The Miracle - The Modern Story of Creation - The New Story
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The Miracle - The Modern Story of Creation
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The New Story

Now let us return to the 21st century, a time when we live in a world of science. This story is based on what we know today. Surely, the story will change as we learn more. It is unlikely, however, that large pieces of this basic understanding of cosmology will be rewritten in the future. Although large and significant segments of mankind today still reject the Age of Enlightenment in favor of ancient myths, the world of everyone around this table this morning is a world steeped in education and scientific understanding. Is it time for us to celebrate a new creation story for our time? Let us assume the table we are all sitting around is our 21st century campfire. Join me as we explore the wonder and the miracle of creation told in 21st century terms.

In the beginning of the universe we live in, as far as we know today, there was nothing. There was no void, no vacuum … there was not even space and time! About 15 billion years ago, all the energy and matter that would ever exist in our universe erupted as a single quantum – a singular gift – existence. In a singular event, there was a rapid expansion of unimaginable power and heat that gave birth to the universe we live in today.

In the beginning there was no time, so there can be no talk of observing the event. Further, there was no space, so there was no “outside” to this cataclysmic explosion of energy, no way to imagine being outside it and observing what it looked like. In the first second all the fundamental particles that form every atom in each of our bodies, every particle of matter in this room, every star in every galaxy in our universe, everything … was formed from the immense energy and expansion. In those first few brand-new seconds of this thing we know and take for granted called “time”, particles appeared and vanished though a process physicists call “annihilation,” vanished from the universe forever into the darkness of cosmic evolution never to appear again. By the time this process was complete, only one billionth of the original matter in the universe remained. This tiny sliver of the primordial universe managed to slide through this eye of the needle near the beginning of time and thus entered a new state of being. In those first few seconds of the birth of our universe, the laws of physics that we know today became permanent. As far as we know, they have not changed with time and do not change in other parts of our universe.

Several hundred thousand years passed and the fireball cooled enough that hydrogen and helium could form the very first atoms. At that early time there was no oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, gold, silicon, or the any of the other heavier atoms that make up our periodic chart today. The universe had cooled and become dark, transformed into a trillion clouds of the only two atoms in that early universe, hydrogen and helium.

As the universe continued to expand, the space between the clouds increased, but the clouds remained intact because of the mutual attraction of the atoms in each cloud (in just this past year we have learned that mysterious “dark matter” likely played a role in this attraction). The clouds swirled and attracted one another, slowly but inevitably forming dense structures that eventually burst into nuclear flame. These were the first stars. At this point, we are one billion years from the singular springing forth of our universe.

Let us pause for a second and consider what is happening. The laws of physics governing the interaction of matter (we know today as the weak force, the strong force, the electromagnetic force, and gravity) that were established in the first seconds after the formation of the universe are peculiarly perfect for creating the universe we know today. If the expansion rate had been slightly slower, the entire universe would have imploded, perhaps starting the process of expansion all over again. But, there would be no stars formed, no planets, no earth, and no life. If the expansion rate had been only slightly faster, the galactic clouds would have failed to form, and again, there would be no stars, no planets, and no world as we know it today. The expansion rate appears to have been just right.

As an aside, consider that we don’t know how many of these creation-of-the-universe experiments have taken place. Is ours the first? Or, is ours just one of many throughout eternity, one that worked to provide the right ingredients for the formation of the universe we observe and evolved in? We just don’t know.

Hubble Deep Field ImageAs the chaos of swirling, galactic gas clouds continued, a wondrous process began. Stars began to burn the hydrogen in a nuclear fission process. As the hydrogen was burned up, the stars turned to the burning of helium. In the intense heat and pressure at the core of the star, heavier elements like iron, silicon, etc., were formed through nuclear fusion. As some of these stars burned out, they were large enough they became a supernova. Under the incredibly intense pressure of its collapsing core, a supernova explodes and spews out into space its burned out contents … the iron, silicon, sulfur, and lead … all of the heavier elements needed to form new heavenly bodies.

All of this debris from an exploding supernova, the mother star, soars into space as the dying star sheds her corpse to provide the raw materials for new forms, new planets, new moons, new solar systems, and the eventual development of life itself. Because of the physical laws of the universe, these bodies are all bonded to one another in a cosmic waltz, each following the spacetime laws that we have understood for a scant 100 years, thanks to Albert Einstein. Our Earth dances around the Sun in a whirling, predictable path that is governed by the same physical laws that were laid down one second after the beginning of the expansion of the universe. While it seems accidental that Earth became the biophysical planet in our solar system, it is almost certain that somewhere in the vast universe there would be planets like Earth that harbor life. When given the chance, the universe will organize itself into complex and persistent patterns of activity. Earth was the chance the solar system got. Earth became the gateway into a new and thrilling epoch of the universe story.

milky way infrared imageBrian Swimme gives a name to our progenitor supernova, calling her “Tiamat”, the name for the Babylonian goddess of primordial chaos. When Tiamat, our mother star, exploded 4.6 billion years ago, she birthed the Earth’s solar system with her debris. About 4.5 billion years ago our Sun, a modest star in the Milky Way[3] galaxy, sprang to life. 4.45 billion years ago our earth was formed, bringing forth an atmosphere, oceans, and continents. Everything in our bodies and all matter on the earth is nothing more than reformed star dust from our mother, Tiamat. Our universe repeats this beautiful process over and over. It disseminates matter in a seemingly chaotic fashion, and then reforms the matter in a self-organizing way to create new entities. These are in turn eventually broken down and the process begins all over again. (2)

Such developments are recognized by some now as part of a process of “emergence”, the mysterious process that seems to come into play at every scale from the quantum to the cosmic. New creations emerge from the tiny parts, and each larger creation has properties not evident in any of the parts. For example, water has marvelous properties not seen in either hydrogen or oxygen. Snow flakes have properties not seen in water, etc. Some would say that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” or other put it this way: “Something else from nothing but.” Every part of the universe is permeated with self-organizing, emergent dynamics in latent form. Brian Swimme says, “These ordering patterns hide until the material structures and free energy of the region reach that particular complexity and intensity capable of drawing such patterns forth.” We will hear more from the concept called “emergence” in the coming years.