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Difficult, but a great debate on "the" cosmological question
on February 26, 2000
This is not the easiest book in the world to read. Then again, its subject matter is recondite enough to warrant its difficult essays. It is recommended that anyone who wishes to take on this monster first be acquainted with philosophy as well as contemporary 20th century cosmology. Stephen Weinberg's "The First Three Minutes" and Timothy Ferris' "The Whole Shebang" would be good places to start before attempting to read this book. It would also be helpful for one to have read at least one book on quantum mechanics ("Taking The Quantum Leap" by Fred Alan Wolf would be a wise choice) as a pre-requisite. Even having read these books beforehand, this is STILL not an easy book.
What this book deals with is the First Cause argument which St. Thomas Aquanis borrowed from Aristotle & then modified for Christianity. The question it confronts is "Why is there something rather than nothing?" The Creationist's answer is that the answer lies with God, the cause of all things. The atheists counter that this does nothing but push the question back, as then one must ask "where did God come from?" (if, indeed, the universe "came" from anywhere at all). If one cannot answer this, then why not just skip a step and say that nobody knows where the universe came from? (as opposed of taking the seemingly superfluous step of inferring a God or gods). William Craig Lane defends the theistic side of the argument while Quentin Smith takes the helm for the atheists. Both are quite erudite & it makes for a very good match.
In the 20th century, scientists used to adore the "steady state" theory, which was invented by Sir Fred Hoyle, the famous Cambridge astronomer. Why? you ask. Well, in the 1920s Edwin Hubble confirmed what Einstein's theory of Relativity had already predicted: the universe was either expanding or contracting (expanding, as it turns out). Due to the redshift, if one were to "run the film backwards" the universe must have been at a single point sometime in the remote past. However, if this were true, it would suggest that the universe had a beginning. However, if this were true, one could say that that was the moment of "creation" that Aristotle & St. Thomas Aquanis were talking about. This became known as the Big Bang theory.
Enter Hoyle. Hoyle speculated that there must constantly be matter "created" (for lack of a better term?) that "fills in the gaps" between galaxies as they rushed away from each other. This became known as the "steady state theory." The theory was very ad-hoc, but it did preserve an infintely old universe and was adopted by over 90% of the scientists on the planet.
The story took a decided turn in the mid 1960s when Arno Penzias & Ralph Wilson discovered the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which was radiation left over from the first instants of the incredibly hot Big Bang. Almost overnight, Big Bang passed the steady state theory in the HOV lane. Today, steady state is a dead theory.
To many scientists' horror, they once again had to grapple with the First Cause argument as applied to a finite universe. Sir Arthur Eddington once said "I find the idea of a beginnig to the universe repugnant. I should like to find a genuine loophole." Oscillating universe theory became the favorite "loophole" of atheists. However, it suffers from significant faults (as William Craig Lane describes in this book).
This is a wonderful book as the polemics of the First Cause argument are presented on the battlefield of cosmology rather than straight-philosophy these days. That is as it should be. The book is filled with paradoxes of infinity as well as the possiblity of the entire universe being a quantum fluctuation (virtual particle) gone awry. Although the book dabbles with the Anthropic Principle a wee bit, it is primarily focused on the question of causation. Did God create the universe? Or is it, as they say, turtles all the way down? Or did the universe LITERALLY appear out of nowhere (and nothingness)? Read this book & you will be much more informed to decide for yourself.