Tuesday, April 13, 2004


Prior to about 1920, most physicists believed in an eternal, steady state universe. The reason is clear. A universe with no beginning does not pose a creation problem. Everything that begins has a cause, but something that "always was" has no cause. God has no cause.

Starting more-or-less with Einstein's general relativity, evidence for an expanding universe mounted. This was buttressed by impressive and ever-improving evidence of a big-bang-like beginning.

The only real hope to justify a continued dismissal of the creation problem was an oscillating universe. If the expansion slowed down and then reversed, due to gravity, the universe would ultimately collapse in a big crunch. Perhaps this explosion-implosion cycle has been going on for all eternity.

There are some real theoretical problems with such a model, but all that is moot. Recent measurements have confirmed that the universe will continue its expansion. There will be no big crunch. This is a once-only universe.

Physicists must face the reality of a universe that had a beginning. They can choose to ignore the question, relegating it to theology, or they can try to find possible quantum mechanical and quantum gravitational explanations. Enter conjectures of infinite parallel universes, or that the universe was created as a result of a fluctuation in the quantum vacuum.

Let's spin the dial a bit. For most of the history of Christendom, belief in a literal six twenty-four hour day creation occurring six thousand to ten thousand years ago was not considered a plank of orthodoxy. To be sure, many held that view, but few saw it as a line in the sand. Augustine, for example, believed in an exceedingly non-literal "instantaneous creation". Another common belief was that each day in Genesis represented 1000 years.

Then in 1859, Darwin published his theory of evolution. As a response, many Christians, correctly recognizing that evolution requires enormous time if it has any chance to be correct, began to emphasize and elevate the literalistic creation account. Perhaps four billion years is long enough for life to assemble itself and then evolve into humans (it isn't) but certainly ten thousand years is wildly insufficient.

In some way I can't quite vocalize, I see similarities in the scientific reluctance (but ultimate acceptance) of a universe with a beginning and the Christian denial of an old earth.

I wonder if the enmity between science and Christianity is inevitable. My gut tells me that it is not, although attitudes need to change, mostly among Christians. In my experience, scientists are less antagonistic toward Christianity than Christians are toward science, although they are usually quite happy to avail themselves of the benefits of scientific research.

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