Weakminded Theologian’s Comparison
Comparing and Analyzing texts by Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and ultimately comparing their views to the Bible…

Sterling Franklin


"Where did the universe come from, and where is it going?" Stephen Hawking as well as Carl Sagan propose possible answers to the debated issue of the origin of the universe, as well as our ability as humans to grasp the full answer. Sagan wishes to leave some questions unanswered, preferring a studious potential, while an optimistic and curious Stephen Hawking sees possible answers to spiritual questions from "fantastic new technologies." As a "weakminded theologian" in the view of Carl Sagan, I rather side with the Amish on this issue in that we do not need new technology to find the answers to many of these mind-bogglers. Our minds, spirits, and the Bible are three powerful tools that some have yet to utilize, or even try to utilize, in tandem. Though new theories are birthed every day, many flop within a day, others flop within a week, and the rest may die out soon after inception. Can we know the universe? Sagan and Hawking try to tackle this question and many others about our vast expanse of a universe, yet come up seemingly short in their reasoning, leading some readers to confusion. The origin of the universe and capacity of human brilliance are explained all in a fat book, but in no ordinary book. Meditating on and following the words of this book lead to wisdom and prosperity in life (Joshua 1:8). The Bible tackles concerns that Hawking and Sagan attempt to tackle, and without the state of confusion in which these two ‘brilliant’ minds leave their readers.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). In Hawking’s article "Our Picture of the Universe," the big bang theory is explained as contradictory to "all the laws of science" and that all possibility of predicting the future by a theory would be impossible. Hawking keeps cautious in advocating the Big Bang theory because of extreme differences between it and any other theory. Hawking does notice that the universe is expanding, yet merits the big bang theory as a possible explanation for that expansion. Hawking seems to take it as a challenge to God’s omnipotence by stating that God likely created the universe at a single point in time. However, the creation account from Genesis states the single instance and week of creation, ending with the day of rest. The Hebrew word for ‘day’ in this passage is [Mem][Waw w/ Holem][Yod] (transliterated 'yom’), and when incorporated with the terms ‘night’ and ‘day,’ as in this Genesis account, the days refer to literal 24-hour days. This single point (or week) in general history is when the universe as we know it was created. Specifically, on the fourth day "God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also" (Genesis 1:14). Hawking does realize (to us) the uselessness of the concept of time before the creation of the universe, yet he does not go far enough to state a general definition of ‘time’ but instead puts a side comment in parentheses saying "whatever [time] may be." Yes, man may measure time in hours and minutes and seconds, but more simply, time is the progression of events. "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). God spoke the world into existence – nobody turned on a light switch when God said ‘let there be light,’ but light appeared at God’s command. The skies show God’s glory and handiwork (Psalm 19:1). No finite being is capable of creating such a fine accommodation as the earth, needless to say, the universe. Both Hawking and Sagan note that the universe is created in great order. Sagan even focuses on the spherical planets and their lovely symmetry. We have a logical and orderly God, not to mention extremely intelligent. "It is the LORD who provides the sun to light the day and the moon and stars to light the night. It is he who stirs the sea into roaring waves. His name is the LORD Almighty" (Jeremiah 31:35, NLT). Continuing on in the next verse, God says that He is as likely to reject His people as He is "to do away with the laws of nature!" (Jeremiah 31:36, NLT). The human body is a wondrous invention, and King David noted: "I will give thanks to [God] because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made" (Psalm 139:14, GWT). A human’s lungs have so many capillaries that, if stretched end-to-end, they could stretch from Florida to New York. All these capillaries are within micrometers of each other, making that figure even more shockingly amazing! The God who creates individuals also created the place where they can stay and explore (Genesis 1:1).

"Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes" (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Though I do not condone the utter stiffness of the church at the time of Copernicus’ discoveries, the Bible does need to back up science since God and true Science ‘click.’ Hawking and Sagan seem to disregard the possibility of God creating the universe the Biblical way in their assumptions of truths in man-made theories, although these theories are proving to be wrong day-by-day, only being modified slightly to accommodate a counterexample’s findings. Hawking points out that even when evidence comes to support a theory, truth cannot be derived from it until every possible situation has proven to follow the guidelines. Oftentimes, evidence comes as a counterexample to the theory, and the theory is modified to accommodate the new finding. Hawking also mentions the progress of the theory of the solar system’s structure. Most thought that the earth was the center of the universe, but that changed later on. Circular orbits were proven wrong as elliptical orbits proved to be more accurate. Aristotle, Kepler, and Copernicus all played parts in this theory game, but there are still flaws today in our observations, however minuscule they may be. We can’t estimate Pi fully, but only make progress to estimate it to more digits. The task at hand is to figure out infinity, and trying to do so will only blow a human’s mind. 

As noted earlier, both scientists notice the order in the universe. Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes are shown through the things He has created, even His eternal power and divinity, and men all over the earth are without excuse of seeing these qualities (see Romans 1:20). Again, the human body is a great example of the dexterity of God. Sagan describes the ultimate goal of science as coming up with a theory that explains not only the past and present, but also the future. Included in this theory would be future human generations. Sagan obviously wanted a copy of God’s plan, which fits that definition of science’s ultimate goal. How can we as humans determine every minute detail in our universe? Even thinking about the possibility is exhausting to the mind! Writing about every detail in history would not only be unrealistic, but without time possibility. Writing takes longer than life, and if we are to predict the future’s smallest detail through a theory, we must first write beyond the present, which would be impossible if we wrote about every breath and blink that happened on a given day. With God, nothing is impossible, and we are limited beings – the Psalmist states that God knows our frame is dust (Philippians 4:13; Psalm 103:14). God is capable of such a plan, but we are not. Man-made theories are often fallible in that every small defect cannot be explained perfectly. So many factors and chemicals are in the earth’s biosphere that even exposure to air can alter a paper’s color. Unsurprisingly, to mankind, the world is full of surprises and will only be truly experienced in the now. Nobody can determine whether they will live another day or not, and life is sometimes shorter than we might expect (James 4:14-15). A theory fulfilling Sagan’s requirements would be astounding and simply, a miracle!

The human mind is a powerful thing, but Hawking and Sagan raise the question, "How powerful is the mind in reality?" Can we know the entire universe, or can we only know part? Sagan gives an example of a grain of salt. There are 10^16 atoms of sodium and chlorine in a single grain of salt. If we know everything about each atom, we would use up all our neurons in our brain and the dendrites which connect with the neurons, allowing a possibility of knowing up to 10^14 pieces of information. Although a highly speculative example, the question arises: can one hundred people know the universe? Maybe one thousand? Extending Sagan’s counterexample to human omniscience, how many people would it take to know fully every grain inside an 8-ounce salt shaker? The average weight of a grain of salt is 0.10mg or 0.00010g. Since 8 ounces is half a pound and there are 454 grams in one pound, each salt shaker contains 227 grams of salt grains. Using this calculation, there would be an average of 2.27 million salt grains in a container of Morton’s salt. If 100 people can know everything about one grain, that would mean that 227 million people together could know everything about each particle in a Morton’s salt shaker. 6 billion people inhabit the earth currently, so in a united effort, we as the world could figure out about 26 average Morton’s salt shakers. Though slightly extreme in example, Sagan proves the fine point about how limited we are as humans. In his essay, Sagan points out that there are over 10^80 basic particles that compose the universe, and "To understand such a universe, we would need a brain as massive as the universe." To understand the universe, we would have to first be God. For example, to make biscuits from scratch, you first need to create the universe. The components that make up the biscuits are also created elements, intertwined molecularly and ironically to form the tasty batch of dough. Though we do not care much about each individual salt grain due to very minute differences, we cannot grasp infinite elements in our mind as human beings. Hawking points out that the universe is expanding. Max Tegmark, a physicist from the University of Pennsylvania, also adds to our brain dilemma by stating out that the last ten years of science findings seem to show that the universe is infinite in all directions. The whole concept of ‘infinity’ is not a number, but a continuation. Carl Sagan defines the observable universe as "a million million million million" miles. If one human traveled at the speed of light, disregarding the fact that the human would be crushed to death, it would take over 3 quadrillion years to reach the limit of the observable universe to us on earth, likely only reaching a new place to observe from with infinity miles ahead to traverse. The term ‘infinity’ can be synonymous with ‘ungraspable’ since everything on earth seems to have a defined limit within the capsule of the atmosphere. God is an infinite being, and we will never fully understand His infinite majesty.

Sagan believes that heaven will be boring and that we will know everything. Heaven will be a place where God shows us more and more of His Glory as time goes along. Like the angels, we will remain as finite beings. Sagan is correct when he states at the end of his essay, "The ideal universe for us is one very much like the universe we inhabit. And I would guess that this is not really much of a coincidence." King David points out in the Psalms that God knows the secrets of every man’s heart (see Psalm 44:21). As humans, we look on the outside appearance (see 1 Samuel 16:7). For example, we see visual cues which correspond with previous knowledge. If a friend has tight face muscles and a scowl, we can derive from the expression that the friend is experiencing either pain or anger. People often discuss their true feelings, but some lines of work focus on acting or lying about their true emotions to manipulate someone or some situation. Lawyers are often in the field of lying to get the payment, no matter what endangerment the society receives in effect of the judge’s verdict. Justice in America is not pure like God’s justice on all men (see Romans 2:1-11). How can we as humans expect to handle everything about the universe perfectly when we can’t correctly decide who stole Johnny’s lollipop? 

Both men see order in the universe, but don’t attribute the order to much of anything but possible coincidence. Both men see a society searching for answers – answers to their existence and life issues that something only greater than science can solve. In God’s Words, "You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). Answers lie just around the corner, and the order of God is evident through not only nature, but through the Bible – the fully-inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 4:12). In the words of St. Augustine, the theologian who Stephen Hawking so avidly quoted in his essay, "there is a God-shaped hole in the human spirit. It is a vacuum that must be filled...by something." Whatever fills that gap is often our main focus in life. For Hawking, new technologies and excitement about theories may be in that position. In Sagan’s case, blind search of knowledge may have been his center focus. Though "weakminded," the theologian is confident about how the universe was created, as proven through not only faith, but through tangible created objects by God Himself. The Apostle Paul warns Timothy in his epistle to avoid "oppositions of science falsely so called" (1 Timothy 6:20). Any ‘science’ that denies God is a pseudoscience.

- Sterling Franklin (4.7.2002)
Turned in to ENG 113 class, NC State University



Study Date: Apr 7, 2002 14:51 PDT 

Category: Essay

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