The Last Three Minutes

Paul Davies, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1994.

Reviewed by Lloyd Geering, SOF NZ Newsletter #12, July 1995

The author is Professor of Physics at Adelaide, and is well known for his lucid yet reliable popular accounts of modern physics (e.g. God and the New Physics, 1983, and The Mind of God, Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning, Penguin 1992). The title of this book was probably suggested by Steven Weinberg's book The First Three Minutes, a popular discussion of the "Big Bang" theory of the origins of the universe. So after sketching the origins and evolving nature of the universe, Davies here explores the possible futures of the universe. Beginnings and ends have always been an important part of the Christian world-view, so since modern physics has opened up an entirely new vista, it is essential we understand something of what it can tell us.

Here is how the book ends. "When human beings embark on a project for a purpose, they have in mind a specific goal. If the goal is not achieved, the project will have failed. On the other hand, if the goal is attained, the project will be completed and the activity will then cease. Can there be true purpose in a project that is never completed? Can existence be meaningful if it consists of an unending journey toward a destination that is never reached?

If there is a purpose to the universe, and it achieves that purpose, then the universe must end, for its continued existence would be gratuitous and pointless. Conversely, if the universe endures forever, it is hard to imagine that there is any ultimate purpose to the universe at all. So cosmic death may be the price that has to be paid for cosmic success. Perhaps the most that we can hope for is that the purpose of the universe becomes known to our descendants before the end of the last three minutes".