Alice in Wonderland Meets Stephen Hawking

The title of this article was actually a comment by Bob Berman, Astronomy magazine (July 2004, page 16) about the current state of cosmology theories. Berman was talking about the fact that more and more theories are being proposed, each one seeming to be more bizarre than the last. The sad part about all of these theories is that the media have made them sound as if they are fact, and more and more as atheists attack belief in God they quote theories that have been lifted out of media material. Berman put the subtitle in his article:

Warning: The following contains contemporary cosmology. Reading it can produce disorientation and confusion. Nobody knows what's going on.

The problem in cosmology is that facts are few and the imaginations of people who cook up theories are fertile. We have known for nearly seventy years that the cosmos is expanding. Every measurement made of galaxies showed that everything is moving away from everything else. The picture looked very much like what happens when a firecracker explodes, with material on the outside edge of the object that exploded moving the fastest and material to the inside moving less quickly. The term "big bang" or "inflation" was at least partially rooted in this observation. Temperature measurements of intergalactic space supported the theory by being exactly what they should be if the cosmos was infinitely hot and cooled during the expansion of the cosmos. What banged or who banged it was not knowable, and that is where all the theories came from. It is interesting that the Bible agrees with the observation of the expanding universe. Numerous passages in the Bible describe the cosmos as an expanding entity. "God who created the heavens and stretched them out" appears in one way or another over and over in scripture (see Isaiah 42:5; 40:22; 44:24; 45:12; 48:13; 51:13; Job 9:8; 37:18; Psalm 104:2; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15; Zechariah 12:1).

Many atheists had a problem with the "big bang" concept because it suggested a beginning, and if there was a beginning there had to be a cause which suggested a causer. To get around this problem, it was recognized that since gravity seemed to be a property of mass, everything in the cosmos was attracting everything else, and that meant that eventually gravity would stop the expansion of the universe and pull everything back to a central point. The fact of gravitational attraction seemed sure and the fact that things were coasting from the initial process seemed unquestionable. One could theorize that whatever caused the big bang could happen over and over. This theory was called the oscillating universe theory, and was heavily promoted by leading atheists.

There were lots of scientific problems with the oscillating universe theory. Only mass would be affected by gravity and much of the energy in the cosmos was in the form of light which would not be gravitationally susceptible. It also seemed that some objects on the outer edge of the expansion were traveling so fast that they would never be significantly affected by gravity. In spite of these and other problems, the oscillating universe theory was in textbooks and even used by Carl Sagan in his famous Cosmos series in which he compared it to the Hindu concept of reincarnation.

In the late 1990s another observation was made by astronomers that totally disrupted this whole picture. It was discovered that the cosmos was not slowing down in its expansion as gravitational effects would have been expected to do, but that the cosmos was actually accelerating in its expansion. This observation has been confirmed by several different methods and is now considered to be a fact. The problem is that the fact that the cosmos is accelerating in its expansion is at odds with everything we can do in the laboratory. What does a good scientist do when confronted with such an astounding fact? The answer should be to propose explanations that are testable and for which experiments can be conducted to see whether or not the proposal is consistent with scientific experiments. The problem with today's public speakers on this subject is that proposals are being made that have no possible way of being tested, and each pronouncement is made with such pomp and flair that the average reader assumes that not only has the theory been tested, but it has been successful on every point.

One proposal has been that 70% of the universe must be made of an antigravity force called dark energy. No one knew what it was or how it could exist, but the concept has appeared in hundreds of magazines and newspapers that we have seen. Recently we have seen statements that the dark energy loses its power over time, so eventually the acceleration will stop and the universe will collapse as the oscillating universe theory suggested. There is no evidence of this, and no way of testing it. Some periodicals have said that Einstein's cosmological constant is what is causing the acceleration of the cosmos. This is a constant that Einstein threw into his equations to make them fit his opinions about the cosmos--an act that he later called his greatest blunder. The problem is that no one has any idea what the constant would represent or be caused by. Now it is fashionable to refer to the "Big Rip." This is a theory that says that eventually everything will explode--even atoms. Another theory is called "string theory" which assumes that there are eleven spacial dimensions and then suggests that membranes from these other dimensions sometimes touch each other explosively creating things like our universe.

Berman summarizes the situation beautifully when he says:

"Suddenly, we're imbedded in a frothy quantum foam of unlimited possibilities. It's a free-for-all where each solemnly presented theory is soon changed or rebutted.. Throw the math this way, that way, tweak the equations, set fire to the physics building, nothing matters. It's Alice in Wonderland meets Stephen Hawking."

Our concern is not that there are theories or that research is being done to try to understand the acceleration of the cosmos. Our concern is that theories are being presented as facts and that much of what is presented is bad science because it is untestable, cannot be falsified, and is proposed only because the author does not like the implications of what observations are leading to.

Eventually someone may be able to find a way to determine whether gravity can be repulsive in nature. Someone may be able to conduct an experiment to determine what the nature of dark energy is. The lesson of history has been that when these discoveries are made they always end up supporting the biblical explanation, but we should resist bad science and Alice in Wonderland-type explanations and realize that it will take time to carefully and logically consider the implications of the acceleration of the cosmos. One thing seems clear, and that is that we do not live in an oscillating universe that is eternal in nature. We need to live in a way that reflects that we will only have one chance to make our lives meaningful and useful. The evidence of God's intelligence and purpose in the cosmos grows with every new discovery reflecting that the more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the creator. 

--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, JanFeb05.