Cosmology and Our View of the World


Notes of class of 2/22/99 by Marion Brink

For those taking the course for 2 credits: Write a response (3-5 pages) to the book you read and discuss how it fits into the seminar.

Next session: What is reality?

Read: Real worlds and virtual worlds in The Mind of God by Paul Davies: Chapters 3,4,and 5; and Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science, Chapter 4.

Professor Brockelman, following the time line of creation, showed us how the scientific study of cosmology is telling us a new story of creation - a story that offers us awe, and wonder, and mystery.

Professor Brockelman suggests that, if we compare creation myths with scientific cosmology, we see that both share the same characteristics. However, scientific cosmology is validated; creation myths are not. Scientific cosmology offers us a myth for today - It can found a new culture with scientific understanding and sense of meaning.

All cultures have a quest for meaning. Hermeneutic means meaning. we must keep asking, "WHAT DOES IT MEAN?" A hermeneutic is not scientific theory; it is not science, not mathematics. It is the third form of human understanding - an interpretation of life.

It is not philosophy but what life is all about - it constitutes culture.

QUESTION: Is modern cosmology home to a certain culture?

Scientific cosmology can lead to post-modern culture of meaning - a meaning leading to a different culture. We will look at life differently - more qualitatively.

QUESTION: Do creation stories grow out of cultures? Doesn't the cosmology story grow out of modern culture?

It has profound implications across culture. The evaluation of science is rooted in a certain culture. E.O. Wilson says, " We need to see science itself is profoundly cultural." It generates a new sense of meaning

We need to understand in a scientific and mathematical way - AND IT WORKS! It's not gods and myths; it's not philosophy. When we know how to know, then we will get the security we're looking for - that's all based on a story. We bring a sense of what's meaningful to the laboratory.

A hermeneutic older than the enlightenment tells us it's difficult to live a spiritual life. Gods are bad science, just imagination. Modernity is alienated from nature. The modernity that contains science is itself a myth - it's a human version of how to live. We now have a new story - scientific and mythological. It goes beyond the Bible; it goes beyond modernity itself.

We understand through the story - it enters human culture. Experience and creation myths are stories. Cosmology is now a new story from which we have evolved and in which we live. Ten chapters of Genesis tell us the story of how one becomes two. It goes right through the human condition, then follows the story of the Jews, saying that the temple is central to Judaism. The temple is founded on God - founded on story. Creation stories are always yearning

The cosmological story follows the creation time line

Initial stage

It's astonishing that it's all come out of nothing. It's astonishing what we've learned in the last 50 years. At the turn of the century we thought there was one galaxy and debate about whether there were others. Now we've gone from two to 55 billion galaxies. We've learned that continents separated and grew out of Pangaea. Plate tectonics was only accepted in the 1960's. If the Copernican revolution upset Europe, how much will this change everything?

The universe is expanding. The fact that we reversed the process and came to a singularity at 10 32 K is remarkable. Why did it happen? Why the laws? It all came out of nothing! WOW!

Zillions of universes are popping up out of a vacuum. It's still a question as to how this happens. We're limited in knowing why. Theology put God in there. Why God? Why existence? Why reality?

QUESTION: Can't you ask, "Why did God emerge?" It's something out of nothing. With God there, it's the same question.

There was no time before the singularity. Therefore, Newton's picture of God throwing a switch on the big machine is gone. After the singularity there was something new. From where? Why are the laws as they are? What are th efour fundamental forces?

Professor Moebius answered: There are four fundamental forces. Raymo says, there's beauty in science, such as in Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism. Little theories unite into one big theory of electromagnetism Ten years ago we knew a weak force creates radioactivity. This was understood with electromagnetism. A strong nuclear force had higher temperature and gravity.

It started with one superforce. While cooling they broke apart with symmetry in the breaking.

Professor Brockelman asserted that creation stories all about unity and separation. There is mystery and poetry in the fact that four forces happen to be. Now scientists are looking for a theory of everything, a unity of everything

Formation of the Galaxies

After 1-3 minutes, matter emerges.

QUESTION: Have the numbers changed since they were first arrived at? How do we get the numbers?

Professor Moebius explained: We know how quickly the universe expands. We can test this in the laboratory. We work backward. We change the rate of compression by a factor of 2; calculate the temperature and density. Further back, there are only photons. When we compress them by 2, it gets hotter. We extrapolate from that.


Professor Brockelman continued: 300,000 years after the big bang, the temperature was 2000 degrees. Dense hot matter composed of helium, hydrogen and deuterium was lumpy and expanding. (If it had not been lumpy, we wouldn't have galaxies.). Hawking calls this the most important discovery of our time or all time. At first everything was opaque, but then became translucent yielding a variety of galaxies. One to five billion years after the big bang, 50 billion galaxies had emerged. Suns are nuclear furnaces which burned helium and hydrogen into the heavier elements when they collapsed.


QUESTION: What about initial singularity?

Professor Moebius answered: It was compact radiation. At the singularity everything started - time and space. Singularity is a mathematical term that says all is in one point - all the energy of the universe. The amount of energy is undetermined. The point has no dimension in time and space. But quantum mechanics says it must have dimension. We can't go further back That's the limit of knowledge.

Formation of solar system and earth.

Professor Moebiusdiscussed the fact that plenty of supernova yielded carbon, oxygen and nitrogen Supernova have great significance. They trigger the formation of a solar system. The blast has pushed matter into space. At 10 billion years, the sun, earth and solar system form.

Sun's paradox: When life started on earth, the sun was 25% less luminous. Yet the earth was temperate enough for life to form The atmosphere was different; the greenhouse effect was different.

Emergence of life

Professor Brockelman told us that we live on earth that's the right distance from the sun. What is life? Rock transformed into unicellular life - living creatures with RNA. (Ultimately, the copying is through DNA.) The prokaryotes created photosynthesis. They digested carbon dioxide and created oxygen.

Professor Moebius continued: Life forms. Over the last 100 years we have learned the extent of life. We found life where we didn't expect it. We extend life downward, then up through chemistry. Where is it biochemistry? Where is it life?

Professor Brockelman went on: Eukaryotes became multicellular and divided into plant and animal kingdoms with specialized unicellular microbes within. Look at our hands - they are descendants of many prokaryotes, each cell has DNA! There has been differentiation to the more specific. The Endosymbiant Theory: larger eukaryotes host smaller ones.

This is something amazing! What's that gap? How do we get there? It's still going! Everything is a form of that FANTASTIC! WONDROUS! UNFOLDING! We can't account for it all - It's not God in the gaps.

WOW! Out of nothing, here we are! In this 12 billion year history of ourselves, we're not unique. This is much more amazing - consciousness arising. They have just found a jawpiece in Ethiopia that is 4.4 million years old. The emergence of human life is recent.

Development of human culture and spiritual vision

We are biological entities living in culture. The culture asks: Who are we? What are we doing? Where are we going? These questions define culture. Every culture has a religious point of view.

40,000 years ago there was a bear culture. The bear was buried with his bones in his mouth. This was the first idea of another life - the first cultural remains of modern Homo Sapiens. Bodies now begin to be ritually buried - death means something. Now there's a creating culture with a sense of what it's doing - Self-consciousness. Scientific evaluation began only 450 years ago as we tried to understand where we came from.

Characteristics of Cosmology and Creation myth

1. Now we're seeing whole - the story carries meaning

Before, story and science were separate fields

2. A larger reality aware of itself

There is a wider reality we belong to and we are conscious of it

3. The universe is a single meaningful whole

4. It is ultimate - everything is dependent on it

5. It shows our dependence step-by-step

6. It stimulates wonder

7. It transforms lives


There's no conclusion. If we're looking for a narrow Christian God, it's confusing.

It makes me feel the mysterious power of the universe in my own life. A process is emerging and we're aware of it. We feel humble, grateful and aware. Religions would tell us to stay mindful. We walk around forgetting our amazement. We don't treat nature as the miracle it is. We have brief moments and then let go. PAY ATTENTION! BE MINDFUL!

Creative allness

God is the presence of an absence - something you encounter at the border of mystery. There are limits to reason. What we understand are models; but reality's more than models or words.

We're not making up the mystery. IT'S WONDROUS!

What is our role?

Professor Moebius replied: In science we say, "I got it." - a reductionist little goal. It's gone when we try to explain it. This doesn't go away when we explain it. Profound hard questions fall beyond. The new emerges. We can't explain emergence.

Professor Brockelman cited Tippler who asks: "Are we gaining immortality?" Intelligence is evolving so fast. We now have more control over our universe.

Human cultures are more than understanding. Science is bringing us there - science is the yoga of the West.

Life is evolving - HOW? Culturally, and with new species. Look how far the culture has come. Life is more than understanding. There is a faith element - how to live life fully - PAY ATTENTION!