In 1916, Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity, forever altering the science of cosmology. He had one difficulty, however: his equations showed the universe to be expanding. Because physicists at the time believed that the universe was static, neither expanding nor contracting, Einstein introduced a term called the "cosmological constant" into his equations in order to absorb the expansion. In the late 1920's, however, the astronomer Edwin Hubble found evidence that distant galaxies were receding away from Earth at a rate proportional to their distance from us, as if the universe were situated on an expanding balloon. When Einstein viewed Hubble's photographs in 1930, he gave up for all time the idea of a static universe and declared the cosmological constant the biggest blunder he had ever made. Thus was born the Big Bang Theory, which posits that the universe had its origins in a fiery explosion in eons past.
As evidence in support of the theory mounted, it caused consternation among biblical literalists, who believed (and who continue to believe) that the universe was created in six 24-hour days, approximately 6,000 years ago. But it also caused consternation among atheists. For one thing, the theory placed the creation event at less than 20 billion years ago (modern data now suggest a 12 to 13 billion year range); this was simply not enough time to accomodate the origin of life by random chance processes. For another, there is the question of what caused the Big Bang. This particular question became more pressing with the publication in the late 1960's of the Space-Time Theorem, by cosmologists Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, and George Ellis. This theorem uses general relativity to prove that matter, energy, space, and time all had their origins in a singularity (a geometric point of zero size). If space and time had a beginning, then whatever caused the Big Bang must have transcended space and time. Moreover, the Space-Time Theorem states that the amount of matter and energy in the universe is finite, imposing limits on how many times the dice can be thrown.
A further difficulty concerns black holes. A black hole is a collapsed star which is so dense that, if one is sufficiently close to it (the "event horizon"), nothing can escape from it, not even light. Using general relativity, one can prove that it takes an infinite amount of energy to remove a single particle from inside the event horizon of a black hole. The problem, of course, is that if the entire universe was originally squashed into a singularity, then that singularity was the granddaddy of all black holes. Whatever caused the Big Bang must have had infinite energy.
To get around these difficulties, some scientists in the 1970's put forth two alternatives to the theory: the Steady-State Theory, which posits that matter and energy are constantly being created in a manner which allows the universe to remain unchanged over time, and the Pulsating Theory, which posits that the universe's history is punctuated by a chain of Big Bangs and gravitational Big Crunches stretching back into the infinite past. The Steady-State Theory has been discredited by observations of very distant galaxies and quasars, whose light left them near the time of the Big Bang and is just now reaching us, and in any case the theory violates the law of conservation of matter and energy. The pulsating theory still has its adherents, but it too is falling into disfavor because of recent observations indicating that (a) the universe has only 10 to 20 percent of the mass necessary to bring the expansion to a halt and cause a Big Crunch; and (b) the universe's expansion is accelerating. (The acceleration of the universe's expansion proves that it cannot be the remnant of a previous expansion that ended in a Big Crunch, because if it were, it would have only as much energy as the previous expansion. The principle is the same as that which prevents a ball from bouncing higher than the point from which it was dropped.)
Some modern physicists are attempting to take advantage of the fact that we can't see all the way back to the time of the Big Bang, so that we cannot verify that the universe indeed emerged from a singularity. We can observe the universe as it was fractions of a second after the Big Bang, but the creation instant itself will be forever obscured. What is interesting is that these same physicists attack creationism as being based on faith. Einstein's laws of general relativity have never been seriously challenged; recent advances in superstring theory (the prevailing theory of hyperspace, which asserts that space and time are curved in higher dimensions) yield general relativity as a direct byproduct; and no one has ever challenged the mathematical underpinnings of the Space-Time Theorem; yet these scientists are trying somehow to avoid the singularity at time t=0. Their very desperation should tell us something.
Another option, which has been advanced by Stephen Hawking, among others, is the so-called many-worlds hypothesis. This hypothesis piggybacks off the nondeterminism inherent in quantum mechanics: in small systems like atoms, we do not speak of where a particular electron is located, but rather the manner in which its "wave function" is dispersed. (The wave function is a measure of the probability of finding the electron at any given point.) We all have wave functions, and one could compute the theoretical probability of one's waking up tomorrow morning on Pluto. (I wouldn't lose sleep over it; the odds are vanishingly small.)
The many-worlds hypothesis asserts that whenever a random event occurs, the universe diverges into several universes, each containing one outcome of the random event. The hypothesis arose from a thought experiment envisioned by Erwin Schrodinger, the founder of quantum mechanics. In Schrodinger's thought experiment, a cat is placed in a box. Inside the box is a canister of cyanide, a Geiger counter, and an amount of radioactive material so small that there is a 50/50 chance that the Geiger counter will detect radiation. If the Geiger counter detects radiation, a hammer smashes the canister and the cat dies. Otherwise, the cat lives. (If you ask me, Schrodinger was one sick puppy.) The famous Schrodinger's Cat paradox arises when an observer attempts to compute the cat's wave function: before the box is opened, the wave function is the sum of that of a live cat and that of a dead cat. In a sense, the cat is both alive and dead. The many-worlds hypothesis seeks to resolve the paradox by saying that there are two universes, one with a live cat and one with a dead cat.
This is all well and good, except for the fact that in each of these universes the observer computes the cat's wave function and still finds that the cat is both alive and dead! The paradox remains.
The paradox is resolved by noting that the wave function is a subjective quantity dependent on the amount of information the observer has. If someone peeks into the box before computing the wave function, he/she will get a wave function consistent with either a live cat or a dead cat. If someone else comes along later, not knowing what has happened, that person will get a wave function which is half live cat and half dead cat. Experiments have even been done on pairs of particles which are created with opposite spins and fired at detectors in opposite directions: no matter how far apart they are when they hit the detectors, and no matter how simultaneously they hit the detectors, they always have opposite spins. Since information cannot travel faster than the speed of light, the measurement at one detector cannot influence the measurement at the other detector; hence the particles must have had definite spin before they were measured.
Moreover, the many-worlds hypothesis, even if true, does not solve the central problems of the origin of time and the need for infinite energy to cause the Big Bang. It also fails to get around the fact that the laws of physics seem tailor-made for life to exist. (It is very easy, through slight manipulations of the physical laws, to construct universes which have only neutrons, which have only hydrogen, or which are otherwise unsuited for life. For instance, if the electrostatic force, which is inversely proportional to distance squared, instead were inversely proportional to distance to the power 2.00001, electrons would fly off into space and atoms would never form.) The hypothesis does, however, make a dent in the amount of time required for the origin of life by chance processes, since the dice could theoretically be thrown infinitely many times. But since there seems to be no motivation to accept the hypothesis, depending on it to explain the origin of life is as much an article of faith as believing in God.
More and more physicists are coming to believe in God as a result of the Big Bang Theory. One such person, Dr. Hugh Ross, Ph. D., has a website which explains in detail why this is so. (He also has a list of two to three dozen physical constants which have to be just so in order for life to exist, and he has articles refuting evolution as well.)
Physics is constantly changing, and perhaps one day the Big Bang Theory will join the flat Earth and the geocentric universe in the dustbin of history. But until it is, belief in God should not be dismissed as mere superstition.
13th-century rabbi says universe billions of years old!
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