Friday 23 March 2007
Source: Morris News Service
By Nikki Patrick
PITTSBURG, Kan. — Be sure to mark your calendar — 5 billion years from today the sun will expand into a red giant star and engulf Mercury, Venus and Earth.
That’s one of the ways the world could end, as described by one of three speakers at “The End of the World: A Scientific, Philosophical, Theological Symposium” sponsored recently by the Interfaith Alliance of Southeast Kansas.
David Kuehn, Pittsburg State University physics professor, detailed several ways that scientists have theorized the world might end, including biological ways such as an antibiotic-resistant super bug that could wipe out a significant portion of humanity, biological weapons, human infertility or overpopulation.
«Most scientists agree that not any one of these would kill the entire human race», he said. «Even the terrible influenza epidemic after World War I only affected about 2 percent of the world’s population.»
Even with dirty bombs or nuclear missiles, some humans would survive in remote areas of the world not in the firing line such as South America or Africa, he said.
Impacts of giant asteroids or comets might do the trick. «We think there was one 65 million years ago that killed off the larger dinosaurs», Kuehn said. «We think something like this happens every 10 to 100 million years, but there are very few asteroids big enough to wipe out all life on earth.»
Gamma ray bursts occur in the later stages of massive stars as they are turning into neutron stars. «If one of these occurred within 5,000 light years of earth, it could have very deleterious effects on life that was on the side of the earth facing the burst», Kuehn said. However, those living on the opposite side of the earth would have some protection and a chance of survival. So, the best bet for total annihilation is still the sun turning into a red giant.
Don Viney, Pittsburg State University philosophy professor, provided a philosophical outlook, first discussing aspects of the Zoroastrian religion of ancient Persia. «Zoroastrianism teaches that there is a Wise Lord, Ahura Mazda, who is in a battle against an evil spirit, Spenta Mainyu», Viney said. «In the final struggle, a saviour will come and good will win out over evil. No one will be left behind, except the evil spirit.»
Naturally, the Rev. Steve Hughes, pastor of the First United Methodist Church, sees it differently. He thinks of doomsday as “ending a wrong relationship with God”.
«One form of this centres on my beginning to live an eternal life in this temporal life», Hughes said. «This may be the moment when my life is transformed forever, when I am filled with an enduring joy and peace and love. The world as I have known it may end right now.»
A second approach, he said, could be ending this corrupt world by transcending it through prayer or meditation. «If my relationship with God is right in some sense, then I may enjoy a sort of eternal family reunion in what is sometimes called the Kingdom of Heaven», he said.
Besides, God could always choose to re-create the universe, ending this world in an apocalypse. «That could look a lot like the sun turning into a giant red star», Hughes said.
God only knows when any of this will occur, he added. «Those who do predict the end are not appreciative of God’s freedom. God made the laws of nature, and can remake them how and when God chooses. No event or action on earth can force God to act if God doesn’t choose to.»