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Telescopes and theodicy

From dark matter and energy to the Prince of Darkness

Telescopes and theodicy

(Krieg Barrie)

If you haven’t taken a science course since high school or college decades ago, here’s some news: We know a lot less now about the basic makeup of the universe than we thought we did then.

Several decades ago scientists knew the universe was expanding. They believed the expansion had to slow down. No astronomer had observed such slowing but it had to happen because the universe is full of matter, matter has gravity, and gravity pulls things together.

In 1998, though, the Hubble Space Telescope let us look at very distant stars. It became apparent that the universe was expanding faster and faster, not slower. Why? No one knew, but it seemed that something else we couldn’t see or measure had to be present. Theorists named the mystery stuff “dark matter,” possibly made up of some subatomic particles, and “dark energy,” maybe made up of something else for which we have no name.

Dark energy and dark matter: Scientists can’t see or measure any of it, but they believe it exists because of its effect on what they can see and measure.

To explain the behavior of what we perceive through telescopes and other instruments, scientists now guesstimate that “dark energy” makes up 68 percent of the universe and “dark matter” makes up 27 percent. That adds up to 95 percent, which means we can see or measure only 5 percent of reality, a humbling number indeed. Again, we know of the dark stuff only because of its effect on visible matter.

Let’s apply this to one of the hardest theological problems, theodicy, which literally means “justifying God.” Christian theodicy attempts to explain why an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God allows evil to exist and even—as with Nazi and Communist butchers—expand.

Theologians over the centuries have proposed many explanations. The most popular hinge on man’s free will: God could have made us like robots or Stepford wives, only able to obey orders—but how then would we be in the image of God? He could have kept bad things from happening to us, but it’s often those things that make us realize how desperately we need His grace.

Many people understand that some suffering is educational, and tragedies affecting other families may warn us. I remember as a white-water rafter on the Nantahala River in North Carolina hearing that three people out of 14,000 going down the river had drowned, so if you fall out of your boat don’t try to walk and possibly get your foot snagged on a rock and fall facedown: Float downstream, feet first. A California newspaper editor ran a photo of a mourning family standing over the corpse of a child who entered a lake against parental instructions and drowned: Readers protested, but that alert may have saved other lives.

We might say what does not kill us makes us stronger, but what about all those who die suddenly without the opportunity to learn lessons? What about hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes that kill both innocent and guilty? What about diseases that take the lives of children? What about the scale of disaster? Six million Jews gassed or shot in the Holocaust, along with 6 million others? Tens of millions in China, the Soviet Union, Cambodia, and elsewhere? Tens of thousands year after year in Syria, Yemen, and other venues of war. Why so many, Lord?

Dark energy and dark matter: Scientists can’t see or measure any of it, but they believe it exists because of its effect on what they can see and measure. The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus in the fourth century, Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century, and John Milton in the 17th century also had a name for what they could not see or measure, except by its effect on the visible: They wrote about princeps tenebrarum, the Prince of Darkness.

We don’t tend to talk about Satan these days, except in weak, semi-joking excuses (“the devil made me do it”) or Rolling Stones songs: “Please allow me to introduce myself / I’m a man of wealth and taste / I’ve been around for a long, long year / Stole many a man’s soul and faith / … When the blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank.” Yet, as Jeffrey Burton Russell writes in Satan, “The depth and intensity [of evil] exceeds and transcends what could be expected in an individual human. … No theodicy that does not take the Devil fully into consideration is likely to be persuasive.” Dark matter. Dark energy. Dark supernatural power.

Comments

  • Bob C
    Posted: Mon, 04/15/2019 03:09 pm

    Let me get this straight.  Some scientist made up the words “Dark Matter” and “Dark Energy” to explain something they cannot otherwise explain (the universe that is accelerating in it expansion, rather than slowing down in it's expansion, thus violating the laws of physics?).  Without made up dark stuff the laws of physics may not be laws?  So to put it bluntly, the smarter humans become, the more they realize how dumb they are?

  • Bob R
    Posted: Fri, 04/12/2019 07:58 pm

    I think the problem of “evil”, as it’s been called is actually a lot simpler than most explanations.  What we refer to as “evil” is not actually something, but in fact, the absence of something!  We have examples from nature that help explain this: 

    Light is something, (photons); what we call “darkness” is actually an absence of light. 

    Heat is something, (thermal energy); cold is merely an absence of heat. 

    Just so, evil is not something, but in fact, the absence of something, the absence of "good". 

    God is by definition, “good”.  Anything that is not “good” (that is, in accordance with His nature) is by definition, “evil”.  Any situation in which God’s influence, or will is not absolute we refer to as “evil”.  Not a created something, but rather, the absence of something!

    But that would mean God’s will is not sovereign, right?  Included in the Lord’s Prayer are the phrases, “…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”  The clear implication?  God’s will is not currently being done on earth as it is in Heaven, where it is absolute!  He has sovereignly willed that for this tiny instance of time and space, His will would not be absolute

    Why would He do that?  Love.  God created us to love and to be loved.  And true love requires the ability either accept or reject.  For example, if I were to write a program that constantly repeated how much my computer “loved” me, it would mean nothing, since it had no choice but to repeat what was programmed.

    Love requires the ability to choose!  So, God created beings with the ability to make a moral choice; to either accept His invitation to receive Him, or to reject Him, and by extension rejecting what is “good” in favor of “evil”.

     

  • Bob R
    Posted: Fri, 04/12/2019 02:10 pm

    Actually, dark matter is a far more legitimate "theory" than the wildly popular "multiverse theory", asserting that every time a situation occurs in which more than one option exists, new "multiverses" are created, each incorporating one of the options. 

    Any authentically scientific theory considers factual evidence and attempts to explain it by proposing a possible explanation.  The “evidence” which multiverse theory attempts to explain is the fact that our universe is so clearly designed to support life!  The vast number of cosmic values, constants, and laws of nature that are so obviously “fine tuned” to support life, falling within incredibly precise parameters, cannot possibly be an accident.  According to multiverse theory, we happen to live in the one, out of countless others that "works"!

    According to Wikipedia, the problem-solving principle known as “Occam’s Razor” “…essentially states that "simpler solutions are more likely to be correct than complex ones. When presented with competing hypotheses to solve a problem, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions.”

    The obvious explanation for a universe that is as precisely tuned as ours would be that some intelligent power finely tuned it so we might exist here.  The problem with all this evidence is that it also entails a “Creator”, One to Whom we would be accountable.  The rebellious, actively unbelieving heart would rather believe anything else, regardless how little actual evidence there is to support it. 

    So, clearly, multiverse theory has abandoned the realm of science and entered into a religious belief system, truly a “blind faith”.

     

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Mon, 04/15/2019 06:19 am

    Mr. Olasky this is a gem of an article. I’m surprised there are no more comments. I hope that doesn’t mean it wasn’t read and considered.

    I love the juxtaposition of two very different enigmatic themes, one from science and one from theology. At the same time they are tied together by the common thread of both epistemology and ontology. To many, looking at the extreme complexity of our universe from the micro to the macro results in awe and worship. Though some, as we know and the Bible points out, worship the creation and not the creator. But to many we see a Creator!

    We also know that to accept the concept of a Creator has implications that many cannot accept or embrace. So, rather than look at new data and reconsider the relevance and accuracy of their arcane and even irrational theories, they find ways to stuff these new findings into the same old box. They are seemingly blind to the box’s rusty hinges, holes and cobwebs. They can’t see that it is already full of contradictory and even silly preconceived notions of reality, and origins. Like a hoarder who can’t see their house as it really is and embrace a change, they cannot see, and cannot accept the idea of a designer, a Creator. If they do there are consequences.

    Then with a slight of hand you asked us to consider the challenges that you articulate of a vast universe full of good and evil and overseen from the micro to the macro by a loving and benevolent God. This is the same God, we are asked to believe, who set in motion the stars and planets and the seeming paradoxes that we try to explain with dark matter and energy and MACHOs and WIMPs. How do we fit evil into this universe?

    So we have the same universe, but with vastly disparate explanations. And these with with significant implications beyond “whodunit.”

    It is all rooted in epistemology. How do we know what we  know? And what do we do with it? In a sense it is easy to understand the bias of the scientist who refuses to even consider that the explanation behind it all could be (heaven forbid!) a Creator, an omnipotent designer. But we are also expected to believe that this is the same good and benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God. This is the creator who has also brought us evil. Inconceivable! There can’t be a Creator or Designer and there cannot be a good God behind it all. Or so they postulate and stuff into their box.

    Thanks for giving us something to think about.

    I’m reminded of 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (ESV)