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Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Wendy Wippel

Only the Bible (of ancient theological texts) claims the universe had a beginning: ''In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth''.  God added some detail in Psalm 104: ''He covered Himself 'with light as with a garment' and 'stretched' the heavens like a curtain.'' 3000 years later?  Science concurs!

The prevailing theory among cleric and chemist alike (since at least Aristotle and Plato, about 400 BC) was that the universe was eternal.  It had always existed.  The theory itself proved almost eternal, in fact, remaining popular for thousands of years.

When I was graduating from college, in fact, 66% of scientists polled still believed that the universe had no beginning or end.  And although some days it doesn't seem so, that was some time after Aristotle.

The first fly in the infinity ointment was named Vesto Slipher, an American astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.  He proved that at least a few local galaxies in the neighborhood of our galaxy, the Milky Way, were moving away from ours at impressive speeds. 

The reaction in the scientific community was largely disbelief.

Einstein had seen the same thing, implicated from his calculations on general relativity in 1916-- but since galaxies have always been viewed as rotating but eternally fixed in space, this was the equivalent of a scientific tsunami.  Einstein couldn't bring himself to believe it: "This circumstance of an expanding universe irritates me…to admit such possibilities seems senseless," he admitted, and added a mathematical fudge factor called the "cosmological constant" to correct what he thought was a mistake.

But then Edwin Hubble's experiments with redshifts (changes in frequencies observed as galaxies moved away, 1930) showed conclusively that all galaxies were moving away from an initial point of motion.

And then the final blow to the infinite universe: the COBE Satellite data (1992), which measured the background radiation produced by whatever biological process fueled the expansion.  The COBE satellite data succeeded, essentially, in mapping the galaxies' flight.  

Another scientific tsunami, because according to Newton's first law of motion, an object at rest stays at rest unless a force is applied to said object that sets it in motion.  And if the galaxies are moving away from each other, what started that motion?

Scientists and theologians alike have argued for centuries over this concept of a "First Cause"—an unknown being or force that initiated the universe.  The laws of the natural world do require a cause.  Galaxies in motion need a force which caused the motion. The force that caused the motion needs an entity which applied the force.  Link all necessary causes back to the beginning of time and you have the First Cause—an entity who requires no cause but itself.  So who was the First Cause?

In other words, who started the motion?  

Ted Koppel, reporting the COBE satellite data in 1992, opened the evening news by reading the first few verses of Genesis and declaring that science had proven the passage true.   Science had demonstrated a finite, not eternal universe, and that universe needed a first cause.  And the finite universe was demonstrated largely because it was expanding. In an infinite universe, a state of equilibrium should ostensibly eventually be achieved.

But our universe, science has thoroughly demonstrated, is still expanding.

Funny.  That's just what the Bible says:

"He covered Himself with light as with a garment and stretched the heavens like a curtain".

Scientists today describe the very early stages of the universe as the rapid expansion of a very small, dense, point of energy in conjunction with the creation of light.  (The first thing created, just like Genesis 1 proclaims.) God clothed Himself with light and stretched out the heavens.

And just in case God didn't make it absolutely clear that it was He that was behind the expansion:

"Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out."  (Isaiah 42:5)

"It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in."  (Isaiah 40:22)

"Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, And He who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who makes all things, Who stretches out the heavens all alone," (Isaiah 44:24)

"Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, And My right hand has stretched out the heavens." (Isaiah 48:13)

"And you forget the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens And laid the foundations of the earth." (Isaiah 51:13)

And many others.

God said He stretched, and is stretching, the heavens.  The funny thing is that, according to science, it is not that things in space, like planets and stars, are moving farther away from each other.  No.  It is space itself that is expanding.  Space has been shown to have a substance (that's why they call space a "fabric"), and the substance of space is actually expanding.  And that substance--that "fabric" of space--is thought to be in some places folded, kind of like an accordion.  Or in other words, pleated, like a curtain:

"He covered Himself with light as with a garment and stretched the heavens like a curtain." (Psalm 104:2)

No wait, there's more.  Space isn't just expanding.  Scientists, to their astonishment, have recently realized that the rate of expansion is actually increasing.  Adam Riess and colleagues in Austrialia won the Nobel Prize for that discovery in 2011. 

Reiss observed that at first they doubted their data:

"We spent at least a year struggling to understand what we were seeing."

They finally concluded that,

"Improbable as it seemed, both there must be some unseen, unknown force pushing the cosmos apart."

Unseen, but not unknowable.

"He. . . has stretched out the heavens at His discretion." (Jeremiah 10:12)

So why would God accelerate the rate of expansion? (At His discretion?) Possibly because it wasn't meant to be eternal.

Dartmouth physicist, Robert Caldwell believes, with the increasing rate of expansion, that eventually the pace of expansion will overwhelm the seemingly steadfast forces that hold the universe together.  He explained:

"The expansion becomes so fast that it literally rips apart clusters of galaxies, stars, planets, and solar systems. . . and eventually. . . all matter."

Including the fabric of space itself.  And with the demise of matter, time, which is a fourth dimension of the universe being destroyed, comes to a close as well.

Which sounds, eerily, like exactly what John is trying to explain in Revelation 20:

"Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them."

The heavens and the earth fly away as the fabric of space literally rips apart.

And then He makes all things new:

"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”  (Revelation 21:1-5)

Science, again, finally catches up to Scripture.  

"A little science estranges a man from God; a lot of science brings him back." - Sir Francis Bacon.

Yeah, the guy that defined the scientific method.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Of Ballrooms and Borders



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