by L. Dan Massey
Scientific Symposium I 1988
Welcome to Nashville, Tennessee. As I contemplated the substance of my remarks to you today, I was struck by a certain irony. Sixty-three years ago, in 1925, in the town of Dayton, hardly a hundred and fifty miles from here, a young biology teacher named John Scopes was tried for and convicted of the crime of teaching the theory of evolution to his students. The statute under which John Scopes was convicted was upheld as constitutional on appeal to the state supreme court. Although the events of the trial occurred in Dayton, the political authority which enacted and enforced this law emanated from the state capital, Nashville.
The trial was the media sensation of its day. Some of the most famous legal, scientific, and theological authorities of the time used young Scopes' misfortune and Tennessee's tragedy as a ready-made soap-box from which to promote their own causes, both good and bad. Clarence Darrow led the defense. William Jennings Bryan led the prosecution. Public opinion about the issues of the trial would polarize around the differences of these two men.
Clarence Darrow was the most famous trial lawyer of his day. A staunch advocate of individual, minority, and labor rights, Darrow had gained fame for his impassioned and inspired defense of the most controversial criminal cases of the time. An outspoken agnostic, he seemed to represent above all the secular and intellectual position on the issues of the trial.
William Jennings Bryan was the most famous orator of the day. Three times the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, Bryan advocated many important populist causes. Though respected by a nation for his social leadership, the foundation of his intellectual, moral, and political position was a fundamentalist kind of Christianity, which espoused a literal reading of the Bible, and a belief that government should serve as an instrument of God in perfecting society. He came to represent the religious and authoritarian position on the issues of the trial.
Bryan was so confident of his righteousness, authority, and speaking abilities that he allowed himself to be called as an expert witness on the Bible, for the defense. Darrow's widely-reported examination of Bryan's fundamentalist beliefs was devastating and destroyed Bryan's credibility in the minds of all but the mindless. Scopes was nonetheless convicted and, two days later in Chattanooga, Bryan died suddenly, to many a martyr for his faith.
No event since the trial of Galileo had a stronger effect on the general perception of the separation between science and religion. The central issue of the Scopes trial, whether government could legislate the teaching of religious myths, was lost in the furor over whether science or religion was "right." Anyone suggesting a position allowing the two to be unified would be excoriated by both camps. In the public mind, religion became identified with irrational belief in a set of arbitrary myths, while science assumed the position of the supreme authority on reality. The rapid improvements in the quality of life brought about by the exploitation of scientific discoveries reinforced this view, while religion was largely remembered for its manifestations of extreme intolerance--the crusades, the inquisition, the witchcraft trials, prohibition, persecution of women, minorities, and intellectuals, and so on. The idea was firmly established that science and religion were irreconcilable.
Today, the secular scientific and rationalist community find it almost impossible to forgive religion, as they understand it, for inciting human society repeatedly to deny and to destroy the discoveries of human intellect which seem, to them, to be the highest products of humankind. The fundamentalist religious and theological community similarly finds it almost impossible to forgive science, as they understand it, for inciting human society repeatedly to deny and to destroy the myths and illusions which, to them, seem to support and justify the highest and noblest of human spiritual actions. As each group works to defend itself against the other, the middle ground is largely held by secular and spiritual pragmatists, who care relatively little for the facts and theories of either camp.
The Urantia Book enters the scene as the first and, so far, the only text fully to unify and harmonize the teachings and attitudes of science and religion through a new, revealed philosophy of reality which transcends the parochial concerns of either faction. By revealing the existence of the Seven Absolutes of Infinity, by revealing the existence of the four domains of finite reality, and by explaining how these realities combine in the human pursuits of science, philosophy, and religion, The Urantia Book forever eliminates any basis for contention about which viewpoint is "right."
At the same time, The Urantia Book provides much apparently factual information about the nature of physical reality, while warning its readers that its cosmological statements, while revealed, are definitely not inspired. (*1109:6-1110:1) We now understand that the Biblical creation myth is neither revealed nor inspired. Its descriptive details have been shown by the true discoveries of science to be either incorrect or unlikely to be true. The Urantia Book, through revelation, confirms this conclusion without confirming the scientific evidence upon which it is based. In fact, many of the factual statements which the book assembles to confirm this philosophical conclusion appear, on the surface at least, to conflict in some details with the very discoveries of science on which rational rejection of Biblical myth is based. Fortunately, the conflict is not so severe as to undermine either the rational or the revealed conclusion.
There is, however, a hazard in all this. We who are wholly convinced of the authenticity of The Urantia Book as a revelation strive unceasingly to understand and to live its teachings. In the arenas of mind and spirit the authorities of human philosophy and human religion are so weak and confused that we tend to accept our interpretation of the book uncritically. In the arena of fact, however, the cosmological revelations of the book may be objectively tested against scientific facts and theories. The apparent dissonances are so clear that we are tempted to seek reinterpretations of both science and revelation which bring them into harmony.
The Hebrew priests of the Babylonian captivity undertook a redaction of their racial myths of the creation, thus providing a uniform theory of origins which would come to support the supposed role of Deity in the establishment of the Jewish state. The result is contained in the Book of Genesis. The Urantia Book, by virtue of its claim to revelatory authority, and by virtue of the truth-content and power of its spiritual and philosophical teachings, tends to compel belief in its uninspired cosmology. Yet elements of that cosmology may seem to conflict with clearly observable facts of nature. How tempting will it someday become to "correct" these seeming inconsistencies by changing a word here, a phrase there?
By so doing we might remove the very parts of the text which, in ages to come, will provide a safeguard against the use of the book by the enemies of truth to crystallize and fossilize scientific thought. Already, at the time of the second printing in 1963, the publishers had modified the text to remove several blatant errors of fact. I do not criticize this specific action, which seems entirely justified in these cases. I believe, however, that such changes will always seem eminently reasonable when they are made, yet in sum and substance may come to undermine a plan for the future role of the book in human intellectual development which we can only dimly perceive at this time.
I am not, however, primarily concerned about how the text of the book shall be preserved. I am more interested in the spirit in which we approach the task before us today, the task of interpreting the text of the book and the facts of science in such a way as to bring the two into harmony.
For many years I have carefully examined the cosmological teachings of the book in an effort to determine how this could be done. Often, I found statements in the book which correlated directly with current scientific knowledge and/or belief. More often, I found the statements in the book to be couched in such metaphorical and poetic language as to allow no definite comparison to be made. Occasionally, I found statements in the book which flatly contradicted some of the so-called teachings of science. As I explored these areas more carefully, I discovered that the sharp conflicts were more often with the beliefs or theories of science than with the observed facts on which those beliefs were based. The book, therefore, seemed to offer some new ways of interpreting existing data and experience.
Where contradictions of fact appeared, I discovered that the so-called facts of science, while somewhat factual in nature, usually contained a great deal of theorizing about a rather limited or selective body of data, so that the possibility of misinterpretation was clear. In general, the theory had become accepted as fact simply because it had existed for a long time without being seriously questioned, because it offered the intuitive appeal of simplicity, or because the facts which would refute it had been ignored by the community of responsible scientific specialists for various reasons, including paucity, obscurity, and the human quest for personal advantage.
My most successful approach to interpreting The Urantia Book in these areas was to set aside my scientific preconceptions about the matter under discussion, to assume that the statements in the book must, in some sense, be actually correct, and to extrapolate from them as far as I felt confident (which was usually not very far). Only then would I examine the experimental facts and manipulate the accepted theories of science to try to achieve a match. Although this process often yielded interesting results, I eventually found some of the resulting interpretations unsatisfying, as though, through lack of evidence or lack of understanding, I had twisted one or the other source to achieve a similarity that was not entirely real. I thus came to feel that, except for the degree of dogmatism involved, there was little to distinguish my approach from that of the fanatical creationist who decides that, since he believes Genesis to be factual, God must then have created the fossil record by fiat in 4004 BC as a way of testing human faith.
It is a well-known truth of mathematical logic, little appreciated in other human endeavors, that, from a single false proposition, you can prove anything, no matter how absurd. At the literal level of fact, truth conforms to certain mechanistic processes which virtually guarantee the fallibility of logical conclusions. Rational acceptance of theories about material reality must be based on continual testing through experiment, a process called falsification. Scientific theories are logical myths, inevitably false to some degree, which explain the data available at any given moment, but which must constantly evolve to encompass emerging information.
In my own quest in the book I hoped, I freely admit, to discover new ways of interpreting old data which would lead to important testable predictions. I found that most such insights led rather to a better understanding of the book or of existing scientific theory. At other times, the predictions I could make lay so far beyond current human technology or so far outside my areas of personal expertise as to be useless. On the other hand, I did find many things which correlated with emerging scientific knowledge to a degree almost unthinkable in a text prepared in 1935. In the next few minutes I would like to explore some of these ideas.
My topic, "Physics and Astronomy," is incredibly broad. The Urantia Book is laden with facts from both domains. For this reason I have chosen to focus my discussion on a single unifying theme which, while far ranging, at least focuses our attention on a series of related ideas. This unifying theme is the phenomenon of physical light as portrayed in The Urantia Book. Light is one of the most fundamental phenomena studied in physics and astronomy. Its gross characteristics and its general interaction with material substances have long been described and modeled in great detail, yet there has remained a sense that certain fundamental properties were not adequately explained. Recently light phenomena have come under increased scrutiny by both physicists and astronomers. Their new ideas may lead to important new discoveries in line with certain suggestions of The Urantia Book.
From time to time in the development of scientific thought there arise moments at which a logical myth, a theory, is presented that so fully explains all known data, with such perfect clarity and simplicity, that it comes wholly to dominate subsequent scientific thinking for a very long time period. Of course, such critical events of successful scientific explanation are usually clear only in hindsight, as they come at the end of a lengthy period of novel experimentation, intellectual debate, and presentation of partial and premature solutions. Such events are technically called paradigm shifts, and popularly called scientific revolutions.
The scientific revolution best known to us occurred in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. During a remarkably short period of time a number of important things happened. Galileo invented the telescope, described the behavior of falling bodies, and discovered the moons of Jupiter. Tycho developed a precise observational astronomy and applied it to measure planetary motion, providing the first data of sufficient quality to support the heliocentric speculations of Copernicus. Drawing on this data and theory, Kepler developed a logically correct abstract description of planetary motion. These results, combined with the work of innumerable lesser- known workers, provided the experimental and interpretive foundation for the work of Isaac Newton. Newton's theory of gravitation, combined with his three laws of motion, and developed according to the principles of his differential calculus, once and for all seemed to be able to explain and describe the motions of heaven and earth. Although many extensions, improvements, and problems with Newtonian theory have arisen, particularly in this century, no comparably complete synthesis has yet been stated which embraces all the new evidence and details.
An equally important scientific revolution occurred in physics during the nineteenth century. As the basic correctness of Newton's theories came to be fully accepted, the attention of physicists turned to a new class of unexplained phenomena, which we now understand to be electrical in origin. First, the phenomena were studied in nature. Galvani observed biological effects we now know were produced by electric currents. Franklin studied atmospheric effects, such as lightning. The ability of certain materials to accept charges which generated repulsive and attractive forces had been known since antiquity. Scientists learned how to recreate these effects artificially and under controlled circumstances, permitting the study of situations which did not occur in nature, but which helped in understanding the effects. Standards of measurement were defined for such concepts as charge, current, and potential. These measures of physical quantities were related back to the older concepts of mass, force, and energy. Finally, Hertz discovered radio waves and demonstrated that these new energies could act at great distances through space, without any intervening mechanism. At nearly the same time James Clerk Maxwell presented his theory of electromagnetism, which unified all these diverse phenomena and observations into a simple set of relationships of great symmetry, simplicity, and beauty.
Many other activities were occurring in the physical sciences alongside these major advances. Work on the boundaries between physics and chemistry led to understanding the phenomena of heat and work, an understanding embraced in the science of thermodynamics, and which provided most of the power for the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. Other work led to the discovery of radioactivity and X rays.
Since the times of Galileo scientists had studied and tried to understand the phenomenon of light. The spectrum of light produced by a glass prism was early observed, as were the image forming capabilities of refractive lenses and reflecting mirrors, which led to the rise of observational astronomy through the creation of large telescopes. As the science of optics developed greater precision, it became possible to observe details of light spectra and of light images which revealed many unexpected features. Many types of light sources were found to produce light in which the spectrum displayed bright lines of differing colors. When highly magnified, the shadows of simple shapes were found to be built up from minute ripples of light and dark. These new observations were easiest to explain by the idea that light must travel through space as a wave, so that the wave phenomena of addition and cancellation could be invoked as explanation. Yet, many scientists contended other evidence indicated that light must actually consist of particles of energy travelling through space along straight lines.
When Hertz discovered and Maxwell explained the electromagnetic wave, it seemed that, at last, a complete description might be at hand for the wavelike behavior of light. When it subsequently proved impossible to unify Maxwell's beautiful theory with the equally replete theory of thermodynamics, it required a great leap of the imagination, and considerable strides in mathematics, before a solution could be found in the idea of the quantization of action. Let me explain.
When we think of the infinite, we tend to think of that which is large without limit, the unbounded in extent. When we think of the finite, we tend to think of that which has definite boundaries to its extent, no matter how great. But there is another, equally important property of the finite, which we can call granularity. In the finite world there is a limit to how small anything can be. The finite world is made up of a limited number of parts, for it is limited in extent and composed of parts that cannot be arbitrarily small. In infinity there is no limit to smallness. Any thing of limited extent can still be made up of an infinite number of infinitely small parts. If the parts were larger than infinitely small, the infinite thing would be of unlimited size and there would be no room for more than one in the universe!
Things which are infinitely small, while retaining their thingness, are said to be infinitesimal. In formulating his complete theory of mechanics, Newton had assumed that the universe he sought to describe was infinite; that is, that mathematical operations on infinitesimal quantities would be meaningful. This assumption, essential to the operations of the calculus, was good enough to support the development of physics for almost two centuries. Maxwell's electromagnetic theory, the theory of thermodynamics, and every other conception of physics was totally dependent on the infinitesimal assumption.
In most cases it made no difference that Newton had erred. In most cases errors of measurement and approximation blurred the fine details which would have disclosed the mistake. A few situations had emerged, however, in which this small difference in treating one aspect of reality would make a very big difference in what actually happened. From a philosophical viewpoint, if I combine two perfectly continuous, infinitesimally homogeneous things, the result will be equally smooth, a blend of the properties of the two things combined. On the other hand, if I combine two things, each with a very fine but very definite granular texture in such a way as to preserve the granular qualities of each, the result, while having the gross appearance of a blend, will also display an exaggerated granularity.
Max Planck proposed that the conflict between theory and observation would be resolved if one assumed that the physical property we call action, or angular momentum, were available in the universe in a smallest discrete unit, which he called a quantum. From the implications of this idea there have flowed innumerable important results in modern physics. By the second quarter of the twentieth century the notions of quantum theory, electrodynamics, thermodynamics, and special relativity had been combined into a synthesis called quantum electrodynamics, or QED for short. This theory, while not explaining many things, has been tested experimentally to the highest precision of all the theories of physics, and has never been found wanting.
The Urantia Book, in paper 42 especially, contains a number of statements about the nature and relationships of wave energy. We are repeatedly warned that the wave phenomena we observe are related to the reactions and responses of space energies unknown on Urantia and that the study of wave mechanics leads to "unending confusion." Here is surely an area ripe for understanding. There is no subject discussed in The Urantia Book of which mankind appears to have more complete knowledge. At the very least, any theory of reality based on teachings from the book must somehow be consonant with the results of QED, at least as far as they go.
In recent years the QED model of electrical phenomena has been successfully extended, though not so thoroughly tested, to include the phenomena of the atomic nucleus and of the interiors of sub-atomic particles, such as the proton and the neutron. The extended theory does not provide an explanation of the force of linear gravity and does not anticipate that the electron has an internal structure, as described in The Urantia Book. Circular or Paradise gravity, often mentioned in the book, is a phenomenon unrecognized by modern physics.
Let us examine one of the most specific statements about quantum effects and light in the book. On page 474, in the fourth paragraph, we read, "The quantity of energy taken in or given out when electronic or other positions are shifted is always a `quantum' or some multiple thereof, but the vibratory or wavelike behavior of such units of energy is wholly determined by the dimensions of the material structures concerned. Such wavelike energy ripples are 860 times the diameters of the ultimatons, electrons, atoms, or other units thus performing. The never-ending confusion attending the observation of the wave mechanics of quantum behavior is due to the superimposition of energy waves: Two crests can combine to make a double-height crest, while a crest and a trough may combine, thus producing mutual cancellation."
There is much to learn here. In the first sentence, the book states that the quantum of energy is something which is uniform in magnitude regardless of the frequency or wavelength at which the energy appears. Given our current scientific understanding, this can only be true if the term energy used in this part of the book refers to the physical property which physicists call action. Innumerable experiments confirm that, while many physical effects are quantized in specific circumstances, the only physical property which is quantized in uniform parts, regardless of the specific circumstance, is the property of action. Let us continue.
One of the earliest and best-known applications of quantum theory was to explain the stable shell-structure of electrons in atoms. In the formulas derived from experimental data to describe the structure of the spectrum of light emitted by an electrically excited gas the number 860 occurred frequently. Eventually, when Bohr proposed his model of the atom, the number 860 appeared as the result of balancing the electrical forces holding the electron in the atom against the mechanical forces tending to pull the electron free. The number was revealed to be hc/e2, where c is the velocity of light, e is the charge of the electron, and h is the result of multiplying Planck's quantum of action by two pi. It is easy to work through a number of simple relationships to show that this number is the ratio of the wavelength of the light emitted by an electron falling into an atomic orbit to the diameter of the orbit into which it falls. The exact ratio is known to be 861.023.
In real experiments one seldom observes light of this specific wavelength. The reason is that one seldom if ever can see the results of a single electron joining an atom. Observations of atomic spectra are made on the light emitted by very large numbers of atoms, which are not all equally excited. Physicists think of electrons as moving from one orbit to another of greater or lesser diameter, absorbing or emitting light of a specific frequency as they do. The wording of the paragraph in The Urantia Book seems to suggest that this may not be the actual process, since the wavelength of observed light attributed to these transitions is not simply related to the different electron orbit diameters. Rather, the book seems to suggest that we consider an electron to leave one orbit of one atom, absorbing a quantum of one wavelength, and, possibly much later, to enter a different orbit of a different atom, releasing a quantum of a different wavelength. If enough electrons, moving among a large enough group of atoms, are observed, all the different wavelengths will be present in the emitted light, and the interference of these waves of slightly different sizes will give rise to exactly the atomic spectra which we observe. Our failure to recognize this underlying process stems from our inability to observe the ionizing behavior of single electrons, and our inability to distinguish a single light beam of a longer wavelength from two interfering light beams of nearly equal, much shorter wavelength.
Recent advances in the study of light, using laser techniques, suggest that we may not always be so ignorant of these phenomena. The problem is uncovering the true relationship of the wave properties of light to its properties as a beam of particles. The Urantia Book is most specific on this point. Although light appears to propagate as waves, it in fact consists of a stream of definite particles. Apparently, the waves are created by the motion of the light particles through the content of space, and the waves thus generated can affect the motion of other light particles through space. Similar phenomena accompany the motion of masses, such as electrons, through space.
In the late nineteenth century, as Maxwell's theory of electromagnetic waves gained acceptance, physicists began to speculate on the existence and nature of something called the ether, which was supposed to be the medium through which the waves of light travelled, like ripples on a pond travel across the surface of the water. A major problem centered around the effect of the earth's movement through the ether. Since the earth rotates on its axis and revolves in its orbit around the sun, any point on the surface of the earth follows a very complicated path through space. Yet, careful measurements showed that light waves travelled across the earth's surface at a constant speed, regardless of the time or day or season of the year. Since it was inconceivable that a fundamental attribute of space, like the ether, continually adapted to the motion of the earth, it was eventually concluded that the ether, as then conceived, did not really exist.
The Urantia Book says that the idea of the ether is an ingenious attempt to unify human ignorance of the forces present in space which determine the behavior of light. All developments in modern physics have been worked out for a universe in which there is no detectable ether. The behavior of and interactions of light and matter are predicted by Einstein's special theory of relativity and by the logical extensions of quantum theory. Einstein's special theory of relativity describes the phenomena associated with observing a mechanical universe in which the speed of light is a constant for all observers. Its best known result is the prediction of the equivalence between mass and energy, which is popularly thought to have laid the foundations for atomic power.
Since the discovery of the laser, it has become possible to explore phenomena associated with light to a degree of precision never before possible. A laser, properly designed and operated, can produce a beam of light of extreme purity, that is, a beam of light in which all the wave motions remain in perfect step with each other over very large distances and long time periods. Such light is said to be coherent. Coherent laser light can be used to make extremely precise measurements of distances, times, and physical relationships. There are, however, limits on the accuracy of these measurements that are established by the quantum behavior of space itself.
Early in the development of quantum theory, physicists realized that one consequence of the theory would be that any finite volume of space could not be completely empty. A perfect vacuum might contain no matter, yet even the vacuum would have to be pervaded by a very weak form of energy, a minimum level of action. As theory and experiment developed, it became clear that this vacuum energy would be a source of noise in any experiment, which would set a final limit on the precision with which certain types of measurements could be made. The miniscule variations which are ever present in the latent energy of the vacuum are now called vacuum fluctuations. To a limited degree, physicists have learned to control these fluctuations. While the overall level of vacuum noise in an experiment cannot be reduced, it is possible to squeeze the noise out of one set of measurements, as long as a greatly increased level of vacuum noise can be tolerated in a related set of measurements.
The advent of experimental methods for manipulating the energies of the vacuum converts a theoretical possibility, vacuum energy, into an observable physical reality. This may mark the beginning of human technical development into a new domain of energy relationships, one of the several forms of energy said to be "unknown on Urantia" at the time of the revelation. After a lapse of many years following the overthrow of the ether theories, physicists are beginning to again understand that apparently empty space is, in fact, filled with forces and quantized energies that support and maintain the wave phenomena of light. It may now be possible to study and to understand the mysterious properties of a medium which supports wave motion, but which does so in a way totally different from the simple notions of a hundred years ago.
Such developments will be of enormous importance to astronomy. Astronomers are extremely limited in their ability to assemble data to test their theories and to conduct reliable experiments. For example, most of the theories of physics are developed from observations that can be made in the space of a kitchen table. A few require a small room. A very few involve larger apparatus. Similarly, the observations are normally complete in a period of less than an hour, usually a fraction of a second. While some important experiments involve measurements made over many years, both time and space limits of the laboratory eventually set a limit on the size of the domain over which a theory is known to be reasonably accurate.
Astronomers, on the other hand, work in a laboratory where phenomena may be as large and as old as the universe. Lacking any firmly established theories for this scale of reality, they work by assuming that the very accurate discoveries of physics, in the human-sized laboratory, can be applied to the universe as a whole. This process, called scaling-up, often works very well. In most cases, serious deviations of large-scale phenomena from the laws observed in small-scale phenomena would reveal themselves through unresolvable inconsistencies which would appear in alternative interpretations of the large-scale data.
Astronomers rely on light and other forms of wave-energy for essentially all their observations of reality on the cosmic scale of distance and time. Until this century it was assumed that these energies, to the extent they were known at all, had always travelled from their point of origin in direct, straight lines to the point at which they were observed. Gradually, evidence accumulated that this might not be the case. First, absorption of specific light energies by clouds of matter in interstellar space was observed. Later, Einstein formulated his general theory of relativity, which deals with the interactions between gravity, space, and time. Since all observations about light involved relationships of space and time, Einstein's theory predicted that light (and all other wave energies) would be affected in their travel through space by gravitation. These effects were first observed in light rays passing near the sun and, later, in the orbital motion of Mercury and in the behavior of radio waves reflected from the surface of the planet. The effects were confirmed on the local scale by extremely accurate measurements performed on the Earth's surface. More recently, attention has turned to gravitational lenses. These are believed to be extremely massive concentrations of matter which chance to lie along our line of sight, between Earth and a distant source of light. They cause the light from that source to be deflected in such a way that three or more images of the distant source are observed.
The Urantia Book confirms that light is affected in its passage through space by the effects of gravity. In addition, the book states that certain astronomical observations are unreliable because of the effect which unknown space energies and motions have on light. Many of these affected observations seem to relate to the big bang theory of the origin of the universe. Surely there is no single scientific theory which is more totally at variance with the information presented in the book.
The big bang theory is said, by its advocates, to be supported by the agreement of three remarkable findings. These are: the observed red shift of light from distant galaxies, the observed radioactivity of ancient rocks in the Earth's crust, and the observed spectrum of the wave energy which seems to fill the universe in all directions from Earth. The big bang theory ties these observations together in a logically consistent way which supports the idea that, at some time about twenty to forty billion years ago, all energy in the universe emerged instantaneously from a single point. On the surface, this is not a very reasonable sounding idea; however, the way in which it emerged in the community of astronomers probably has more to do with its present level of acceptance than the observations which support it.
When naturally occurring radioactivity was found in the rocks of the Earth's crust it was initially difficult to establish its exact nature and origin. Over many decades, thanks to the work of many chemists and physicists, and in no small part due to work on the atomic bomb, the tools were finally developed which allowed precise measurements of the amount of different types of radioactive atoms which contributed to natural radioactivity. Since each type of atom decayed radioactively at a different rate, and since some of the decay products would be trapped in rock, but would escape from a molten lava, the relative abundance of certain different types could be used to estimate how much time had passed since the most recent solidification of a particular rock. After many analyses, an estimate in the general range of five billion years came to be accepted as the age of the oldest rocks on the Earth's surface.
About the same time as serious work began on natural radioactivity, Edwin Hubble discovered that the bright lines of atomic light emission in the spectra of distant galaxies were consistently shifted towards the red from their position observed in experimental light sources in the laboratory. Stellar red and blue shifts were, at this time, being used to measure the relative motion of stars with respect to the Earth, a red shift corresponding to motion away from Earth and a blue shift corresponding to motion towards us. Hubble's data, interpreted in this way, indicated that all the visible objects in the universe, on a galactic scale, were rushing away from the Earth, with the rate of departure being roughly proportional to the estimated distance, at least for those objects close enough for their distance to be estimated. Extrapolating the motion of these objects back in time, it was easy to conclude that, at a time twenty to forty billion years in the past, all the visible matter in the universe must have been concentrated in a very small space.
The red shift observations led to much speculation about the possible origin of the universe in a primeval fireball. The fact that this universe age was roughly in line with the ages of rocks, which had been obtained by totally different methods, caused scientists to take the possibility of an explosive origin of the universe seriously. Finally, George Gamow interpreted the available data in terms of Einstein's general theory of relativity in such a way as to predict that, if the universe had so originated, all space must now be filled with wave energy remaining from that primordial event. He was able to describe the spectrum which such energy would exhibit under this view of universe origins. The theory became known as the big bang theory of universe origins. While this work provided a logical framework for the theory, there were alternative views held by other astrophysicists.
More than a decade after Gamow's prediction, a form of microwave radiation was detected, impinging on the Earth almost equally from all directions, with a spectrum somewhat like that which had been predicted. This discovery was interpreted as confirming the big bang theory. The importance of this evidence was greatly magnified by the fact that it confirmed a prediction which had been made in advance of its discovery. Had the microwave background radiation been known at the time of Gamow's formulation, it would have had much less psychological impact on acceptance of the theory. While I have explained the origins of this theory to emphasize the weakness of the logic which supports it, in fairness I should point out that the evidence for the big bang is as strong or stronger than that for many other astrophysical theories which are much less controversial.
How are we to understand the cosmology of The Urantia Book in the light of this information? We could say the book is wrong. This is a bit much to swallow, since there are so many parts of the text which would be affected. Naturally, then, we will seek to see what could be wrong with the big bang theory. Any reexamination must be based on how the actual observational data have been interpreted. The mathematics of the big bang are correct, given the assumptions on which the theory is based. The data pertaining to the age of the Earth is irrelevant to the examination, since it is in general agreement with the origin of the Earth as depicted in the book. In addition, the cosmic background radiation appears to be mentioned in the book as the product of forces and energies local to Urantia, as well as the free space presence of the Unqualified Absolute. The rough match between the predicted and observed radiation is not good enough to make this a significant issue. The real problem is the cosmological interpretation of the red shift.
There is probably no uncorroborated theory of astronomy more firmly and dogmatically accepted by mainstream astronomers than the origin of the red shift in the supposed expansion of the universe. The very few astronomers who have persisted in bringing up data which suggests alternative interpretations have been first humored, then ignored, and finally persecuted by the research community. Why is the cosmological red shift theory so totally accepted? First, it is extremely simple to understand. Second, it fully explains the major body of evidence. Third, while its opponents have many specific counter-examples which tend to undermine the theory, they have so far failed to offer a satisfactory competing theory which explains the red shift, the cosmic background radiation, and their exceptional cases. The area is not viewed as productive of research results, and areas of study which fail to produce results do not receive funding. No research institution can survive without funding, and research which fails to produce results thus seems to threaten the financial lifeline of science.
The authors of The Urantia Book wrote, in 1935, that there would come a time when human progress in astronomical observations would disclose objects in space which seem to be moving at speeds approaching the velocity of light. In the last twenty years, many such objects have been observed. The quasi-stellar objects, or quasars for short, are the most noteworthy. These distant points of light have red shifts, which, if due to motion through space relative to the Earth, indicate that they are flying away from us at a sizable percentage of the speed of light. Yet The Urantia Book says that these motions are only apparent and result from unusual angles of observation and undetected space motions.
A basic assumption of astronomy and physics has always been the isotropy of space. Isotropic space is space which has the same properties at all locations and in all directions. The isotropy of empty space is as fundamental an assumption about the nature of reality as is the assumption of the infinity and continuity of space and time which we discussed earlier. Astronomical speculation assumes that all space through which light passes, without emission or absorption, is empty. On the other hand, we have just seen that current work in quantum optics is showing that there is not and, in our experience, cannot be such a thing as truly empty space.
Space, any space, all space, is filled with an extremely faint quantum energy which, while apparently random, can be shaped by and bear the impress of more ordinary physical causes. While the effects of these space energies are very slight over the short distances measured in the laboratory, it is reasonable to expect that, when they are finally fully described by science, they will not always be slight on the scale of cosmic distances and times. In particular, if space is organized, as described in The Urantia Book, with regions of quiescence adjoining regions of relative motion, the quantum field of space will be sheared along these boundaries, and wave energies travelling within such a sheared space field will experience reflection, refraction, focusing, and many other unknown effects.
To man, the sky beyond Earth's atmosphere appears to be almost perfectly transparent. On the cosmological scale of time and distance, the images we see are almost certainly distorted. Science is just now beginning to take the first steps toward gaining the knowledge that will eventually lead to understanding these effects.
© Copyright 1997 L. Dan Massey, 10818 Fawn Drive, Great Falls, Virginia 22066.
All quotations are from The Urantia Book (C) 1996 by Uversa Press, 529 Wrightwood, Chicago, Illinois 60614. Any opinions or conclusions, whether stated or implied, are those of the author and not the publisher.
A service of
The Urantia Book Fellowship