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Response to rug (Original post)

Wed Aug 15, 2012, 08:53 PM

23. Atheists ask these hard questions every day ...

...but we now have some pretty good answers.

Despite the blogger's rant against atheism, I thought his paraphrases of St. Augustine's questions were interesting - they made Augustine seem like a pretty clever guy for his time. Admittedly, I don't carry a lot of Catholic or biblical baggage. I was raised by a devout Episcopalian Mother and the most significant point of Episcopalian theology that I remember from her is "Wherever 3 or 4 are gathered together, you will probably find a fifth". More seriously though, my Mother was religious in a way I deeply respect, was the first woman on the vestry of her church, and cared deeply about people.

Anyway, back to St Augustine's (paraphrased) questions and current answers...I think St Augie would be pleased to know:

• When did this creation happen in time? Did it happen in time? What is the origin point of creation?

The origin of the Universe and the space it occupies is the Big Bang, which happened 13.7 +/- .2 billion years ago (based on current understanding). As well as we understand ‘time’, it is reasonable to say the Big Bang happened in time although quantum mechanics tells us we can’t know, or at least measure, anything less than Planck time 10−43 seconds. Currently our best actual measurements are on the order of 3.7 × 10+26 Planck times, so Planck time is really, really brief.

• How was light made? Could light be made before heaven and earth?

By ‘light’ I expect Augustine meant ‘visible light’ which represents a small fraction of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation is energy quantized in particles we call photons, which are mass-less and have both wave and particle behaviors. Photons are part of model of the Big Bang that describes the universe after about 10−35 seconds. Clearly light was present before the Earth, Sun, or any other heavenly bodies were created. Do we know how photons appeared out of the quantum froth between Planck time 10−43 seconds and 10−35 seconds? No, but there are some speculations and hypotheses.


• Was it a light that can be perceived with the eyes, or was it a different kind of light? Was the light spiritual, corporal, or both? How can there be light without sun?

Early in the Big Bang the photons were at very high energy. I don’t know (and could not quickly find) at what point the universe would have cooled to the point where photons at the energy of ‘visible light’ were significant. The first stars were formed about 200 to 400 million years after the Big Bang.

• How long did it take? As long as it takes to utter the words of creation? Do we have to assume that God spoke really slowly in order to take a full 24-hour day to say “Let there be light?”

To me this question could have a couple of answers:
> The creation of the universe took zero time. All the energy was present at the beginning in an infinitesimally small space, which grew.
> Planck time (again 10−43 seconds) since quantum mechanics suggests smaller times are fundamentally undefined.
> The creation is still going on, 13.7 billion years later, as space expands, as stars die, as stars are formed, as galaxies merge, as black holes evaporate, and as the universe expands forever or contracts to an infinitesimally small space.

• What does it mean that “there was darkness over the abyss”? Is it merely an absence of light, or is it a spiritual absence?

For the first 380,000 years after the Big Bang the universe was opaque. The atoms produced by primordial nucleosynthesis still formed hot plasma. The unbounded electrons and to a lesser extent unbound protons scattered photons. This condition could be romantically characterized as “darkness over the abyss”. No comment on the spiritual abyss.

• How did God say “Let there be light”? He has no material form, and therefore cannot produce sounds. In any case, there was no language yet, for there were no humans in need of language, so what kind of words did he use?

A little flight of fancy here, but the cosmic background radiation is isotropic as measured throughout the universe and will be as the universe cools. Is this a whisper of “Let there be light” ?

• When the water was collected, where was it collected if it already covered the entire earth? Where did it go so that dry land could emerge?

Some geologist can undoubtedly discuss models of the early formation of seas and landforms on the nascent earth.

• How did God work and grow tired enough to need rest if He has no flesh?

Hey, everybody deserves a beer and a lawn chair after work. That’s where I’m going. Maybe I’ll take Bob Dylan and John Wesley Harding with me:

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive with fiery breath
And I dreamed I was amongst the ones
That put him out to death
Oh, I awoke in anger
So alone and terrified
I put my fingers against the glass
And bowed my head and cried

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