Dr. Charles Frost
I have long been a big fan of movies. Next to breathing and before eating, I will elect to go to the movies!
Therefore, when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to create movie-based courses. The two I have created are "Crazy Hollywood" and "God's Hollywood" as I am convinced that these two concern areas are the most important ones imaginable if you are concerned about living a wonderful life. Hollywood has created some really fine films in these two areas and it gives me great pleasure to encourage students to watch films made in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s that they have never seen, let alone heard of.
The syllabi for these two courses, and for my telecourse entitled "How to live a wonderful life!" can be found on my website at www.mtsu.edu/~socwork/frost. Each syllabus has a number of handouts attached to it to assist the student in understanding the subject matter.
Stephen Hawking's Universe
The following quotations are from the book entitled "Stephen Hawking's Universe: The Cosmos Explained" by David Filkin. It is the authorized companion to the public television's series by the same name. The series consists of six one-hour broadcasts created by the BBC. Hawking is one of the world's greatest cosmologists and a physicist who is able to communicate his ideas about the universe in language clear enough for the average person to understand. He is the author of the best selling book "A Brief History of Time" and despite being physically challenged, he is a very active and productive. He has Motor Neuron disease, which is a genetic disorder that causes you to progressively lose control over your muscles. He gets about in a motorized wheelchair and uses a voice synthesizer, as he no longer can speak. He has been heard to say that this tremendously limiting disease was a blessing as it made him focus his attention on what he could do with his life realizing that his challenges would have to be all mental rather than physical. He teaches at Cambridge and holds the Lucasian Professorship in Mathematics, which was once held by Sir Isaac Newton. Obviously, Hawking could also teach a course on "How to live a wonderful life!" as he has a wonderful sense of humor and is able to laugh in the face of adversity.
So what does all of this have to do with God's Hollywood? Everything!
Hawking is concerned about black holes, big bangs and big crunches, super string theory, quarks and singularities---things we should all be concerned about. Huh? If there is one subject that human beings have been more concerned about throughout history, even before recorded history, it has been the subject of cosmology. In short, When, where and how did "it" all start? We exist. We breathe, eat, think, build, adapt. But even before food we have struggled to understand the universe that envelops us. Yes, even before prioritizing food, we have prioritized cosmology---the theory or philosophy of the nature and principles of the universe. Cosmology comes from the Greek word for the universe---"kosmos"---and from "logia"---to speak. So, if you want to talk intelligently about the universe you study cosmology.
Anyone not interested in the cosmic is a rather dull person.
As Carlyle said: "The dark chaotic dullard, who knows the meaning of nothing cosmic or noble."
Cosmology, the systematic study of the origin and structure of the universe as a whole, today is a branch of the physical sciences. In the times of philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Immanuel Kant, cosmology was based on metaphysical speculation.
Aristotle believed that the Earth was stationary and that everything else revolved around it. But he did not know how to test this theory. This theory is still very important today. Yes, we all know that the Earth is not stationary and not the center of everything; however, we still want to view the universe as though human life was at the center. Aristotle was not simply saying that Earth was at the center, he was tooting the human horn, declaring for all creation that humans were the all important force on earth, and not just any humans, the Greeks were at the center. Yes, they created gods to help them understand the universe, but, ultimately, the gods were designed to serve the humans, not the other way around.
It took a Greek mathematician, Eratosthenes, to bring science to bear on the question of just what shape earth was and he moved us toward a scientific approach to understanding what is going on. He noticed that a stick, when planted in the ground, would cast different length shadows at different times of the day or at different parts of the world at the same time of day! He thus was able to reason and mathematically establish that the Earth was round. People had long thought this might be the case from observing how you first saw the top of the ship as it arose from the horizon, but, it took math to establish this fact. Math is the key that we have continued to use to unlock the secrets of the universe.
Ptolemy, in the second century A.D., was an astronomer who built a model in which the Earth was the stable center and everything else moved around it and this was the model that everyone accepted for centuries. The church liked this model because it fit their views, everyone was comfortable with it because it made sense---if the world was moving we would feel the motion.
"Increasingly, the Church became the exclusive patron of scholarship. Literacy was required for the study of the scriptures, and only the Church could afford to teach people to read. Eventually all men of learning had to have the patronage of the church if they wanted to study, and at the same time feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads. This meant that scientists were also priests or monks, dedicated both to the study of science and the spreading of the Church's teaching. They unhesitatingly taught the story of God's creation of a Ptolemaic universe. Science and religion were as one" (p. 32).
This didn't last. Fiction, even a creative one like Ptolemy's, eventually is replaced by fact. Nicolas Copernicus, a Polish priest, (1473-1543), offered a revolutionary alternative to Ptolemy's model of the universe. He assumed the sun was at the center of the universe, not the Earth. His ideas were not taken seriously by the Church, but other scientists did take him seriously. Johannes Kepler (1571-1616), a German astronomer, calculated that the path of the planets around the Earth were elliptical rather than circular. Remember now, Copernicus and Kepler and others were not just inventing theories…they were rigorously making detailed observations of the universe and using those observations to validate their theories. Still, the Church ignored the facts. But, then along came Galileo (1564-1642). The Dutch scientist Leeuwenhoek created the microscope to study the up-close and small and Galileo turn the idea around and created the telescope to study the distant. He was able to document through observations that the planets were circling the sun. Galileo published his findings in Italian, not in Latin, so that the general public was informed of his findings and this was unacceptable to the Church---especially since Galileo indicated that where the Bible conflicted with common sense and science, it was being allegorical. "He even went so far as to say that anyone who could not see the clear logic of the evidence against an Earth-centered universe was being stubbornly stupid. This was tantamount to blasphemy, in effect declaring that the Pope and his advisers were fools" (pp. 44-45). It didn't help Galileo any that the rise of Protestantism was also threatening the Church. Therefore, Galileo was told to knock it off or else! The "or else" would have led to his death, so Galileo said, "Hmmm, guess I was wrong." But, as we noted before, the fiction the church was declaring was inevitably going to be destroyed by fact. It only takes time, measurements, calculations, mathematics and the facts will become known. Please note that certain religious forces are still resisting the position taken by Galileo even today, but not by the Catholic Church. Ironically it is various Protestant fundamentalists that can't accept the ideas of Galileo and those scientists that followed him down through the centuries.
It was Isaac Newton that finally provided enough evidence to make the Church accept that the Earth was not at the center of the universe. Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo showed us step by carefully plotted step that the sun was the center of our solar system where planets were circling the sun. But why were they doing so? It was Newton that provided the explanation with his explanation of gravity. "Newton's laws, formulated over three hundred years ago, have proved so accurate that they are still used to predict the speed and trajectory needed to put satellites in orbit around the Earth" (p. 52).
So now, everyone was looking out at the night skies and building bigger and bigger telescopes. In 1816 Joseph von Fraunhofer, a German lens manufacturer, was testing glass. Newton a century earlier had refracted light through a prism just like we do today for schoolchildren. You are breaking up the light into its separate wavelengths and the result is a beautiful range of colors, from red and orange at one end, through yellow, green and blue, to indigo and violet at the other end. What Von Fraunhofer noted was that in addition to the colors you could detect various lines. It was not until 1880 that William Huggins discovered that these Fraunhofer lines were the fingerprints of the elements. We thus learned that the sun and the stars were similarly made up of hydrogen and helium. Oooops! This is no small matter. Think about it. Once the Earth was the center of the universe. Then the sun became the center of the universe. Well, it is OUR sun and that helps to make us still feel big and important. But now we find out that our sun is just another star, one of billions of stars. So, where does that place us in the universe? Obviously, we are not at its center any longer.
Then along came Christian Doppler who in 1842 noticed an effect that could be measured through refracting light. This became known as the Doppler effect. The sound and light waves change as they come near you and then fall away from you. You experience this when an ambulance passes you with its siren blasting. In astronomy, Doppler shifts are used to determine the velocity and direction of distant objects. For example, light from a galaxy shifts to the red on the spectrum if it is moving away from the observer and to the blue if it is moving toward the observer.
It took Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) some 80 years later to make really good use of the Doppler effect in the field of cosmology. In the 1920s we now had a fabulous telescope on Mount Wilson in California. It was the most powerful one in the world at that time and Hubble had it as his toy. He observed that every galaxy was moving away from us and that the galaxies were farther away from us than anyone had ever imagined. "The oldest and farthest galaxies…were traveling away from us at a phenomenal speed; faster than the galaxies nearer to us" (p. 74). What does that mean?
Hubble was able to write a mathematical equation expressing the relationship of Earth to the various galaxies moving away from us at varied speeds and it is called Hubble's Law. Since Newton we had assumed that the universe was unchanging, infinite, and eternal. Now it did not look that way anymore.
If the universe is expanding, then, obviously, it once was smaller. We now had the ability to calculate just how small. If you carefully measure how fast something is expanding and its direction of expansion, you then can do the opposite and calculate when and where it all began!
It was a priest in the Vatican who was most excited by Hubble's calculations. "In 1927, Georges Lemaitre, (1894-1996) a Belgian Jesuit priest and the leading theoretical cosmologist working at the Vatican Observatory, had been musing over some of Albert Einstein's ideas and mathematical equations" (77). Lemaitre eventually met with Hubble and Einstein and they concluded that our universe began with a BIG BANG some 15 billion years ago.
Wow! We have come a long way from where we thought that an unmoving Earth was the center of everything! We now know that from that Big Bang 15,000,000,000 years ago our tiny Earth and small solar system evolved as a very small part of our Milky Way galaxy and that our galaxy is only one of billions of galaxies each a unique mixture of energy, movement and beauty.
The Milky Way galaxy contains several hundred billion stars and is about 100,000 light years across. Our solar system orbits the Milky Way once every 250 million years.
How could so much be created from one explosion?
Out there in the universe we have black holes. They are so dense that you would have to compact the Earth down to the size of a marble to duplicate the density of a black hole. A black hole is thought to have once been a star where the gravitational field is so strong that light particles cannot escape. But, even if you see that the Earth could be compacted to the size of a marble as a way of understanding how very little at the beginning of time could expand into the billions of galaxies we now have, you must add into your equation the dark matter. Everything we know about, all the stars, planets, black holes, comets, et cetera, only account for about 10% of the matter in the universe! Dark matter accounts for the other 90%! This begins to become ineffable. The physics of the very large has helped us to see and measure the universe. The physics of the very small, particle physics and quantum theory, can help us begin to understand some of the ineffable qualities of the universe.
Ineffable means that something is too overwhelming to be expressed or described in words, it is inexpressible, too awesome or sacred to be spoken.
Just to complicate matters further, the Big Bang started this round of expansion 15 billion years ago. We have reason to believe that instead of expanding forever, the force of gravity could pull it all back one day into a Big Crunch. We know that the rate of expansion is slowing and that one day it could stop expanding and implode. What would happen then? Frost's cosmological theory is that it would go bang again! For all we know, the universe we know is like a heart beating and it may very well have been beating (exploding and imploding rhythmically) for 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
The moment of the Big Bang is also called a singularity where matter is crushed down into an infinitely dense point. What is really fun about a singularity is that NONE of the laws of physics still hold at that point! Awesome! Ineffable!
Add to the above the possibility that our beating-heart universe may only be one of countless such universes. It was the height of arrogance to think that Earth was the stable center of the universe and it is the height of arrogance to think that our universe is the only one. "…some scientists…give serious consideration to the possibility of there being other universes---perhaps an infinite number of them" (p., 231).
One of the ideas that makes all of this work is that energy can "spontaneously evolve from nothing at all, if quantum theory was applied to the laws governing the nature of a vacuum" (p. 242). You see, quantum mechanics allows particles somehow to pop in and out of existence. So, in theory, a tiny vacuum of energy could pop into existence, expand rapidly and create the universe. This theory of inflation is thought to be how the universe got its start. Remember, it may have been billions of bubbles creating billions of universes.
"Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, at one end of the tunnel as it were, does a marvelous job of explaining the large-scale dynamics of the universe. Its equations for gravity work so well that the observed orbits of all the planets in the solar system can be precisely predicted, despite the huge distances involved. If we can discover the right quantities of dark matter, with all the right properties, then it will also perfectly explain the movements of whole galaxies. At the other end of the tunnel, quantum mechanics does an equally impressive job of describing the behavior of subatomic particles. Its theoretical rules, such as Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and the idea of wave-particle duality, are precisely confirmed by what we observe in particle accelerators. But, when physicists try to marry these two great principles of physics at the point where they should meet, they do not seem to mesh….The search for this relationship between both sides of physics has been called the search for a 'theory of everything'" (pp. 254-5).
One of the efforts at putting it all together is in the area of super string theory. When you get down to the smallest part of the universe you get to strings. Each atom consists of a nucleus surrounded by electrons. The nucleus is made up of protons and electrons, each of which is made up of groups of three quarks. Any set of three quarks would have strings at their heart. To get an idea of comparative size, imagine that an atom is the size of the solar system. By comparison, a string is the size of an atom. The strings vibrate. In terms of dimensions, we are all familiar with three---height, width, and depth. We also understand that a fourth dimension can be that of time. "Currently, the majority of top string theory experts accept that there are at least eleven dimensions involved" (p.260).
Remember, if we do eventually create a Theory of Everything, it will have to take into consideration:
1. Dark matter and how much of it exists?
2. How many universes we might have and do they beat like a billion hearts, exploding and imploding over trillions of years?
3. Since the laws of physics don't apply during a singularity, just what does apply?
4. Exactly what are the eleven dimensions?
5. ??????????????????????? Ad infinitum…………………
Eleven dimensions and multiple universes. Something created from nothing where the laws of physics don't apply 15 billion years ago. So massive it is ultimately unimaginably huge---especially given its miniscule beginning.
Where does that place humans? Clearly, we no longer can delude ourselves into thinking that either the Earth or our sun is the center of the universe or that the sun is anything more than a rather common modest sized energy source. Therefore, does that mean that human beings are of little importance in the universe? Relatively speaking, this is the obvious conclusion. In relation to our possibly infinite and observably vast universe, which may be only one of countless universes, it is outrageously arrogant to view us as important, central, essential, pivotal elements in this cosmic wonderland.
What then is the message from the universe? What is all of this telling me?
Each of us can interpret the message as we see fit. However, for me the message is loud and clear. The message is:
Humility is what God is telling us in creating the universe.
It is through humility that we learn to approach one another with love. God wants us to love! To love ourself, to love one another, and to love God! Love requires empathy. Humility helps us to acquire that empathy.
When I stare up at the sky at night it is an awesome, wondrous view. It fills me with delight and humbles me. That is the ultimate lesson from the world of cosmology.