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Physics and Faith 6. The Fall. Eschatology: A Universe Doomed to Ultimate Futility

The present on-line notes are preliminary notes that were revised for the Sunday of this presentation. PDF and .doc files of the overheads used for the revised presentation are available from the Physics and Faith home page or from the download page



The universe will die, either in "fire" or in "ice": in a collapse back to a great fireball, or in an eternal expansion where all structure is dissipated and all energy so spread out that the temperature will be near absolute zero everywhere. Only a redemptive act of God that contravenes the laws of physics can save the universe.




1. The Future of the Universe

2. The Tyranny of Entropy

3. A Death by Fire

4. A Death by Ice

5. Implications for Theology of a Universe Doomed to Futility

6. Speculations About the New Heaven and the New Earth



1. The Future of the Universe

The universe has been expanding since the Big Bang. Gravity is slowing the rate of expansion. There may be an unknown repulsive force (the "cosmological constant") that is accelerating the expansion. There are two possible futures for the universe:


  • Gravity wins; universe contracts into the Big Crunch

  • Expansion wins; universe expands forever.


Gravity Wins -- death by “fire” (“heat” death)

Expansion Wins -- death by “ice” (“freezing” death)


It has been suggested that in a death by "fire", the universe could rebound, resulting in a new expansion. But whether the resultant "reborn" universe would be viable is questionable because it would be starting out with the very large entropy of the old universe



2. The Tyranny of Entropy

2.1. Entropy

  • Entropy is a measure of the probability a system will be in a certain state

    • low entropy -- system is in a very unlikely state

    • high entropy -- system is in a very likely state

  • Second Law of Thermodynamics

    • the total entropy of a “closed” system increases continuously


Increasing entropy is associated with increasing disorder and randomness. Much of the structure in the universe (stars, galaxies, the human body) are systems in which matter is in a very unlikely state of order and arrangement, that is, of very low entropy.


Entropy seems to have a much deeper significance than its prosaic definition would suggest. It also seems to have a connection with the "arrow of time"



2.2. The Problem of the Arrow of Time

A major unsolved problem in physics is why there is a preferred direction to time. Almost all the laws of nature are symmetric with respect to the direction of time. Physical laws do not seem to “recognize” a direction to time.


Phenomena where direction of time important

  • Psychological time

  • Increase in entropy

  • Expansion of the Universe

  • Time asymmetry in the decay of the kaon (K0) meson into pion mesons



2.3. The Tyranny of Entropy

Whether the universe suffers a death by fire or a death by ice, the total entropy of the universe will be much greater at it death. The possibility the reborn universe would be able to form structures of very low entropy (very unlikely arrangements of matter such as galaxies, stars) would be much lower than than previous universe, perhaps impossible.



3. A Death by Fire

3.1. Gravity Wins - the Big Crunch

  • Universe contracts, Background radiation temperature increases

  • Galaxies collide, high velocity stars fly out

  • Stars destroyed by:

    • evaporation by high temperature background radiation

    • collisions with other stars

  • Diffuse high temperature gas fills universe from evaporation of stars

  • Temperature becomes so high atoms then nuclei dissociate into elementary particles, which in turn dissociate into photons and a quark-gluon plasma

  • Big Crunch

  • possible rebound, possible new expansion into a universe sterile because of its high starting entropy



4. A Death by Ice

4.1. Expansion Wins

  • Universe expands forever

  • All stars become white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes

    • eventually become dead bodies or radiate away

  • Planetary systems will be disrupted by tidal effects

  • Galaxies disintegrate

  • Temperature approaches absolute zero

  • Elementary particles (including proton by GUT) decay; the universe becomes a cold gas of photons and neutrinos



 5. Implications for Theology of a Universe Doomed to Futility


  • No hope for “evolutionary optimism”

  • No hope for triumph of the kingdom of God simply through the flux of history

  • God of pantheism will die


“..we are driven back . . . to God alone as the basis of final hope, so that our own and the universe’s destiny awaits a transforming act of divine redemption.”

-- John Polkinghorne



6. Speculations About the New Heaven and the New Earth


  • A new creation? (creatio ex nihilo)

  • A transformation of the present creation? (creatio ex vetere)


“Are we somehow to be freed from the tyranny of entropy, and is the universe to shine forever as the resplendent creature of God -- a new heaven and earth?”

-- Robert John Russell


“the old creation is God’s bringing into being a universe which is free to exist ‘on its own’, in the ontological space made available to it by the divine kenotic act of allowing the existence of something wholly other; the new creation is the divine redemption of the old”

-- John Polkinghorne


“the old creation has the character which is appropriate to an evolutionary universe, endowed with the ability through the shuffling explorations of its happenstance to ‘make itself’.”

-- John Polkinghorne


“The new creation represents the transformation of that [the old] universe when it enters freely into a new and closer relationship with its Creator, so that it becomes a totally sacramental world, suffused with the divine presence.”

-- John Polkinghorne





Physics and Faith


1. Views of the Relationship Between Science and Theology

2. Rumors of a Designer, Creator and Sustainer. Part I. The Laws of Physics. The Big Bang

3. Rumors of a Designer, Creator and Sustainer. Part II. Quantum Cosmology. The Anthropic Principle

4. Rumors of a Designer Creator and Sustainer, Part III. The Ground of Physical Being in Quantum Physics

5. A Universe of True Becoming

6. Physics, The Fall, and The Final Things