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INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK

Robert Jastrow, Ph.D., founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute, director of the Mt. Wilson Institute and its observatories.


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JASTROW:

... we know now that the universe had a beginning, and that all things that exist in this universe—life, planets, stars—can be traced back to that beginning, and it's a curiously theological result to come out of science.



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JASTROW:

Einstein never liked the idea of a big bang because it suggested a beginning and a creation and a creation suggested a Creator, and Einstein didn't believe in that concept of a deity ....


For this interview, Day Star’s president, Fred Heeren, visited Dr. Jastrow in his home in Pasadena, California. Here is a portion of their conversation:

HEEREN: This century's greatest leaps of knowledge in astronomy, and some would say in all of science, were made by Edwin Hubble in your observatory at Mount Wilson. Can you describe for us what Edwin Hubble discovered here?

JASTROW: Two great things. First of all, he discovered the evidence that confirmed the big bang. The initial big bang was discovered with the 100-inch telescope by Hubble in the 1930s. He settled the old argument as to how big the universe is. A lot of people, a lot of astronomers, thought the universe was identical to our Milky Way Galaxy, and that was the end of it. He showed that there were billions of galaxies, each one of them containing billions of stars, that populate the true universe, and that was the last step in the Copernican revolution of thought about man's place in the cosmos.

HEEREN: Now, throughout history, philosophers and scientists thought our universe was eternal, that there was no beginning point. How does the Hubble expansion lead to the idea of a beginning point for our universe?

JASTROW: Well if you think of a movie strip that shows the expansion of the galaxies, that's what he found, you see: the galaxies are moving away from us and from one another at very high speeds. And if you think of that as a movie strip and you run it in reverse, going backward in time they come closer and closer together until finally they meet in a flash of light and heat, and that's the big bang and the beginning of the universe.

HEEREN: Albert Einstein traveled across the country just to come here to Mt. Wilson and visit Hubble and see the evidence of redshifted galaxies. What influence did this have on Einstein's general theory of relativity?

JASTROW: Einstein never liked the idea of a big bang because it suggested a beginning and a creation, and a creation suggested a Creator. And Einstein didn't believe in that concept of a deity, as the Creator. He thought the existence of the deity was expressed in the laws of nature, something as Spinoza did. But he came out here, and he looked through the hundred-inch—of course he had made up his mind long ago already to accept this, but he turned around to the reporters, who were admiring the scene, and he said, "Yes, I believe it, there was a big bang ...."

HEEREN: You're well known for the comments you've made about this beginning for the universe. What does our discovery of a beginning for our universe mean to the scientific enterprise?

JASTROW: It's the question then arises as to what created the beginning and what came before the beginning, and these are questions science can't answer. And so they indicate that there are limits to the reach of scientific inquiry, which is a sobering and humbling result to come out of science itself.

HEEREN: Can you recall the statement that you made at the end of your book, God and the Astronomers, about scientists trying to find—they're climbing for more and more knowledge, and then—

JASTROW: Oh yes, the metaphor there was that we know now that the universe had a beginning, and that all things that exist in this universe—life, planets, stars—can be traced back to that beginning, and it's a curiously theological result to come out of science. The image that I had in my mind as I wrote about this was a group of scientists and astronomers who are climbing up a range of mountain peaks and they come to the highest peak and the very top, and there they meet a band of theologians who have been sitting for centuries waiting for them.

HEEREN: Speaking of Einstein a second ago, Einstein said that "the harmony of natural law ... reveals an intelligence," and he went on to say that it must be far superior to our own. Do you know what might have prompted him to say something like that?

JASTROW: I imagine that he was thinking of the laws of gravity, of relativity, the beauty and simplicity of those laws, and the fact that they suggest a design. A design suggests a designer. That was his, I would call, almost back door approach to the question of belief in God.

You'll find the whole history of these twentieth century cosmological discoveries, and the bigger implications for everyday life, in Day Star's new book, Show Me God.  

DAY STAR’S DISCUSSION KICKER OF THE WEEK:

Jastrow raises two interesting questions here: at the end, regarding the implications of design, and earlier, regarding the implications of a cosmic beginning. A beginning, he says, raises the question of a creation event and a Creator. “A design,” he says, “suggests a designer.” What do you think? Are these evidences for God? And do they give us any help on the question of what type of God?

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