Cosmological 1

Cosmological 1 December 29, 2022


JUNO and Jupiter, together at last
An artist’s rendition (from NASA/JPL) of the JUNO orbiter approaching the planet Jupiter
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


A recording of this lecture and its text were posted yesterday on the website of the Interpreter Foundation:

Conference Talks:  “The Outer Solar System: A Window to the Creative Breadth of Divinity,” originally presented in November 2013 by Professor Jani Radebaugh

In this article, planetary scientist Jani Radebaugh explores the creative side of our Creator with a breathtaking photographic tour of the unusual planets and moons in the outer solar system. Emerging discoveries have helped open our minds to the possibilities of other worlds with life in our galaxy.


Hubble does two Jovian spots
A detail of Jupiter, showing “Red Junior” to the left, and the Great Red Spot

(NASA/ESA Hubble photo)


Back again, briefly, to writing up some notes that are inspired by and/or are based upon Michael Guillen’s Believing is Seeing: A Physicist Explains How Science Shattered His Atheism and Revealed the Necessity of Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Refresh, 2021).  They are, as I’ve previously explained, an initial hasty and unpolished pass on the topic that they address, rough building blocks for an argument (or, even, for the preface of an argument) that I intend to make (but, contrary to the fevered phantasies of a few over at the Peterson Obsession Board, haven’t yet made).  Not being either an astronomer, or a physicist, or a cosmologist, I rely heavily on those who are.  It’s an argument that will play a distinctly minor role in a much larger argument that is, itself, part of an even larger project.  And, yes, you’re free to call me “Dan Peterson, International Man of Mystery.”  I have no plans to steal my own thunder, such as it is.


Guillen suggests that “astronomy is arguably the most emotional and spiritual of all the sciences,” and he quotes Book 7 of Plato’s Republic in support of that suggestion:  “For every one, as I think, must see that astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.”  (139)

This reminds me of the late Allan Sandage, one of the foremost astronomers of the latter half of the twentieth century — and, although I didn’t realize it until too late, for many years a near neighbor of mine in San Gabriel, California, where I grew up — who came to serious Christianity relatively late in his life on the basis of a similar sense:

It was my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science. It is only through the supernatural that I can understand the mystery of existence. . . .

I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery, but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing. . . . 

The world is too complicated in all parts and interconnections to be due to chance alone. I am convinced that the existence of life with all its order in each of its organisms is simply too well put together. Each part of a living thing depends on all its other parts to function. How does each part know? How is each part specified at conception? The more one learns of biochemistry the more unbelievable it becomes unless there is some type of organizing principle — an architect.

But back to some items from Michael Guillen’s book:

“Light brings us the news of the Universe,” declared British scientist Sir William Bragg.  “Coming to us from the sun and the stars, it tells us of their existence, their positions, their movements, their constitutions, and many other matters of interest.”

But the intelligence that can be squeezed from this heavenly light is limited.  Especially since we now have evidence that 95% of the universe is imperceptible.

That’s right, it appears that 95 percent of the cosmos is hidden from us — in the form of dark matter, dark energy, and other covert phenomena.  It emits no detectable light whatsoever.  It is invisible. . . .

“Dark matter isn’t supernatural,” says British astrophysicist Richard Massey of Durham University, “but its mysterious behavior certainly brings that idea to mind.”  (140)

In this context, I mention again the Deseret News column that I wrote back in 2015 under the title “Materialism isn’t what it used to be.”  But, again, back to Guillen:

“While this discipline [physical cosmology] is a convolution of elementary particle theory, general relativity, and astronomical observations, there is still room for elements of mysticism and imagination,” remarks University of Oregon physicist and cosmologist Gregory Bothun.  The mysteries of cosmology are so profound, he says, that “there remains no clear and preferred model for the origin and evolution of structure in the Universe.”  (141)

And the visible universe is almost inconceivably large — to say nothing of the regions that are, and may always be, utterly beyond us:

[W]e now believe the observable universe to be about 92 billion light years across.  That’s 5.5 x 10ˆ23 or 550,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles across.

The actual physical universe is much larger than that, but its outermost regions are moving away from us so fast that its light will never reach us.  These regions will always remain hidden from us.  [143]

And there is an additional complication, the matter of “critical density.”

If the total mass-energy density of the universe exceeds what general relativity suggests as its critical density, then the size of the universe is finite.  “We cosmologists call this a closed universe.  One day . . . such a universe will collapse on itself.”  However, if the total mass-energy density of the universe is equal to or less than the critical density, its size is infinite.  In cosmological parlance, such a universe is called flat (in the former case) or open (in the latter case).

In both cases, such a universe keeps expanding, diluting, and transforming into a cold, dead nothingness.

Improbable as it is, our universe appears to have precisely the target weight.  It’s not too fact and not too skinny.  It’s just right.

This means the universe is infinitely large and flat, albeit barely so.  In our universe, in other words, venturing out into space is like traversing a vast wilderness whose horizons we can never reach.  Ever.

But there’s one wrinkle.

Recent data from the Planck Orbiting Observatory implies that the universe is actually obese; that it has a density far greater than the critical density.  If so, our universe is actually finite and closed.  In that case, venturing into space is like traveling in circles.  After a while, you return to where you started.  (143-144)



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