(Lecture given at Innsbruck Conference on Frank Tipler's book The Physics of Immortality, June 1997, translated from the German by Wolfhart Pannenberg)

"Modern Cosmology: God and the Resurrection of the Dead"


Professor Wolfhart Pannenberg, D.D., D.D., D.D.
Institute for Fundamental Theology
University of Munich

The Omega-Point-Theory in Frank Tipler's scientific cosmology starts from three presuppositions. The first and most important one is the anthropic principle in its sharpest form as final anthropic principle claiming that life and intelligent life are not only necessary within our universe, but can also no more disappear after their first emergence. Rather they are destined to pervade and dominate the entire universe.

The second presupposition is the assumption that the expansion of the universe, the history of which according to the cosmological standard theory began with a Big Bang about 15 billion years ago, will not continue indefinitely, but enter into a phase of contraction under the influence of gravitation, until this will finally end in a Big Crunch, a collapse of the matter of the universe within small space - in analogy with the "Black Holes" that originate even in the present phase of the universe by collapse of matter. The expansion of the universe, then, neither continues in "open" form into a steadily growing space, nor "flat" - according to the opinion of most contemporary cosmologists - in the state of an equilibrium of expansion and gravitation, but "closed" with a collapse of matter at its end. It is only in this model of the universe that there is a final point of its history, the Omega point.

Tipler's third presupposition is that the energy available in the universe is unlimited. Therefore, our universe will not end in a state of maximal entropy, but possibly in a state of eternal life, which means maximal information processing. According to Tipler life is essentially accumulation of information. On its path towards the Omega point life has to pervade and finally dominate the entire material universe. The Omega point itself, however, will be a place of maximal accumulation of information, and therefore it will be immanent as well as transcendent with relation to each point in spacetime. Therefore, the Omega point will have the properties of personality, omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence and eternity.

These properties of the Omega point provide in final future of the universe with the capacity of creating the whole universe. At this point of the argument, the time perspective of the description of the universe given so far by Tipler himself gets reverted: God in his capacity as final future of the universe is really its creator, who draws his creatures into communion with himself by way of the history of the universe. While we act from our present into the future, because we look forward to a future outside ourselves, God who is himself the absolute future places his creatures into an existence that precedes that future and moves towards it.

Tipler is justified in claiming that his statements on the properties of the Omega point correspond to Biblical assertions on God [my emphasis (FJT)]. The God of the Bible is not only related to the future by his promises, but he is himself the saving future that constitutes the core of the promises: "I shall be who I shall be" (Exodus 3:14). He is the God of the coming kingdom. In hidden ways he is already now the Lord of the universe which is his creation, but it is only in the future of the completion of this universe, in the arrival of his kingdom that he will be fully revealed in his kingship over the universe and thus in his divinity. Therefore, the future of the kingdom of God formed the core of Jesus' message as well as the objective of his prayer: "Thy kingdom come" (Luke 11:2).

With this, Tipler combines the fundamental assertations of the traditional Christian doctrine on God: omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence are closely related to the idea of an ultimate future as a place of maximum information. In his argument, Tipler correctly takes exemption from a conception of God as mind according to the model of our human mind, because "a mind similar to our human mind is a manifestation of an extremely low level of information processing". God's omniscience surpasses the forms of our knowledge and is to be connected, rather, with his omnipresence. In speaking of God's omniscience, the meaning is, that everything is and remains present to God. For the Omega point in its capacity as ultimate limit of timespace is immanent in each point of timespace, but also transcending it. That was emphasized in classical Christian theology in the idea of God's omnipresence. But also the ideas of omnipotence and eternity of God imply the unity of immanence and transcendence. Tipler is justified to consider God's eternity not as atemporal in contrast to all forms of time, which would be to conceive it in terms of a onesided transcendence, but following Boethius he conceives of eternity as unlimited possession of everything that is temporally distinct in our human experience, but is perceived by God within one encompassing presence.

Since the God of point Omega is characterized by maximal accumulation of information, the idea of God as a person offers no difficulties for Tipler. Since he conceives the notion of person in terms of ability for communication, he recurs upon the Greek concept of prosopon in the sense of countenance or "mask" and considers in this connection the idea of a plurality of persons in the one God. This indicates at least an openness towards the Christian doctrine on the Trinity, although Tipler offers a rather critical discussion on the Trinity because of its idea of the second person as incarnate. Tipler's relationship with the doctrine on the Trinity depends, therefore, on his position with regard to christology. In will be necessary to come back to this point. In any event, however, there is a broad agreement between Tipler's affirmations on the properties of the Omega point and the Christian doctrine on God.

Does that imply, as Tipler occasionally claims, an absorption of theology into physics? With regard to his Omega point theory I would rather speak of an approximation of physics towards theology. As the theory starts from the anthropic principle and continues with its assumptions on the future of our universe in terms of a closed universe and with the description of a definite increase of accumulating information on the way towards the Omega point, it seems to be conducive to the idea of God in terms of the ultimate future of the universe. Only when the Omega point is reached, the description turns around: the last result becomes the first principle, the end becomes the creator of the universe. But this term seems to remain, provisionally at least, more theology than physics, though Tipler certainly succeeds in developing a coherent argument that allows for connecting the idea of creation as well as the eschatological hope for the resurrection of the dead with the properties of point Omega as final future of the universe.

When Christian theology conceives of the universe in terms of creation, the universe gets described from the point of view of God, not reversely God by extrapolation from the universe. The fundamental assertion of the doctrine of creation is, that its every existence - from God's point of view - is "contingent". That means: neither existence nor essence of our universe are "necessary" from God's point of view. The universe could be different or not exist at all. It is an implication of the idea of God that he himself cannot be non-existent: That is to say, when God exists, he does so by himself. The universe, by contrast, is contingent. Its existence is a manifestation of God's free decision and its existence continues to depend upon him. In that sense it is created. If the universe would exist "necessarily" as God does, then it would be a correlate of God from eternity and the existence of the universe could not be a manifestation of the freedom and love of God the creator, but it would be a condition of God's own identity, a condition, that would not be within his power.

According to Christian doctrine, by the way, there is only one universe, not a plurality of worlds in the sense of that specific interpretation of quantum mechanics that has come to be known under the name of many-worlds-hypothesis (Hugh Everett 1957). In my view, but also according to the judgment of many physicists, this many-worlds-hypothesis is suspect of a problematic reification of the plurality of alternative states that according to quantum theory each given particle may occupy the next moment. Tipler writes in his book that he was convinced of the possibility of the many-worlds-hypothesis when reading the description of the concept of capital by Friedrich von Hayek. According to Hayek "the only correct definition of the capital, which a society owns," is provided by "a complete list of the alternative revenues, which one could gain from its resources in the course of time". The point here, however, is the idea of possible alternative forms of investment, which cannot be realized all at the same time. In the same sense the quantum theory seems to conceive of alternative possibilities, which are not realized simultaneously. The plurality of alternative possibilities, however, does not legitimate the assumption of an actual multitude of many worlds.

In the Christian doctrine the uniqueness of our universe is connected with its origin in the creative love of God, who decided for the creation of this one universe out of many possible worlds. The idea of God's love as motivating the act of creation also connects in the perspective of the Christian doctrine the eschatological completion of the world with its creation, because the resurrection of the dead, which is the object of Christian hope, expresses the fidelity of the eternal God towards his creation, which he does not let go to be finally the victim of death. Human beings especically are destined to eternal communion with God, and therefore God will resurrect them from death and transform them through judgment in order to make them capable of participating his light.

In the subject of the resurrection of the dead Tipler comes close again to the Christian doctrine [my emphasis (FJT)]. The indefinite accumulation of information that is characteristic of the Omega point allows, since it is connected with God's omnipotence, the identical simulation of the past according to the model of computer simulation. It does not involve material continuity or identity with the earlier physical existence. But such an identity is not required in the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body either. The material elements of our body are continuously exchanged in the course of this life already. The decisive point concerning the identity of the risen ones with their former life is, as Saint Thomas already emphasized in the line of Origen, the programme of our bodily existence that is contained in our soul (Summa Contra Gentiles. II, 58). At the same time it is necessary to consider that communion with the eternal God requires a transformation of our present form of existence, according to the words of Paul: "... this mortal nature must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:23). This transformation is already implied in the idea of participation in eternal life, and the transformation into participation God's eternal life implies the element of judgment, a purification that burns out everything that cannot persist in the presence of the eternal God.

Tipler also finds the motivation of an eschatological resurrection of the dead in God's selfless love. This means according to his argument as well as in Christian eschatology: there is no "compelling" necessity for the resurrection of the dead, but only an appropriateness with regard to the fact that the Omega point is the creator of the universe. This argument could be strengthened by the further consideration that the act of creation itself was already an expression of God's free love in granting the creatures their proper existence. The creation of the universe and its eschatological completion in the resurrection of the dead are reducible to the same motivation of divine action.

In concluding these remarks on Tipler's eschatology it is necessary to comment on the relationship between the Christian hope for a resurrection of the dead and the resurrection of Jesus. According to the Christian faith communion with Jesus, the crucified and risen one, guarantees participation in the future of the resurrection of the dead. Tipler did not comment on this issue in his presentation at Innsbruck, but he did so in a section of his book entitled "Why I am not a Christian". There he said that for historical reasons he was not able to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. It is peculiar, however, that those historians and exegets who do not accept the resurrection of Jesus as historical fact call upon natural science which supposedly excludes the very possibility of such an event. This does not apply to Tipler, since he to the contrary justifies the possibility of an eschatological resurrection of the dead. Should that not suggest to resume the discussion concerning the possibility of such an event even within the course of history? According to Tipler, what happens at the end of the universe is not only opposed to the present reality of life, but also somehow present in it. Should it not be possible, then, that corresponding to the immanence of the transcendent God the eschatological reality could become effective even within the course of history already? With regard to the historical question, the judgment of many exegets affirms that the Christian Easter tradition is not legendary in its core, and if the content of the tradition would not be so extraordinary, there would be little doubt concerning its historicity. The point of offence is in the supposed physical impossibility, and it is for this reason that alternative reconstructions of the tradition are developed which are historically more improbable than the central affirmations of the early Christian tradition itself.

Tipler himself suggests that he would judge the issue differently, if the appearence of such a person at a certain point in human history were necessary for the Omega point to result in the end. According to Christian doctrine this is indeed the case, because human beings as alienated from God need to be restored to communion with God in order that the light of God's eternity will not confront them in the eschatological future as a consuming fire. Jesus' mission served just such a restoration of communion with God, which Jesus as "Son" of the Father embodies in his own person, and that mission was confirmed, according to the Christian message, by his resurrection.

Because according to Christian teaching the risen Christ already participates in God's rule over the universe, because of his resurrection, Christian believers and their resurrection hope need not the difficult path towards resurrection via a change of the basis of intellectual life from oldfashioned organic life to a computerbased life that might finally dominate in the universe. Communion with the crucified and risen Christ, who according to the Christian faith at present already participates in God's rule of the universe, is sufficient for the Christian as basis of the hope in their future participation in the resurrection of the dead. That does not exclude that the development of life in the universe may indeed take the course which Tipler describes. The christological considerations, however, offered here show that Christian theology cannot yet see itself to be completely absorbed into Tipler's cosmological model, but will consider this model rather in terms of an approximation of scientific theory to the subject matter of Christian theology, even though the fact remains important enough that such an approximation could be produced.