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I recall when I learned that my father had been diagnosed with dementia. The news was not immediately devastating because I wasn’t convinced his diagnosis was correct. At the time, my father lived 4 hours away and was on his own. I was persuaded that once we moved him closer to us and were able to manage his medication, diet and medical appointments that he would be fine. I told myself that the symptoms he was experiencing were just due to old age and stress.
My brother and I were able to move him into an apartment that was only 5 minutes from my home. I was able to manage his medication, diet and medical appointments just as I had hoped; however, as I cared for my Dad, evidence began to accumulate that confirmed his diagnosis. Dad began to have conversations with himself in the mirror because he didn’t recognize his own reflection. He was convinced it was someone looking at him through a window. He no longer could keep track of time and lost his ability to read. Finally, he no longer remembered my name or knew who I was. I could no longer hide behind the possibility that Dad was just getting old or suffering from extreme stress. Although the thought of my dad’s life ending this way was personally repugnant, I had to face the facts- my Dad had severe dementia.
The story of how I came to accept my Dad’s diagnosis of dementia illustrates just how difficult it can be to evaluate evidence and draw a sound conclusion when strong emotions are involved. Sometimes we reject a conclusion not because it is unsupported by evidence, but because we find it personally distasteful.
A Universe with a Beginning
My reluctance to accept my Dad’s dementia diagnosis is not all that different from the reluctance demonstrated by many in the scientific community when the evidence for the “Big Bang” was discovered. The “Big Bang” describes the scientific theory that all space, matter and time came into being at some point in the finite past. This was significant because “all throughout history men have assumed that the universe as a whole was unchanging…the universe itself was just there…”1 The reaction by many in the scientific community was curious. Professor of Physics at Auburn University J. M. Wersinger explains:
"At first the scientific community was very reluctant to accept the idea of a birth of the universe... It took time, observational evidence, and careful verification of predictions made by the Big Bang model to convince the scientific community to accept the idea of a cosmic genesis...[T]he Big Bang is a very successful model...that imposed itself on a reluctant scientific community."2
Albert Einstein himself called the discovery “irritating.”3 Contemporary of Einstein and physicist Arthur Eddington wrote, “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature is repugnant to me…I should like to find a genuine loophole.”4 Phillip Morrison of MIT said, “I find it hard to accept the Big Bang Theory. I would like to reject it, but I have to accept the facts.”5 The late agnostic Robert Jastrow comments on the reaction of his colleagues:
“There is a strange ring of feeling and emotion in these reactions. They come from the heart, whereas you would expect the judgments to come from the brain. Why?”6
What did these scientific thinkers find so “irritating” and “repugnant” about the discovery that the universe had a beginning? Why the reluctance on the part of the scientific community to accept the hard evidence? Before we answer those questions, let’s briefly survey some of the evidence…
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