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Image of birds flying. Image of birds flying.

#158 RF Gear and the Return of Christ

April 26, 2010

Hello Dr Craig,

Just a quick and trivial question - does anybody actually buy the branded clothing and merchandise that you sell through your website? I love your work and this is one of my top sites, but it seems funny to me to think of buying an apron in support of my favourite apologist. It would be like having a beach towel with Alvin Plantinga's face on it!

Maybe as proof that people really do make purchases you could ask your readers to submit photos of themselves wearing items from your fetching range.

God bless you in all that you do,




Dear Dr Craig,

I have a question about The Return of Christ and cosmology. I find that many minsters and theologians avoid talking about Christ's Second Coming, presumably because they fear it conflicts with modern cosmological predictions. Some, like John Polkinghorne, clearly affirm the Return, but seem very unclear about how it will play out in time and space. But couldn't the whole matter be ironed out by an appeal to ceteris paribus?

For example, suppose the following prediction to be true: The universe will continue to expand for billions of years towards a state of maximum entropy. Shouldn't this, strictly speaking, be understood as follows: Given current knowledge, the universe is predicted to expand thus, all other things remaining equal? But if this is so, doesn't the supposed conflict disappear? I mean, if Christ one day returns on the stage of human history (as we believe), and the predicted cosmological events do not in fact transpire, surely that wouldn't mean that the prediction had been wrong. Wouldn't it simply be the case that God's sending Christ was one of those things that had not remained equal, and that the prediction was still true because it correctly predicted what would have happened had God not chosen so to act? So my questions are: 1) Do you think this kind of reasoning is useful, and 2) Do you know of anyone who argues along these lines?

Many thanks.

Yours in Christ Jesus,


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Dr. craig’s response


O.K., you're wondering what in the world RF gear has to do with eschatology! The answer is: nothing! Philip's question just gives me the chance to shamelessly promote this feature of our website. If you click on the "Gear" button, you'll find that you can get almost anything printed with a Reasonable Faith logo. At our donor appreciation dinners, we've given away T-shirts and ball caps (I recommend the khaki with red stitching!) with the Reasonable Faith logo on them. I wear different colored polo shirts with the logo stitched in a contrasting color. Since many people think that "reasonable faith" is an oxymoron, shirts and caps like these give you a chance to share about your faith when people ask. And the clothes carried by our vendor include top brands, so they're very nice.

In answer to your question, Philip, not many people have utilized this feature of the site yet. Don't think of it as supporting your favorite apologist (though I have to confess I'd really like a beach towel with Alvin Plantinga's face on it!). It promotes Reasonable Faith, not me—my name's not on anything. I think these articles serve to promote the website and ministry, spark conversations, and foster a sense of community among members of local Reasonable Faith chapters—besides looking really sharp!

All right; now to the serious question: take a look, Julian, at my article "Time, Eternity, and Eschatology" under the Scholarly Articles: Christian Doctrines section of this website. As I explain there, eschatology is no longer exclusively the subject matter of theology but has in the last quarter century or so emerged as a new branch of cosmology (the study of the large-scale structure and history of the universe), being a sort of mirror image of cosmogony, that branch of cosmology that studies the origin of the universe. Just as physical cosmogony looks back in time to retrodict the history of the cosmos based on traces of the past and the laws of nature, so physical eschatology looks forward in time to predict the future of the cosmos based on present conditions and laws of nature.

As you note, physical eschatology paints a very bleak and very different picture of the future than that of theological eschatology. The most likely scenario based on present scientific evidence is that the universe will continue to expand forever. As it does, the stars eventually burn out and the galaxies grow dark. Around 1015 years after the Big Bang most of the baryonic mass of the universe will consist of degenerate stellar objects like brown dwarfs, white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. Elementary particle physics suggests that around 1037 years protons will decay into electrons and positrons, filling space with a rarified gas so thin that the distance between two particles will be about the size of the present galaxy. At around 10100years, the commencement of the so-called Dark Era, black holes themselves may have evaporated. The mass of the universe will be nothing but a cold, thin gas of elementary particles and radiation, growing ever more dilute as it expands into the infinite darkness, a universe in ruins.

This is a bleak picture, but as Freeman Dyson reminds us, the predictions of physical eschatology are subject to the proviso that intelligent agents do not interfere with the envisioned natural processes.i If intelligent beings are able significantly to manipulate natural processes, then the actual future of the cosmos could look quite different than the trajectory predicted on the basis of laws and present conditions. Dyson's own attempt to craft a scenario whereby immanent agents might stave off extinction, is, no doubt, desperate and implausible.iiBut why should we restrict our attention to immanent agents? Theists believe in the existence of an intelligent being who is the Creator of the space-time universe and transcends the laws that govern the physical creation. On the Christian view God will bring about the end of human history and the present cosmos at such time as He deems fit (Mk. 14.32; Mt. 24.43; 1 Thess. 5.2; Heb. 1.10-12; 2 Pet. 3.10; Rev. 3.3). He will not allow events predicted on the basis of present trends in even the relatively near future, such as the extinction of the human race, to occur, much less events in the unfathomably distant future such as stellar extinction or proton decay. Before these events can take place, God will act to terminate human history and usher in a new heavens and a new Earth (1 Cor. 15.51-52; 1 Thess. 4.15-17; Rev. 21.1).

What this implies is that the findings of physical eschatology are at best projections of the future course of events rather than actual descriptions. They tell us with approximate accuracy what would take place were no intelligent agents to intervene. Thus, the findings of physical eschatology are in no way incompatible with Christian eschatology, since those findings involve implicit ceteris paribus conditions with respect to the actions of intelligent agents, including God. Hence, I agree with you that there is no conflict between physical eschatology and theological eschatology because the predictions of physics are simply projections that have implicit provisos "all things being equal."

There is another aspect of physical cosmology which I'd like to highlight that can add insight to theological eschatology. Doubtless, one of the chief difficulties presented by Christian eschatology is that it just seems incredible that next year, say, or next Tuesday the universe is going to be obliterated by the return of Christ and Judgement Day. New Testament Christians themselves already faced such expressions of incredulity. In the second epistle of Peter we read that scoffers were saying, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!" (II Peter 3.4). What these scoffers did not and, of course, could not realize is that physical eschatology itself contains its own apocalyptic scenario of impending worldwide destruction.

If the universe is currently suspended in a meta-stable false vacuum state, as some physicists conjecture, then at some point in the future it will inevitably tunnel into a lower energy state, bringing with it a complete metamorphosis of nature. Because this tunneling is an indeterminate quantum phase transition, it is unpredictable and could happen, in the words of Adams and Laughlin, "at virtually any time, as soon as tomorrow."iii In such a transition regions of true vacuum will begin to form at places throughout the universe, rather like ice forming on the surface of a pond, except that in this case the regions of true vacuum will propel themselves across the universe at fantastic speed, approximating the speed of light. Adams and Laughlin describe such a cosmic apocalypse in the following words:

Silently, and without warning of any kind, it came. Every cosmic structure it swept over was left disembodied and disfigured in its wake. The destruction was frightening in both its awful swiftness and its devastating completeness. 

The shock wave began at a particular but rather undistinguished point of space-time and then traveled outward at blinding speed, rapidly approaching the speed of light. The expanding bubble then enveloped an ever larger portion of the universe. Because of its phenomenal velocity, the shock wave impinged upon regions of space with no advance warning. No light signals, radio waves, or causal communication of any kind could outrun the advancing front and forewarn of the impending doom. Preparation was as impossible as it was futile. 

Inside the bubble, the laws of physics and hence the very character of the universe were completely changed. The values of the physical constants, the strengths of the fundamental forces, and the masses of the elementary particles were all different. New physical laws ruled in this Alice-in-Wonderland setting. The old universe, with its old version of the laws of physics, simply ceased to exist. 

One could view this death and destruction of the old universe as a cause for concern. Alternately, this natural course of events could be looked upon as a reason for celebration. Inside the bubble, with its new physical laws and the accompanying new possibilities for complexity and structure, the universe has achieved a new beginning.iv

When I first read this passage written by these two physical scientists concerning the looming apocalypse of physical eschatology, I couldn't help but be reminded of the admonition written by the author of II Peter concerning the scoffers of his day:

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home (2 Peter 8-13).

The parallels between the theological and physical eschatological apocalypses are striking and unmistakable: a complete and worldwide metamorphosis of nature, sudden, without warning, like a thief in the night, unavoidable, issuing in a new heavens and a new earth, a renovated universe. Unlike Adams and Laughlin, however, the author of II Peter does suggest that we do something in preparation for the cosmic transformation that will sweep away the old order: since those who belong to the Lord shall be part of the world to come, this future prospect should affect how we presently live.

Now don't misunderstand me: I'm in no way suggesting that what we read in II Peter is a poetic description of an impending quantum phase transition of the universe. Rather I'm making the more modest point that if physical eschatology involves apocalyptic doomsday predictions that could be realized tomorrow, then we shouldn't balk at similar forecasts of impending eschatological destruction made by theology simply on the grounds of its unexpectedness and mind-boggling otherness.

The plausibility of Christian eschatology vis à vis the projections of physical eschatology is inherently bound up with one's ontology. If, as physical cosmology itself intimates, there exists a personal, transcendent agent who created the universe with all its natural laws and boundary conditions, and if, as the historical evidence suggests, that agent has raised from the dead Jesus of Nazareth, who promised his eschatological return, then it is eminently rational to entertain "the blessed hope" of Christian eschatology, while accepting the findings of physical eschatology as more or less accurate projections based on present conditions.

- William Lane Craig