Saturday, May 17, 2008

Life After Death?

Mark Cahill has written a fascinating book, One Thing You Can't Do In Heaven. This book has really changed the way I think about talking to lost people. One question he asks, is "When you die, what do you think is on the other side?" This question doesn't assume anything, plus it is open-ended. I have had the opportunity to ask some people this question lately. It is amazing at the responses that you will get and sometimes it will generate stimulating conversation.

Yesterday, a kid came by to sell me newspapers. I threw out the question. He said, "You know, I've been thinking about that for a long time." We ended up having a one-hour and fifteen minute conversation. He even got my number to talk about this at a later time.

Now, I'm not simplistic enough to think that negative responses won't come your way when you attempt to start a conversation with people, but the consequences are God's. Planting seeds is ours. Go check out the book...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Beginning to the Universe? Or is it eternal?

World renowned astronomer Carl Sagan wrote in all capital letters, “THE COSMOS IS ALL THAT IS OR EVER WILL BE.”[1] Agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell said in a debate on the existence of God, “The universe is just there, and that’s all.”[2] By excluding supernatural intervention, naturalists such as Sagan and Russell are left with only two possible explanations. Either the universe is eternal or it created itself from nothing, otherwise known as ex nihilo.
Could the universe be eternal? Some espouse to this, however most astronomers acknowledge that the universe had a beginning, thus denying an eternal status. This beginning is commonly known as the Big Bang, which at first was a derogatory term coined by Sir Fred Hoyle. Robert Jastrow, astronomer and founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, notes there are three lines of evidence to suggest a beginning of the universe—the motions of the galaxies, the laws of thermodynamics, and the life story of the stars.[3]
Regarding the motion of the galaxies first, ninety-four years ago, Vesto Melvin Slipher discovered about a dozen galaxies that were moving away from the Milky Way galaxy at speeds up to two million miles per hour. This was the first suggestion that the universe was indeed expanding. The second suggestion concerns Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity published in 1917. His theory predicted an explosion of the universe even though this was not his objective. This explosion started the process of the galaxies moving away from each other at very high speeds. The reason the galaxies were moving apart was due to the fact that they were thrown apart by a primordial explosion, not because they were moving apart due to some mystifying force of nature. Therefore something had to “jump-start” this incredible event.
Einstein was saddened to discover that his theory implied the universe had a beginning—therefore the universe wasn’t eternal—and he startlingly admitted the “the presence of a superior reasoning power.”[4] He even attempted to introduce and additional theory called the Cosmological Constant in order to avoid the idea of the universe having a beginning. Einstein would later reject his own theory because he didn’t believe it had any credibility, but ironically over sixty years later, scientists have verified its validity. However, this validity implies that the universe had a beginning due to the self-stretching of the space-time framework.
Third, in 1929 astronomer Edwin Hubble took measurements of forty different galaxies showing they were indisputably moving away from each other. Hubble’s discovery verified the calculations of Einstein’s theory of relativity. This theory is deemed as possibly the most precise weathered theory in scientific history. It is so precise that astronomer Hugh Ross states, “…general relativity is confirmed overall to an error of no more than one part in a hundred trillion.”[5]
The next line of evidence Jastrow gives for the beginning of the universe concerns the second law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of entropy, can be stated as “In a closed system, the amount of usable energy in the universe is decreasing.”[6] The reason is that usable energy is used for processes in the universe such as development, repairs, and production. Once usable energy is “used” it is then transformed into unusable energy. Entropy is the measuring stick of the amount of unusable energy within an isolated system. Thus, when usable energy decreases, entropy increases. Jastrow sums up the second law when applied to the cosmos as the “Universe is running down like a clock. If it is running down, then there must have been a time when it was fully wound up.”[7] Hence, the notion that the universe had a beginning.
The third line of evidence Jastrow gives for the beginning of the universe is the life story of the stars. He says that, “We owe our corporeal existence to events that took place billions of years ago, in stars that lived and died long before the solar system came into being.”[8] Stars are “born” by a vigorous process involving the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen. Hydrogen is the foremost basis for which stars shine, and is the building block for all other elements in the cosmos. As the star burns throughout its lifetime, it consumes hydrogen and leaves behind its own “remains”. These remains are, as Carl Sagan states, “The very matter of which we are composed, the atoms that make life possible…were generated in stars.”[9]
Just as stars are “born”, stars will also undergo “death”. Hydrogen is consumed by stars and used until the star dies. The used hydrogen transforms into different, heavier elements. The problem is that hydrogen can never return to its original form. As time passes on hydrogen is used up thereby depleting the amount of this all-important element in the universe. This leads to a very interesting, yet critical point. If all elements come from hydrogen by the process of hydrogen being used up, then there must have been a time when there was nothing in the universe but hydrogen. Jastrow states, “This point in time must have marked the beginning of the universe.”[10] Incredibly, other aspects concerning stars are evidential to not only show the beginning of the universe, but to support life as well. Hugh Ross acknowledges this is actually the strongest form of evidence when he states, “Perhaps the most concrete big bang evidence is…stable stars are possible only in a Big Bang universe. Physical life would be impossible unless…stars burn with stability, and stars orbit galaxy cores with stability.”[11] The stability of stars and their orbits are dependant upon a “fine-tuned” Big Bang. If the universe was expanding too slowly, only neutron stars (a type of supernovae) or black holes would be produced. Stars, such as the Sun, would not exist. Also, if the universe expanded too quickly, no stars, no planets, no stable orbits would be formed and consequently, no life.
Interestingly enough, another line of evidence for the beginning of the universe has been confirmed since Jastrow published his first edition. This led Stephen Hawking to say, “It is the discovery of a lifetime, if not of all time,” and University of California-Berkley astronomer, George Smoot to state, “What we have found is evidence for the birth of the universe. It’s like looking at God.”[12] These discoveries came from NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE). COBE found the missing link for how the universe began. What they observed were 15 billion year old fossils including the largest, oldest structure ever to be seen. This missing link explained how galaxies formed out of the Big Bang, thus confirming the Big Bang theory.
COBE has also established the reality of the background radiation in which Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias discovered a mysterious radiation that came from every direction in space. The earth seemed to be submersed in a dim glow. Their work showed that the earth was not the source of this radiation, but that it came from one source, the entire universe. The Big Bang theory predicted the universe exploded as a sort of fire ball at the beginning. As time passed and the universe expanded, the fireball may have “died” but the radiation would not have completely disappeared. Wilson and Penzias made their discovery in 1965, but COBE has now enabled their finding to be all the more concrete. Jastrow comments, “No other explanation other than the Big Bang has been found for the fireball radiation. At the present time, the Big Bang theory has no competitors.”[13] Those who oppose the Big Bang do so based on a metaphysical, personal type of reasoning. They cannot present their case based on substantial empirical evidence.
Today, a majority of astronomers and others whose work specializes in space studies believe the universe had a beginning. Those who do not necessarily ascribe to the supernatural admit this as well. Hawking said, “There must have been a Big Bang singularity.”[14] Carl Sagan followed suit, “…the Big Bang, the event that began our universe.”[15] So, how did the universe come to be? Did the universe create itself out of nothing as Dr. Edward P. Tryon, professor of physics at the City University of New York, declared? “I proposed that our Universe had been created spontaneously from nothing, as a result of established principles of physics. Our universe is simply one of those things that happen from time to time.”[16]
If the universe did come from nothing, what actually is nothing? Physicists define “nothing” in following manner: lack of matter, energy, and all ten space-time dimensions of the universe.[17] The summation of this definition of nothing means exactly what it says, There Was Nothing! This begs the question, why is there something rather than nothing? This would imply that there is an effect without a cause and undercuts the groundwork of mathematics, logic, and all of science. Every material effect, the specific case here being the universe, must have an adequate antecedent cause. This is commonly known as the Law or Principle of Causality. The fact of the matter is the universe is here rather than nothing. Life does exist. Given the fact that an effect doesn’t come before or possess superiority over its cause, the cause can be reasonably seen as to be eternal and powerful—a logically conclusive Supernatural Being. Jastrow comments, “An effect without a cause? That is not the world of science; it is a world of witchcraft, of wild events and the whims of demons, a medieval world which science has tried to banish.”[18]
Those who devote themselves to Naturalism have found themselves in an unwanted position. At this point many will concede their own argument by attempting to shift the burden of proof as Carl Sagan did when he asked, “…matter created from nothing? How does that happen? …we must, of course ask next, ‘Where did God come from?’ If we say that God has always existed, why not…conclude the universe has always existed?”[19] Sagan attempts to undermine the scientific evidence by shifting the burden of proof, thus entering into the metaphysical realm. First, he should consider what he is actually asserting because he states the universe is finite![20] Anything that is finite is subjected to time, which according to Hawking, “must have a beginning.”[21] Consider the Law of Causality stated earlier. Anything that has a beginning (effect) must have a cause. God did not have a beginning therefore he doesn’t need a cause. He is infinite in nature, not confined to time, but outside of time. If God were to need a cause that would start an infinite revert of causes. The question could never be answered. Philosopher JP Moreland equates this as asking the question, what color is the musical note C? It is absurd to even ponder such an assertion.
It is thus reasonable to conclude that Naturalism has undoubtedly failed from a scientific viewpoint in answering the questions regarding the two alternatives to a supernatural origin of the universe. Jastrow concludes, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”[22]
[1] Carl Sagan. Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), page 4.
[2] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity, (Washington D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2007), page 125.
[3] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), page 111.
[4] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 72.
[5] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 105.
[6] Norman Geisler, Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999) page 724.
[7]Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), page 48.
[8] Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), page 109.
[9] Carl Sagan. Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), page 233.
[10] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), page 110.
[11] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 43.
[12] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 31.
[13] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), pages 15-16.
[14] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity, (Washington D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2007), page 121.
[15] Carl Sagan. Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), page 246.
[16] Bert Thompson, The Scientific Case for Creation, (Montgomery, Apologetics Press, 1986), page 22.
[17] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 130.
[18] Bert Thompson, The Scientific Case for Creation, (Montgomery, Apologetics Press, 1986), page 35.
[19] Carl Sagan, Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), page 257.
[20] Carl Sagan, Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), page 246.
[21] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 102.
[22] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), page 116.