In the past two years, a set of breakthrough discoveries has stirred waves of exuberance from the scientific community. Carlos Frenk, of Britain's Durham University, exclaimed to reporters, "[It's] the most exciting thing that's happened in my life as a cosmologist." Cambridge University's Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Stephen Hawking, a master of theoretical physics and of understatement, described just one of the several breakthroughs as "the discovery of the century, if not of all time." Michael Turner, University of Chicago and Fermilab astrophysicist, said researchers have found "the Holy Grail of cosmology."
What is this "holy grail" to which Turner refers? The answer is perhaps best stated by George Smoot, University of California at Berkeley astronomer and leader of one of the breakthrough projects: "What we have found is evidence of the birth of the universe. … It's like looking at God." According to science historian Frederic B. Burnham, many scientists have suddenly come to consider God's creation of the universe "a more respectable hypothesis today than in any time in the last 100 years."
This set of discoveries brings cause for celebration not only among scientists, but also among Christians. There is substance here for encouraging our faith and for developing a more effective outreach to the unbelieving. God has revealed his glory in new and dramatic ways.
Until April 1992, astronomers knew only of ordinary matter, the stuff that we and these pages are made of - protons, neutrons, electrons, and a small host of other fundamental particles that strongly interact with radiation. The stuff that researchers have just found evidence for is different. It is called "exotic" matter, for it does not strongly interact with radiation.
The reason this discovery generated so much excitement among astrophysicists is that it constitutes a significant piece of the nearly completed puzzle of how the universe came to be. Perhaps another reason is that exotic matter actually makes up a sizable proportion (no less than 60 percent and maybe as much as 90 percent) of the matter in the universe.
Since 1990, astronomers had been certain that the universe must have erupted from some kind of extremely hot, extremely compact creation event. Evidence for this scenario came from measurements of the entropy of the universe. What is the connection between entropy and this cosmic big bang?
Entropy describes how efficiently a system radiates energy and how inefficiently it performs work. A burning candle illustrates a highly entropic system. The candle is effective in radiating heat and light but relatively ineffective in propelling an engine or performing any other type of work. Physicists designate the entropy of a system by a number that indicates the amount of energy degradation per proton. A burning candle has a specific entropy measure of about two, and that is considered high.
Compare that number with what astronomers have discovered about the universe. It has a specific entropy measure of one billion. Let the impact of that number sink in. Only an explosion can generate an entropy measure significantly higher than that of a candle. But none of the explosions produced by humans comes anywhere close to one billion. Only an explosion from an incomparably hot, incomparably compact source could generate such an enormous specific entropy.
But a troubling hitch remained in the big-bang creation models. The radiation left over from the creation event, radiation that permeates the cosmos, appears smoothly distributed throughout the cosmos. This smooth distribution would lead us to expect that matter, too, would be smoothly distributed. But as we see even with our naked eyes, it is not. Some radiation ripples have been found, but they are much too tiny to account for the clumpiness of matter. Matter is very clumpy. It is densely clumped in galaxies and galaxy clusters. If the radiation is so smoothly dispersed, why isn't the matter also smoothly distributed?
The discovery of evidence for the reality of exotic matter solved the problem. Since exotic matter only weakly interacts with radiation, it is free to clump under the influence of gravity, regardless of the distribution of the radiation. Once the exotic matter has clumped, it will gravitationally attract ordinary matter to it. Thus, the radiation from the creation event can be smoothly distributed while the galaxies and galaxy clusters are clumped - providing that the universe contains about three to ten times as much exotic matter as ordinary matter.
This ratio is exactly what researchers have found, and not just from one study, but from many. Several probes with the Hubble Space Telescope, two with the 400-inch Keck telescope, four with other ground-based telescopes, one with the Roentgen Satellite, and one with the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite all have measured evidence for exotic matter since April 1992. And the measurements all corroborate each other. This fitting together of various pieces of research, both theoretical and observational, is what thrilled the scientists. It is the kind of thing scientists dream of.
Solid evidence for the big-bang creation event has been available for some time, but because of their typical caution, most scientists have been reluctant to make public pronouncements. This narrowing in on a specific subset of big-bang models made possible by the solution to this matter mystery has finally pushed them to acknowledge the big bang with more certainty. (Recently, many newspapers and newsmagazines have carried stories on how one group of scientists, while measuring the expansion of the universe, has demonstrated that the oldest stars are about twice as old as the cosmos. For a free article explaining the nature of these measurements and how the age of the oldest stars can be reconciled with the creation date of the universe, write Reasons to Believe, P.O. Box 5978, Pasadena, CA 91117).
THE BIG BANG AND JESUS CHRIST
But what does the big bang say about the existence of God - more specifically, the God of the Bible? Many Christians have been taught that the big bang contradicts their faith in the Creator. Such teaching must be based on a misunderstanding of the event and what it implies. Here is what a noted scientist, Geoffrey Burbidge, has to say on the subject. A few days after the initial detection of exotic matter, the University of California at San Diego astronomer loudly complained in a radio interview and to newspaper reporters that his colleagues were rushing off to join "the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang."
The scientific underpinning for correlating the big bang with Jesus Christ lies in a set of mathematical equations, the equations of general relativity. Albert Einstein, the developer of these equations, worked out some of the solutions to them between 1917 and 1930. To the surprise (and dismay) of many scientists, his solutions showed that the universe is expanding. It is expanding, and at the same time, its expansion is slowing down - losing steam, so to speak. What physical phenomenon is described by simultaneous expansion and deceleration? An explosion.
And if the universe is "exploding," there must have been a start and Starter to that explosion. As Genesis reveals, the universe had a beginning - hence, an Initiator, one who existed before and outside of the universe, as the Bible uniquely declares.
These results sent the scientific community, even Einstein, scrambling for loopholes. Many imaginative origins models were proposed and some ancient ones dredged up, but all fell apart as observational data accumulated. The only set of models that withstood the test of time and observations was the big bang set, based on general relativity.
In 1970, three British astrophysicists, George Ellis, Stephen Hawking, and Roger Penrose, took the solution of Einstein's equations a step further. These three developed the space-time theorems of general relativity. Their work showed that if general relativity truly describes the physical dynamics of the universe, not only did matter and energy have a finite beginning, but so did space (the dimensions of length, width, and height) and time have a beginning. Such a finding carried profound ramifications not only for cosmology, but also for theology.
The if attached to general relativity took on enormous importance. How firmly could general relativity be trusted? The confirming evidence was not quite strong enough in 1970 for astronomers to rest their weight confidently upon it and replace the if with since. By then, astronomers had determined the accuracy of general relativity only to the second place of the decimal (that is, 1 percent precision). The skeptics wanted a stronger limb to hold them, and they did not have to wait long. Thanks to the efforts of the NASA space program, confirmation to five places of the decimal (to 0.007 percent precision) was achieved in 1980. In 1993, Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor received the Nobel Prize for Physics for their study confirming general relativity to one part in a hundred trillion.
Thus, with considerable confidence, astronomers now affirm to the theologians and anyone else interested that the cause of the universe resides beyond (thus, independent of) matter, energy, space, and time. How does this fact help us in identifying the Cause?
Of all the holy books of the world's religions, only the Bible unambiguously states that time is finite, that God created time, that God is capable of cause-and-effect operations apart from the universe's time dimension, and that God did cause many effects before the time component of our universe came to be.
Some holy books other than the Bible allude to extra-dimensional or transdimensional phenomena and to transcendent reality, but these allusions are vague and inconsistent - inconsistent with each other and with the facts of nature.
Only the God of the Bible is revealed as a personal Creator who can act independently of the cosmos and its space-time dimensions. The God of the Bible is neither subject to nor contained within the limits of our space and time. He is the one who brought these features of the cosmos into existence.
And no other God besides the God of the Christian Bible claims attributes that defy explanation in the context of four dimensions. For example, only the biblical God is simultaneously singular and plural (a tri-unity) and simultaneously accommodates both humanity's freedom of choice and God's sovereign choice (that is, predetermination).
CREATION, SPACE, AND TIME
We can speak confidently of God's operating in dimensions beyond those we experience. Both Scripture and general relativity place the cause of the universe outside the time dimension of the universe. This placement tells us something about the Creator's relationship to time - and to us. Since time is that dimension in which cause-and-effect phenomena take place (according to the physicists' definition), and since the universe was caused from outside its own time dimension, the Creator must operate within at least two dimensions of time, or the equivalents thereof. Passages such as John 1:3 ("Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made"), John 17:24 ("You loved me before the creation of the world"), Ephesians 1:4, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2, and Hebrews 11:3, among others, describe God's cause-and-effect activities before the beginning of time in our universe.
From particle physicists we learn that the events within the first split second of the universe's existence (literally within the first 10-10 second) require the existence of at least nine (and perhaps many more) dimensions of space. Powerful particle accelerators like the one at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, enable scientists to re-create the extremely high temperatures that existed in the first split-second after the universe was created. Particle physicists can thereby observe how the four fundamental forces of physics emerged from three. They can get a glimpse of how the three emerged from two and a hint at how the two emerged from one. They have discovered many of the fundamental particles and building blocks of such particles that the emerging of forces, namely, unified field theory, predicts. The discovery of the top quark (the last of the six building blocks of fundamental particles to be found), announced in April 1994, is a case in point. The only reasonable explanation for these observations and discoveries is that the universe experienced a collapse of dimensionality some time previous to the 10-34 second. Initially, the universe was composed of nine or more dimensions of space. But sometime between the moment of creation and the 10-34 second, six or more of these dimensions collapsed into infinitely small circles, leaving us with the fundamental forces of physics, fundamental particles, and the three dimensions of space we experience today. Since God controls the beginning, he controls all these dimensions, and his reality encompasses them all.
WORKING IN MULTIDIMENSIONS
Now, we cannot say that God is limited by any dimensions since he is the Creator of these dimensions, but we can speculate how God might work through multidimensions when he interacts with his creation. Perhaps the Bible illustrates God's operation in extra dimensions of space when Jesus seemingly passes through the walls of the upper room after his bodily resurrection (Luke 24; John 20). We can understand this by speculating that Jesus' physical, postresurrection body had access to at least a fourth, fifth, and sixth spatial dimension (dimensions we cannot possibly visualize, though they are undoubtedly real). It may be that he transferred his physical body into those dimensions, passed through the wall, then re-entered dimensions one, two, and three, wherein the disciples could see, hear, and touch him. He assured them they were not seeing a ghost.
Many difficult biblical doctrines over which we struggle now, truths we can only fully comprehend in that day when we "know as we are known," can be better understood, integrated, and embraced in light of this extradimensional reality. Our four-dimensional attempts to resolve them have led to needless strife and even bloodshed despite God's explicit statement that his ways are above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts. Such mysteries as salvation, the Trinity, and atonement clearly require dimensions of space and time beyond our own, or perhaps super dimensions that encompass space and time capacities.
How awesome to consider that God caused the big bang and all its components, including exotic matter and over 10 billion trillion stars, for the sake of knowing and being known by us in an eternal love relationship. The thought both reduces me to a speck of dust and lifts me up to the heavens.
******************** Hugh Ross, an astronomer, is the author of "The Fingerprint of God" (Promise, 1991), "The Creator and the Cosmos" (NavPress, 1993), and "Creation and Time" (NavPress, 1994). Dr. Ross is president of Reasons to Believe, a ministry founded to develop new tools for demonstrating the factual basis for faith in God and confidence in the accuracy of the Bible.
Copyright © 1994 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.