The 22 Questions from Robert Jastrow: His 1978 Book
“God and the Astronomers”
Dr. Robert Jastrow, a self-described agnostic when it comes to the existence of God, was the founder and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He was also professor of Astronomy and Geology at Columbia University, and professor of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth College. He was internationally recognized as an authority on both astronomy (the branch of science that deals with the physical universe as a whole) and cosmology (the branch of science that deals with the origin and development of the universe). Modern astronomy is dominated by the Big Bang theory, which brings together observational astronomy, particle physics and cosmology. Dr. Jastrow will always be included in the most famous and learned experts in these fields.
In the book’s introduction, the publishers summarize what readers will discover: “’Strange developments are going on in astronomy’ writes Dr. Jastrow. ‘They are fascinating partly because of their theological implications, and partly because of the peculiar reactions of scientists… astronomers have proven the Universe was created in a fiery explosion 20 billion years ago. In the searing heat of the first moment, all the evidence was melted down and destroyed that science might have used to determine the cause of the great explosion… This is the crux of the story of Genesis.’
The publishers go on: “According to Jastrow, scientists did not expect to find evidence for an abrupt beginning. When the evidence began to accumulate, they were repelled by their own findings. Einstein wrote, ‘Such possibilities seem senseless’, and the great astronomer Eddington declared, ‘The notion of a beginning is repugnant.’ Dr. Jastrow comments, ‘There is a strong ring of feeling and emotion in these reactions. They come from the heart, whereas you would expect the judgments to come from the brain. Why?’”
Dr. Jastrow himself states on page 14: “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”
Dr. Jastrow titles his book “God and the Astronomers” because he takes you on a journey through the major discoveries in the recent century which point to a universe beginning from nothing and the scientists who, during these discoveries, came to grips with the evidence. Some of these renowned scientists are:
- Vesto Slipher (1913) – American astronomer who first discovered (and presented at American Astronomical Society)
that galaxies were moving away from earth at high speeds (700,000 mph), showing the red shift effect caused by expansion. By 1925, he had clocked the velocities of 42 galaxies.
- Albert Einstein (1915) – published his first papers describing General Theory of Relativity (GTR), but he failed to notice his theory predicted an expanding universe. It was the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann who discovered, as Jastrow said, “Einstein had made a schoolboy error in algebra which caused him to overlook the additional solutions. In effect, Einstein had divided by zero at one point in his calculations. This is a no-no in mathematics. As soon as Friedmann corrected the error, the missing solution (for an expanding universe) popped out.”
Jastrow on Einstein (pages 27-28)
“Around this time (1923, when Friedmann’s correction of Einstein’s error in GTR calculations was published and acknowledged), signs of irritation began to appear among scientists. Einstein was the first to complain. He was disturbed by the idea of a Universe that blows up, because it implied that the world had a beginning. In a letter to de Sitter – discovered in a box of old records in Leiden a few years ago – Einstein wrote ‘The circumstance (of an expanding universe) irritates me,’ and in another letter about the expanding universe, ‘To admit such possibilities seems senseless.’
This is curiously emotional language for a discussion of some mathematical formulas. I suppose that the idea of a beginning in time annoyed Einstein because of its theological implications. We know he had well-defined feelings about God, but not as the Creator or Prime Mover. When Einstein came to New York in 1921 a rabbi sent him a telegram asking, ‘Do you believe in God?’ and Einstein replied, ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the harmony of what exists.’
The theory and observation (Hubble’s measurements) pointed to an expanding universe and a beginning in time. Still Einstein resisted the new developments and held onto his idea of a static, unchanging Universe until 1930, when he traveled halfway around the world from Berlin to Pasadena to visit Hubble. He studied Hubble’s plates, looked through his telescope, and announced himself convinced. He said, ‘New observations by Hubble and Humason concerning the red shift of light in distant nebulae make it appear likely that the general structure of the Universe is not static.’”
- Willem de Sitter (1917) – Dutch mathematician and physicist who, after Einstein sent him his paper on GTR in 1916, published first theoretical model on exploding universe using Einstein’s GTR (but unaware of Slipher’s discovery).
- Arthur Eddington (1917) – British astronomer who, upon examining Einstein’s GTR, immediately noticed it contained the details of an expanding universe. He organized the eclipse expedition that measured the bending of light by gravity – an effect predicted by Einstein’s GTR.
- Georges Lemaitre (1927) – Belgian priest who studied astronomy under Arthur Eddington at Cambridge. Using Einstein’s GTR, he discovered the expanding universe.
- Milton Humason (1929) – Self-taught American astronomer at the Mount Wilson Observatory who joined forces with Edwin Hubble. Humason measured the speeds 620 galaxies, while Hubble measured their distances.
- Edwin Hubble (1929) – American astronomer who plotted Humason’s measurements of galaxy speeds against his measurements of their distances and discovered the Hubble Law (Law of the Expanding Universe): the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it moves. This discovery convinced Einstein the Universe had a beginning.
- Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman (1950’s) – American cosmologist and scientist who pioneered work on the Big Bang model, including predictions of the cosmic microwave background radiation that would later prove the universe began with an explosion. Jastrow notes on page 18 that “Herman noted that the reaction of the astronomical community ranged from skepticism to hostile”, and that “later, when the discovery of the fireball turned out to be one of the great scientific events of all time, Alpher and Herman received belated recognition…”
- George Gamow (1950’s) – Russian-born American theoretical physicist and cosmologist, who worked with many of the pioneers of quantum theory and was best known for his early work with Alpher and Herman on Lemaitre’s Big Bang theory for the origin of the universe.
- Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson (1965) – American scientists at Bell laboratories who, in 1965, made one of the greatest discoveries in 500 years of modern astronomy: the cosmic fireball that Herman, Alpher and Gamow predicted. As Jastrow states on page 15, “No explanation other than the Big Bang has been found for the fireball radiation. He clincher, which has convinced almost the last doubting Thomas, is that the radiation discovered by Penzias and Wilson has exactly the pattern of wavelengths expected for the light and heat produced in a great explosion.”
Here are the 22 questions that Dr. Jastrow asked fellow scientists to answer, with the page number where it is found in his book, and organized into 4 topics. These questions are coming from one of the greatest scientific minds in history – and they are meant to be a challenge to scientists to really examine the evidence, because it will lead any open-minded seeker toward the existence of God, and specifically the God of the Bible.
REASONING THROUGH THE EVIDENCE: THE RELIGION OF SCIENCE
- Question to Einstein: Do you believe in God (p. 28)?
- With three lines of evidence now pointing to a universe that had a beginning, a few scientists bit the bullet and dared to ask “What came before the beginning” (p. 111)?
- Physicist Edmund Whittaker concluded “It is simpler to postulate creation ‘ex nihilo’ – Divine will constituting nature from nothingness.” Some scientists were even bolder, and asked “Who was the Prime Mover” (p. 112)?
- Science has proven that the Universe exploded into being at a certain moment. What produced this effect (p. 114)?
- Who or what put the matter and energy into the Universe (p. 114)?
- This strange development (a Universe that had a beginning) was unexpected by everyone except theologians, who always knew the Bible explained it. To which St. Augustine added, “Who can understand this mystery or explain it to others” (p. 115)?
- Why did the universe begin in an explosion (p. 124)?
- What were the conditions in the universe like before the explosion (p. 124)?
- Did the universe even exist prior to that moment of the explosion (p. 124)?
HOW THE UNIVERSE OPERATES
- Hubble’s question (that led him to discover universal expansion): Were the spiral galaxies large, majestic objects, sailing through the reaches of space? Or were they relatively small and nearby bits of luminous matter (p. 43-44)?
- The Hubble Law (aka Law of the Expanding Universe) is a mystery: Why should a galaxy recede from us at a higher speed simply because it is farther away (p. 85)?
- How did astronomers Vesto Slipher and Milton Humason measure the speeds of distant galaxies (p. 86)?
- How is the Doppler Red Shift itself measured (p. 87)?
ORIGIN OF UNIVERSE
- When we think about the beginning of the universe, what was the world like a billion years ago (p. 114)?
- The question science cannot answer (since every particle of evidence that could have yielded a clue to the great explosion was destroyed): Was the universe created out of nothing, or was it gathered together out of pre-existing materials (p. 114)?
- The theory of the Oscillating Universe has the advantage of being able to answer the question ‘What preceded the explosion’ (p. 119)?
- How can this theory of an Oscillating Universe be tested (p. 120)?
- What is the critical density of matter required to slow down and reverse the expansion of the universe (p. 121)?
- How does the threshold value of the density of matter compare with the observed density of matter in the universe (p.121)?
- What about matter in the universe that is unobservable because it is not luminous (p. 122)?
- Now that astronomers are generally agreed on how the Universe began, what do they say about how it will end (p. 117)?
- What will happen then (when gravity someday brings the expansion of the universe to a halt) (p. 118)?