Category Archives: Faith

Why the Universe?

Mankind has always asked “Why?”.  Why indeed?  Through one simple three-letter word we have asked questions of the stars, unearthed secrets of our planet, harnessed the power of nature, developed technology, and explored the deepest depths of the oceans.  The word “WHY” has fueled the engine of human exploration, discovery, and advancement for thousands of years.  We know almost all there is to know about our planet and are well-versed in the workings of the universe (though our knowledge be vastly incomplete), but one “why” has eluded us since the dawn of time.  Why does the universe exist?

I’m sure you’ve heard a story of someone in college who, when asked on their biology final the simple question, “Why” wrote “Because” and received full marks.  Whilst that answer might have sufficed for the purposes of the freshman Biology course it is a supremely inadequate answer.  It is an extremely disappointing answer to say the least.  We learn of this answer’s disappointment from a very early age.  When a child asks why he can’t have ice cream for dinner the parent responds, “Because.”  “Why?” asks the child.  “Because I’m your father and I said so”  in order to avoid having to embark upon a futile dissertation on why ice cream is not healthy and dinner is.  However, the child is always disappointed because their question was not adequately answered (in their mind).

As humans we are driven and we feel compelled to understand the nature of things around us.  Why does the sun move across the sky?  Why does the moon go through phases?  Why does everything stick to the surface of the Earth instead of floating away into space?  Why does it get cold in the winter and hot in the summer?  Through the simple word “why” we have developed science which is nothing more than the art of asking “why?”  We are curious beings and a cop-out answer of “because” simply won’t suffice.  We seek the truth and nothing less.

The science of seeking the answer to why the universe exists is known as Cosmology.  The popular belief among today’s cosmologists seems to be that the universe exists because of a cosmic dice game.  Conditions for the universe existing are just right because the dice fell the correct way.  On a traditional die there are six outcomes so the die is a cube.  In the case of the universe, the dice used would have so many sides that it would almost be spherical with the probability of the current outcome being rolled is almost infinitely small.  This has led to the exploration of a theory of the multiverse.  Are there more than one universes?  Are there an infinite amount of universes existing simultaneously?  If so then that would greatly increase the chances of our universe being the way it is more realistic.  Are we really just the result of chance?  Is the complexity of our bodies, the planet, the stars, and galaxies really just by accident and random?  If so, then the universe is a dreadfully bleak and meaningless object.  My life has no purpose and neither does yours.  The Milky Way galaxy is here, but it could not have been here, or there, or anywhere at all.  If the power to exist is derived from the sums of all its parts probabilities of existing then it would seem that we’re just multiplying by 1/∞.

Just a game of dice? Who's playing? Credit: G.E. Ely

We all know you can’t divide by infinity.  It could be true that the probability of anything existing is the sum of all it’s parts existing, but for this to be possible you would need a finite probability for each component.  One way of rationalizing this would be to assume that the universe was created on purpose.  There are simply way to many components that influence the existence of any one object that to quantify them would always create a denominator so large, the resulting probability is infinitely small.  So for me, chance is out right.  There has to be some purpose and order to it all.

I am neither a cosmologist nor a scientist.  I am simply a layman who is taking what he sees and using it to make sense of the world.  As John Milton says in Paradise Lost, “We see things not as they are, but as we are.”  It is impossible for us to make truly objective conclusions about anything because we always see things and approach things based on personal opinion, experiences, and perceptions.  The trouble with the cosmic dice game explanation of the universe is that those scientists have always had a perception of the universe being random and chaotic and harsh and will see only the evidence that supports their perceptions.  If only there was a source of knowledge that came from outside a human mind not subjected to false perception or bias then we could accept that as pure truth.  Could this be the same external force that exists outside of human knowledge and mathematics that created the universe on purpose?  Could there be a designer who’s knowledge and power caused all things to be?  My belief tells me that there indeed is.  There is a Creator who exists outside of human existence in whom all creation finds its source.

Apart from my personal beliefs, the notion of a creator is not as completely crazy as it sounds.  If you think about how marvelously fine-tuned the universe is and how everything works together in complete harmony it seems almost ridiculous to think that the order of the universe evolved from chaos by chance.  If say, the gravitational constant was less than it is stars would not be able to hold their elements inside where more complex and heavier elements are created there would be nothing in the universe except hydrogen and helium and nothing worth note could have formed from those lightest of elements.  Similarly, if the gravitational constant were larger then even the smallest of stars would explode into supernovae and black holes would ravage much of the known universe.  Planets would almost never form and galaxies would look very different.  Just in the case of gravity alone there seems to be evidence that a creator fine-tuned the knobs and locked them in place to the perfect setting.

This could easily turn into a 5,000 word essay but I will conclude here.  I believe there is simply too much detail and evidence of fine-tuning to believe that it all happened as a result of chance.  There has to be some kind of intelligence behind it.  The mathematical laws of the universe suggest this.  Math is beautiful and it binds the universe together.  Could we even have math to explain something that is infinitely random?  We study probability but balk at the thought of infinity.  So what if infinite probability is not even a part of the equation?  What if the probability was 1?  That certainly seems possible if there is a creator.

The God of Physics

The relationship between science and faith is one of a friendship gone sour.  The two used to be good friends who used to spur each other on to higher understanding. Early astronomers like Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler who were devout men of the Christian faith sought the mysteries of the cosmos to better understand the mind of God.  Even Sir Isaac Newton himself after publishing Principia Mathematica believed that the tightly-bound universe governed by mechanics and gravity was an insight into the mind of God and the brilliance of creation.   But over time science starting hanging out with other people and faith didn’t appreciate that much and got angry so they’re friendship became a bit testy.  In the mid 17th century science and faith signed what you could call a “non-aggression treaty” to agree to not intrude into the other’s territory.  For about 200 years science and faith were cordial at best as the Enlightenment gained momentum and the humanistic and materialistic culture of the 19th century took shape.  For many it was Charles Darwin’s work The Origin of Species that introduced evolution and natural selection that was the final nail in the coffin of the relationship between science and faith.

It used to be said that God was the God of the gaps.  Man used to wonder why it rained and so he said “God makes it rain” until we discovered that water vapor forms clouds that produce rain.  We used to ask why the sun rises and sets every day so we said “God moves it from east to west”.  Then we discovered that the planet rotates on its axis.  Eventually human curiosity and scientific observation filled almost all the gaps so there was essentially no more need for God in human thinking and God was confined to the minds of pious men of faith who were labelled “dim-witted” and “afraid of progress”.  By the end of the 19th century the thought of a divine being who had the ability to create and govern the universe was laughable to the vast majority of mainstream scientists and empirical evidence supposedly supported a universe that was un-ordered and chaotic and disproved the very idea of a creator.  Then there were physicists such as the great Albert Einstein who (based on his theory of general relativity) believed more or less that God was creation itself, that the universe was more ordered and desinged than we could ever imagine that a Creator must be behind it.  However,  the Creator of Einstein’s mind was the creation itself.  God was in the very stars, planets, nebulae, and black holes.  Very different from the personal, and anthropomorphic God of the Bible was this belief that is sometimes referred to as Pantheism.

There are a few people like myself (I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination!) who still hold to the belief that science and faith are not enemies, in fact they are more closely related than you could possibly imagine.  I can’t give a full discourse on why I believe this #1 because I am not as scientifically learned as required for such a proof and #2 because this is a blog, not a dissertation at Cambridge.  I am a man of faith, faith in the God of the Bible I might add.  I am equally fascinated in both science and faith.  My faith tells me that humans are created in the likeness and image of God and as such we are gifted with a mind capable of understanding the world we live in.  Not to exercise that gift, to stifle it, would in my mind be an insult to God.  For the sake of brevity (I may have already violated it) I will outline just one reason why I believe science and faith are friends still.  That reason is the theory of stellar and planetary formation known as accretion.

Accretion is the theory that stars and planets form from clouds of dust and gas that gravity causes to clump together to create a “runaway” effect of mass creation.  I will just focus on planetary accretion for now.  Once a star’s nuclear life has begun when hydrogen is fused into helium in the star’s core the outer elements are expelled and are thrown into an orbit around the new star.  The chaos of the elements causes them to constantly bombard other elements at massively high speeds and they begin to clump together.  The clumps get bigger and bigger as they begin to assert gravity of their own which attracts the smaller clumps and particle around them until a main bulge is created which is the skeleton of the new protoplanet.  Over many millions of years this process continues until all the dust and gas has been either accreted or expelled from the newborn solar system.  Accretion is not unlike a snowball being rolled down a snowy hill.  The snowball is small at the top of the hill but as it rolls down it gathers more and more snow making it larger and larger.  As it gets bigger and bigger the snowball has more surface area which allows it to gather more snow faster until it gets to the bottom as a huge and well-rounded snowball fit for a snowman.  This is the theory that explains how our planet and the others in our solar system were formed billions of years ago when the Sun was an infant.

Accretion of Earth Credit: Don Dixon/comsographica.com

If you’ve hung in there with me so far here’s where I make the connection with my faith.  In the Bible the book of Job is the story of a man named Job who is righteous before God and who has been blessed with prosperity and wealth.  Job has many possessions, a large family, and he is respected in the community as an elder and a wise man who is learned of the ways of God.  A conversation takes place between God and Satan where Satan is asking permission of God to test one of His people.  God suggests Job who is righteous in all his ways.  Satan claims that if he could just take away all his wealth and possessions Job will curse God.  God grants Satan permission to do so.  Job has every material blessing suddenly stripped away from him, he looses his flock and herd, his house is destroyed, all his children die, and Job is left with no claim to anything on the Earth.  What ensues is a very lengthy discourse between Job and three of his friends about why this horrible calamity has happened to Job.  They all suggest that Job must have sinned to bring such disaster and punishment upon himself, whereas Job questions God’s goodness because he knows his heart has always been upright before God.  Near the end God Himself enters the discussion and directly questions Job for his accusations against God’s goodness and power.  In chapters 38-39 God declares Himself as the One who caused creation to be and He declares His power over all the wonders of the Earth and the universe.  In Job 38:37 God says something very interesting regarding His creative technique.  It reads, Who can number the clouds by wisdom?  Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs together into a mass and the clods stick fast together?”  This sounds remarkably like the process of accretion!  As far as we know, the ancient Hebrews had no knowledge of planetary formation so it is astonishing that God would say something like this to someone who would have no idea what He is talking about.  I believe it is clear that the “waterskins of the heavens” is a reference to the planets which the ancient people would have thought were just stars.  The dust that runs together into a mass sounds a lot like the accretion disk that forms around the newborn star which eventually becomes a planet or moon that “sticks fast together”.

To me this appears as clear evidence, not only that the Bible is more factual than most people could ever imagine, but that there are confirmations of our modern scientific knowledge in the Bible.  This proves both that our understanding of the universe has gotten us closer to the mind of God and that there is a divine Creator who operates the universe by a skillfully crafted set of rules.  The complexity and beauty of the universe is a testament to the unfathomable brilliance of God and His glory.  As Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above (the expanse in Hebrew) proclaims His handiwork”.  According to this knowledge my faith tells me that God created the universe and strictly governs it by a complex, yet beautiful set of laws that we are beginning to understand.  How marvelous is the prospect of being able get a glimpse into the mind of God by discovering the laws by which the universe operates!  Sadly, much of academia does not see it this way.  They assert the power of man’s mind and give no thought to a creator.  Let me close with another quote from Job.  Job 32:7-8 says “I said, ‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’  But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty , that makes him understand.” God grants wisdom to all men, but it is the Spirit of God that allows us to understand the true meaning of our wisdom…that it all points back to God.

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