Monday, July 27, 2009

Einstein's Vindication

Two adult Bible Class courses in my home church in 1997 and 1998 were entitled “Bible Science” and “The Cosmos Cries ‘Creator!’” I taught these classes where members explored in some depth the role of reason and revelation in the acquisition of faith, issues of design and fine tuning of the universe pointing to the Creator, and the integration of science and scripture.

Recently I found my handwritten notes retained from these classes. One entry caught my eye: “universe expanding but decelerating (negative acceleration)” Conventional wisdom at the time held that we lived in an expanding universe, but the expansion was decelerating. Many astronomers thought that the decelerating effect of gravity might eventually slow the expansion to zero and be followed by a “Big Crunch,”--the antithesis of the “Big Bang.”

In the early 20th century Albert Einstein thought our universe was changeless. Such a cosmos became known as the “steady state” universe. He introduced a “fudge factor” into his equations--a cosmological constant to account for a universe that did not contract under the influence of gravity as he felt it should. In 1929 Edwin Hubble showed the universe was expanding, the first suggestion that the Big Bang was the event which birthed the universe. Einstein later called the cosmological constant his worst blunder. There was no need for his fudge factor if the universe had begun with a Big Bang in the very distant past.

Barely two months after I taught my class members the then-current belief in a slowing-expansion universe, I spotted a New York Times article on March 3, 1998 entitled, “Wary Astronomers Ponder an Accelerating Universe.” Observations of Type Ia supernovae indicated that the universe’s expansion rate was not decreasing, but actually increasing. This effect was due to the cosmological constant discarded eighty years earlier by Albert Einstein. A mysterious “dark energy” seems to be the cause.

I did not reassemble my class members to correct the error. Several years later, more clarity emerged in the cosmic picture. Most important was the news that the increased expansion rate from dark energy demanded a degree of fine tuning precision far greater than astronomers had previously thought in order for the universe to be life supporting. The fine tuning is on the order of a tiny fraction of the mass of an electron compared with the mass of the entire universe.

The history of the universe, its present existence, and the history of past and present life forms which inhabit it demand hundreds of incomprehensibly precise fine tuning parameters. Even atheistic astronomers acknowledge this fact. They insulate themselves from its reality by claiming theistic design proposals do not stand up to scientific scrutiny, because they have defined science as a purely naturalistic enterprise. Truth discovery, however, does not bow at the altar of changing philosophies of science.