Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Big Bang--Shebang

According to a science report on NPR the other day, we now know that the most distant parts of the universe are traveling outward at ever greater speeds--accelerating, in other words. Now, I don't know about you, but it amazes me that we can even say we know these ARE the most distant parts of the universe. How do we know there isn't more out there that we just can't see? Well, in fact, we're now thinking that there must, indeed, be parts we can't see--but I'm getting ahead of myself.
So, imagine the Big Bang. This is an image we can get our minds around--sort of like Fourth of July fireworks, a really big one, with colored lights streaming in every direction. (Ooos and ahs) What happens to that big explosion? The brightly lit particles stream up and out at first, but then begin to curve downward as they decelerate, and end up falling vertically down as they darken and go out.
Isn't this the image you had of the Big Bang? I think it was mine. In fact, I thought that was what entropy was all about, in a very loose sense--that gradual loss of energy that affects the universe, so that it all slows down little by little. So what is this speeding up all about? It seems counter-intuitive, and apparently the scientists thought so too. According to the science reporter on NPR, they attribute this effect to a mysterious Black Energy that permeates the universe, or is perhaps out beyond the known universe. Or maybe, he added, there could be other dimensions.
It tickles me to know there are still mysteries--real mysteries. This is something we hadn't expected, something that doesn't fit our theory, something we can't explain. It all begins to sound very Genesis 1-like, as we tell ourselves stories to explain what we don't have any knowledge of. Because, at this point, how can we verify this? Someone, sometime, will come up with some data that might suggest Black Energy, but it's hard to see how it can be verifiable, at least for some time to come. As for other dimensions?
Nevertheless, my dad--an oceanographer and chemist, not qualified to discuss astro-physics--speculated about other dimensions. After Mom passed away, it became his matter-of-fact explanation of death and the after-life. "They're all just right over there," he'd say, gesturing toward the other side of the room. "It's just like they've passed through a veil." He said this in the same way he'd explain a chemical reaction or a Pacific current.
This makes me wonder if we really ought to be looking down our noses at Creationists, with their 7-day version of the beginning of things. Quite frankly, I find the story evolutionists tell far more awesome than the skeletal version of Genesis. Our Darwinian-Einsteinian universe gives us an inside view of what we saw only from the outside in Genesis, and contains quirks and wrinkles we can barely fathom. But at the end of the day, we are still having to tell stories to explain the loose ends.
As we come to the end of the universe, we have to face up to the biggest question of all: What lies beyond?

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