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In this excerpt from his message at Ligonier’s 2012 National Conference, Dr. Stephen Meyer tells the story of how Hubble showed Einstein that the universe was not eternal but must have had a beginning.
Stephen Meyer at the 2012 Ligonier Conference:
Hubble came into astronomy at a very propitious time. It was just at the time that astronomers were gaining access to these large dome telescopes that were able to resolve very tiny pin points of lights in the night sky. Prior to Hubble and the scientists who were looking into the night sky into the 1920’s, there was debate among astronomers as to whether or not the Milky Way Galaxy, in which our solar system resides, was the only galaxy, or whether there might be others beyond it. Hubble resolved that issue as he also resolved these points of light. Because, as he looked through this great dome telescope, at the Palomar Observatory, he was able to determine little points of light that had been viewed through ordinary thelescopes before and just looked like little points, actually revealed galaxies- whole galaxies, with hundreds of millions of stars.
The picture behind us is a spindle nebula, and he saw a spiral nebula, many different galaxies in every quadrant of the sky, such that today, astronomers have something that they call the Hubble deep field. And it’s a picture of the night sky. And if you take a little picture of any part of the night sky, on the picture behind, you’ll see a little square box, a little quadrant (at the 1:29 minute mark) The next slide is that quadrant, magnified further. And you see that even in the tiniest little square in the night sky, there are galaxies galore.
And so, the first thing that Hubble determined was that we live in an immense universe. It was grand in scope, beyond our wildest imagination. It’s galaxies in every direction. Now that was just awe inspiring. It was also very theoretically and philosophically significant discovery that he made, that was closely associated with this, and that is the discovery that these galaxies are moving away from us. In every direction of the night sky, the galaxies are receding. And the evidence for that came from something called red shift.It’s that those lights coming from those distant galaxies was redder in its hue, in its electromagnetic spectrum, in its color, than it would otherwise be if the galaxies were stationary in relationship to us.
How many have heard of the doppler effect? You know that, if you have a train moving away from us, the sound of the train whistle, it will drop in pitch. Well, the drop in pitch will correspond to a shift in wavelength. Well, what do you infer from that? I have a visual aid, it’s a balloon, and Hubble got to thinking about this and he realized that if the galaxies, and I’ve drawn these little dots on the balloon, going forward in the direction of time, what’s happening? If all the galaxies are moving away from us, the means the universe must be expanding outward in a kind of spherically symmetric expansion. So, as you go forward in time, you get the universe get bigger, and bigger, and bigger.
Now, what happens if you wind the clock backwards? The technical term is back extrapolating time. Well, if you go back a thousand years, is the universe bigger or smaller? The further you go back in time, the universe gets smaller, and smaller, and smaller, until eventually you reach the beginning point of the expansion, where everything was congealed together. And Hubble realized that an expanding universe implied a finite universe. A universe that actually has a beginning- a beginning in time. Now this was a really significant discovery because at the very same time, on the other side of the country there was this physicist with bad hair, named Albert Einstein. And einstein had come to the same conclusion, that the universe must have a beginning. But then, he said, “No, no, no, no, no. That cannot be right.” And Einstein came to it on his theory of general relativity, which was a theory of gravitation. And the equations of his theories suggested that the universe must be expanding outward and decelerating, in order for all of the math to work out. But when he realized that it was expanding outward, it must have had a beginning, he said, “No, that can’t be right.”So then he posited an arbitrary force that was meant to counteract the force of expansion, in just the right measure, so that the universe would be static and therefore could have existed eternally without expanding or contracting.
Einstein, Hubble and Adams. Einstein looking through Hubble’s telescope and coming out to meet the media and admitting: “I now see the necessity of a beginning.” Photo credit www.interactions.org
When I was a physics student, we used to call this dry labbing. You know, where the professor gives you an experiment to do and you know what the answer is supposed to be, but you do the thing with the hockey pucks on the air table and it’s not coming out right. And it’s getting near the end of the period and you want to go to dinner, so what do you do? Now, I’m not saying I ever did this, but I know some people who did. You take the pen and you adjust the values, so that they match the theory. Okay? That’s called dry labbing. That’s essentially what Einstein, one of the greatest physicists in the world, that’s essentially what he did. He fudged. Because he had a preconceived idea that the universe must be eternal. And that was such a string of philosophical predilection, that he adjusted the science to try to meet with that.
Then Hubble comes along and discovers that the universe actually is expanding, there must have been a beginning. And so, he invites Einstein out to California to view the evidence that he’s been viewing through this grand telescope, and there’s some famous newsreel footage where he looks through the telescope, with Hubble in the background, and he comes out and he meets the media and says, “I now see the necessity of a beginning.”
Einstein gets it, and he later says that his cosmological constant, his little fudge factor was the greatest mistake of his scientific career. In essence, the heavens talked back and the testimony of the sky was that there was a beginning to the universe.
VIDEO by Ligonier Ministries