22 Feb 2014 by Yeo Teck Thiam-
When we look up into clear skies at night, we see the heavens twinkle with the lights of stars. Some see these as charting the lives of people, as many who read the stars in the newspapers know well. This is a profession for diviners who help interpret signs and horoscopes.
So I also wonder if the stars could tell how our universe began. For when stars can tell the future, I suppose the stars also know what happened in the past. However I think, so far, the diviners have not given any findings to relate to current known data.
And so I wonder also about Scripture in speaking of Creation and the beginning. If these accounts cannot correlate with experimental data, Christians will be consigned with diviners who can tell the future but cannot tell the past that happened.
Consequently, I seek to know how Scripture relates to some well known scientific data. This is an inquiry about the stars in particular, and whether our universe has a beginning from what we know. So I also ask God to open our eyes.
The Starry Hosts
We observe, obviously, these starry lights in the evening skies. The stars burn with beauty and brightness, and they seemingly hang in their positions without strings.
In the day, of course, the brightness of our sun obscures the starlight. But the stars are always there in the skies, in the day or night, whether we are aware of it or not. We are struck by the thought that — if there was no sun in our backyard — the day sky will also be like the night sky.
This is to say that, if there is no sun, then the sky will be the same whether in the day or night. We will see the stars against the darkness of the ‘daytime’!
On the other hand, we also know there are billions upon billions of stars in the skies. Why do not the stars together turn the skies bright at night?
And so we wonder — why is the sky dark at night?
The Sky is Dark at Night
In one perspective, this darkness of the sky declares something unique about our universe. It is that our universe has not existed forever in time, and that it is finite in size.
Firstly, our universe has a finite size because stars do not fill every dot of our sky dome. If the universe is close to an infinite size, the stars would be shining from all directions in the skies. The sky will be bright at night also.
Further, a dark sky for a finite universe means the lights of the stars have not travelled forever in time. So light is not reflected or shining in all directions in the sky dome.
A finite universe with dark skies means it must have begun ‘sometime’ ago. We therefore refer to the universe as being billions of years old — and not that it was there eternally. It points to a beginning in time for the universe.
Hence the darkness of the sky at night shows that the universe is finite, and has not existed forever in time. It had a “beginning” sometime ago in time. This is in one aspect known as Obler’s paradox. The idea is perhaps not discussed; however, it is known for several hundred years.
The Expanding Universe
Nowadays, we accept the notion of our finite universe as a matter of fact. The evidence on hand is overwhelmingly conclusive. It is also actually expanding.
Edwin Hubble was an astronomer of the early 20th Century and he found light waves of stars shift, indicating predictable movements of stars and galaxies from one another. The measurements of these movements in the observed light showed clearly that the universe is expanding.
The expanding universe is one of the great discoveries of the 20th Century. Many had thought the universe was infinite or had a fixed size before Edwin Hubble discovered this expansion. It is commonly discussed as the red shift in Einstein’s relativity theory.
An expanding universe shows that a long time ago, the universe must be much smaller. If we consider this, we expect that it must begin as a small bubble a long time ago. So this expanding universe means also that it has a beginning.
It is a surprise that the heavens should tell us such things from light. As the universe expands, of course, the heavenly expanse that we see becomes stretched out. Thus in Isaiah 48:13, God says:
My own hand laid the foundations of the earth
and my right hand spread out the heavens…
And so Job declared:
He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea.
A Big Bang in the Past
The expanding universe is part of the outcome from Theory of Relativity. It is embedded in the calculations derived from applying the theory, particularly for the big bang concept at the universe’s beginning. Father Lemaitre, the Belgian physicist and Jesuit priest, was the first to expound the Big Bang concept in the late 1920s, based on calculations from relativity.
Regrettably, however, cosmology was not a widely discussed topic until the 1960s, when we remember man began to go to the moon, and also send satellites into outer space. Lemaitre’s work was also not well appreciated in English speaking countries. However, the Big Bang finally found support through Einstein in a joint USA tour in 1933.
Cosmic Background Radiation
In recent decades, the progress of science and technology has obviously updated us with new evidence.
For one thing, we are able to tune in to light waves and convert these into sounds. These bands of light waves have acquired the name of radio waves, for these are the wave bands that we use on the radio. That is what we do when we listen to FM and AM on our radios.
Beyond this, we also have radar, which makes use of sophisticated antennae to look for less audible or weaker waves. And so we are able to detect even weak signals from the skies.
It was in this fateful scientific research that Wilson and Penzias of Bell Laboratories in 1965 stumbled upon consistent strange signals that they could not eliminate from their equipment. The background sounds were energy waves from the birth of the universe that we have come to call the Big Bang.
Robert Dicke was searching for it at Princeton in the 1960s when Wilson and Penzias consulted him on their findings. The wavelength bands of these waves and the nature of their ubiquitous distributions matched the calculated expectations of the Big Bang origins. There were no other reasonable explanations that fitted the data.
Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow Paper
George Gamow made the original calculations and predictions of cosmic background radiation in a landmark paper in 1948. Gamow was a humorous Russian émigré as the title of the paper showed, by including his assisting student Ralph Alpher and his friend Hans Bethe.
Regrettably, Gamow died in 1968 and could not be named for the Nobel Prize as this could not be awarded posthumously.
Evidence and Explanation
Since the 70s, we have also rejected ideas of a steady state of the universe — a universe that was always there in infinite time. This steady state idea had suited our thoughts of continuity, of the birth and dead, and rebirth of stars and galaxies, and of a static, ‘self-renewing’ eternal universe. However, the evidence contradicted this steady static universe idea.
The accepted idea today is that the universe had a beginning, sometime perhaps thirteen to fifteen billion years ago, via a big bang.
It fitted the fact that we have an expanding universe from observing the stars. In retracing this expansion, we should arrive at a smaller universe when it was younger. That is, at an early time of the universe, we may speak of it as very small, perhaps a point — and this point or singularity experienced a big bang, resulting in the expanding universe.
Evidence from uniform cosmic background radiation also speaks of a time when the universe must have began in intense heat and radiation — and that only a ‘big bang’ of the universe would disperse such a uniformity of heat and radiation in all directions.
Experimental data include the COBE data of 1992 helped to refine the cosmic background radiation data. COBE was the Cosmic Background Exploration conducted in conjunction with NASA and several other research centres.
In addition, Saul Perlmuller, B Schmidt and A Riese showed the universe is continuing to accelerate in this expansion. As many know, they were the recipients of the 2011 Nobel Prize for this work.
The Big Bang is a statement that this universe has a beginning. However, it cannot state how or who caused the universe to begin. It is up to a person to decide what he believes, whether it is God or an unstated cause.
So it is written:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
A Bigger Bang to Come
The Big Bang is, by no means, a simple explosion such as some may conjecture. We have yet to account why we should accept such an idea when we can give no apparent reason for it to happen.
At the same time, the quantum of many key elements such as we know in the composition in our universe matches the calculations we have from a universe with a Big Bang beginning. The data is best explained by these ideas. The Standard Model for particle physics fits the Big Bang basis in experimental results.
So we have quantum theory converging with relativistic theory to support this Big Bang model. The stars shine because light and heat energy are produced as a star’s hydrogen fuel undergoes nuclear fusion. The relativistic quantum calculations match experimental data.
More discoveries will give us a bigger picture, and hopefully a combined theory that nearly matches the Theory of Everything! Only time will tell if eminent scientists can squeeze gravity into a size fits all in a theory of everything!
However, it is not so hopeful.
In Jeremiah 31:37, it is written.
This is what the LORD says: “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done.”
A Circuit for the Stars
So we face also, the puzzle of motion of heavenly bodies from another perspective. As the universe expands, the celestial bodies move in the expanse created. This movement creates a difficulty for our imagination.
It is similar to the realisation of the seamen who sailed with Magellan about five hundred years ago. They had left Spain, going in one direction, on a flat surface of waters. Yet after three years of travelling in one direction, they did arrive home to port, from the opposite direction! They had circumnavigated the earth.
Will the stars circumnavigate the universe, as they move, since the big bang is in all directions? The answer depends on how much the universe is curved at its surface. What we see is a ‘flat’ universe, like Magellan’s seamen! Someday, perhaps we will have conclusive evidence, one way or another.
It is the glory and progress of science to search for things. So new studies continue, and WMAP was on this microwave anisotropy program. It points to a curious flat universe. We hope to hear more.
Then we can understand better also what the Psalmist says of the LORD:
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other….
Note: Mr Yeo Teck Thiam is a retireer who used to work as a chemical engineer, specializing in food and perfume chemistry for an international food company and perfumer. His other main interest is astronomy and other mathematical matters, relating to the Biblical passages.
References for pictures