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For the Atheist

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  • For the Atheist

    Information for the unbeliever

    The Awesome Universe—Where Did It Come From?
    What the Big Bang Explains—
    What It Doesn't
    EVERY morning is a miracle. Deep inside the morning sun, hydrogen is being fused into helium at temperatures of millions of degrees. X rays and gamma rays of incredible violence are pouring out of the core into the surrounding layers of the sun. If the sun were transparent, these rays would blast their way to the surface in a few searing seconds. Instead, they begin to bounce from tightly packed atom to atom of solar "insulation," gradually losing energy. Days, weeks, centuries, pass. Thousands of years later, that once deadly radiation finally emerges from the sun's surface as a gentle shower of yellow light—no longer a menace but just right for bathing earth with its warmth.

    Every night is a miracle too. Other suns twinkle at us across the vast expanse of our galaxy. They are a riot of colors, sizes, temperatures, and densities. Some are supergiants so large that if one were centered in the position of our sun, what remained of our planet would be inside the surface of that superstar. Other suns are tiny, white dwarfs—smaller than our earth, yet as heavy as our sun. Some will peacefully drone along for billions of years. Others are poised on the brink of supernova explosions that will obliterate them, briefly outshining entire galaxies.

    Primitive peoples spoke of sea monsters and battling gods, of dragons and turtles and elephants, of lotus flowers and dreaming gods. Later, during the so-called Age of Reason, the gods were swept aside by the newfound "magic" of calculus and Newton's laws. Now we live in an age bereft of the old poetry and legend. The children of today's atomic age have chosen as their paradigm for creation, not the ancient sea monster, not Newton's "machine," but that overarching symbol of the 20th century—the bomb. Their "creator" is an explosion. They call their cosmic fireball the big bang.

    What the Big Bang "Explains"
    The most popular version of this generation's view of creation states that some 15 to 20 billion years ago, the universe did not exist, nor did empty space. There was no time, no matter—nothing except an infinitely dense, infinitely small point called a singularity, which exploded into the present universe. That explosion included a brief period during the first tiny fraction of a second when the infant universe inflated, or expanded, much faster than the speed of light.

    During the first few minutes of the big bang, nuclear fusion took place on a universal scale, giving rise to the currently measured concentrations of hydrogen and helium and at least part of the lithium in interstellar space. After perhaps 300,000 years, the universewide fireball dropped to a little below the temperature of the surface of the sun, allowing electrons to settle into orbits around atoms and releasing a flash of photons, or light. That primordial flash can be measured today, although greatly cooled off, as universal background radiation at microwave frequencies corresponding to a temperature of 2.7 Kelvin.* In fact, it was the discovery of this background radiation in 1964-65 that convinced most scientists that there was something to the big bang theory. The theory also claims to explain why the universe appears to be expanding in all directions, with distant galaxies apparently racing away from us and from each other at high speed.

    Since the big bang theory appears to explain so much, why doubt it? Because there is also much that it does not explain. To illustrate: The ancient astronomer Ptolemy had a theory that the sun and planets went around the earth in large circles, making small circles, called epicycles, at the same time. The theory appeared to explain the motion of the planets. For centuries as astronomers gathered more data, the Ptolemaic cosmologists could always add extra epicycles onto their other epicycles and "explain" the new data. But that did not mean the theory was correct. Ultimately there was just too much data to account for, and other theories, such as Copernicus' idea that the earth went around the sun, explained things better and more simply. Today it is hard to find a Ptolemaic astronomer!

    Professor Fred Hoyle likened the efforts of the Ptolemaic cosmologists at patching up their failing theory in the face of new discoveries to the endeavors of big bang believers today to keep their theory afloat. He wrote in his book The Intelligent Universe: "The main efforts of investigators have been in papering over contradictions in the big bang theory, to build up an idea which has become ever more complex and cumbersome." After referring to Ptolemy's futile use of epicycles to rescue his theory, Hoyle continued: "I have little hesitation in saying that as a result a sickly pall now hangs over the big bang theory. As I have mentioned earlier, when a pattern of facts becomes set against a theory, experience shows that it rarely recovers."—Page 186.

    The New Scientist magazine of December 22/29, 1990, echoed similar thoughts: "The Ptolemaic method has been lavishly applied to . . . the big bang cosmological model." It then asks: "How can we achieve real progress in particle physics and cosmology? . . . We must be more honest and forthright about the purely speculative nature of some of our most cherished assumptions." New observations are now pouring in.

    Questions the Big Bang Does Not Answer
    A major challenge to the big bang has come from observers using the corrected optics of the Hubble Space Telescope to measure distances to other galaxies. The new data is giving the theorists fits!

    Astronomer Wendy Freedman and others recently used the Hubble Space Telescope to measure the distance to a galaxy in the constellation of Virgo, and her measurement suggests that the universe is expanding faster, and therefore is younger, than previously thought. In fact, it "implies a cosmic age as little as eight billion years," reported Scientific American magazine just last June. While eight billion years sounds like a very long time, it is only about half the currently estimated age of the universe. This creates a special problem, since, as the report goes on to note, "other data indicate that certain stars are at least 14 billion years old." If Freedman's numbers hold up, those elderly stars would turn out to be older than the big bang itself!

    Still another problem for the big bang has come from steadily mounting evidence of "bubbles" in the universe that are 100 million light-years in size, with galaxies on the outside and voids inside. Margaret Geller, John Huchra, and others at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have found what they call a great wall of galaxies some 500 million light-years in length across the northern sky. Another group of astronomers, who became known as the Seven Samurai, have found evidence of a different cosmic conglomeration, which they call the Great Attractor, located near the southern constellations of Hydra and Centaurus. Astronomers Marc Postman and Tod Lauer believe something even bigger must lie beyond the constellation Orion, causing hundreds of galaxies, including ours, to stream in that direction like rafts on a sort of "river in space."

    All this structure is baffling. Cosmologists say the blast from the big bang was extremely smooth and uniform, according to the background radiation it allegedly left behind. How could such a smooth start have led to such massive and complex structures? "The latest crop of walls and attractors intensifies the mystery of how so much structure could have formed within the 15-billion-year age of the universe," admits Scientific American—a problem that only gets worse as Freedman and others roll back the estimated age of the cosmos still more.

    The Light-Year—A Cosmic Yardstick
    The universe is so big that measuring it in miles or kilometers is like measuring the distance from London to Tokyo with a micrometer. A more convenient unit of measurement is the light-year, the distance that light travels in a year, or about 5,880,000,000,000 miles [9,460,000,000,000 km]. Since light is the fastest thing in the universe and requires only 1.3 seconds to travel to the moon and about 8 minutes to the sun, a light-year would seem to be truly enormous!

    "We Are Missing Some Fundamental Element"
    Geller's three-dimensional maps of thousands of clumped, tangled, and bubbled galactic agglomerations have transformed the way scientists picture the universe. She does not pretend to understand what she sees. Gravity alone appears unable to account for her great wall. "I often feel we are missing some fundamental element in our attempts to understand this structure," she admits.

    Geller enlarged on her misgivings: "We clearly do not know how to make large structure in the context of the Big Bang." Interpretations of cosmic structure on the basis of current mapping of the heavens are far from definitive—more like trying to picture the whole world from a survey of Rhode Island, U.S.A. Geller continued: "Someday we may find that we haven't been putting the pieces together in the right way, and when we do, it will seem so obvious that we'll wonder why we hadn't thought of it much sooner."

    That leads to the biggest question of all: What is supposed to have caused the big bang itself? No less an authority than Andrei Linde, one of the originators of the very popular inflationary version of the big bang theory, frankly admits that the standard theory does not address this fundamental question. "The first, and main, problem is the very existence of the big bang," he says. "One may wonder, What came before? If space-time did not exist then, how could everything appear from nothing? . . . Explaining this initial singularity—where and when it all began—still remains the most intractable problem of modern cosmology."

    An article in Discover magazine recently concluded that "no reasonable cosmologist would claim that the Big Bang is the ultimate theory."

    Let us now go outdoors and contemplate the beauty and the mystery of the starry vault.

    * A kelvin is the unit of a temperature scale whose degree is the same as the degree on the Celsius temperature scale, except that the Kelvin scale begins at absolute zero, that is 0 K.—the equivalent of -273.16 degrees Celsius. Water freezes at 273.16 K. and boils at 373.16 K.


  • #2
    Information for the atheist

    The Awesome Universe—Where Did It Come From?
    'Something Is Missing'—What?
    AFTER gazing at the stars on a clear, dark night, we come inside, chilly and blinking, our minds spinning with vast beauty and a multitude of queries. Why is the universe here? Where did it come from? Where is it going? These are the questions that many try to answer.

    After five years of research into cosmology, which carried him to scientific conferences and research centers all over the globe, science writer Dennis Overbye described a conversation with world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking: "In the end what I wanted to know from Hawking is what I have always wanted to know from Hawking: Where we go when we die."

    Although tinged with irony, these words reveal much about our age. The queries are not so much on the stars themselves and the theories and conflicting views of the cosmologists that study them. People today still hunger for answers to the basic questions that have haunted mankind for millenniums: Why are we here? Is there a God? Where do we go when we die? Where are the answers to these questions? Are they to be found in the stars?

    Another science writer, John Boslough, observed that as people have left religion, scientists such as cosmologists have become "the perfect priesthood for a secular age. They, not religious leaders, were the ones who would now reveal all the secrets of the universe bit by precious bit, not in the guise of spiritual epiphany but in the form of equations obscure to all but the anointed." But will they reveal all the secrets of the universe and answer all the questions that have haunted mankind for ages?

    What are the cosmologists revealing now? Most espouse some version of the big bang "theology," which has become the secular religion of our time, even as they quibble incessantly over the details. "Yet," Boslough noted, "in the context of new and contradictory observations, the big bang theory begins to appear more and more like an overly simplistic model in search of a creation event. By the early 1990s the big bang model was. . . increasingly unable to answer the most fundamental questions." He added that "more than a few theorists have expressed the opinion that it would not even last out the 1990s."

    Perhaps some of the current cosmological guesswork will turn out to be correct, perhaps not—just as perhaps there really are planets coalescing in the ghostly glow of Orion's nebula, perhaps not. The undeniable fact is that no one on this earth really knows for sure. Theories abound, but honest observers echo Margaret Geller's astute observation that despite the glib talk, something fundamental seems to be missing in science's current understanding of the cosmos.



    • #3
      Information for the none believer

      Missing—The Willingness to Face Unpalatable Facts

      Most scientists—and this includes most cosmologists—subscribe to the theory of evolution. They find talk unpalatable that gives intelligence and purpose a role in creation, and they shudder at the mere mention of God as Creator. They refuse even to consider such heresy. Psalm 10:4 speaks disparagingly of the supercilious person who "makes no search; all his ideas are: 'There is no God.'" His creative deity is Chance. But as knowledge increases and chance and also coincidence collapse under the growing load, the scientist begins to turn more and more to such no-no's as intelligence and design. Consider the following examples:

      "A component has evidently been missing from cosmological studies. The origin of the Universe, like the solution of the Rubik cube, requires an intelligence," wrote astrophysicist Fred Hoyle in his book The Intelligent Universe, page 189.

      "The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known that we were coming."—Disturbing the Universe, by Freeman Dyson, page 250.

      "What features of the Universe were essential for the emergence of creatures such as ourselves, and is it through coincidence, or for some deeper reason, that our Universe has these features? . . . Is there some deeper plan that ensures that the Universe is tailor-made for humankind?"—Cosmic Coincidences, by John Gribbin and Martin Rees, pages xiv, 4.

      Fred Hoyle also comments on these properties, on page 220 of his book quoted above: "Such properties seem to run through the fabric of the natural world like a thread of happy accidents. But there are so many of these odd coincidences essential to life that some explanation seems required to account for them."

      "It is not only that man is adapted to the universe. The universe is adapted to man. Imagine a universe in which one or another of the fundamental dimensionless constants of physics is altered by a few percent one way or the other? Man could never come into being in such a universe. That is the central point of the anthropic principle. According to this principle, a life-giving factor lies at the centre of the whole machinery and design of the world."—The Anthropic Cosmological Principle," by John Barrow and Frank Tipler, page vii.



      • #4
        For the None believer

        Has Anybody Seen My Missing Mass?

        The Andromeda galaxy, like all spiral galaxies, rotates majestically in space as if it were a giant hurricane. Astronomers can calculate the rate of rotation for many galaxies from the light spectra, and when they do, they discover something puzzling. The rotation rates seem to be impossible! All spiral galaxies seem to rotate too fast. They behave as if the visible stars of the galaxy were embedded in a much larger halo of dark matter, invisible to the telescope. "We do not know the forms of the dark matter," admits astronomer James Kaler. Cosmologists estimate that 90 percent of the missing mass is unaccounted for. They are frantic to find it, either in the form of massive neutrinos or some unknown but superabundant type of matter.

        If you locate the missing mass, be sure to let your loc


        • #5
          Information for the None Believer

          God, Design, and the Constants of Physics
          What are some of these fundamental constants of physics that are essential for life to exist in the universe? A report in The Orange County Register of January 8, 1995, listed a few of these constants. It stressed how fine-tuned these features must be, stating: "The quantitative values of many basic physical constants defining the universe—for example, the charge of an electron, or the fixed velocity of light, or the ratio of the strengths of fundamental forces in nature—are ravishingly precise, some to 120 decimal places. The development of a life-breeding universe is exceedingly sensitive to these specifications. Any tiny variation—a nanosecond here, an angstrom there—and the universe might well have been dead and barren."

          The author of this report then mentioned the usually unmentionable: "It seems more reasonable to assume that some mysterious bias lurks within the process, perhaps in the action of an intelligent and intentional power who fine-tuned the universe in preparation for our arrival."

          George Greenstein, professor of astronomy and cosmology, gave a longer list of these physical constants in his book The Symbiotic Universe. Among those listed were constants so fine-tuned that if they were off to the very slightest degree, no atoms, no stars, no universe, would have ever been possible. The details of these relationships are listed in the accompanying box. They must exist for physical life to be possible. They are complex and may not be understood by all readers, but they are recognized, along with many others, by astrophysicists trained in these areas.

          As this list lengthened, Greenstein became overwhelmed. He said: "So many coincidences! The more I read, the more I became convinced that such 'coincidences' could hardly have happened by chance. But as this conviction grew, something else grew as well. Even now it is difficult to express this 'something' in words. It was an intense revulsion, and at times it was almost physical in nature. I would positively squirm with discomfort. . . . Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?"

          Sickened and horrified by the thought, Greenstein quickly recanted, recovered his scientifically religious orthodoxy, and proclaimed: "God is not an explanation." No reason—it was just so unpalatable that he could not stomach the thought!



          • #6
            Information for the none believer

            A Listing of Some of the Physical Constants Necessary for Life to Exist
            The charges of electron and proton must be equal and opposite; the neutron must outweigh the proton by a tiny percent; a matching must exist between temperature of the sun and the absorptive properties of chlorophyll before photosynthesis can occur; if the strong force were a little weaker, the sun could not generate energy by nuclear reactions, but if it were a little stronger, the fuel needed to generate energy would be violently unstable; without two separate remarkable resonances between nuclei in the cores of red giant stars, no element beyond helium could have been formed; had space been less than three dimensions, the interconnections for blood flow and the nervous system would be impossible; and if space had been more than three dimensions, planets could not orbit the sun stably.—The Symbiotic Universe, pages 256-7.



            • #7
              Information for the None Believer:

              Our Awesome
              A Product of Chance?

              SOME people say: 'Yes, our universe is all a matter of chance.' Others, especially those who are religious, disagree. Still others are just not sure. What do you believe?

              Whatever your view, you will no doubt agree that our universe is a marvel. Consider the galaxies. It has been estimated that there are about 100 billion of them in the observable universe. Each is a grouping of from fewer than a billion to more than a trillion stars.

              Most galaxies are grouped in clusters of from a few dozen galaxies to thousands of them. For example, our neighboring galaxy Andromeda has been described as the twin of our Milky Way galaxy. These two immense star systems are bound to each other by gravity. Together with a small number of other neighboring galaxies, they form part of a cluster.

              Two spiral galaxies pass by each other

              The universe is made up of an untold number of clusters of galaxies. Some clusters are bound by gravity to other clusters, forming superclusters. But from that scale onward, gravity loses its grip. Scientists find that the superclusters are moving away from one another. In other words, the universe is expanding. This amazing discovery suggests that there was a beginning when the universe was in a much smaller and denser state. The birth of the universe is often referred to as the big bang.

              Almost every object in this Hubble Space Telescope image is a galaxy

              Some scientists seriously question whether man will ever be able to find out how the universe was born. Others speculate about ways in which our universe could have come into existence without an intelligent cause. The journal Scientific American, in its January 1999 issue, discussed the subject "How Did the Universe Begin?" Some of the scientists' theories have already been found wanting. "Unfortunately," the magazine says, "it may be very difficult . . . for astronomers to test any of these ideas."

              The idea that the universe is a product of chance requires belief in what scientists describe as many "lucky accidents" or "coincidences." For example, the universe is made up of an abundance of the simplest atoms—hydrogen and helium. Life, however, requires not only hydrogen but also an abundance of more complex atoms, especially carbon and oxygen. Scientists used to wonder where such precious atoms come from.

              Is it just a coincidence that the complex atoms necessary to sustain life are manufactured inside certain giant stars? And is it just by chance that some of these giant stars explode as supernovas, spewing out their treasure chest of rare atoms? Sir Fred Hoyle, who was involved in the making of these discoveries, said: "I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed."