The Hope of Atheism and Humanism: The Ultimate Fate of Life, the Universe, and Everything
by Rich Deem


Cosmology & Hope

Cosmology is the study of the universe - its beginning, history, and likely fate. One hundred years ago, scientists assumed the universe was eternal and changeless. However, it is now clear that the universe had a beginning, but will have no end. Moreover, the nature of its laws of thermodynamics and dark energy guarantee that the universe will eventually destroy all life, knowledge, and consciousness as it suffers permanent heat death. This is the ultimate "hope" of atheism.

Rich Deem

Contrary to the explanation offered in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is not "42." Christianity claims that the universe is a temporary abode for spiritual creatures who are destined to live with or without God for eternity. Until recently, science had no answers about the ultimate fate of the universe. However, humanism (the philosophical arm of atheism), through its manifestos and declarations, claims to offer hope for humanity. Are these declarations consistent with the reason and science that they are supposedly based upon?

Humanist affirmations

Humanism is a collection of philosophies that claim that right and wrong can be determined rationally, without appeal to any kind of religious revelation or dogma. Most forms of humanism are secular or atheistic in form. Throughout the 20th century, numerous humanist manifestos and declarations have been written to delineate the "creeds" of humanism.1 Humanists' goals are lofty and optimistic. Along with these humanist manifestos are a list of affirmations, published by the Council for Secular Humanism. The 20th affirmation says in part:

We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.2

Presumably, this affirmation is a comparison between religious and humanistic philosophy. Accordingly, religion would be expected to lead to pessimism, despair, dogma, ignorance, guilt or sin, fear, hatred, selfishness, ugliness, and blind faith or irrationality. With such a list, it is a wonder why anybody would ever want to be religious, much less choose religion3 over humanism. So, just what kind of good things can we expect based upon what we know from science?

Dark energy and thermodynamics

One hundred years ago, atheist scientists assumed that the universe was eternal. However, there were some puzzling data that suggested otherwise. The development of the first and second laws of thermodynamics in the 19th century said that energy could neither be created nor destroyed and that the overall entropy of the universe was continually increasing. These laws suggested that at some point in the distant past, the universe was at minimum entropy. Obviously, the universe could not be eternally constant if its entropy was constantly increasing.

Albert Einstein's equations of general relativity showed that the universe was expanding.4 Soon, observations by Vesto Slipher, Alexander Friedman, and Edwin Hubble confirmed that the universe was expanding, demonstrating that it was not eternal, but had a beginning. In 1998, observations of type Ia supernovae at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggested that the expansion of the universe was accelerating.5 The source of this accelerating expansion is thought to be due to "dark energy" (or a cosmological constant), which is associated with the fabric of space. Accordingly, as the universe expands, the force of dark energy increases. Even now, dark energy is thought to make up nearly three-quarters of everything that makes up the universe.

The fate of the universe

Lawrence Krauss and Glenn Starkman realized that the discovery of dark energy had tremendous implications about the ultimate fate of the universe. In 2000, within two years of the discovery of dark energy, Krauss and Starkman published an article entitled, "Life, The Universe, and Nothing: Life and Death in an Ever-Expanding Universe," in the Astrophysical Journal, documenting the probable fate of the universe.6 As the universe expands, cosmologists will be able to see less and less of the universe, until at one point, only the local group of galaxies would be visible. Of course, an increasingly rapid expansion of the universe implies that the entropy of the universe will continue to increase at an accelerating rate until it reaches a point of maximum entropy. This point will result in a loss of all usable energy as all stars burn out for all eternity. Here are their concluding statements:

The picture we have painted here is not optimistic. If, as the current evidence suggests, we live in a cosmological constant dominated universe, the boundaries of empirical knowledge will continue to decrease with time. The universe will become noticeably less observable on a time-scale which is fathomable. Moreover, in such a universe, the days—either literal or metaphorical—are numbered for every civilization. More generally, perhaps surprisingly, we find that eternal sentient material life is implausible in any universe.

Krauss and Scherrer wrote a more recent, popular piece in Scientific American in March, 2008, The end of cosmology?, which comes to similar conclusions.7 So, although humanism may pretend to offer optimism, in reality, science tells us that all sentient life is doomed to eternal destruction.

Christianity and the creation of the universe

Atheists often ask why God would create such a large universe if He intended it only as a place for human beings. Why not create one star and one planet? In fact, God created such a large universe as a demonstration of His power. The Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God.8 It certainly wouldn't be very glorious if the universe were composed of two heavenly bodies. In order to see this glory, God has placed the Solar System a distance from the galaxy’s center at the "co-rotation radius," where it tends to stay between two spiral arms, away from the dust and gas found in the spiral arms that would obscure our view.9 In addition, it appears that we were created at the ideal time when we could determine how God created the universe. If we had been created earlier in time, we would have been unaware of dark energy.10 If we had been created later in the history of the universe, Hubble expansion would be unobservable, along with cosmic background radiation, and Big Bang nucleosynthesis.10 In essence, scientists would have been unable to determine how the universe came into existence, but would have assumed that it was eternal and static:

The remarkable cosmic coincidence that we happen to live at the only time in the history of the universe when the magnitude of dark energy and dark matter densities are comparable... Observers when the universe was an order of magnitude younger would not have been able to discern any effects of dark energy on the expansion, and observers when the universe is more than an order of magnitude older will be hard pressed to know that they live in an expanding universe at all, or that the expansion is dominated by dark energy. By the time the longest lived main sequence stars are nearing the end of their lives, for all intents and purposes, the universe will appear static, and all evidence that now forms the basis of our current understanding of cosmology will have disappeared.10

The ability to see the expansion of the universe is crucial to confirm the predictions of the Bible, since it first claimed this truth11 thousands of years before verification by science. So, the Bible's claim that the heavens declare the glory of God is confirmed by our position in the universe and the timing with which we were created, since we are at the ideal location at the ideal time to see the glory and design of the universe's creation.

Christianity and the end of the universe

Christianity claims that the universe is not eternal, but was created by God as a temporary abode to house God's spiritual creatures.12 After God's purposes are accomplished, He will destroy the entire universe in a cataclysmic apocalypse,13 and create a new universe14 with entirely different laws of physics.15 This universe is the best possible for the purpose for which it was created, which is a place in which spiritual beings can choose to love or reject God. So, evil exists in this universe as the means by which a choice can be made. In the New Creation, there will be no evil and no evil choices, since the creatures who will have chosen God in the current universe would have voluntarily given up such choices. So, although atheism offers only death, the end of consciousness, and the end of knowledge, Christianity presents a universe in which life and consciousness is eternal, and the Source of all knowledge dwells with glorified human beings for all eternity.

Conclusion Top of page

Cosmology shows us that the hope of atheism and humanism is ultimately bankrupt. Without God, the universe has no purpose, other than to just be, and its ultimate destiny is to become increasingly more hostile to life- until life, consciousness, and knowledge are eternally destroyed when the universe suffers permanent heat death. In contrast, Christianity says that the universe was designed by God to be a temporary place where spiritual creatures can determine where they want to spend eternity. The New Creation, God's perfect, eternal creation will replace this universe before it becomes inhospitable to human life, offering eternal life with God - the ultimate source of knowledge and wisdom.

References Top of page

  1. See The Humanists Manefesto at Wikipedia.
  2. The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles from the Council for Secular Humanism.
  3. The author of this article is a former atheist who became a Christian well into adulthood.
  4. See General Relativity - Einstein Discovers God.
  5. Riess, A. D., et al. 1998. Observational Evidence from Supernovae for an Accelerating Universe and a Cosmological Constant. Astron. J. 116: 1009-1038.
  6. Krauss, L. M. and G. D. Starkman. 2000. Life, The Universe, and Nothing: Life and Death in an Ever-Expanding Universe. Astrophys. J. 531: 22-30.
  7. Krauss, L.M. and R. J. Scherrer. 2008. The end of cosmology? Scientific American, March 2008, p. 47-53.
  8. To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. (Psalm 19:1)
  9. Mishurov, Y.N. and L. A. Zenina. 1999. Yes, the Sun is Located Near the Corotation Circle. Astronomy & Astrophysics 341: 81-85.
  10. Krauss, L. M. and R. J. Scherrer. 2007. The Return of a Static Universe and the End of Cosmology. Gen. Rel. Grav. 39: 1545-1550.
  11. The following verses suggest that God created the universe through an expanding universe - what science has called the Big Bang. In many cases the Hebrew text indicates present tense - a process still continuing.
    • Who alone stretches out the heavens, And tramples down the waves of the sea; (Job 9:8)
    • Covering Thyself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. (Psalm 104:2)
    • It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. (Isaiah 40:22)
    • Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk in it, (Isaiah 42:5)
    • Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone" (Isaiah 44:24)
    • "It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, And I ordained all their host." (Isaiah 45:12)
    • "Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens; When I call to them, they stand together." (Isaiah 48:13)
    • That you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens, And laid the foundations of the earth; That you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, As he makes ready to destroy? But where is the fury of the oppressor? (Isaiah 51:13)
    • It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom; And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 10:12)
    • It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom, And by His understanding He stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 51:15)
    • The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him, (Zechariah 12:1)
  12. Jesus described in a parable that God's plan was to gather a large number of His spiritual creatures to live with Him forever in heaven:
    But He said to him, "A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.' Another one said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.' Another one said, 'I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.' And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' And the slave said, 'Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' And the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled." (Luke 14:16-23)
  13. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:7)
    But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)
    looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! (2 Peter 3:12)
    "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished." (Matthew 5:18)
    "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away." (Mark 13:31)
    "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away." (Luke 21:33)
    And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, "YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN." And this expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. (Hebrews 12:26-27)
    And all the host of heaven will wear away, And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; All their hosts will also wither away As a leaf withers from the vine, Or as one withers from the fig tree. (Isaiah 34:4)
  14. "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. (Isaiah 65:17)
    But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)
    And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)
  15. The new universe will be different in at least the following ways:
    • The new earth will have no sea
    • There will be no Sun or moon, no heat
    • Gravity will be absent or greatly reduced
    • No more death, suffering, pain
    • Believers will receive a new body
Last Modified March 29, 2008


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