Galileo’s Dialogue

Galileo Galilei, an astronomer and physicist who lived in Italy from 1564 to 1641, has been called the founder of modern experimental science. He developed the first effective telescope and made important early astronomical discoveries. In pursuing the truth using reasoning and mathematics he reached the conclusion that the earth was not the center of the universe as was commonly believed at the time. Instead, he concluded that the theory developed earlier by Copernicus that the earth orbited around the sun was correct, and he published his conclusions in his1632 book, Dialogue. But since this was unacceptable to the mainstream thinking of his day, the book was found to be heretical by the Holy Office of Inquisition, and he was put under house arrest for the last years of his life. Galileo lost his physical freedom for pursuing the truth, but unlike those around him, in so doing he kept his mental and spiritual freedom. During the remaining years of his imprisoned life he wrote his final book, Two New Sciences, in which he laid the groundwork for the physics of motion, acceleration, and gravitation. Isaac Newton, who was born in the year that Galileo died, built modern physics on that foundation. Galileo provided an excellent example of healthy skepticism.

Whether we’re part of a formal religious organization or part of a generally prevailing belief system or non-belief system, we’re part of a river of human thought. Most people will choose to flow comfortably within the river. But I think that we have the responsibility to seek truth using the intellect and the information that we have been given, and chart our own course.

People who flowed with the river of human thought and were overwhelmed by the preponderance of the opinions that immediately surrounded them did not impress Galileo. He wrote in his first widely published book The Assayer:

"The testimony of many has little more value than that of few, since the number of people who reason well in complicated matters is much smaller than that of those who reason badly. If reasoning were like hauling I should agree that several reasoners would be worth more than one, just as several horses can haul more sacks of grain than one can. But reasoning is like racing and not like hauling, and a single Barbary steed can outrun a hundred dray horses."

Galileo may have been influenced by his father, who had written in his book, Dialogue of Ancient and Modern Music:

"It appears to me that they who in proof of any assertion rely simply on the weight of authority, without adducing any argument in support of it, act very absurdly. I, on the contrary, wish to be allowed freely to question and freely to answer you without any sort of adulation, as well becomes those who are in search of truth."

Einstein wrote, "The theme that I recognize in Galileo's work is the passionate fight against any kind of dogma based on authority." (Einstein's foreword to Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001 printing, page xv; Also quoted in Einstein: His Life and Universe, Simon & Schuster, 2007, by Walter Isaacson, page 550)

After Galileo’s death, his son wrote, "His most detested vice was the lie, maybe because with the help of the mathematical science he knew the beauty of the Truth too well." (Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel, Fourth Estate, 1999, page 375.)

Through all of the controversy in his life, Galileo maintained his faith in God. He saw the evidence for God in the magnificence of the universe, and he saw the magnitude of God in its enormity. He made the telescope into a practical tool for observing the universe. Through today’s evolution of the technology that he helped initiate, we are now able to see even more clearly the signs of the Creator of the universe – provided that we are willing to open our eyes to do so.

The people of the early 21st Century have witnessed a recent quantum leap in understanding of the universe – similar to the one that Galileo participated in a few hundred years earlier. The general understanding in Galileo’s day was that the celestial realm of sun, moon, and stars orbited daily around the earth, and the leap in understanding was that the earth and the mobile stars actually orbited around the sun. Just as it has been traditionally believed that the earth is the center of the universe, it has also been traditionally understood that the universe, including its matter and energy, and indeed its dimensions of time and space have always existed in some form or other. However, during the 20th Century another major leap in understanding of the universe has transpired – that the universe and the very materials of which it is composed came into existence at a discrete time in the past. So, we are in a similar position to the people of Galileo’s day, emerging from the dark ages of misunderstanding the universe around us.

The Bible explains that God exists beyond time. (See notes on 2 Tim 1:9 & 1 Cor 2:7 below.) And that there is no beginning or end of God. (Ps 90:2) It also explains that everything else that we can be aware of in our mortal existence has been created by God, and thus has a beginning. (Gen. 1:1; Ps 148:2-5; Heb 11:3) This includes the entire universe, including all matter and energy and all time and space. The doctrine that God created time and matter is universally shared throughout mainstream Christianity and Judaism. In the year 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council declared that it was a matter of Christian faith that "from the beginning of time [God] formed created things out of nothing." (Modern Physics and Ancient Faith by Stephen M. Barr, University of Notre Dame Press, 2003, page 34)  St. Augustine wrote 1600 years ago, "You [O Lord] made that very time, and no time could pass by before you made those times.  But if there was no time before heaven and earth, why do they ask what you did 'then'?  There was no 'then,' where there was no time." (ibid, page 48)  However, nearly all other religions teach exactly the opposite. They teach that matter, energy, time, and space have always existed – at least in chaotic (unorganized) form. And that God (or the gods) came into existence (or became gods) at some finite time in the past. Apparently this latter doctrine is more intuitive to people, and thus when people create religions, they include this view of God and creation. This intuitive doctrine was also shared by the ancient pagan religions.

According to the Bible, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen. 1:1) The noun "heavens" (Hebrew shamayim) in this verse refers to all of the stars in the sky. Christians and Jews have traditionally interpreted this to mean that God created the entire universe and all of the matter in it at some point or period in time known as "the beginning". The verb "created" (Hebrew bara') emphasizes the initiation of the object, not manipulating it after original creation. The word refers only to an activity that can be performed by God. Furthermore the Bible tells us, "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." (Heb. 11:3, italics added) Thus, God did not use existing matter to create the worlds.

This is what the Bible has said for nearly 2000 years (3500 years in the case of Genesis). The universe (the heavens) and the earth were created at some specific single point in time in the past called "the beginning." The pagan cultures believed that there never was a time when matter did not exist. (A Survey Of Old Testament Introduction by Gleason A. Archer, Moody Press, 1964, page 196.) For example, the story of creation in the Babylonian Enuma Elish assumes the eternity of pre-existent matter out of which arose a pair of creator gods by forces that are not explained. (ibid, page 195.) Also, "Unlike the Christian God, Brahma [the main creator-god of Hindu] creates each universe from eternally existing material, not out of nothing as God does according to Judaeo-Christian tradition. For the Hindus nothing which really exists is ever destroyed absolutely; things merely change form." (The World's Great Religions, Sam Welles editor, Time Incorporated, 1957, page 15)

Albert Einstein demonstrated that time is the fourth dimension of physical reality. Time (t) is the position along the time dimension of matter and/or energy. Everything that exists within the dimensions of time and space (e.g. all matter and energy) moves inevitably at a finite rate along the time axis. Logic dictates that matter and energy, and thus time itself, had a beginning.

To show that time had a beginning, consider the present time and define it as t = 0. Then, as time advances it approaches infinity (t ® ¥). But it can never reach infinity no matter how large t becomes because infinity by definition is boundless.

Now hypothetically consider time moving backwards boundlessly. Of course time cannot move backwards, but nonetheless we can examine the ramifications mathematically. Starting again at the present time, t = 0, time would approach negative infinity (t ® -¥ ). This is the same situation as reality, except for the negative values. Again t can never reach negative infinity no matter how large the magnitude of t becomes because -¥ by definition is also boundless. Thus, the magnitude of time between -¥ and 0 cannot be spanned. (Remember that "magnitude" is independent of directions or polarities.)

However, if time has no beginning, and we are at the present time t = 0, then the magnitude of time between -¥ and 0 has already been spanned. But this is impossible because of the conclusion reached in the preceding paragraph. Thus, time must have had a beginning, and since matter and energy cannot exist without the dimensions of time and space, then matter also had a beginning as indicated in the Bible.

This logical truth regarding the beginning of matter has recently been proven to be true empirically.

In the late 1700’s French chemist Antoine Lavoisier established the law of conservation of mass. According to this law, matter (or "mass") could neither be created nor destroyed in a chemical reaction. This law is taught so early in schooling now that it seems intuitive to people today. But in the early 1800's it was a paradigm shift for Christians and Jews. It could have easily shaken their faith in the Bible, which says that matter was created. In addition, pre-20th Century scientists believed that the universe existed eternally in stable equilibrium.

However, in the early 20th Century Albert Einstein's theory of relativity implied that the universe is unstable and that it is expanding, and thus it had a beginning. This was so contrary to the preconceived notions of humanity that in 1917 he theorized that there must be yet unknown forces that counteract against the known forces that would otherwise require instability. (The Creator and the Cosmos by Hugh Ross, Navpress, 1995, page 52)

In 1929 astronomer Edwin Hubble found that the universe actually is expanding. This was based on his measurement of the "red shift" of distant bodies in space. He found that stars are moving away from us at a speed that is proportional to their distance from us. (ibid, page 52)

For decades after Hubble's discovery, scientists knew that if the universe began with a big bang, the energy emitted from that big bang would need to have been extremely high and that residual radiation from the explosion would need to still exist in the universe for that to be true. However, the estimated level of residual radiation had become so small that scientists had no way of confirming it. Then in 1964, Bell Labs scientist Arno Penzias developed advanced methods for measuring space radiation in preparation for the development of communications satellites. In the process he discovered a background radiation that he had not expected. The radiation matched the levels predicted by big bang theorists, and Penzias won the 1978 Nobel Prize in physics for his discovery. (ibid, page 22) I had the opportunity to spend some time discussing Dr. Penzias' discovery with him personally in 1988 when he was the keynote speaker at a technical conference that I was hosting. Scientists were still not at the point of proving the big bang theory, however, because the radiation levels could not be measured with sufficient accuracy to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that Penzias' radiation was indeed the residue from the big bang.

In 1992, the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite found that the background level of radiation precisely matched the big bang theory. The energy level of the background radiation corresponds to 2.276° K. Furthermore, the COBE satellite also confirmed minute fluctuations in the background radiation predicted by the big bang theory. (ibid, page 24)

As the universe ages, it cools down. The big bang theory indicates that it used to be warmer. As telescopes peer light years into the distance, they are also looking years into the past. In 1994 the Keck telescope, the world's largest optical instrument, measured the background energy level in the vicinity of two gas clouds so distant that the images reaching the telescope are from a time when the universe was one fourth its present age. The observations indicated 7.4° K, which corresponds to the predictions of the big bang theory for the energy level of the universe at that time. (ibid, page 28)

Roger Penrose referred to the big bang as the event "when space and time began." (God's Equation by Amir D. Aczel, Dell Publishing, 1999, page 171.) "Most scientists agree that ... this tremendous initial expansion started creation - the formation of matter and energy." (Quoted from ibid, page 213)

Now that we know that the universe had a beginning, what caused it? What caused the marvelous complexity of the universe with its hundred billion galaxies, each containing some hundred billion stars? (numbers from Cosmos by Carl Sagan Random House, 1980, pages 6-7) How did the periodic table of elements establish its structure with atoms containing neutrons and protons in their nuclei, surrounded by electrons? How did this all begin at one point in time some fifteen billion years ago, prior to which there was nothing?

"Albert Einstein pursued his scientific quest for knowledge with great passion. He was a sincere believer, and to him science was the process of discovering God's creation." (Quoted from God's Equation by Amir D. Aczel, Dell Publishing, 1999, page 211.)

Carl Sagan wrote, "The big bang, the event that began our universe - why it happened is the greatest mystery we know. That it happened is reasonably clear." (Cosmos by Carl Sagan Random House, 1980, page 246)

Stephen Hawking wrote, "The universe is the ultimate free lunch." (A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, Bantam Books, 1988, page 129)

Stephen M. Barr, a professor of physics at the University of Delaware, has written, "Even the very matter from which life emerged had a beginning: there was a time before which there were no atoms, or even protons, neutrons, and electrons.  They were forged in the furnace of the Big Bang." (Modern Physics and Ancient Faith by Stephen M. Barr, University of Notre Dame Press, 2003, page 58)

Arno Penzias said, "Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life and one which has an underlying plan." (The Creator and the Cosmos by Hugh Ross, Navpress, 1995, page 123)

Amir D. Aczel in his book God's Equation wrote, "we have no answer to what happened before the explosion, if that is when space and time began…" (God's Equation, Einstein, Relativity, and the Expanding Universe by Amir D. Aczel, Delta, 1999, page 171, )

The scientists who fully appreciate the implications of this new information, even those who are fundamentally antagonistic towards the Bible, recognize that this demands an acceptance of some kind of force beyond the material universe that has brought it into existence. The generic term "God" is sometimes applied to this supernatural force. Many scientific observers may not see the God of the Bible in all of this. The beliefs may include the concept that to this "God" humans are nothing more than contaminating microorganisms in its created universe rather than being created in the image of God. But nonetheless, pure atheism is no longer possible among people who are educated in astrophysical reality.

The concern that the age and immensity of the universe doesn’t make sense relative to the short history and small size of the realm of mankind was of concern even in Galileo’s day. He wrote, "When I am told that an immense space interposed between the planetary orbits and the starry sphere would be useless and vain, being idle and devoid of stars, and that any immensity going beyond our comprehension would be superfluous for holding the fixed stars, I say that it is brash for our feebleness to attempt to judge the reason for God’s actions, and to call everything in the universe vain and superfluous which does not serve us." (Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel, Fourth Estate, 1999, page 178-180.)

Others have argued that logical observation may not be relevant towards discerning the truths of God because God is capable of bringing things into existence in a way that mere humans are unable to fully observe. Galileo also addressed this concern in his Dialogue. Regarding the use of scientific methods to understand the universe, he wrote, "… a most foolish hallucination and a majestic paradox… [because] God and Nature possess boundless means for creating the effects observed by men." Note, however, that this statement came from Simplicio, the simple-minded idiot in the book. (A statement by Simplicio in Dialogue written by Galileo, Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel, Fourth Estate, 1999, page 185.) If we accept that we are created in God’s image, then we would expect to be able to accurately observe his workmanship. The apostle Paul wrote:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom 1:18-20)

To deny that matter had a beginning is to reject the physical proof that God has given us of his existence.

Some may ask at this point if Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein, and others could overturn previous scientific truth, then how can we trust scientific truth as being true? How can one argue that scientific truth is any more rational than truth that is found through feelings? In order to address this question we need to carefully examine its two main components: (1) “overturn”, and (2) “previous scientific truth”.

First, science involves the process of discovery through the scientific method of building theories and  thoroughly testing them. It is important to realize that science is a process of discovery and that it is not static. No rational person would believe that human scientific understanding is complete. So most of “overturning” in scientific discovery is not “overturning” at all but actually the augmentation that is expected as the result of the work of science. This is the case with Einstein’s work in relativity physics. It did not overturn Newtonian physics; it enlarged the previous level of physics. Newtonian physics is still true and relevant within its range of applicability.  Physicist Stephen Barr has written, "It is important to realize that classical [Newtonian] physics was not simply 'wrong.' Rather, it is the correct way to describe nature in a certain limit or approximation.  That is why classical physics still forms the core of physics education." (Modern Physics and Ancient Faith by Stephen M. Barr, University of Notre Dame Press, 2003, page 135) In fact, nearly all of physics taught at the high school and undergraduate college level is Newtonian physics exactly as it was developed by Isaac Newton. Relativity physics, if taught at all at these levels, is covered as supplementary material. It expands Newtonian physics into a broader range of applications. And science is still working to further expand physics, because it is fundamentally understood that relativity physics is still incomplete. Einstein himself was searching for the next level, the “unified field theory” which remains to be discovered. So, when relativity physics is augmented in the future by the "superstring theory" or the "M-theory" from contemporary physics research, no one with any understanding of science will say that relativity physics has been “overturned”. Relativity physics indeed overturns the previous general understanding that matter has always existed, but that belief was never part of proven science, and it is specifically not part of Newtonian physics. (Lavoisier’s law of conservation of mass is a law of chemical reactions, and it is still true. But it was never a fundamental law of physics, and it applies only to chemical reactions.)

Second, much of what the general population considers to be “previous scientific truth” was neither scientific nor true. For example the pre-Copernican understanding that the earth was the center of the universe had no basis in science. That understanding was not the result of scientific discovery, but was simply an untested unproved assumption of mankind. As early as ancient Greece, scientists understood that the earth is spherical, and they even had a reasonably accurate understanding of its size. But before Copernicus, scientists had not obtained enough information in order to develop a scientific basis for the physical relationship between the earth and the rest of the universe. However, human culture had formed a strong belief that the earth was the center of the universe by the time of Copernicus and Galileo, and that belief had become incorporated into religions, including parts of Christianity. So, when Galileo accepted and advanced Copernicus’ theory, he wasn’t overturning science, he was overturning tradition.

Christianity as a whole did not reject the scientific positions of Copernicus and Galileo as is commonly thought. Both Copernicus and Galileo were Christians.  Protestant theologians generally accepted their theories without difficulty.  Galileo was the most esteemed Catholic scientist of this time, and a personal friend of the Pope, a friendship that began long before that Pope was installed in his position.  Copernicus' theory was generally accepted by Catholic theologians as well when they were supported by Galileo.  However, Galileo's problem was not an issue of theology or science, but rather one of politics, and Galileo lacked political skills.  To the contrary, he disdained politics.  His undoing was caused by other individuals who had the Pope's ear and who viewed Galileo as a political competitor.

The rational observation that we call science does not “overturn” itself or reverse itself, it advances. In the process of advancing, it often overturns widely held superstitions, and people may sometimes misunderstand these superstitions as science. Although much of what we culturally accept as fact is not factual because it is only popular tradition or scientific theory, true science remains true once proven and can be relied upon as truth.  Furthermore, modern science was brought into existence almost entirely by devout Christians, such as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, and Newton, which illustrates the positive impact of Christianity on the open-minded logical search for truth that we call science.

Lucas Holste, a friend of Galileo’s said in his eulogy, "Now, envy ceasing, the sublimity of that intellect will begin to be known which will serve all posterity as a guide in the search for truth." (Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel, Fourth Estate, 1999, page 378.)

Note on 2 Tim 1:9:

"This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time." (2 Tim 1:9) The phrase, "before the beginning of time" in the NIV translation is translated from the original Greek, pró chrónos, meaning "before time". The KJV translators used the less precise expression, "before the world began."

Note on 1 Cor 2:7:

"We speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." (1 Cor 2:7) The expression "before time began" is translated from pró aion in the original Greek manuscripts, which literally means "before the ages" or "before any periods of time". The KJV translation states, "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world into our glory:"

© 2010 William C. Hamer