Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bang, Saith the Lord

The news from the world of science yesterday was exciting.

The observations came from BICEP2, an instrument that measures cosmic background radiation from its chilly vantage point on the South Pole.  What's been detected are "ripples" in that background, echoes of that first great yarp of being.  They affirm an almost impossible expansion of our space and time, as being leapt from singularity into a cosmic vastness in a snap of a finger.

Assuming you could snap your finger in a picosecond.  Which you wouldn't want to, because the energies involved wouldn't just blow your arm off.  They might just blow a nice big hunk out of our arm of the Milky Way.  Oops.

Whichever way, it's a powerful affirmation of the theory that has governed much of scientific cosmology for the last fifty years.  The Big Bang is the way things happened.  We know this the way we know that the earth isn't flat, and that we know the moon isn't cheese.  We can see it, and touch it, and taste it with the new eyes, hands, and tongue of scientific instruments.

This is a big thing, rather obviously.  It means that science is pressing deeper into the nature of things.  As the Washington Post's coverage of the discovery put it:
This is obviously difficult terrain for theorists, as the question of why there is something rather than nothing creeps into realms traditionally governed by theologians.
Yup.  This is our house, alright.  Hello, science!  Welcome!  Take a load off.  Care for something to drink?

But what for me makes this a particularly exciting discovery is that it pushes observational science just a tick closer towards the strain of speculative cosmology that seems most amenable to faith.  If this reinforces inflationary theory, which it does, then it becomes another bit of data that gives coherence to the multiverse as an explanatory model for the nature of all existence.

Again, from the article:
The inflationary model implies that our universe is exceedingly larger than what we currently observe, which is humbling already in its scale.  Moreover, the vacuum energy that drove the inflationary process would presumably imply the existence of a larger cosmos, or "multiverse," of which our universe is but a granular element.
Clearly, we're not there yet.  Multiverse cosmology remains squarely in the realm of speculation.  It's hard to empirically test for things that lie outside of time and space, eh?  But it is informed speculation, both rational and with some legitimate explanatory power, just as the Big Bang theory was when it was first proposed.

For that reason, it makes a bunch of sense for those of us who hang out in "realms traditionally governed by theologians" to be ready to fold that into our conversations about faith.