Rector's Letter - April 2002
Bear with me for a moment as I indulge one of my passions: Cosmology.
In 1916, Albert Einstein published his famous General Theory of Relativity. In the process he revolutionised modern science, but left himself with a problem. His mathematical equations predicted that the Universe should either be expanding or contracting. This made no sense to Einstein, so he did something deeply unscientific - he fiddled the sums! He inserted something called the Cosmological Constant. Playing around with this number, he could get his equations to confirm the prevailing view of Scientists of that era that Space, Time and the Universe had always existed and extended into infinity.
But by 1929, the astronomer Edwin Hubble was raising serious problems for the idea of an infinite Universe. He had turned his telescope towards distant galaxies and discovered they were speeding away from us very quickly. So quickly in fact that the light waves they emitted were stretched out, turning the spectra from these stars more red. Hubble's discovery of the Red Shift was the final piece in a jigsaw that revolutionised our thinking. The Universe was expanding just as Einstein's original theory had predicted it could. More than this, an expanding Universe implied a beginning, for if you run the tape backwards it will lead you to the moment when all things begin. What is now called the Big Bang.
Suddenly Science was looking again at what Christianity and Judaism had claimed all along - that the Universe we live in hasn't always been here. Mankind must therefore face the most profound question a Universe can present - how did it get there?
Einstein was perhaps one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century, maybe of all time. But he called his misuse of the Cosmological Constant "the greatest mistake of my life". We can all be blind to the truth when the truth doesn't fit our preconceptions.
Christianity calls us to radically reconsider our philosophies, change our behaviour and readjust our attitudes. Is it any wonder that people find it hard to accept? And Christians themselves aren't immune from Einstein's error. The current debate about Creationism distresses me. For all the world it is Christians "fiddling the sums" to fit what they already believe. As both a Scientist and a Theologian I believe Creationism does justice to neither.
All of us must share the same priority: We must first seek after truth, whatever answer it gives us. The desire that drove me originally to be a Scientist has driven me also to be a Christian. My desire for the truth. When I became a Christian it was because I believed Christianity was true in its essential parts. I remain a Christian because I remain convinced of its truth. We have nothing to fear from the truth! Jesus claimed "I am the truth", and he had strong words to say to those who were stubbornly blind to the truth.
Shortly before his death, Edwin Hubble was interviewed by the BBC about his tireless work to build bigger and better telescopes.
"What do you hope to see?" he was asked,
"Something we hadn't expected!" he mischievously replied.
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