View by:  Subject  Theme  Question  Term  Person  Event

Too Easy an Answer?

But for either a self-professed agnostic like Jastrow or for a believer, such an answer is unrevealing and even superficial, for it simply cloaks our ignorance beneath a name and tells us nothing further about God beyond the concept of an omnipotent Creator, something not especially helpful for theologians.

Should theists accept that moment of celestial fireworks as the whole work of the Creator, they are on rather thin ice. Scientific theories, especially cosmological views, are notoriously subject to change, and cosmologists have taken it as a special challenge to eliminate the singularity of point zero when space and time vanish as the universe becomes infinitely dense. For example, Stephen Hawking has proposed to treat time as one of the dimensions of the curved space - time in that opening sequence. He constructed a coordinate transformation that blended time into space and left a closed surface without any singular origin and thus, curiously, a cosmos with a pretty definite age but without a specific beginning! In his best selling book A Brief History of Time, Hawking has written:

So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self - contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?"

It was this challenge, as much as anything in the literature, that caused the organizers of this conference to include on our agenda the question, “Did the universe have a beginning?”

I suppose the question has two aspects. First, there is the curiosity we all share as inquiring members of our species. We would really just like to know the answer. Was Aristotle right in declaring that the whole cosmos had been here forever? Or did the correct answer come from Jerusalem? But from the theologians, there is quite another question: “Does it make any difference?”

From a theistic perspective, the answer to Hawking's question is that God is more than the omnipotence who, in some other space - time dimension, decides when to push the mighty ON switch.Several years ago I had an interesting discussion of this point with Freeman Dyson, one of the most thoughtful physicists of our day. "You worry too much about Hawking," he said, "It's rather... God is the Creator in the much larger sense of designer and intender of the universe, the powerful creator with a plan and an intention for the existence of the entire cosmos.

Over the past 500 years the sacred landscape has seen revolutionary conceptual changes.

The stage on which mankind struts in his brief, flickering moment is today set in a vast, ancient cosmos without a center. Is it only sound and fury, or are there profounder purposes to be gauged? These are timeless questions, as meaningful today as in classical Athens. Is the universe designed? Is it made for mind? Are we alone? Theist, atheistic, existentialist alike can ponder them. Perhaps the pondering of these questions is the purpose of the universe. So, let us take these days of discourse seriously.

Contributed by: Dr. Owen Gingerich

Cosmic Questions

Did the Universe Have a Beginning? Topic Index
Scientific Cosmology Meets Western Theology: A Historical Perspective

Too Easy an Answer?

The Challenge of Copernicus
Two Mythological Arguments
Objections to Copernicus
Osiander's Introduction
Hubble's Expanding Universe and Lemaître's Primeval Atom
The Steady-State, Big Bang and Religion


Owen Gingerich

Related Media:

Did the Universe Have a Beginning?
Was the Universe Designed?
Are We Alone?
Interview Index
The Copernican Solar System
Ptolemy's Solar System
  Media Index

Other Resources:

The Rise of Copernicanism
The Galileo Affair
Glossary Terms
Bonus Material Home...