The Universe: Elegant, Ugly, or Complex?
While secular astronomers and cosmologists agree that the universe is beautiful, they mean something altogether different from mere appearance of celestial objects. What the scientists appreciate is elegant mathematical equations. They care very little about actual bodies out in space. However, the relationship of mathematics to the universe is a matter of assumption.
Equations, astronomer Timothy Ferris tells us (in his 1997 book The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report) are a codified form of logic (p. 70). Scientists represent natural processes in mathematical form and they use solutions to the equations to make predictions about what may happen in nature.
The Christian, for his part, also takes by faith that nature can be studied. Paleontologist Kurt Wise (in his 2002 book Faith, Form and Time) tells us “the doctrine of the Creator (that God created the physical world so that all people everywhere through all time could come to know Him through it) is the foundation for all the presuppositions of science. Science, then, is founded upon presuppositions that are themselves founded on the truth of Scripture — and thus on the nature of God” (p. 35). Not only then, are the presuppositions of science justifiable only in a Biblical worldview, but one such presuppostion is that the natural laws can be represented by simple mathematical equations. Of course this does not mean that any old equation will do. We obviously need to find the correct one. When it comes to astronomy and cosmology, these are not so easy to identify.
Many philosophers of science admit that attitudes are a major contributor to the type of scientific theories which receive support. In this context, most scientists believe that all reality can be derived from some very simple processes which are themselves describable by simple equations. This is all very well for operational processes such as chemistry, but we do not know if it applies as well to all reality. In this context philosopher Roald Hoffmann asks rhetorically: “Is the world simple? Or do we just want it to be such? In the dreams of some, the beauty and simplicity of equations becomes a criterion for their truth. Simple theories seem to validate that idol of science, Ockham’s razor.” (American Scientist Jan/Feb. 2003 p. 9) Ockham’s razor is the idea that the simplest explanation is most likely to be true. The problem is however that there may be drastically different opinions as to what the simplest explanation is.
While the secular scientist sees beauty in simple uncluttered mathematical equations, many Christians value complexity. The latter believe that the present universe is not too different from its initial condition. The universe is beautiful because of all the diversity which we observe. While the Christian also makes use of mathematical equations, he is not trying to run these processes for billions of years, so calculations and expectations are much less complex.
One value which is particularly important to the secular scientist, is symmetry. This term is most easily understood as applying to shapes which are mirror images or opposites of each other. Thus the opposite of an electron with negative charge would be a positron with positive charge. Apparently in mathematical terms, symmetry is considered good and beautiful. A condition with no opposite (broken symmetry) is considered ugly. Thus Timothy Ferris, in his 1997 book, remarks: “Insights like this point to a new view of cosmic history, one in which the universe is viewed as a kind of paradise lost. In this sense, the cosmos has devolved from a state of perfect (or more perfect) symmetry to the rubble heap of broken symmetries we find around today … what agency broke the primordial symmetry…?” (p. 216).
While Dr. Ferris’ choice of words sounds vaguely familiar to Christians, his sentiments are very different. In his opinion, the good, the pure, the symmetrical condition existed prior to the beginning of time. What we see now, he believes, is bad because the symmetries are broken. The paradise which is lost, existed before the appearance of the universe. For Christians, on the other hand, the universe is beautiful because it was created by God. Paradise was lost only later. In Dr. Ferris’ view, the agent who produced the universe actually performed a bad act because he caused symmetry to be broken. Christians, alternatively, believe that the creation was initially made “very good.”
The dream of a beautiful theory of the cosmos goes back to Einstein. It was his theory of gravity (called general relativity) which described the behaviour of matter and energy, space and time. This description was codi- fied in mathematical equations. In the 1920s one mathematician who worked with Einstein’s equations was Russian Alexander Friedmann. Some of his solutions suggested that the universe was an expanded version of an initial very hot, very dense state. Assuming that this equation was a correct description of the universe, scientists would be able to calculate the age of the universe once they knew the rate of expansion, the mass density and geometric shape of the universe. The big bang however would represent a colossal breaking of symmetry unless the expansion later slowed and then reversed itself into a big crunch destined to repeat the whole process.
The idea of an oscillating universe has proved attractive to secular science since the 1960s. It preserved symmetry (expansion balanced by contraction) and eliminated any need for an agent, supernatural or otherwise, to cause the initial event. There were a few problems however with this happy scenario. One was that scientists had to assume that 95% of all matter had such strange properties that it could not be observed. Otherwise there was not enough matter to halt the expansion. This was the famous “missing mass” or “dark matter.”
Observational astronomers meanwhile tried to fine tune their calculations. One of the key projects of the Hubble Space Telescope was to derive a more reliable value for the expansion rate. This task was completed in 2001 and a value was calculated which yielded an age for the universe of just nine billion years. While this sounds pretty old, it was far too young for theories of star formation. You can’t have components older than the whole, so this called the whole equation into question.
More change in the theory was to come however. Two groups of astronomers in 1998 found that two distance estimates (for a very remote type of supernova) did not agree. The discrepancy in calculated distance could indicate either that the supernovas are not naturally as bright as presumed, or that the universe rather than slowing its expansion is actually speeding up. There were some “acceptable” 13 billion years.
This approach however raised another question. Is the density of matter still enough that technically it should bring about a collapse? Recent studies of the background radiation suggest that this is so. Then why is the universe not contracting instead of expanding faster and faster? The popular answer is that a mysterious force (cosmological constant) is pushing everything further and further apart. Thus in February 2003, NASA scientists announced that the universe consists of 4% normal matter, 23% exotic dark matter and 73% mysterious dark energy. While dark matter seems strange, dark energy is even more weird. In order to make the equation balance, scientists have to assume that this energy not only pushes things apart, but it also acts like matter in contributing to the overall geometry of space.
These very strange conclusions may lead scientists to develop a “fundamentally new physics.” Traditionally secular scientists have insisted that scientific theories include only known physical processes. Now however they seem prepared to abandon this position. Obviously attempts to rescue Einstein’s beautiful equation have led to adoption of some dubious conclusions. To those who value simplicity and symmetry, the cosmological constant is not only ugly in itself (a complicating factor), but it prevents asymmetrical contraction of the universe. In addition scientists have to assume the existence of entirely unobserved dark matter and dark energy with wildly improbable characteristics.
It is evident that the Big Bang survives only through increasingly desperate modifications to the original theory. Why do they not consider the creation model instead? Plainly we need different mathematics.
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