Friday 27 May 2016

Lemaitre, Gamov & God
Sjef Frenken

I hadn’t seen Jack for quite some time, and had missed him at my weekly lunches at Bayshore. I’d phoned him a few times, but the only response I got was his TAD message telling me that he’d eventually respond in person to any message left behind. But today he was there, looking much the same as ever, perhaps a little thinner.

“Where’ve you been?” I asked.

“Oh, here and there, nowhere in particular.”

“Anything wrong?”

“Nothing in particular,” he shrugged. “How about you?”

“Much the same as always, mostly working on my music these days. Here’s something for you.” I handed him a book of short stories I’d published a few weeks before. “Enjoy.” Jack took the book, glanced at the cover and then put it aside. I felt a bit disappointed; I’d expected him to have at least riffled through it, and perhaps even make a small laudatory comment. I was sure something was bothering Jack.

We went to get our food and began to eat.

“How can we be sure God exists?” he asked out of the blue.

Having been subjected to a fair amount of theology during my desultory years at two Jesuit-run institutions, high school and college, I referred to the various proofs Saint Thomas had put forward. I concluded by saying “mind you, there is an anecdote about him that has always mystified me. He’s supposed to have had a vision of some kind, as a result of which he referred to all of his writing as ‘so much straw’ For me the question has been whether he meant that trying to find arguments for the existence of God is pointless – regardless of the merits of any argument, most people only believe what they want to believe, or what is convenient -- or that such arguments can’t really get to the heart of the matter.”

“You’re not helping me,” said Jack.

“Let me try again, then. If we remove all the trimmings of God, all the aspects we’ve deduced about or attributed to Him – all-knowing, all-powerful, and so on – we’re left with His essential quality: that of being the First Cause. It is a fundamental theorem of philosophy – and I suppose a conclusion that we’re all hard-wired with – that nothing can come out of nothing. Which simply means that all of creation must have had an origin. And there are, it seems to me, only two possibilities: there is a Being that itself was not created, and that created the Universe, or that the Universe was not created, and that it is the First Cause. Traditional theology argues that the Universe lacks at least some characteristics we expect of God, therefore it can’t be the First Cause. On the other hand, the more science delves into the human mind and the stuff of the universe, the more things begin to blur. Tale abstract thought, for instance …”

“So you’re saying maybe the Universe itself is God.”

“As far as I can see, it’s the only alternative.”

“That would mean,” said Jack, “that we are part of God. I feel much better now.”

I said “When I was young I used to think a lot about all the matter of the universe being in the form of a huge rock floating in space, and I just couldn’t get my mind around how this immense boulder could produce what we call the Universe. Something had to make it explode. Even whether you’re an atheist or an agnostic, you can’t avoid a First Cause.”

“I sort of like the idea of the universe itself being God,” said Jack, “makes me feel more involved in things, even if I have no say in the matter.”

“As an item of interest, it was a Catholic priest and scientist, Georges Lemaitre, who first proposed the idea that the universe was the result of an explosion. Another George, Gamow, a Russian who emigrated to the US, bolstered that theory, and it was known as the Lemaitre-Gamow theory. I guess somewhere along the line the theory had that expansion run out of steam and the stuff of the universe being attracted back to its point of origin, with the pieces coming together again with such force as to cause another Big Bang.”

“That would be the God-Universe equivalent of inhaling and exhaling one breath, I suppose,” said Jack.

“Except that the current cosmological view is that the universe will keep expanding, with no end in sight.”

:”Phew,” said Jack, “that’s reassuring. Gives me a few more days.”

“How do you mean?”

“Nothing,” said Jack.

I didn’t push him any further.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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