There was a little piece of news last week that slipped out without much fanfare, and it probably escaped the attention of a planet obsessed with the possibility of war in the Middle East.
Eclipsed also by the space shuttle tragedy and, back here in New Zealand, dangerous dogs and the Americas Cup, it’s easy to see why you might have missed this particular morsel of news.
So let me tell you a little about it. Several years ago, the American space agency NASA launched a new satellite to explore the very origins of the Universe.
Unlike the spy satellites which orbit the earth just a couple of hundred kilometres above us..and have the technology to read a newspaper headline on the ground...the deep space imaging satelite orbits the earth much further out in space...nearly five times further out than the moon in fact.
And here’s what the satellite, known as MAP...has done: It has taken photographs of the first light to emerge in the Universe...When God said let there be light, who would have thought that humanity could develop the technology to take a photograph through time of the very event.
Because light travels at a known speed, scientists taking pictures of the very edges of the universe using the new generation of space telescopes have found they can look back in time to its very beginning...and awesome state of affairs.
So here’s what we now know as of last week. NASA says its deep space images have confirmed, once and for all, a very important fact – the Universe was created in a Big Bang, an instant of creation exactly 13.7 billion years ago – based on the known speed of light, give or take a hundred million years. That Big Bang happened so fast that the Universe grew from something smaller than one grain of sand into something that filled the heavens in less than a second.
And to give you an idea of how far back in time NASA has photographed...the images published last week date back to just 380,000 years after the Big Bang...less than a blink of God’s eye in comparison with the 13.7 billion years that followed.
But there is something even bigger that NASA has just discovered: this universe will exist only once, it will not bounce back and forward like a yo-yo on a string, as cosmologist Stephen Hawking and many atheist scientists have claimed.
For the first time ever, the MAP satellite has found final proof that our Universe is expanding so fast that it will never retract. It will just keep on expanding forever. And one day, probably only a couple of billion years from now...all the stars in the Universe will have used up their energy, burnt up and died. Eventually even the black holes will disintegrate into nothingness.
The boundaries of the Universe will keep on expanding through the darkness like a train on a track, but by now all the passengers on that train – stars, planets, galaxies and life – will have long since perished in every physical sense of the word.
The Universe will again become formless and void, empty of light, shadow and life.
NASA says the new data proves that humanity is riding on a unique universe...one that came into existence with the snap of the fingers...and one that will eventually end not with a bang but a whimper.
Our universe is not eternal in a practical sense...it had a beginning and it will effectively have an end.
For a Christian...this is science confirming our Bible.
Buddhists, Hindus and other Eastern religions believe in a living Universe, you see, that they say has always existed and will always exist. Atheists likewise have attempted to get around the Big Bang creation by postulating that our Universe bounces back and forward in cycles...that the Big bang was just one of many cycles.
I’m sure many of these people will still hold their treasured but mistaken beliefs tomorrow...but science now knows they are wrong.
Astronomer Hugh Ross makes some pretty salient points about the latest scientific discoveries in his book the Creator and the Cosmos. Dr Ross points out what scientists call the “Anthropic Principle” – a fancy name for a growing body of evidence that shows the Universe has been specially designed to promote the existence of life.
When atheists like Lloyd Geering were arguing so strongly against the Bible in the 1960s, they were doing so armed with the scientific knowledge of their day and some flawed religious philosophy. Forty years later, Lloyd Geering is still drawing on that out of date knowledge that he learned as a young man.
But as Hugh Ross explains...during the past 40 years scientists have discovered much much more about our Universe and its special features than they ever learnt in the previous four thousand years.
In 1968, when Dr Geering was tried for heresy by the Presbyterian Church, science had discovered only 2 special features of the Universe pointing to intelligent design. But as of last year, science had discovered 123 special features.
If the rate of expansion of the Universe in its first second of life had deviated by as little as one one-hundred millionth of a second...the Universe would have exploded and we wouldn’t be here talking about it.
If the Earth wasn’t exactly in the orbit around the sun that it is...the planet would have been too hot or two cold to sustain complex life.
The atoms that we take for granted, like carbon, silicon, oxygen, gold, lead, lithium and so on, are so rare throughout the universe that their existence in abundance on earth is special, yet without them we could not exist.
All the lithium in the entire universe was made during the first four minutes of the Universe’s existence...that means that the lithium in your watch battery dates back to within four minutes of God creating the Universe...four minutes. Our bodies contain lithium. You and I are made of stardust created by God at the very beginning of time.
These are just some of the many unique features of the Universe we live in.
And today...despite all the uncertainty in the world, science has given us a glimpse of our beginnings and our future...of the Alpha and the Omega...
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...now the earth was formless and void, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters....