The wondrous heavens have had an important place in the thoughts of every human being from the most ancient of our predecessors to the present day. The vastness of the heavens, the seemingly constant relationships between the heavenly bodies and the regularity of their orbits in relation to the earth, have always suggested a permanence that is not manifest in daily life on earth. Every ancient culture pondered how the universe came into being and whether it would ever end, developing a distinctive cosmology to satisfy its yearning for a knowledge of the past and security in the future. Cosmology is the most ancient of the speculative arts and the foundation on which nearly all of the ancient religions were established. Nowadays astronomy and the whole spectrum of physical sciences have combined in the study of cosmology, which has become a distinguished speculative science that should be of particular interest to speculative freemasons who are enjoined to make a special study of the liberal arts and sciences. Although cosmology is now based on science, it must continue to probe the same questions that were posed by our primeval ancestors concerning the origin and ultimate destiny of the universe and therefore its findings impinge on science, philosophy and religion alike. Alan Lightman gives a lucid and interesting explanation of cosmology in Ancient Light, aptly subtitled Our Changing View of the Universe.
One of the most important cosmological theories is that the universe was created by what is commonly called the big bang. It is a logical outcome of the theory of gravity developed by Albert Einstein (1879-1955), called the theory of relativity, on which his cosmological equations are based. In essence the big bang model assumes that before the primeval explosion all matter was concentrated at a point under infinite pressure and temperature, a singularity. Since the big bang all matter has been expanding, thinning out and cooling. A refined form of the theory, referred to as the inflationary universe model, appears to reflect the observed results more accurately over the total spectrum of evolution. This model postulates that initially the expansion rate was explosive and took place during a minuscule period defined by the Planck time discussed later, then slowed down to the rate of the standard big bang model. Whichever model of the big bang is assumed, a significant outcome of the evolutionary process is that the material of the universe should be uniformly distributed throughout space. This has been found to be true on the grand scale, although there are many clusters of galaxies dispersed randomly through the vast regions of space. An important discovery that affects the interpretation of this model is that at least 90 percent the material dispersed throughout the universe emits no light and is called dark matter. Only gravitational effects reveal the presence of this invisible mass, but its physical structure and its behavior under the forces of nature especially at the subatomic level, which is the realm of quantum mechanics, are not yet known. A classical example of dark matter is the black hole that observations indicate is near the centre of the Milky Way.
The big bang theory is supported by several facts that have been determined by observation. The first, which establishes a fundamental element in the theory, is that the universe is expanding and that all observable galaxies are moving away from each other at a velocity that is increasing at the rate of 32 kilometers per second per million light years, called Hubble's Law. Observations completed early in 2002 indicate that the rate of expansion of the universe is accelerating and that some time in the distant future the rate of expansion will exceed the velocity of light. The application of Hubble's Law indicates that all matter in space would have begun to move outwards from a central point about 15,000 million years ago. Cosmic background radiation is a pervasive shower of microwave radiations with wavelengths of 3.2 centimeters, the wavelengths of radio waves traveling in an ambient temperature of -2701C, only 3 degrees above absolute zero. This radiation will be discussed later. However, the fact that it is virtually constant and reaches the earth uniformly from every direction supports the big bang theory. It has been determined from the radioactive disintegration of uranium ore that the age of the earth is about 4,500 million years, which is consistent with its evolution according to the big bang model. Finally, the overall chemical composition of the universe is about 25 percent helium and 75 percent hydrogen, which conform to the predicted outcome of the initial atomic processes of the big bang.
THE FORCES OF NATURE
In their order of strength, the four fundamental forces of nature are the strong nuclear force that holds protons and neutrons together, the electromagnetic force from which electricity and magnetism arise, the weak nuclear force that produces certain kinds of radioactivity and weakest which is the gravitational force. Entropy is an important factor affecting the conditions under which all things exist, whether as an entity or as part of a system. Entropy is a measure of the degree of disorder that exists in a physical system. One of the laws of physics called the second law of thermodynamics, which has been proven unequivocally by observation, is that the entropy of any physical system increases with time, so that inevitably the transition that takes place in any physical system is from order towards chaos. This is clearly illustrated in the natural world by the development of deserts under the forces of erosion. The interaction of the fundamental forces of nature plays a crucial part in the development of disorder in the cosmos. There are many fundamental constants in nature, but several are vitally important in any consideration of cosmology and the behavior of matter.
First constant is the velocity of light, which is approximately 300,000 kilometers per second through space. Another constant is the mass of an electron, the stable negatively charged basic particle of electricity that is a constituent of all atoms. The electron has a mass of about 10-27 grams and carries an electrical charge of 1.602192 x 10-19 coulomb, where a coulomb is the quantity of electricity conveyed by a current of one ampere in one second. Yet another is the gravitational constant, which is a measure of the strength of the gravitational force. A body falling freely under gravity, in a vacuum at the surface of the earth, accelerates 9.806 meters per second per second. At the beginning of the big bang all of the processes would have been controlled by quantum mechanical effects, when Planck's constant was of the greatest importance. This constant of nature is the energy of one quantum of electromagnetic radiation, which is the smallest possible parcel of energy that can exist, divided by the frequency of its radiation. Planck's constant has a value of 6.626196 x 10-34 joule seconds, where a joule is the amount of work done in one second by a current of one ampere with a potential difference of one volt.
When Planck's constant is combined with the gravitational constant and the speed of light, Planck units are obtained, which are used to define the critical densities and times during the big bang process. Initially quantum mechanical effects controlled the structure of space and time, when both quantum mechanics and gravity were extremely important. When the universe was about 10 second old the density of matter was about 10 grams per cubic centimeter. These are the values of the Planck time and Planck density respectively. The temperature was then about 10 degrees centigrade and the mean energy of a particle was about 10 grams, which is the Planck mass. The temperature had fallen to about 10 degrees centigrade by the end of the first second, when the universe was a superheated gas of subatomic particles at a density of about 10 grams per cubic centimeter. During the early stages of evolution, the densely packed particles filled the expanding space uniformly and collided constantly, thus producing intense radiation. These collisions continued for about 300,000 years, when electrons and atomic nuclei began to combine and form atoms. Ever since then the radiation has been traveling through space and it is now detected as cosmic background radiation, in the form of radio waves that are isotropic, having the same intensity from all directions. The Cosmic Background Explorer was launched near the end of 1989 and has made the most precise measurements of the cosmic background radiation yet available. The values obtained correlate closely with those predicted using either big bang model, which proves that the young universe must have been very homogeneous. At present the cosmic temperature as measured is about -2701C, or 3 degrees above absolute zero, consistent with the required ambient temperature for the observed cosmic background radiation. It is estimated that the galaxies would have begun forming about 30 million years after the big bang, when the density of the universe had reduced to about 10 grams per cubic centimeter and the temperature had fallen to about freezing point, almost 2701C warmer than it is in outer space now.
Huge volumes of space have been examined by telescope and the present average density of the universe has been assessed by estimating the amount of mass in those volumes, taking into account the dark matter as determined on the basis of the observed gravitational effects. Although it is difficult to allow for the clusters of galaxies and dark matter that disturb the uniform distribution of matter through the universe and there are uncertainties in measuring cosmic distances, these studies indicate that the density of the universe is about 10 grams per cubic centimeter, about one tenth of the critical mass density that would ultimately bring the outward expansion of the universe to a halt. The ratio that the density of the universe has to the critical mass density is called omega, which is a measure of whether the universe is open, closed or flat. Even if very large errors were made when assessing the present mass of the universe, it seems unlikely that the density of the universe would reach the critical mass density of 10 grams per cubic centimeter, as determined on the basis of the current rate of expansion of the universe. Therefore omega probably is less than the critical value of one, so that the universe almost certainly is open. It is of interest to know that the inflationary universe model predicts that over infinite time omega should approach one, which is the value for a flat universe, after which there would be no further expansion, although the effects of entropy would not allow conditions to remain static. An open universe can be expected to continue expanding and growing colder for an indefinite period, which ultimately will result in the death of the cosmos.
LIFE IN THE COSMOS
Life in the present context means life in the animal kingdom and its associated micro-organisms, as distinct from plant life. Whether plants and the myriad of apparently inert materials that make up the universe are or are not some form of life is not relevant to the present discussion, even though people through all ages have attributed spirits to them. The constituent elements of which animal life is composed are well known to scientists, who can work miracles when repairing injuries, producing cures for ailments and cloning animal parts. However, no one has been able to introduce the breath of life into an appropriate collection of elements and thereby create a living biological organism. We are concerned with the breath of life, or "the spirit that shall return unto God who gave it" that the preacher refers to in Ecclesiastes 12:7, which typifies human life in the cosmos. Although the earth is about 4,500 million years old, the tenure of human life on earth has been very brief in comparison. Prochloron cells are the oldest known living things from about 3,500 million years ago. Primitive marine life began almost 600 million years ago, then primitive plant life and vertebrate fish from about 400 million years ago. Although plants, insects, dinosaurs, marine reptiles, birds and primitive mammals flourished from about 200 million years ago, the earliest primates did not appear until about 60 million years ago. Although the earliest primitive anthropoids have lived from about 35 million years ago, the oldest known fossils of Homo sapiens are little more than 100,000 years old.
The observed time scale of evolution and the specific environmental factors associated with the appearance of human life have led some eminent physicists and cosmologists to consider what initial cosmological conditions must prevail to permit the creation of life. A theory called the anthropic principle has been developed during the last sixty years and advanced in two forms. The weak form says that life can only arise and exist during a certain epoch of our universe, whereas the strong form says that a special configuration of universe is required for life to arise and exist in any epoch. The elements of the theory were put forward in general form by Paul Dirac (1902-1984), an English mathematical physicist whose work on quantum mechanics led to a complete mathematical formulation of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Paul Dirac pointed out that when certain fundamental constants of nature are multiplied and divided in an appropriate way they equal the present age of the universe, which he considered too unlikely to be a chance occurrence. Robert Dicke, an American physicist, modified the anthropic principle to what is called the weak form, which was further modified by, Brandon Carter, an English astrophysicist who established the strong form. The anthropic argument contravenes the long accepted rule of ontological economy that "entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity," established by William of Ockham (1286-1349), an English philosopher and theologian. Notwithstanding Paul Dirac's belief that his combination of certain fundamental constants of nature did not equal the age of the universe by chance, there must inevitably be inherent deficiencies in an argument based solely on a hypothetical mathematical arrangement of several numbers, whatever those numbers may be. Nevertheless the environmental parameters required for the existence of life obviously are very restricted.
THE PURPOSE OF HUMAN LIFE
The purpose of human life is a subject that has been debated intensely throughout recorded history and probably long before. Any consideration of the purpose of life must necessarily have regard to the purpose of the universe, which in turn is related to the concept of God and the creation process itself. A tenet of most ancient and modern religions alike is a belief that the universe has a purpose, which is known to God who is regarded as the creator, even if that purpose is beyond human comprehension. This belief is recorded in the scriptures of all religions and has been enunciated and developed repeatedly by philosophers and theologians at least from as early as the fourth century BCE. The ancient vision of God in human form should not cloud our present thinking, because the actual form of God is not relevant to the concept. Nor is there any special relevance in the concept of God as a separate all-knowing, all-powerful being that has neither beginning nor end in time, who created the universe as a separate entity. As it is not conceivable that matter could exist without either space or time, which are not separable entities but function as a composite space-time union, it seems reasonable to assume that both matter and space-time could have come into existence concurrently. It has been proposed by some philosophers that matter could have come into existence out of nothing and of its own volition at the beginning of the big bang, but no evidence has been produced to suggest how this could possibly occur. If such an origin could have taken place, it would have been no less a miracle than the creation of the universe by a God already in existence and would necessarily imply the pre-existence of some force or power that is beyond human comprehension.
Whether the creative force or power that was responsible for the genesis of the universe came into existence at the time of the big bang, or had already been in existence, is not relevant to whether it can be regarded as God. Indeed, the concept that God is the motive force or power that underlies the existence and evolution of the cosmos and of life within it, whereby God is an integral and living part of the cosmos itself, seems completely logical and has not been refuted by the discoveries of science. That concept is not inherently incompatible with any of the beliefs on which the major religions of the world are founded, nor is it inconsistent with the ancient animistic beliefs. If God is not outside the universe, but is the underlying force of and within it, we no longer need to search for the purpose of human life because the very existence of God is the reason for life, in which the souls or spirits of human individuals are a part of that force which is God. In several of his books Paul Davies gives illuminating accounts of important physical aspects of cosmology and related considerations, such as the place of God in the creation and the purpose of human life. Two of his books are of special interest, entitled God and the New Physics and The Mind of God that is sub-titled Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning.
Consciousness is an inherent and fundamental element of reality in the universe. If God is the motivating force and the foundation of all existence within the universe, then consciousness could be regarded as a vital component of the mind of God. The proposition that the purpose of human life is as an extension of the mind of God is illustrated by one of the fundamental differences between humans and all other animals. That difference is the ability of the human brain to differentiate between measurable qualities and the primary qualities of existence that are all sensual. No other animal can do this. The human brain has achieved the greatest of all physical developments that have been observed in animal life, even though the period of evolution during which it has taken place is extremely brief on the cosmic scale. The human brain is still developing, but it already is considerably more complex than any other object in the known universe. This development of the human brain is the primary reason why humanity has survived on earth and has ascended to the paramount position it occupies. However there is a disadvantage to this survival instinct.
In common with all of life's self support systems, the rational function of the brain was created to serve as a filter element. In the course of their evolution, humans have become so self-centered that they now regard the human brain as the source of the vital sensual element of reality, which is erroneous. In fact the converse is true, because it is the sensual element of reality that provides the vital input that activates the brain. We know that mortal death is our ultimate destiny on earth, but in faith we believe that death provides the transition to life eternal. It has been shown conclusively in all reported aspects of the Near Death Experience that one aspect cannot be attributed either to the recalling of memory held images or to hallucinations. Statements by survivors of the Near Death Experience, whose brains have been observed clinically to have ceased to function, invariably reveal that at the time of the experience their sensual awareness has been magnified and cognition greatly enhanced. This supports the concept that God is the inherent force in the universe and that the human soul or spirit is a part of the force that is God. David Darling gives a compelling explanation of these phenomena and other relevant aspects related to the survival of consciousness after death in his book Soul Search, appropriately sub-titled A Scientist Explores the Afterlife.
THE END OF THE COSMOS
As human existence ends in mortal death, so also is the universe destined to decay away as its constituent matter becomes progressively more disordered and ultimately subsides into utter chaos. On the cosmic scale, stars gradually use up all of the available nuclear fuel. Their denser cores shrink more and more as they endeavor to sustain energy production, while their lighter mantles swell up and form huge red giants which often engulf all of the nearer planets and other heavenly bodies within their system, stripping away their atmospheres and melting or vaporizing their solid materials. When all of the hydrogen in the star has been burnt quantum effects take over, after which helium and the progressively heavier elements are burnt with a steadily decreasing efficiency. While these events are taking place the core temperature of the star increases inexorably until all of the fuel has been burnt, when quantum effects cease and the internal pressure falters. When the internal pressure falters gravity takes command and the star collapses under its own weight, while the core density increases enormously. The shrunken burnt out star continues to cool for billions of years and ultimately becomes a black dwarf star. The demise of most stars takes place in this fashion, but some will implode catastrophically as supernovae, releasing tremendous energy and temporarily attaining a brightness of one hundred million suns or more. Their remnants sometimes become neutron stars.
Other much heavier dead stars may continue to shrink at an escalating rate until they become black holes. As the dead stars continue to mill around within their galaxies, their orbits decay and become erratic. This is the final stage when collisions become frequent and the black holes progressively enlarge as they swallow up all of the material. Finally, after about 10 years the remaining debris in the galaxy will become unstable and evaporate away. Ultimately all galaxies will suffer a similar death and the cosmos will cease to exist in its present form. The sun at the centre of our solar system will follow a similar course to all other stars. Because the sun is only a small star, its fuel is estimated to be sufficient for not more than another four or five billion years, which is about as long again as the solar system has been in existence.
With regard to human life, the earth may become uninhabitable long before the sun's fuel is exhausted, because of the delicate balance of our climate. For example, only a marginal reduction in the sun's temperature could induce another ice age, but a similar increase in its temperature could overheat the earth's surface. Our climate can also be seriously affected by minor changes in either the earth's orbit or the inclination of its axis, by a high level dispersion of dust from volcanoes and impacting asteroids and meteorites, by changes in the ozone layer and by tectonic plate movements. Clark R Chapman, an eminent planetologist and David Morrison, previously Chairman of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, discuss all these factors very lucidly in Cosmic Catastrophes.
Events such as these have already occurred many times and several of them have had a dramatic effect on the earth in the recent past. Some typical examples are the bombardment of the earth by comets between 13,000 and 12,000 years ago, which initiated the retreat of the glaciers. This was followed by a further bombardment between 11,000 and 10,000 years ago, which ended the last great ice age and caused a rise of about 200 meters in the level of the oceans, which submerged most of the present continental shelves and caused worldwide floods. Scientists studying the sudden demise of many widely dispersed civilizations, during the period 2500 BCE to 2000 BCE, have discovered that all of the affected civilizations suffered sudden and dramatic changes in climate. Parallel research has found that at least eight different impact craters around the world were formed within a century of 2350 BCE, while studies of tree rings confirm widespread ecological catastrophes at the same time. Scientists who have made detailed studies of temperature records have found evidence of rapid climate changes and consequential chaos and disruption that lasted for several decades as recently as about 1000 BCE and 500 CE.
A well-known recent impact with earth was the Tunguska Event, which on 30 June 1908 fortuitously occurred in an uninhabited area of the Siberian plains. It was an aerial explosion of a fragment of a comet only about 70 meters across and traveling at about 100,000 kilometers per hour. Although the explosion is estimated to have taken place at an elevation of about 6 kilometers in the atmosphere, it flattened about 2,000 square kilometers of forest, incinerating about 1,000 square kilometers at the centre and igniting the clothing of people as far away as 500 kilometers. Sufficient dust was thrown into the atmosphere to block out the sunlight and to reduce the temperature measurably for several years. Most of us have seen on television the impact of several fragments of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 when it struck Jupiter during July 1994. One fragment a little more than 4 kilometers across was traveling at about 60 kilometers per second and is estimated to have had energy on impact equal to 100,000 million tons of TNT, which would have destroyed all life on earth if the comet had collided with the earth instead of Jupiter. By contrast the energy of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 was only equal to 13,000 tons of TNT.
A major danger to earth is the Taurid stream, of which the comet Encke is the most visible object and passes near to us in June and November each year. In June 1178 a fragment of the comet, estimated to have been be about 2 kilometers across, struck the moon with sufficient impact to have destroyed humanity had it struck the earth instead. It created the Giordano Bruno crater now visible on the moon, with a radius of 13 kilometers. Scientists consider that the impact forming the Giordano Bruno crater caused the 15 meters oscillation of the moon's surface now taking place about its polar axis on a three yearly cycle. During June 1975 the moon was again struck by a sustained barrage of ton sized boulders, which also would have destroyed our civilization had they struck the earth. In each of these events the cosmic bodies passed so close to the earth that it might have been struck instead of the moon. Nevertheless those impacts were minuscule when compared with the many impacts that have laid waste to Mars. Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval and John Grigsby give an interesting and highly informative account of the bombardment of Mars in their book entitled The Mars Mystery and sub-titled A Tale of the End of Two Worlds. They indicate the short-term possibility and long-term probability of similar impacts on earth.
The fact that objects from outer space could impact the earth catastrophically at any time and without warning brings human destiny and the purpose of human life sharply into focus. There might be some individuals who would regard the possibility of a cataclysmic end to the earth as proof that God does not exist. Such a conclusion cannot be sustained logically when taking into account the manner in which the universe has evolved, the formation of the solar system and the evolution of human life on earth. When considering the superiority of human intelligence over that of other animal life and the relationship that we believe exists between the human spirit and the spirit of God, the view could be advanced that one of the purposes of human life is to determine and overcome the problems associated with apocalyptic events like those described. The possibility of a cataclysmic end to civilization highlights the fallacies inherent in medieval teachings concerning heaven, purgatory and hell, introduced by the Church of Rome as a forceful mechanism of coercion to maintain strict ecclesiastical control over the population. Those medieval teachings are in stark contrast with the ancient views expressed by the preacher in Ecclesiastes 12:7, who said that on mortal death "the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
It might be suggested that because the earth has been spared the cataclysmic bombardments, which have decimated the other planets in our solar system and rendered them uninhabitable by humans, the earth will continue to be spared. Knowing the extreme desolation that has been inflicted on our two nearest neighbors, the moon and the planet Mars, it would seem to be a forlorn hope for the earth never again to be struck by an extra-terrestrial object with sufficient force to cause life-threatening damage. In any event the life span of our solar system can only be a very small fraction of the life of the universe as a whole, so that human life under the present circumstances must cease long before the end of the universe. Whatever the Creator's grand plan might be, the event that ultimately brings humanity to an end on earth must be relatively unimportant, because we believe that the spirits of all human beings who obey the laws of God and are faithful to their trust are destined to reunite with the spirit of the Creator, which is the Mind of God. This belief that we cherish is supported by the statement in Genesis 1:27 that "God created man in his own image" and by the scriptures of all major religions. This concept puts into its proper perspective the important message conveyed by the story of the brutal and untimely death of the chief architect of the temple, which is dramatically portrayed in the third degree. It also highlights the immorality and utter impotence of all those who have perpetrated barbaric depravities upon sections of the world's population when trying to subjugate the liberty and free thought of the people.
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