Posts Tagged ‘Gonzalez’

In closing:

It is important to bear in mind, during any kind of discussion about the meeting of faith and science, that God Himself is not subject to measure, weight, or number, and, as such, he is not a subject of the physical sciences. There can be no “scientific” proof for the existence of God as long as the word “scientific” refers to the specific fields of the natural sciences, of which he is not an appropriate subject. We cannot count his parts, we cannot weigh him; we cannot observe him in a physical manner. In the larger definition of Science – reasoning from evidence to conclusions – there are several proofs for his existence, and scientific men often appreciate them and talk about them: they are not anti-scientific, but they are not “scientific” in the modern, limited, physical sense of the word, and cannot be.

On the other hand, as the story of Robert Jastrow shows, a cosmology of infinite space and eternal piling up of accident does cause within men a needlessly deep separation between the realms of the natural sciences and the philosophical sciences as well as theology. People do in fact gain and lose their faith over these things, and they do represent a genuine cultural battleground.

The pre-Copernicans thought they perceived a finite world of earthly physics and an infinite surrounding spiritual world, some portion of which was visible in the sky, it not being fully clear that light is a part of material creation. Most believed that our Earth was the center of the universe until he (Copernicus) laid it out that the Sun was in the center of Earth’s orbital motions and in this way definitively started man down the long path of verifying the minority and simplicity of our position in the universe.

Over the next 500 years, the physics of Earth reached out to encompass a steadily larger universe, in which the place of Earth is clearly not central — not to the solar system, not to the galaxy, not to the universe in any meaningful physical sense — though it is uniquely safe and beautiful.

Intermittently throughout all this history, the theme of an infinite and accidental universe, in which civilized creatures are commonplace and ephemeral, or merely ephemeral, has repeatedly been proposed, junked, and re-proposed. This theme received a body blow in the Big Bang cosmology and its verification, but is now resurrected as Hawking’s multiverse, opposed by philosophy and by Gonzalez’ recognition of non-trivial privileges in our universe situation.

Cosmology now

The true history of cosmology is the story of coming to consensus about just three things:

  • The universe is lawful and rational throughout.
  • The universe is finite in space in time.
  • The universe was designed as our home.

It is worthwhile for Christian teachers of the natural sciences to become familiar with this history as a way of laying out the reasonableness of our hope, and of providing support for their students’ rational embrace of faith in our heavenly Father.

[This is the 14th and last post serialized from a summer speech on the history of cosmology, from Copernicus to the early 21st century. The first of these posts was August 3, 2010, Full Circle from Copernicus. The rest follow day by day, with a few interruptions. A list of the posts may be found on the Cosmology page.]

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Countering this potentially theistic trend that Brownlee had placed on the table with his Rare Earth, Stephen Hawking made the desperate gambit of suggesting that there might be an infinite (really infinite, or just virtually infinite?) number of “bangs” – some Big Bangs, some Little Bangs, and just this one that we inhabit being the fortuitous size that allowed human life. In an infinite time, all possibilities can be tried. His reasoning was based on some physical considerations that are beyond the scope of this discussion; you can read about the Copenhagen Interpretation. But fundamentally, there were unrecognized philosophical issues behind this bid, as Jaki points out in his Is There a Universe? Hawking, like Hoyle before him, needed matter to arise mathematically from nothing – in this case from the probability that was believed to govern electrons. That probability could generate matter was a passing odd position; nevertheless Hawking has a vast following, and, in truth, God does not force our hands — or our minds. Belief, atheistic or not, has a certain latitude for choice; the evidence is never absolute because men and their information are never absolute. Hawking had made the case for an accidental universe: Yes, our universe is finite, but it is set within an infinite cosmic foam of other universes. It’s just the one that works for us.

But there was more evidence coming in.

The next salvo in the battle for a genuinely finite universe was the book Privileged Planet, by Guillermo Gonzalez. He and several colleagues have gathered evidence that the earth is not only uniquely fitted for life, which it would have to be or we wouldn’t be talking about it, but also uniquely fitted for discovery, which is not necessary to life, even to intelligent life. Interestingly, however, they discovered that the same conditions that are essential to life area also the conditions for discovery.

For example, our Earth is the only place in the solar system from which the Sun is fully eclipsed by another body (our Moon) so that the corona is visible. This fact has been very important in the study of stars – the Sun is so bright, and the stars are so dim, that both are very difficult to study. The corona of the sun, the beautiful display that is visible for just a few minutes during a total eclipse, gives lots of information, which was otherwise unavailable until the launching of artificial satellites. It is essential to universe discovery.

At the same time, the Moon is essential to life because it stabilizes the rotation of Earth, without which the seasons would vary too strongly and life would not be possible.

That the same planet suited to life should also be suited to discovery of the nature of the stars, and therefore of the universe, deeply disturbs the accidentalist case. It makes the universe look like a home.

(The next post will be the end of the talk.)

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