Science and atheism usually sit at the same table. They are friendly. Sometimes they sit at the agnostics table, and it’s not that they are never friendly to the believers, but they have their usual place.
One time, over drinks, one of the believers said to science, “Well, I know you believe in one miracle.”
“Oh, what’s that?” said science, laughing.
“The Big Bang. Everything from nothing. That’s a pretty big miracle.”
Which brings us to infinity. It’s a topic so vast and unimaginable for most of us to wrap our brains around.
Infinity? Forever? Wait, what came before that big bang?
Physicists have a hard enough time figuring what happened at the very first moment of the big bang. But what about before that? Did time or anything exist before it?
Theories are out there. Maybe there was a series of bangs and they keep happening. What about that whole string theory thing?
Maybe the universe isn’t infinite. Maybe it is just really big. Sounds like a joke, but cosmologist Janna Levin uses that kind of questioning in one of her books. And she is looking at a group of Big Questions – black holes, the big bang, extra dimensions, and dark energy – questions so big we have to sometimes laugh.
That hit me hard in the funny part of the brain in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. The idea that the universe is expanding is scary.
In Janna Levin’s How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space we can follow her through the the paradoxes of finitude. Those hot and cold spots left over from the Big Bang have a pattern that may eventually reveal the true size and shape of the cosmos.
“For a long time I believed the universe was infinite. Which is to say, I just never questioned this assumption that the universe was infinite. But if I had given the question more attention, maybe I would have realized sooner. The universe is the three-dimensional space we live in and the time we watch pass on our clocks. It is our north and south, our east and west, our up and down. Our past and future. As far as the eye can see there appears to be no bound to our three spatial dimensions and we have no expectation for an end to time. The universe is inhabited by giant clusters of galaxies, each galaxy a conglomerate of a billion or a trillion stars. The Milky Way, our galaxy, has an unfathomably dense core of millions of stars with beautiful arms, a skeleton of stars, spiraling out from this core. The earth lives out in the sparsely populated arms orbiting the sun, an ordinary star, with our planetary companions. Our humble solar system. Here we are. A small planet, an ordinary star, a huge cosmos. But we’re alive and we’re sentient. Pooling our efforts and passing our secrets from generation to generation, we’ve lifted ourselves off this blue and green water-soaked rock to throw our vision far beyond the limitations of our eyes.”