Friday, October 03, 2008


Out of Lux

Joseph Brean at the National Post has an interesting article on a lecture by Sir Roger Penrose, of Oxford University, about the possible revival of the "oscillating universe" model, by which the universe endlessly expands and collapses, from big bang to big crunch and over again. Discussed by Carl Sagan in "Cosmos," I was always attracted to it, finding the end (of this) universe in a giant implosion somehow more satisfying than the big whimper of entropy.

Naturally, comparisons will be made between the oscillating universe and Eastern cosmologies, such as:

... the Hindu Rig Veda of a universe that is cyclically born and dies, each lasting a little over four million years, and representing a day in the life of the deity Brahma, or Buddhism's mahakalpa, the "great eon" between destruction and rebirth.

The Big Bang theory, on the other hand, seemed well suited to Christianity's view of a world begun from nothing. Indeed, there was considerable initial skepticism about the theory, since it was first proposed by Fr. Georges LemaƮtre, a Catholic priest.

Religions can get ... over enthusiastic:

In 1951, as the implications of Einstein's theory of general relativity were emerging into public consciousness, Pope Pius VII welcomed the idea of the Big Bang by announcing that science had "succeeded in bearing witness to the august instant of the primordial Fiat Lux [Let there be Light], when along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation, and the elements split and churned and formed into millions of galaxies... Hence, creation took place. We say: therefore, there is a Creator. Therefore, God exists!"

But physicists have been wrong before and theologians will, in any case, adjust. As Brean puts it:

Dapper and decorated as Sir Roger may be, physics still awaits the breakthrough of the next Newton, most likely a quantum theory of gravity. And as the general public struggles to keep pace with what it all means, work piles up for the next Aquinas.

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