Friday, September 9, 2011

Bigger Universe, Same Ol' Jesus

As I continue to pore my way through theoretical physicist Michio Kaku's exploration of M-Theory, one of the things that has struck me is the degree to which the heavens have expanded since the first century.

We tend to fixate on that moment when folks realized that the earth was round, not a flat plate with a dome over it, but a sphere.  That was a big deal, of course, but only the first in an iterative series of deepenings.

There is also the struggle experienced by Galileo and the early astronomers.  They noted that the earth was not the center of the universe, and...well...there was some resistance to that, as I recall.   The church defended ecclesiastical authority and it's Aristotelian assumptions about the universe with much vigor, vigor that now seems absurd.  Jesus and his teachings are unaffected by our elliptical orbit around the sun.

As Kaku explores the history of cosmology, though, there are other moments when the universe grew exponentially bigger.  Like, say, when we realized that all those wee little stars were suns like our own, and suddenly heliocentrism evaporated in the vastness of the interstellar sky.

Or when we realized that those little fuzzy swirls we saw in our telescopes weren't just bits of dust or proto-stars, but galaxies, vast agglomerations of stars billions of light years across and unfathomable distances away.  Suddenly, the universe expanded again, and again our place in it became exponentially smaller as the cosmological floor of creation dropped out from under us.

But none of those things impact Jesus and his teachings.  You can be just as truly a follower of Jesus of Nazareth in a rapidly expanding Big Bang universe as you would have been in a 6,000 year old dome-world, had such a thing ever really existed.

The quantum-based and data-bolstered speculation of M-Theory represents just such a shift.  A multiverse-cosmology represents another expansion, like from earth to solar system, or from solar system to star system, or from star system to intergalactic space.

While it's a paradigm shift, that shift does not in any way impact the existential impact of the Nazarene on those of us who see in his story the fundamental purpose of our lives.  We are here, now, and in this time and space Jesus matters.  

3 comments:

  1. Stupid question, I hit wiki up for the M-Theory and....learned basically nothing because it was all over my head.

    But from what you are saying it seems that it is basically one of the theories that proposes alternate universes, akin to quantum mechanics. Is this true?

    If so, the how our faith interacts with such a theory is actually intensely interesting to me bc I have no idea how it would actually work.

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  2. @ Unknown: Yup, that is true.

    M-Theory is rooted in chaos theory and string theory and quantum mechanics, and does suggest that our spacetime is not the totality of the universe. How our faith intersects with it is the core question of a current book project I'm starting up. It's intellectually and spiritually fascinating.

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