From the standpoint of physical cosmology I think it's premature to be "sure"
about a beginning or lack thereof, or even of what those may mean when we have a full
theory of quantum gravity. The Hawking-Hartle no-boundary (& thus no beginning) model
is interesting but is only a single simple & tentative model. I don't worry much about
the theological implications of an oscillating universe because such a model doesn't
have much scientific plausibility. (A necessary but by no means sufficient condition
for such a universe is sketched in George L. Murphy, "Can the Universe Recycle?",
_International Journal of Theoretical Physics_ 37, 1327, 1998.)
> Andrew has stated a very important question. Almost all the discussion in this
> group focuses on the interaction between scientific and theological accounts of
> beginnings. There is almost nothing about the interaction between scientific and
> theological ideas about the end. As Robert Russell of CTNS pointed out last
> year at a conference I attended in Sydney, the challenges to eschatology (and
> relevant Biblical interpretation) raised by cosmology are just as great. The
> implications of oscillating universes (if correct) is one of them. I can think
> of three more.
> How do we integrate the Christian doctrine of hope with the cosmological choice
> of freeze or fry?
Current cosmological models can still be consistent with "eternal life" in the
sense of possibility for infinite processing of information. A model like Tipler's in
his _The Physics of Immortality_ may be useful for theology, not (as Tipler himself
thinks) as making theology a branch of physics, but as suggesting ways in which God may
act in the world & as providing analogies for Christian eschatology - rather as Paul
uses the seed-plant analogy in I Cor.15. I discuss this at somewhat greater length in
an article which is to be published in _dialog_ in 1999.
> To what extent was the eschatology of the Bible limited by the world picture of
> the writers?
Considerably. E.g., the image of the stars falling to earth is pretty hard to
hold to literally today.
> Christians have traditionally expected the end to come next week (if not
> before). However, I presume all times are "soon" to God. What if human history
> continues for another 1,000 years? What about 10,000 years? What if we continue
> for 100,000 years?
Hooking up with a parallel thread, the goal of evolution from a Christian
standpoint is not just humanity but humanity (& thus the creation) indwelt by God -
i.e., the Incarnation & the recapitulation of "all things" in Christ (Eph.1:10 e.g.).
We are now only ~2000 years away from the birth of Christ, & 2000 years out of 10^10 is
a pretty tiny fraction. On this scale even another 10^10 years wouldn't represent any
"delay" of the parousia.
> I am out of my depth with these issues, but they are both interesting and
> important. I will value people's input. It is especially relevant this time of
> year when we reflect on what God has done to reconcile all things to Himself.
> "God loved the cosmos so much that he sent His only Son...."
In fact this is literally what Jn.3:16 says. But note that we can't always give
the Greek _kosmos_ the meaning it has in 20th century science.
George L. Murphy