process, was built into the universe, and was the product of an infinitely creative mind and force…God.

I have no problem believing that the universe is more or less as we experience it; extremely old from the point of view of a human time scale. Why should God care? He exists outside of His creation, He’s timeless. Theories vary widely about how old modern human beings are, but I think the story of those early humans, our Adam and Eve, are the record of God’s creation of us and the creation of His relationship with us.

black-holeMaybe the only meaningful or reasonable historical record of God’s interaction with people is what we’ve experienced over the past ten or fifteen thousand years.

Everything I’m saying along these lines is highly speculative and I’m most certainly attempting to reconcile what human beings know about our environment and ourselves with my faith and trust in the God of Israel. If that’s being more than a little self-serving, so be it. It helps me sleep at night, and God knows I can use the rest.

I once heard an attorney use the phrase “hide the ball.” At the time, I thought she was referring to a children’s game, but I recently found out it’s a legal term. It means to withhold legal evidence. Legal teams sometimes “hide the ball” or withhold evidence from the court (a big “no-no” which could get an attorney disbarred) if that evidence could result in them losing their case.

Rather than refer to dice, I prefer to say that God doesn’t play hide the ball with the universe. That is, God doesn’t withhold evidence. What we see in our environment, from the tiniest particle to the largest galaxy (to the best that we can understand what we see), is what we get. Otherwise, God created the appearance of the universe to tell us a tremendous lie, and why would He do that?

He wouldn’t. But if God didn’t lie about the universe and He didn’t lie about the Bible, and if six literal days is different from 13.7 billion years or so (the estimated age of the universe), then God didn’t screw up, we did somewhere along the line. Biblical literalists assume scientists have screwed up, but I have to say, that’s pretty unlikely unless the entire scientific community devoted to cosmology for the last century or so are idiots or liars. I don’t think Biblical literalists are idiots or liars either, but I do believe that the beginning passages in our Bible cannot be interpreted with absolute literalism. Genesis One isn’t God’s “cookbook” containing the recipe for Creation.

Like Stephen Hawking suggests at the end of his article (although there’s no indication that Professor Hawking believes in a God of any sort), God may have a few tricks of His sleeve. Bible sufficiently just means that it contains enough information for us, not that it contains everything. The Bible fills in blanks in our knowledge of God that the universe doesn’t supply. I think the process works both ways.

For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

Psalm 33:9 (NRSV)

One more thing. Please don’t imagine that I literally believe God rolled dice in order to create the universe. I just “warped” the above-quoted scripture to make the title. It sounded “creative.”

The Tent of God

Downtown Dewey Square is crammed with tents and tarps of Occupy Boston protesters, but organizers made sure from the start of this weeks-old encampment that there was room for the holy.

No shoes are allowed in the “Sacred Space” tent here, but you can bring just about any faith or spiritual tradition.

A day’s schedule finds people balancing their chakras, a “compassion meditation” and a discussion of a biblical passage in Luke. Inside, a Buddha statue sits near a picture of Jesus, while a hand-lettered sign in the corner points toward Mecca.

“Religion claims its place in Occupy Wall Street”
-by Jay Lindsay
found at news.yahoo.com

We tend to think of religious and secular activities as isolated from one another. Secular people rally around “separation of church and state” (though that’s not exactly what the Constitution says) while at least some Christians say that the United States was founded as a Christian nation (which isn’t really true, either). However, there is a distinct impression of polarity between what some might think of as “faith vs. facts”. Reality isn’t quite so clear cut, though.

For instance, a number of weeks ago, I came across an article at Network World called Science and religion can and do mix, mostly. The takeaway blurb says:

Rice study shows only 15% of scientists at major US research universities see religion and science as always in conflict.

That’s not the impression you get from the news media, at least when religion and science come up in the same story. There’s a tendency to believe that people of faith and people of science are mortal enemies. One avenue of evidence many atheists use against religious people is that the various sciences “prove” or at least support, an origin of the universe and of the earth that does not match up with how Genesis describes those events in the Bible. Science is also used in some manner or fashion, to support natural rather than supernatural processes for the creation and development of life, and of course, there’s no direct, scientific observation that supports the existence of God.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism said that science was not an adequate tool for determining the existence of God, since science, as a method of examination, can only investigate those things that are available for examination within the scope of our universe. God is “extra-universal”, so to speak, and escapes all methods of man trying to capture God and put Him under the microscope.

That probably sounds like a convenient excuse to some, but I’m not going to present a detailed defense for God’s existence against the various scientific disciples. They operate on completely different playing fields. To be fair to the Biblical rendition of the Creation event in Genesis though, I don’t believe it was written as a “cookbook” on how God created the universe, nor do I believe it can be understood outside of a deeply mystic frame of reference. I’m not the only one with this viewpoint. For instance, Rabbi Joshua Brumbach on his blog Yinon, recently replied to a commenter:

I don’t believe the intention of Genesis is meant to be a scientific account, but rather a theological one. As such, I am not necessarily a literal 6 days person. IMHO, like you, I don’t think the Biblical text and Science are in conflict with each other.

There’s no real reason to say that the “big bang” theory, which is accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community as the most likely explanation for the origin of the universe, should be at odds with the acceptance of the Genesis story in the Bible. And while the scientific understanding of the big bang event has evolved over time, it still has some uncertainty attached to it as reported by Space.com:

“The problem is, there’s no reason whatsoever to believe general relativity in that regime,” said Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech. “It’s going to be wrong, because it doesn’t take into account quantum mechanics. And quantum mechanics is certainly going to be important once you get to that place in the history of the universe.”

So the very beginning of the universe remains pretty murky. Scientists think they can pick the story up at about 10 to the minus 36 seconds — one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second — after the Big Bang.

So in the time that existed just prior to “one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second” before the big bang, could the hand of God have been at work? I believe so, but then, that’s an opinion based on faith. To say that God absolutely could not have been involved requires as much faith, if only because there’s no way to be so definite on that point without invoking faith, either in God or in God not existing.

So we find God in odd places, places we wouldn’t expect to find Him, such as at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Boston. Of course:

The tent is one way protesters here and in other cities have taken pains to include a spiritual component in their occupations. Still, Occupy Wall Street is not a religious movement, and signs of spiritually aren’t evident at all protest sites.

So we discover God, or our faith in Him at least, is involved in human affairs because God is involved in us. If the world was not created for the sake of humanity, would the universe exist? That’s like the old “if a tree fell in the forest and there was no one to hear it, would it make a sound” question, and as there are no observers at either event (except God), we have no way of knowing for sure.

To fly in the face of science, God is not a God of facts, but a God of experiencing. We know He is real because we experience Him in ways that defy logic, science, and traditional observation. We believe He has inserted Himself into the lives of human beings and into the course of history, but it still requires faith to see His face shining and His hands working at places like Eden, Sinai, and Jerusalem. Although God is omnipresent, He is most likely found in the places where we carry Him. His being can and has and does manifest anywhere, but He is most often seen, and heard and felt where the people of God are. We are His emissaries to those who have no other method of experiencing Him. The people of God allow the invisible God to be seen by the righteous and the unrighteous alike.

Right now, in downtown Boston, He is sitting in a small tent along with a statue of Buddha, a picture of Jesus, and a hand-lettered sign pointing to Mecca. He was carried there along with those objects and He would be there, even if those other objects didn’t exist. For the method of transport for God into that small tent in Boston, and in all the other places we find God, wasn’t by hands, but by the container of faith He has helped us build within ourselves. And we people of faith, though hardly 99% of the population, are not always who you would expect us to be or where you would expect to find us.

Addendum October 30, 2011: Christians are supporting the “Occupy London” protests. Read about it at guardian.co.uk.