Big Science Questions and the Gospel, Part VI: The End of the Universe and Getting Out of Bed in the Morning

There are a variety of “end of the universe” scenarios that physicists currently see as most likely: 

  • Heat Death

Because of a mysterious energy in the universe (aptly named “dark energy”), the universe’s expansion is speeding up. As things expand they cool down, so the heat contained in the universe will gradually dissipate until there is no light and no heat, just an immense void of cold darkness. This is the current leader for “most likely way the universe will end.” 

  • The Big Rip

Dark energy accelerates with time, eventually causing space itself to grow so much that objects grow very distant from each other. Professor Katie Mack’s description in her excellent book The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), describes the last few months of the universe’s existence in this scenario: 

From this point, the destruction picks up its pace. We begin to find that the orbits of the planets are not what they should be, but are instead slowly spiraling outward. Just months before the end, after we’ve lost the outer planets to the great and glowing blackness, the Earth drifts away from the Sun, and the Moon from the Earth. We too enter the darkness, alone.

Eventually the expansion of space itself explodes the planet and then all atoms inside of it get ripped apart.  

  • Vacuum Decay

Without getting too technical, the energy built into the vacuum of space switches in such a way that a wave of destruction at the speed of light consumes the entire universe. The other options on this list will happen long, long after we’re gone (so long after we can hardly fathom it); however, this could in theory happen at any time, although the chance is infinitesimally small. 

  • The Big Bounce

The expansion of the universe slows down, stops, then eventually contracts until it starts expanding again in a cycle of bangs and crunches. 

I don’t need to belabor the bleakness of most of these options. The Big Bounce metaphysically comports with the cyclical universal births and rebirths that are found throughout ancient mythologies and religions, with the ashes of the old world forming the seeds of the new, but otherwise it’s beyond ashes to ashes and dust to dust, since in most of the likely even those iotas of organization will be destroyed.

If celestial glory is defined by ongoing creation, light, and truth, heat death seems like an apt description of outer darkness (and Jude’s “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.”) So how to square the two? For me the options available for Latter-day Saints given our cosmology of eternal creation is 1) the Big Bounce, 2) there’s some other option that allows for eternal creation and light that we haven’t discovered yet, 3) a deus ex machina, where God simply stops the self-destruction of the universe, and 4) this universe will self-destruct, but ours is one of many universes, and others will continue the act of creation and generation. 

I’m open to all the options, although I’m always a little suspicious of the deus ex machinas approach. If God has largely used natural principles to operate so far I don’t see why He would stop in the future, and I love the multiverse idea in regards to God’s statement that his creations “cannot be numbered unto man.” 

For me one of the primary psychological benefits of the gospel is the knowledge of eternal and ongoing life, activity, and creation, otherwise our best scientific estimate is indeed that everything will end up floating in cold, unorganized darkness forever. 

The book and movie Children of Men presents an interesting thought experiment of how we would live our lives if we knew the end was in the next 40 or so years. This is a more thought provoking scenario than if we knew a comet was hitting the earth tomorrow, because with a longer timeframe we are forced to grapple with deep questions of what exactly we are living for in our day-to-day lives. It’s not a huge reach to conjecture that a lot of art, reproduction, philosophy, and scientific exploration would come to a stop if we knew there was no future earth, which raises all sorts of subtle questions about the degree to which our strivings are intrinsically validated because of the mere existence of some hypothetical future society. 

However, in his book The End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe physicist Brian Green takes this thought experiment a step farther (I read it a while ago and am paraphrasing), if we know that everything is going to end up floating around in darkness for all eternity, how much of a difference is it really if everything ends tomorrow or 40 years or 4 billion years from now? Either way your existence is the smallest fraction of time compared to the time that the leftover particles that were you, your book, money, and all that you’ve strived for is floating around in the darkness of the universe. Part of the good news of the gospel is that our strivings are validated by permanence and the existence of an eternal future; that, as physicist Freeman Dyson said, “no matter how far we go into the future, there will always be new things happening, new information coming in…a constantly expanding domain of life, consciousness, and memory.”

12 comments for “Big Science Questions and the Gospel, Part VI: The End of the Universe and Getting Out of Bed in the Morning

  1. “Yet if Cuarón is commenting on our ‘contemporary moment’ it seems to be by saying that there is no contemporary moment, i.e., that we live in the ‘end of history,’as Francis Fukuyama famously described the universalization of global capitalism and Western-modeled liberal democracy. This is nowhere better illustrated than in the scene in which the film’s reluctant hero, Clive Owen’s Theo, visits his cousin Nigel (Danny Histon), a government minister of art who lives among the great works of the world: Michelangelo’s David, missing an ankle; Picasso’s Guernica, tacked up like a dorm-room poster; even the inflatable pig from the cover of the Pink Floyd record Animals. More than any other in Children of Men, this scene sees the frameworks of history and culture collapsed on top of one another, Renaissance art mingling with prog rock, all drained of the context that might make them meaningful. Though fairly mild-mannered, the art-hoarding Nigel is the clearest face of the totalitarian mentality at work in Children of Men’s dystopia. When Theo asks him how he manages to keep in such high spirits given the inevitability of mankind’s extinction, Nigel coolly remarks, “I just don’t think about it.”
    ESQUIRE Reviews By John Semley
    Oct 9, 2013

    ps this film is itself great art

  2. I don’t know how I feel about there being a multiverse–but the scriptures do seem to indicate that the sacred cosmos has many divisions.

    Earths are spoken of as coming and going on a regular basis. So there seems to be some kind of regular process of creation and dissolution in some quadrants of the cosmos at least–if not everywhere. So even if our visible corner of the cosmos comes to one of the ends you describe above it could be part of a larger ongoing process of re-creation.

  3. I remember reading in Hawking’s _ A Brief History of Time_ about his & the American UCSF prof. Hartle (born in 1939)’s no-boundary quantum cosmology. “In real time, the universe has a beginning and and end at singularities that form a boundary to spacetime and at which the laws of science break down. But in imaginary time, there are no singularities or boundaries.”

    In this model (at least as I understand it), although “Creation” (a word I use despite Hawking’s being atheist) inhabits an infinite-dimensional space with, I think, contractions’ bouncing back into expansions & vice versa, &, of at least four dimensions, one of which, that of _time_’s, able somehow or another to flow (conceptually or in reality?) in both positive & in negative directions.* Creation’s initial “zero” singularity Beginning point can be plotted at (my guess, here) 15 billion years ago, however, “time” at this point occurs only in a Euclidian sense an not in anything similar to the sense of time as we experience it.

    (I like how, in this model, the Beginning singularity’s “boundary-lessness” parallels with that of its Ending singularity’s — at least in my speculations about it, in that obviously nothing could be experienced at the Universe’s _numberical infinity_ endpoing, either.)
    *[Cornell Univ.]
    “Arrows of Time in the Bouncing Universes of the No-boundary Quantum State.”

    James Hartle, Thomas Hertog

    >>>>>”We derive the arrows of time of our universe that follow from the no-boundary theory of its quantum state (NBWF) in a minisuperspace model. Arrows of time are viewed four-dimensionally as properties of the four-dimensional Lorentzian histories of the universe. Probabilities for these histories are predicted by the NBWF. For histories with a regular `bounce’ at a minimum radius we find that fluctuations are small at the bounce and grow in the direction of expansion on either side. For recollapsing classical histories with big bang and big crunch singularities we find that the fluctuations are small near one singularity and grow through the expansion and recontraction to the other singularity. The arrow of time defined by the growth in fluctuations thus points in one direction over the whole of a recollapsing spacetime but is bidirectional in a bouncing spacetime. We argue that the electromagnetic, thermodynamic, and psychological arrows of time are aligned with the fluctuation arrow. The implications of a bidirectional arrow of time for causality are discussed.”<<<<< [Me: huh?]

  4. Oops, I think the Harting-Hawking model features but a _single_ contraction-to-expansion bounce.

  5. We are getting into some good stuff here. I love it.
    I remember many years ago to the first time I heard about the multiverse theory and tried to fathom how it could exist. It’s like a great science fiction gimicknin a way to me. One of those ideas a crazy mad scientist wakes up in the night with. Kind of like the “Back to the Future” movies, it somehow dazzles our imaginations and we want more. Hollywood makes some crazy idea movies that people crave, but, it’s just science fiction, and deep down we kind of suspect it anyways.

    In Abraham we learn a few interesting things about the universe. We learn that not all time is reckoned the same in the universe. We also learn that God’s very throne exists somewhere in our universe from which he rules the heavens according to the grand first body called Kolob of which all time and reckoning of all our order of planets are governed through. I think it may perhaps be referring to solar systems and galaxies.

    But what is interesting to me is that God himself and his throne or abode is within our universe and that time, like an arrow, flows in a linear fashion and that one’s reckoning is dependent upon rotation, speed, location in the universe, etc.

    God’s creations truly cannot be numbered by man because of our limited technology and vision/senses. The deep space pictures we have captured truly are unfathomable. We see one tiny spot in the sky and it reveals an almost innumerable amount of galaxies and solar systems. And we are incapable of seeing further and deeper still.

    I tend to believe though that there truly is just one universe but that there is way more going on thst we cannot see. I don’t want to call the dimensions though. For example- we know the spirit world exists and have been told it’s basically right here before us, we just can’t see it readily because the matter is finer or more pure. I think of it sort of analogously to frequencies. Just like we can only see certain wavelengths or frequencies of light and color, spirit matter gives off frequencies of light and color that are so fast or high that we just can’t pick it up, we can’t fine tune the signal quick enough to comprehend it. We can feel it though, such as the Holy Ghost and at times some of us can be transformed enough to see it in vision or even with our own eyes. Now, perhaps there are even greater frequencies above those of the spirit also, and perhaps even a myriad of them. But, they aren’t really dimensions or parallel worlds, it’s all the same, it’s just that we see and witness only a small portion of it through our limited means.

    One other topic that interests me tremendously, and I hope you address it is space travel from God’s perspective. I had a dream once where my Urim and Thummim ( stone on a necklace) was also a travel device to other parts of the universe. I would hold it up to my eye and vision, or think where I wanted to go and then the mechanism of faith would transport me there in an instant. I would go and gather some of God’s children from some of these planets where they needed travel from. Anyone who touched my garmet would also be transported with me. I wondered how it was possible to travel such great distances (thousands of light years distance) almost instantly with this device. I learned that our bodies can behave like a type of highly energized plasma and that certain frequencies (spiritual) light do not have bounds as to a speed limit it can travel within which enables a physical body to be transformed through the power of the Urim and Thummim, and faith, into a light frequency so high that it becomes almost unlimited in power which allows it to travel at such a high rate of time that all other references slow to almost an entire stop and one can travel almost instantaneously around the universe.

    Anyways, I love these topics.

  6. Cambridge’s Barrow (1952-2020): (1) There’s an itsy-bitsy of (matter-created) spatial CURVATURE to the 48-billion-light-year-radius globe of VISIBLE Creation (that’s a perhaps [quote-unquote] infinitesimally SMALL portion of perhaps [quote-unquote] infinite multiverses). (2) Cosmological-constant like STRESS that makes stuff FLY APART is presumably due to DARK energy, although it’s pretty much NOUGHT (“ten-to-the-negative-hundred-twentieth-power”). Early on, this cosmological-‘CONSTANT’-like VACUUMhood exerted negligible force in its overall, gravitational mutual repulsivities. Ongoing Dilations-among-things of the (Lorentzian-state) universe was evermore cooling, despite its ongoing Dilation’s DEceleration. But, at maybe 57%-of-current Dilations, Dilations-amongst-things began REaccelerating; and, then, at maybe 73%-of-current Dilations — four-&-a-half billion years ago, when the earth was formed — this VACUUM energy overall became greater than that counter, gravitationally Glommings-together-amongst-things energy, so that — well, everything will continue along on its merry way toward a [quote] eternal DEATH / oblivion (of material dissipation & spatial emptiness).

    These varying phases of acceleration/deceleration of Dilations, as described by Barrow, produce metaphysical allegories that intrigue me. To wit, a once-upon-a-time a NEGLIBLE force of Dilations-amongst-things became unsustainable due to DARK energy.

    But, let’s think about things this way. If acceleration can super-duper LESSEN as we go back in linear time to something near to negligible, could there exist a theoretically possible PAST to a four[-plus] dimensional space time (along with its continuing-onward PRESENT & FUTURE) where things remained within an equilibrium & “sweet spot” of such acceleration’s being set at (actual) ZERO?

    Scientists, within their quests for predictions confirmable by data, MAY need find ways to avoid stuff depending on either of that pair of mutually-dependent singularities, zero & infinity. Metaphysicians — per my observations, at least! — REVEL in them! (Could a radiant-yet-centrifugal gravitational force exist somewhere in existence at a specific location where Glommings-amongst-things is kept in the perfect equilibrium that would override general forces toward accelerating Dilations-among-things elsewhere just enough to keep this area in the pink throughout eternity while all else redounds toward outer darkness?)

  7. I agree, Rob–this is really fun stuff. You say: “I tend to believe though that there truly is just one universe but that there is way more going on that we cannot see.”

    When I think of the vision that Abraham was given of the cosmos it seems like he’s seeing something akin to what you’re suggesting–a sacred cosmos with many divisions. The objects that he sees — the sun, moon, and stars, and planets, and so forth — seem to be analogous to orders of existence within the cosmos–each having its own reckoning of time and (perhaps) space and whatnot.

    When the Lord tells Abraham about the moon being higher than the earth and moving more slowly–I don’t think he’s talking about its period of revolution or rotation. I get the sense that he’s referencing its movement through the sidereal heavens. Therefore, as the earth takes 24 hours to complete a full circuit the moon, moving more slowly, requires 28 days–and the sun, of course, requires 365 days. And so, what we have are heavenly objects that are used by the Lord as analogies for three different divisions of the cosmos with their respective reckonings of time–which reckonings are based upon the speed at which they traverse the starry heavens.

    And then Abraham learns that there may be even more divisions than the three he was shown. He also learns that the higher the object is the nearer it is to the throne of God. And the nearer to the throne of God it is the slower its reckoning is–which suggests (to my mind) that the divisions in the sacred cosmos are stratified according to holiness. The higher the object is the more *sacred* the division is that it represents; and the closer it is to the center–which is Kolob the holiest of all.

    And it could be–according to other scriptural passages–that time stands still (so to speak) at the very center where all things are present before the Lord.

  8. Jack,
    I have thought about time quite a lot over the years. It definitely intrigues me. It can have several definitions. First, as spoken in Scripture it can have the definition of a planet having rotation in relation to another body such as cycles of day and night. Another definition is that death will be done away and/ or, we will not age. In yet another definition time can be defined as sequential cause and effect- A happens before B, B happens before C, etc. For God, he most probably doesn’t age nor live on a planet that revolves around a sun, his is a grand sun in a solar system that doesn’t revolve around a galaxy. But God is, and always will be bound in and by the my last definition of sequential cause and effect. Even for God, the past has already happened, he exists in the present, just like us, and the future has yet to unfold.

    All things being present to God just means a knowledge of all things possible to be known are presently before him. The interesting thing about the future and omniscience for God is that it’s only possible to know possible outcomes, not actual future outcomes. We get into all kinds of ramifications, paradoxes and problems if God knows the exact future before it happens. I tend to lean towards theistic finitism in this regards. For instance- if God truly knew all things exactly before they happened then God isn’t capable of choice. God would only be able to do exactly what the future says and nothing else. God couldn’t be able to choose between multiple possibilities as only one would be set in stone. Thus, everything God did, thought, said, etc, is always known in all its exact detail endlessly into the future. It also creates the problem of evil and God knowingly creating his own enemies, creating some that are forever predestined to become devil’s and angels to the devil. The paradox here is that God wouldn’t be omnipotent by not being able to effect outcomes in any degree.

    As it relates, time travel is purely science fiction, even for God. Hollywood makes a ton of plot lines in movies with time travelers going backwards and forwards in time effectively manipulating events there that effect the present and future. It makes for a great entertainment but that’s all. It’s complete science fiction. There are certain eternal universal laws even for the Gods. One of those immutable and unchangeable laws is that the present is the only reality that actually exists. Once an event has happened it cannot be undone. Every cause and effect that happens is eternally set in stone. Once an event has happened it then only becomes a memory or history. These memories or history get recorded in spiritual form but cease to take up any space or reality after they have happened. Sane with the future, it doesn’t exist yet as a reality or take up any space. Now, one can surely cause one own reckoning or relativity to time to speed up or slow down but never at anytime can that person reverse time or fast forward it to something other than the present. Thus, a person could theoretically transform themselves or go to a planetary body or place in the universe where for them the present in reality for everyone to them was happening extremely slow or extremely fast but they couldn’t actually travel yo a future or past event outside of the present. For God’s this is pretty cool because it’s possible for them to almost pause reality in a sense to council and discuss a problem and find a solution in the present and take as much time as they need while a situation as it’s actually happening is slowed down for them to almost a standstill. Going the other direction, they could effectively place something there created in such a fast time frame relative to them that they could create a solar system that in our reference takes a billion years but for them it could happen in a minute of perceived time.

  9. I lean toward (_deus ex machina_ or otherwise) bumps between adjacent portions of existence: one being eternal; the other, decaying. (I just don’t see how, for example, ideas such as a slowed-down-time-in-one-place-in-the-universe-in-relation-to-another could account, in themselves, for the pair of essential, back-&-forth transformations called for in LDS Scripture where earth will exit a death-bound, fallen state & repossess an edenically paradisaical one.) If so: cosmological observations taken from a portion of the overall universe that hosts an edenic earth would point to its being eternal, whereas those taken from our would perhaps point toward its decaying.

  10. One thing we are not sure of, or have any real idea, is how things exist in vastly far distant parts of the universe. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is about 6,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles across and this distance in comparison to the size of the visible universe to us with our feeble mechanisms is so miniscule it’s almost nonexistent. So I am sure that things in another part of the universe could be vastly different. We live in a fallen world that obeys certain laws that allow for a fallen decaying condition. It’s not hard to imagine that as one approaches the very throne or place in the universe where God resides that things become less and less fallen until even it goes the other way where things become more and more perfect and eternal.

  11. There REALLY IS some mysterious drag to the aether, after all. Except now it’s called the dark-energy force that, whenever & wherever its operative [See below!], counters gravity. You see, according to a 2020 science paper reported on by science writer Ethan Siegel, the rate of expansion within the universe (whereby everything within it mutually flies apart) depends where it’s measured. And Siegel (2019) believes that where we’re at, it well could be NOUGHT.

    Siegel: “If there’s a force binding those objects together that’s greater than the background expansion speed, there will be no increase in the distance between them. If there’s no increase in distance, there’s no effective expansion. At every instant, it’s more than counteracted, and so it never gets the additive effect that shows up between the unbound objects. As a result, STABLE, BOUND OBJECTS CAN SURVIVE UNCHANGED FOR AN ETERNITY IN AN EXPANDING UNIVERSE.”

    (If so, we’d guess that where life is, by fortuitous circumstance, on earth, would also be within just the right kind of environment to harbor it from this particular force of decay.)

  12. Per Siegel places like earth will exist as a sort of oasis within an otherwise quite empty, super-future universe (but I worry that such visions might be only “mirage”…).

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