How observations of distant galaxies unlocked the secrets to the origin of the universe and confirmed a central claim of Christianity
■ Dennis Rasmussen / Contributed
In 1923 and 1929, astronomer Edwin Hubble made several startling discoveries. Peering through the Hooker Telescope at Mount Wilson, at the time the most powerful in the world, he observed that other galaxies, beyond the Milky Way, existed, that the universe was expanding, and that it was cooling down. These observations completely rewrote cosmology (the study of the origin of the universe). They also forced the most brilliant man of his age, Albert Einstein, to admit that he was wrong for believing what scientists had made the accepted theory of the day, that the universe always was, that it had no beginning and, therefore, no Creator.
How did these observations so fundamentally change modern science? The short answer is found in what these distant galaxies told Edwin Hubble. Before his discovery, the scientific world believed our Milky Way was the only galaxy. In fact, they believed that our Milky Way was the universe. Moreover, they were convinced that the universe had always existed. An infinite universe that had no beginning was a comforting theory to many people who bristled at the idea of God.
The “static theory” of a universe that had always existed ruled scientific thought. So pervasive was it that Einstein, in 1915, revised his general theory – his brilliant lifework about the elemental laws which governed the universe – to fit the accepted theory of the day. Einstein would later call his efforts to tailor his equations to fit the day’s accepted cosmology “the biggest blunder of my life.” However, he didn’t make this confession until after 1931, after he visited Mount Wilson Observatory and peered through Hubble’s telescope. (Barrow and Silk, The Left Hand of Creation: The Order and Evolution of the Expanding Universe, page 13.)
Writing some years later Time described Hubble’s findings as “one of the most flabbergasting discoveries science has ever made.” (Time, Feb. 9, 1948.) Why flabbergasting? Because if our universe was indeed expanding, then it had to have a beginning at a specific moment in time. And if it had a beginning, there must be a Beginner!
Einstein was not the only scientist who had difficulty accepting this. Sir Arthur Eddington, also a brilliant scientist, responded to Hubble’s discoveries by saying, “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant to me.” (Nature, 1931, page 450.) However, like Einstein, he later reversed himself. Likewise, Robert Jastrow, who founded NASA’s Goddard Institute, stated “the Hubble Law is one of the great discoveries in science; it is one of the main supports of the scientific story of Genesis.” (Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, page 93.)
In short, Hubble’s findings confirm a central claim of Christianity, that the universe is not infinite, that it had a beginning. And they are an important part of a larger body of evidence confirming that Christianity is true.
Dennis Rasmussen is a practicing attorney and director of The Francis Schaeffer Center.