"It is quite rare," this book begins, "in this day and age to come across a book proclaiming the unification of science and religion. It is unique to find a book asserting . . . that theology is a branch of physics, that physicists can infer by ca lculation the existence of God and the likelihood of the resurrection of the dead to eternal life. . . One naturally wonders if I am serious."
Tipler is a Professor of Mathematical Physics who used to be an atheist. He accepted the standard scientific view that the universe was a cold, impersonal place that neither required nor provided evidence for a superior or ultimate reality. But modern physics has been changing rapidly. It has become obsessed with big questions of beginnings and endings, and has swayed into realms previously occupied by philosophy.
Tipler has been concentrating on The End - on the apparent certainty that the universe will finally contract into a terminal singularity after the force of gravity overcomes the present expansive phase. Clearly such an end would appear to be a complete end in that consciousness could not exist in anything like its present form in such conditions - or, indeed, in any form since the singularity would lie beyond all time and all known laws of nature.
Tipler's work has led him to the conviction that we can anticipate a radically less pessimistic conclusion. Essentially, what should happen is that consciousness will progressively - over millions of years - colonise the entire universe. As the contraction begins towards what he calls "The Omega Point", this consciousness will be able to exploit "gravity shear" - a phenomenon that arises because of varying rates of contraction - to provide enough energy to maintain this new, universal awareness. This level of energy combined with the unimaginable sophistication of the future operations of consciousness will make it possible to produce computer emulations of everybody who has ever lived or ever could have lived.
These emulations will be identical to their originals and, therefore, they will be the originals. "The prospect is, therefore, that we shall die to be resurrected millions of years later among everybody we have ever known or could have known. Immortalitywould be assured because subjective time in proximity to The Omega Point would be limitless."
Tipler's explanations of the physics of this idea for the layman are good - indeed, at times thrilling - but the scientific meat of the argument is reserved for the "Appendix for Scientists" which outlines the mathematics involved. This immediately emphasises an important chasm between different levels of understanding. Clearly the layman cannot argue with the maths and yet equally clearly, it is the maths which constitues the real case. Furthermore, not all physicists believe this thesis, and thou gh the figures may appear solid they are disputable. This might be said to leave the layman precisely where he was before - suspended between faith and disbelief.
But the big issue of the book is that raised by Tipler's insistence that his theory unites science and religion, turning theology into a branch of physics. His God is The Omega Point. It draws all things to itself, it is the future determinant of all that we are. And, …