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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Where will you go if the universe ends?

(This is a column I published in the Canadian tabloid, Maranatha News, October 1, 2005. I don't usually do religious rants, but it is Sunday, and regular readers may want to know what I would sound like when ranting about religion. )

The idea that the present universe will end someday is commonly supposed to be a religious idea. For example, we hear about "end of the world" sects, the popular Left Behind series, and so forth.

Not all religious teach that the world will end. As I pointed out in By Design or by Chance? , traditional Hindu cosmology holds that the universe recreates itself every 8.62 billion years. On that view, things don't really end, they just repeat themselves. But is that a correct statement about our universe?

Present-day science theory agrees with the Bible that the universe will indeed end. According to current theory, our world had a beginning with the Big Bang, about thirteen billion years ago. But the expansion which started with the Big Bang is thought to be accelerating. This was the top science discovery of 1998, according to Science Magazine. Also, the rate of star formation is thought to be slowing, as part of the normal aging of the universe. So things are running down. But not to worry. Our universe is supposed to be good for another 100 trillion years (Time Magazine, June 25, 2001).

Amazingly, that is not enough time for some people. Some physicists are actually trying to find another universe to move into when this one ends. "The universe is out of control, in a runaway acceleration," announces a breathless article in the current edition of Prospect magazine (February 2005). "Eventually all intelligent life will face the final doom the big freeze. An advanced civilisation must embark on the ultimate journey: fleeing to a parallel universe."

Actually, we don't know that there are any parallel universes out there. God could make more universes if he wanted to, but we have no way of knowing whether he did. Or whether we could get to them. Or whether, if we did, they would be places where we could live. Anyway, the Prospect article suggests a whole shopping list of speculative ideas about how to reach the next universe over: extra dimensions, black holes, wormholes, and baby universes. But with 100 trillion years to go, aren't these physicists rushing things just a bit?

This might be a convenient time to revisit the Christian view of the end of all things, or as it is commonly called in Christian literature, the last judgement. The great twentieth-century Christian teacher C.S. Lewis describes what the end of the world will be like in his essay, "The World's Last Night":

"Christian Apocalyptic offers us no such hope [as an eternal cycle]. It does not even foretell, (which would be more tolerable to our habits of thought) a gradual decay. It foretells a sudden, violent end imposed from without; an extinguisher popped onto the candle, a brick flung at the gramophone, a curtain rung down on the play Halt!'"

Yes. When the playwright steps out on the stage, the play is over. Your role was whatever you made it.

If Christians are right, those speculating physicists can save themselves the trip to another universe. Because there will be a new heaven and a new earth anyway. As the book of Revelation in the Bible says, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away " (Revelation 21:1)

So the main thing to think about is not how you can get to another universe but, if this one suddenly stops, will you be proud of what you are doing? If not, what do you plan to do about it?
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove ?

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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