“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Integrating Scientific and Biblical Eschatologies, Part 1: The Future Forecast by Thermodynamics and Cosmology

Observations in cosmology indicate that the universe will either expand indefinitely and die a “heat death” where entropy reaches a maximum, the total energy of the universe is evenly distributed, and all unstable particles ultimately decay, or the universe will be pulled together by gravity and end in a “big crunch.”

“If the universe is open or flat, it will expand forever and continue to cool from its present temperature (2.7 K), asymptotically approaching absolute zero…If it is closed, it will expand to a maximum size in another 1 to 500 billion years, then recollapse to an arbitrarily small size and unendingly higher temperatures.” (Russell 98)
Either way, the universe ends in a ruined state, devoid of any life. “The whole cosmos seems to be hitched to a universal principle of degeneration, running downhill towards chaos…the whole universe seems to be on target for death” (Fiddes 182). Carbon-based life requires carbon atoms, and thus protons and neutrons, but neither of these final scenarios includes that possibility (Russell 99).1 Not only is the universe bound to final destruction; it is in an ongoing state of decay. The second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of the universe must continually increase. This means that the number of possible “microstates” for the entire universe must increase, which requires what could be called a progression from order to disorder. The microscopic interactions of particles towards a macrostate with more possible microstates results in macroscopic processes of decay such as rusting iron or rotting wood. Structured and ordered processes, such as the bodies of living creatures, must ultimately break down into disorder. Consequently, “the second law of thermodynamics is the universal physical principle which underlies decay, illness, death and ultimately sorrow” (Tallon).2 The thermodynamic “arrow of time” drives the universe on a downward spiral of inevitable ruin. To summarize the observation of science concerning the ongoing and ultimate fate of the universe, “should the final future as forecasted by the combination of big bang cosmology and the second law of thermodynamics come to pass…we would have proof that our faith has been in vain” (Peters 175-76).

1 Biologists have portrayed evolution as a tendency towards increasing complexity as time moves forward. Some have speculated that “if the movement of the arrow towards complexity is the more powerful tendency [than the thermodynamic or cosmological “arrow”], then it may be possible for our descendents to outwit the loss of energy in hear-death” (Fiddes 192). Most significantly, Frank Tipler’s “Omega Point Theory” suggests that human technology capability could overcome the collapse of the universe even in its final seconds. Many arguments have been made against this theory. John Polkinghorne notes that this idea requires “highly conjectural properties of matter” as the universe collapses (Polkinghorne, Faith 165) and that its computerized humanity does not fit well with the biblical idea of the redemption of the body (cf. also Gunton 214-15). In general, it is difficult to imagine how biological tendencies could possibly trump the fundamental laws of physics. Perhaps most importantly, arguments for biological or evolutionary “salvation” make the theological error of placing the future in the control of creatures rather than the sovereign Creator (Fiddes 192), as if we were capable of achieving our own salvation.
2 This is not to say that the second law is the ultimate cause of all sorrow. It is merely the physical reality which corresponds to spiritual brokenness. Also, it is not necessarily true that all forms of human sorrow are connected to the second law.

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