# God, the expanding universe, and dark energy

1.  Could you convert the rate of expansion of the universe in everyday terms?  As an automotive engineer, I am very comfortable with units of ft or miles per second squared

2.  How much energy from God is infused into the universe every second in order to maintain the space energy density.

When I initially set out to answer J’s questions, I was just going to write a line or two giving the numerical answer for each one. But what fun is that? Instead, I decided to take you all down the rabbit hole with me, and get into the details of each of these questions. But if you just want to skip ahead to the answers, they’re highlighted at the end of each discussion.

Here we go…

1. First, a bit of context. In 1929, American astronomer Edwin Hubble presented evidence that galaxies are rushing away from one another, and that the speed with which they are rushing away is proportional to their redshift. This is interpreted to mean that the further away galaxies are, the faster they appear to be moving away, and this was the first physical evidence that our universe was not static and eternal, but dynamic and finite in time. The average rate at which galaxies are moving away from each other — called the Hubble constant — is a reasonable measure of the expansion rate of the universe, so we’ll use that to answer J’s question. The Hubble constant is about 70 km/s per megaparsec of space.

Now, I could just throw that number at you and convert the units to something more relatable and be done with it, but why do that when we have an opportunity to go into some nifty astronomical stuff? For instance, did you know astronomers don’t use light-years in their work? Light-years are used more for relating astronomical stuff to the general public. Instead, astronomers use parsecs, where one parsec equals 3.26 light-years. It may seem arbitrary, but there’s a sensible reason astronomers use this seemingly weird unit for distance. The answer lies in the definition of the word ‘parsec,’ which comes from ‘parallax’ and ‘arcsecond.’ Parallax is the apparent shifting of something in the foreground with respect to a very distant background. You can observe parallax by holding out your thumb and then observing it shift relative to stuff further away as you close one eye and then the other. This happens because your eyes are separated by a short distance. If you were able to adjust the distance between your eyes, you would notice more parallax the further apart you moved your eyes.

Based on the same principle, we observe parallax of nearby stars relative to much further stars as the Earth orbits around the Sun. When the Earth is on one side of the Sun, we can observe a nearby star relative to a particular background of stars. Six months later, when the Earth is on the other side of the Sun, we observe the same star relative to a different background of stars. This is rather useful in terms of measuring distances, because the further away something is, the less parallax you observe. And that leads to the definition of parsec: a parsec is the distance at which you would observe exactly 1 arcsecond of parallax as the Earth goes around the Sun.

And now I’ve introduced another term that needs to be explained. An arcsecond is a unit of angular size. When we look at objects and assess how large they are, we aren’t actually measuring linear sizes, but rather how big of an angle they subtend. The Moon in the sky, for instance, subtends a half a degree of ‘arc.’ That’s its size as far as our eyes and brains can measure it. If we have some idea of how far away it is, then our brains can translate that to a linear size. (Angular size + knowledge of distance + a bit of cogitation = “Wow, half a degree of arc and that thing is 240,000 miles away? It must be big!”) So then, what’s an arcsecond? Well, one degree of arc is divided up into 60 arcminutes, and each arcminute is divided up into 60 arcseconds. So, an arcsecond is 1/3600th of a degree, which seems awfully small until you realize that the smallest angle we can measure in astronomy is about one thousandth of that.

Let’s return to J’s question. We know the Hubble constant is about 70 km/s per megaparsec of space. Mega means million, so for every million parsecs of distance away from the Milky Way, space is observed to be expanding at a rate of 70 km/s. In more relatable terms, that translates to about 157,000 mph per 3.26 million light-years of space. More distant galaxies are seen to move faster simply because of their distance. I have my students do a little experiment to help visualize this. Take a thick rubber band, cut it and lay it out flat, and then draw some dots on it: one dot in the middle to represent the Milky Way, and then dots on the other side at various distances to represent other galaxies. As you stretch out the rubber band, the “rate” at which the other dots move from the MW dot depends on how far away they are, and the more distant ones do indeed expand faster than the closer ones.

A better way to get an idea of how fast the universe is expanding is to think of scale instead of proper distances. The scale is a rough guide to the distances between galaxies, which grows as the universe expands, but we don’t attach any units to it. Instead, we think about how long it takes the scale to double or triple or increase by a factor of 100 or whatever. Billions of years ago, when the universe was small in scale, it was doubling in scale very rapidly, but as the scale got much larger, it took longer and longer to double. The last time the universe doubled in scale, it took about 7 billion years. The next doubling will take much longer. Incidentally, this is the basis for reconciling a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 with a very old universe, as shown here. This is complicated a bit by the observation that the universe is accelerating in its expansion, and this leads to J’s next question.

Summary: The universe is expanding at a rate of about 157,000 mph per 3.26 million light-years of space.

2. Astrophysicists have proposed the existence of some mysterious, unseen form of energy in the universe to account for the speeding up of its expansion. They call this energy “dark energy,” and it has the peculiar property that its space density stays constant. Density is the amount of something per volume, so this means the amount of dark energy per volume of space never changes, even though the amount of space in the universe is increasing every moment. Think about how weird that is. That means the extra dark energy needed to keep the dark energy per volume constant as the universe expands has to come from somewhere. But where? I recently lectured about this to a group of Christians who were keen on science, and explained that this is consistent with scripture in which we are told that God sustains the universe (Heb 1:3, Col 1:17). When J heard this, he wanted to know how much energy per second God is injecting into the universe to maintain the constant dark energy density. So, let’s try to figure it out.

Even though dark energy is the dominant “stuff” of the universe, it’s extremely rarefied. It makes up 68% of the total of everything that’s in the universe, and yet its energy density is a paltry 10-9 joules for every cubic meter of space. The reason dark energy dominates the universe in spite of its low energy density is that space is HUGE — there’s an astronomical amount of cubic meters in space, so that paltry energy adds up to something big over large distances.

It turns out, we can’t answer J’s question directly, since we don’t know the total size of the universe. The universe could be finitely huge or infinitely huge; we simply don’t know. But we can estimate the amount of extra energy needed per second per megaparsec of space and use that to estimate how much extra energy is needed for the amount of the universe we can observe.

Remember that the Hubble constant, 70 km/s per megaparsec, tells us the rate of expansion. So, let’s first imagine a cubic chunk of space that’s a million parsecs on each side. Converting to more convenient units, this cosmic cube is 3.09 x 1022 meters on each side. This chunk of space is expanding at a rate of 70 km/s, which is 70,000 meters every second; this means every second, the chunk of space is gaining (3.09 x 1022 m + 70,000 m)3 – (3.09 x 1022 m)3, or 2 x 1050 cubic meters, in volume. If the space density of dark energy is 10-9 joules for every cubic meter, then each cubic megaparsec chunk of space is gaining an extra 2 x 1041 joules per second.

Let’s put that in relatable terms. One joule per second is known as a watt, a common household unit of power that you probably recognize from lightbulbs. So, let’s think of the extra energy injected into space every second in terms of watts. The Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona has three reactors with a total power output of about 4,000 megawatts. If we take 2 x 1041 watts and divide by that, we get 5 x 1031 nuclear power plants-worth of power for each of these million-parsec chunks of space. That’s a 5 with 31 zeroes after it. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Well, consider that the size of the observable universe is much larger than this hypothetical chunk of space, about 30 gigaparsecs in any direction, which means that that the total amount of energy per second added to the observable universe is equivalent to 1045 nuclear power plants. To complicate things a bit, this is the momentary increase in energy per second of the observable universe, since the universe is expanding every moment. And, oddly, this is kind of wimpy when you consider that the theoretical prediction for the space density of dark energy is about 30 orders of magnitude higher than what’s been measured, a mismatch that so far no one knows how to resolve.

Summary: The amount of energy that’s currently added to the observable universe per second to maintain a constant space density of dark energy is the equivalent output of 5 x 1045 nuclear power plants. That’s a billion-trillion-trillion-trillion nuclear plants.

I know I skipped over some stuff that probably has you scratching your head, like the idea that some mysterious form of unseen energy is pouring into our universe every second from who-knows-where and that God has something to do with it. This dark side of the universe, which includes another substance called dark matter, is a fascinating topic that, believe it or not, relates to Christian scripture. If this interests you, stay tuned. I’m in the process of writing a booklet on the topic, and plan to host an online seminar through my publisher sometime in the next year.

# Creatio ex logos

Dave writes:

Sarah, I appreciate your ministry and read your testimony. I came to God initially as a searcher and made a leap of faith from what seemed to me logical eclecticism i.e. all religions lead to or at least can lead to God. The only conflict with that belief is the Bible! I accepted Christ by “coming through the gate” of John 10. I since have come through the Cross as a major sinner – yuch, but praise the Lord for His forgiveness. I love Him much more now – through the Cross. So, moving on to my question: Panentheism- what do you know or think about it. I do not believe in “Process Theology ” which Panentheism (not pantheism) is associated with (ex. Whitehead). Why I entertain Panentheism is that I have trouble with “creatio ex nihilo” as being Biblical (and obviously does not fit into the 1st Law of thermodynamics). I would much prefer orthodoxy to state “creatio ex logos”. I do not believe God made creation from absolutely nothing. I believe it is from His Word… His breath… ex logos is substantial not nothing. God created the universe from His own substance – by speaking. Our own words are not “out of thin air” but have a source of energy behind their creation… it is a source of energy that is both “imminent (our breath, sound vibrations and physical shaping of words with our mouths) and “transcendent” (our mind and thoughts). There is obviously much more to this topic, and it is not without it problematic issues, but what do you think – about Panentheism – biblically and scientifically?” P.S. Pantheism also seems to fit nicely into the Kalam cosmological argument and it counter argument (God vs Nothing as the first cause).

In order to understand the true meaning of creatio ex nihilo, it will be helpful for us to revisit Aristotle, who described four different types of causes to answer the “why” of things; that is, he came up with reasons for why there would be any sort of change or movement. In the case of the universe, we can consider two of those causes: a material cause and an efficient cause. A material cause is something that is determined by the material of the thing being changed or moved. For instance, paper would be the material cause of a book. An efficient cause, on the other hand, is external to whatever it is that’s being changed or moved and is the agent of that change or movement. For instance, the efficient cause of a book would be a writer. Creatio ex nihilo, the idea that God created the universe from nothing, means that: a) God is the efficient cause of the universe; and b) there is no material cause of the universe.

From a theological point of view, creatio ex nihilo stands in opposition to the idea that God established the universe by making it from eternally existing matter (a material cause). Traditional Christian theology rejects the latter. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, who has written deeply on this topic, points to Augustine who says that God, as the ultimate Being, “did not work as a human craftsman does, making one thing out of something else as his mind directs…. [his] Word alone created [heaven and earth]” [John 1:1-5]. This is supported by the distinction between the Hebrew words for “create” and “make” in Genesis. The word for make, asah, means to refashion from previously existing material, and it is used to describe the emergence of structure in the universe following its creation, things like the galaxy, stars, planets, and so on. The word for create, bara, refers to something that is an utterly new creation. Bara appears only three times in Genesis: once for the creation of the universe, once for the creation of the nephesh, or animal soul, and once for the creation of the human spirit, the neshama.

What all of this suggests is that creatio ex nihilo is synonymous with creatio ex logos. The universe was an entirely new creation, not something that was made out of pre-existing stuff. Now, while I’m not aware of any reason that the physical conservation laws must apply to the creation of the universe, I think you’re right that it violates some sense of conservation to have a universe appear out of absolute nothing. So, while creatio ex nihilo rejects the idea of eternally existing matter from which God shapes the universe, it does embrace the idea that God’s Word is the something from which the universe was created. This is entirely consistent with what’s been observed in physics.

# The grand ballroom of the universe

There are a lot of galaxies in the universe, and like people on a crowded dance floor, they sometimes collide. The time it takes for the full collision to unfold is hundreds of millions of years, so what we see when we observe colliding galaxies with our telescopes are really just snapshots of particular moments during the collision. To try to understand the physics of galaxy collisions, astrophysicists often create sophisticated supercomputer simulations that match our observations of different stages of actual collisions; but instead of taking a hundred million years to play out, we can watch the whole thing happen in the space of minutes.

I love watching simulated galaxy collisions, and I think you’ll find them fascinating, too. It’s as though two galaxies decide to become partners in some cosmic ballroom dance. Even though the collisions are destructive, there is something so graceful and elegant about them that I always hear Mozart in my head as I’m watching.

I wanted my astronomy students to appreciate all this, so a few years ago I put together a video compilation of three galaxy collision simulations by astrophysicists at Case Western Reserve University and set them to one of my favorite Mozart symphonies. The simulations are sometimes paused mid-collision so that the “camera” can pan around to give us a look from different angles. Following each simulation there’s an image of an actual galaxy collision of that type so you can see how well the physics of the simulations matches what we observe in the universe.

# Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we try to clear up some confusion about Genesis and time dilation.

EC writes:

With regard to your time dilation theory… How would the mechanics of this work on a local level? With the expansion and the moving away from the rest of the mass, time slows down is the basics of it, right?

If time is slowing down, are other “constants” changing at the same rate? For example, would gravity be affected differently? What I am wondering is, how to reconcile the needed days in this time if its simply apparent time with the motion of the planets themselves. If time was moving faster due to greater mass, but the planets were not moving faster, then days would be much much longer. If planets were moving faster, then gravity would have to be stronger in relation to the dilation or the planets and other bodies would leave each other, which obviously hasn’t happened.

Perhaps I am missing something, but I seem to be stuck here.

Schroeder’s time dilation reconciliation of Genesis 1 with modern science seems to confuse a lot of people. Part of the problem is that relativity is weird, non-intuitive, and confuses just about everyone. I can say to you in words that time dilation is just the stretching of the flow of time in one frame of reference relative to another, but it’s not very relatable in terms of everyday experiences. The best I could do is to say something like this: what is an hour for you is really two hours for me. Or if you’ve seen the movie Contact, you might remember that time dilation was used to explain how Dr. Arroway could experience several hours on another planet while the observers back on Earth experienced only a few seconds.

Besides the fact that it’s just weird, probably the most confusing thing about time dilation is that it can arise from three different things:

• relative velocity
• relative gravity
• stretching of space as the universe expands.

Even though it confuses some people, Schroeder and I both like to use practical examples of relativity that have nothing to do with Genesis, because it demonstrates that time dilation is a real thing and not just some wacky mathematical idea. For instance, time dilation due to relative velocity explains how particles called muons can be produced in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, and time dilation due to relative gravity explains the very slight difference in the flow of time on board global positioning satellites compared with the surface of the Earth. When I tell audiences in my lectures that without accounting for differences in the flow of time due to gravity, GPS would be useless, it impresses on them that relativity is real.

However, the cost of this is that these examples seem to stick in people’s minds once we switch over to discussing the flow of time and Genesis. So, what I want you to do is this. Remember from those examples that relativity is real, and then forget the rest. Then, when anyone talks about using time dilation to reconcile Genesis 1 and modern science, remember that it is solely due to the fact that the universe is expanding. It doesn’t have anything to do with relative speed or gravity.

The way it works is that we use the wave nature of light as the beat of the cosmic clock. Since light waves traveling through space get stretched out as the universe expands, that shows us how the flow of cosmic time is stretched out compared with earlier times in the universe’s history. Every time the universe doubles in scale as it’s expanding — that is, every time the distance between very far away galaxies doubles in size — the flow of time is stretched out by a factor of two compared with when the universe was half its present scale. This means, as the universe gets more and more stretched out, the flow of time gets slower and slower compared with earlier times. This is how you reconcile six Genesis days with 14 billion years.

# Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss the scientific method in terms of the gospels and one beginning.

PS writes:

Thanks for taking time to answer my questions. I find the Biblical notion of the Gospel very intriguing, as well as current notions within the field of cosmology.

1. When doing science, we employ the scientific method to arrive at a particular degree of certainty for a given problem. How does belief in Jesus differ? Are we to use the same scientific method when assessing the veracity of the Gospel? Or is there another method, rigorously defined and assessed, that we can employ?

2. To what degree of certainty does the average professional cosmologist think space/time had a single beginning? I think I’ve noted that cosmologist who actually study this notion are not very dogmatic.

3. What percentage of actual cosmologists hold to a high degree of certainty (95%?) that space/time had a single beginning?

4. What degree of certainty do you have that the Gospel is true? Is it possible for you to change your mind in the future?

Sorry if these are tough questions, but I’ve been very curious about these notions for a long time.

The eminent cosmologist and professor of philosophy, Michael Heller, points out in his book, Ultimate Explanations of the Universe, that the scientific method has proved so powerful a tool for investigating the physical world that there is a tendency to misapply it by extending its use to anything a person might wish to study. However, the scientific method is not only not applicable to everything we could ever want to investigate, it’s not even applicable to the majority of things we could ever want to investigate.

1. The scientific method is not applicable to the gospels. We couldn’t use science to test them any more than we could use science to test the historical claims about George Washington or Alexander the Great. Instead, we apply the legal-historical method to determine if the claims about Jesus in the gospels are true. My friend, J. Warner Wallace, who is a homicide detective and skilled apologist, explains this approach in his book, Cold Case Christianity.

2. Presumably PS is referring to a cyclical model in which the universe bangs, expands, contracts, and crunches, over and over, possibly for eternity, but the question isn’t answerable as written. We can assign a certainty to something like the measured age of the universe, but not to something that is beyond our ability to measure. Theoretical cosmologists have attempted to come up with models that take the current physical evidence and fit it into a cyclical timeline, and these do have some testable aspects. In terms of the physical evidence, however, there is no support for multiple beginnings, and the models just don’t work. It looks like we’re stuck with one beginning.

3. I have no idea. But, as the link above shows, the best and the brightest in theoretical cosmology have not been able to make cyclical models work. In terms of the models and evidence, the cyclical universe is currently a dead end. That doesn’t mean some cosmologists won’t hold to it for personal or philosophical reasons.

4. I can’t quantify it, but I’m as certain about the claims of the gospels as I am of the claims about other major historical events that are widely accepted, which is to say very certain. Enough to bet my life on it. It’s always possible for me to change my mind about something, given sufficient evidence.

Image: Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch

# The physics of miracles: thermodynamics

Miracles are part of Christian tradition that are often ridiculed by atheists. The claim is that God or one of God’s agents does the impossible, and impossible things never happen, because they defy the laws of nature, so why do you believe in something as nonsensical as miracles?

But is that really what all miracles are — defying the laws of nature and doing the impossible?

Before we get into the physics, let’s first go to scripture to see how miracles are defined. (Generally speaking, in any argument with atheists over something in scripture, the first thing you should do is carefully study the relevant passages to see what the actual claim is. Atheists almost always get it wrong.)

There are two Hebrew words translated as ‘miracle’ in the Old Testament. They are

• oth: this word refers to a sign. The purpose of this sort of miracle is to draw people’s attention to God. (e.g. Exodus 12:13)
• mopheth: this word refers to a wonder and is often used together with oth (signs and wonders). The purpose of this sort of miracle is to display God’s power. (e.g. Exodus 7:3)

The Greek counterparts in the New Testament are

• semeion: this word refers to a sign, and is used to describe acts that are evidence of divine authority, usually something that goes against the usual course of nature (e.g. John 2:11)
• teras: this word refers to a wonder, and is used to describe something that causes a person to marvel (e.g. Acts 2:22)

There are two additional words used for miracle in the New Testament:

• dunamis: this word refers to an act that is supernatural in origin (e.g. Mark 6:2)
• ergon: this word means “work,” as in the works of Jesus (e.g. Matthew 11:2) (interestingly, ergon is the Greek word from which the unit of energy, erg, is derived)

Is it possible to square some miracles with the laws of nature without detracting from their wondrousness? I believe the answer is yes, based on two branches of physics: thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. In this first part, I’ll discuss miracles from the perspective of thermodynamics, the branch of physics that deals with heat, energy, and work.

What follows is more properly described as statistical mechanics, or statistical thermodynamics, but you don’t need to get hung up terms. This field of study deals with predictions about the behavior of systems with enormous numbers of particles. These numbers are so huge that no one could be absolutely certain about any predictions, but this is where statistics come to the rescue. You can make statistical predictions about systems of particles, and, as you’ll see, the more particles you’re dealing with, the more accurate the predictions become. And, interestingly, this is precisely what permits miracles that do not violate the laws of nature.

The laws of nature permit a lot more than most people realize. In our everyday lives, we don’t usually define common sense expectations in terms of probabilities, but that’s often precisely what common sense is. In thermodynamics, that which constitutes our everyday expectation in any given situation is what’s referred to as the most probable state of a system.

To see what I mean, let’s consider a room with air in it, and imagine that we divide the room into two equal parts. We’ll also imagine this room and the air molecules comprise a closed system: the room has been effectively sealed off with its doors and windows closed for several hours, with no energy or air added to or removed from it. This means the room has had time for the air particles to jostle around and distribute themselves randomly. What we expect when we walk into the room is that the air molecules will be relatively evenly distributed throughout the room with approximately the same number of molecules on either side. What we don’t expect is that all of the air molecules will be on one side of the room with a vacuum on the other side. Most of you probably couldn’t explain why you’d be astonished to find all of the air on just one side of the room — you intuitively sense that this would be extremely odd — but there is a sound reason for this expectation that is rooted in probability.

Let’s construct what scientists call a toy model, which is a very simplified example of a situation you wish to study, in order to understand the fundamentals. Our toy model consists of a room divided in half with only two air molecules in it, an oxygen molecule and a nitrogen molecule. Here are the possible arrangements of these molecules:

Each possible arrangement is called a “state” of the room. We see that there are four possible states for the room. There are two states in which the air molecules are distributed evenly in the room, and two in which both of the air molecules are on one side of the room. The probability of finding a room in a state in which both molecules are on one side of the room is 2 out of 4, or 50%.

Easy enough. But things start to change quickly the more particles we add. Let’s see what happens when we double the number of molecules to four — one nitrogen, one oxygen, one argon, and one carbon dioxide.

As you can see, there are a total of 16 possible states for the room. Again, there are only two states in which the air molecules are on one side of the room, but now there are many more total possible states than before. The probability of all four molecules spontaneously arranging themselves on one side of the room is 2 out of 16, or 12.5%. This is a lot less probable than in the previous example, but not so low that you would be astonished to find all of the air molecules on one side of the room.

Based on this toy model, we can write the mathematical expression for the total number of possible arrangements of air molecules in a two-sided room as

total # of states = (2 sides of the room)# of molecules

or

2N

That’s 2 raised to the power of the number of molecules. For the two-molecule example, that’s 22 = 4, and for the four-molecule example, that’s 24 = 16.

Let’s consider a room with N = 100 air molecules in it, and calculate the probability of finding all of the molecules on one side of the room:

total # of permutations = 2100 = 1030

Even with a paltry 100 air molecules in the room, the probability of finding them all on one side of the room is a minuscule 2 out of 1030 possible permutations. Let’s put this in perspective. If the air molecules randomly redistributed themselves every second, you’d have to wait a trillion lifetimes of the universe before you’d have a reasonable expectation of finding all 100 air molecules on one side of the room.

Let’s now consider a typical room, which has N = 1027 air molecules in it. That number is a 1 with 27 zeroes after it

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

or a billion billion billion.

The total number of possible arrangements of the air molecules in a room divided into two equal parts is

2N = 21027

or 2 raised to the power of a billion billion billion. It’s an absurdly large number.

There are still only two possible ways for all of the air molecules to be on one side of the room or the other, so the probability of finding a room in a state in which all of the air molecules are, by random chance, on one side of the room or the other is 2 out of 21027. To say that this is an extremely improbable state is beyond understatement.

In fact, by any reasonable definition, we can say that it’s effectively impossible for the air molecules in a room to spontaneously arrange themselves to be on just one side of the room. But notice that it’s not strictly impossible. The probability of finding the air molecules on one side of the room by chance is extremely, extremely low, so low that we would never expect it to happen in the normal course of nature, but the probability is not precisely zero.

This toy model neglects other important physical effects, but it suffices to demonstrate the point that a lot of physical systems are largely governed by probabilities. Personally, I think this is how God has built leeway into the system of the universe to do the seemingly impossible in the natural world without violating the laws of nature. It is God, or an agent of God, doing what is effectively impossible, i.e. impossible for us, but not strictly impossible, and certainly not impossible for God.

Let’s consider a biblical example — the parting of the Red Sea. In Exodus 14, Moses is described as stretching out his hand at God’s command and parting the Red Sea so that the millions of people of Israel could cross it and escape from the pursuing Egyptians. This is referenced later in Deuteronomy 26:8 as one of the “signs and wonders” (oth and mopheth) God used to display his power and free Israel from Egypt. The probability of finding the waters of the Red Sea spontaneously parting on their own would be as exceptionally low as in our example of the air molecules in the room spontaneously arranging themselves on just one side. It’s so low that we would never expect it to happen in the usual course of nature, but, as we saw in the example of air molecules, it’s not strictly impossible.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not: a) claiming that all physical miracles have a foundation in probability — the miracle (semeion) of Jesus turning water into wine would involve a different physical mechanism than that illustrated by statistical thermodynamics; b) claiming that all miracles are physical in character; or c) attempting to explain miracles in a way that detracts from their miraculousness. That physical miracles could fit into the natural framework of the universe makes them no less wondrous than if they defied the laws of nature. Think of it this way. It’s not strictly impossible for you to win the Mega Millions lottery four times in a row — the probability is approximately 1 out of 1025, about 100,000 times more probable than finding 100 air molecules on one side of a room. However, the odds are so overwhelmingly against it that it no one would believe it happened without someone intervening in the system to force this outcome. Isn’t that what we’re talking about with miracles?

According to the laws of physics, a miracle like parting the Red Sea does not violate the laws of nature, it just requires a far greater power over the forces of nature than we humans could ever have.

In the next part, I’ll look at miracles from the perspective of the weird and wondrous world of quantum mechanics.

Since posting, I’ve lightly edited this article for clarification of two points: 1) not all physical miracles are probabilistic in nature; and 2) not all miracles are physical in character. Some miracles described in the Bible, such as the creation of the universe, the creation of the nefesh (animal soul) and the neshama (human soul), and Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, are entirely supernatural in character.

Parting of the Red Sea image credit: The Swordbearer.

# Science as true worship, Part III

In Part I of this series, Sarah talked about the Christian influence on the philosophy of science and the increasing corruption of science the further it moves from its Christian roots. In Part II, she discussed how to avoid this corruption. In Part III, Surak delves into where science has dangerously strayed from the pursuit of truth.

Modern science arose in only one time and place: Western Europe, during its peak as the realm of Christendom. Science as an institution is the result of cultures based on Christian beliefs, values, and faith. No other belief system or culture that has ever existed has proven itself capable of originating or sustaining science. With the collapse of Christian culture in Western Europe and North America, one of the most urgent questions mankind faces is whether or not there is any hope that some emerging belief system or culture other than Christianity can effectively support the continued scientific search for knowledge.

The evidence says no. The only likely candidate for the next cultural champion of science is the secular humanist culture that has replaced Christian culture in Western Europe and Canada, and is currently locked in a winner-take-all struggle with Christian culture in the United States. Secular humanists constantly congratulate themselves on how scientifically superior they are to Christians, but the evidence leaves no doubt that humanists have done nothing but corrupt science in the fields of study they’ve dominated for the last century and a half. Let’s examine them.

Biology

It was inevitable that Darwin would get lots of things wrong. He was a scientific pioneer who came up with his theory before the first major work was done on dinosaur fossils, so he couldn’t have known about the profound effects natural catastrophes had on the development of life on earth. He wrote his books before the discovery of the Burgess Shale fossils that led to the discovery of the Cambrian Explosion of animal life about 540 million years ago. All of the fossil evidence uncovered since the publication of Origin of Species has destroyed Darwin’s primary conjecture of a gradual evolution of life on earth, as the modern biologist Niles Eldredge made very clear to his fellow biologists in the early 1970s.

Darwin also formulated his theory long before all of the great advances in the field of genetics. The most recent discoveries in the new field of Evolutionary Development (Evo Devo), which combines the study of embryology with the study of evolution, has utterly destroyed the Neo-Darwinian notion of the ‘tree of life.’

None of this has been publicly admitted by biologists, because biology is no longer a faithful servant of science. Biology’s first loyalty is to the militantly missionary faith of atheistic secular humanism. Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s original arch defender, initiated the use of evolution theory to attack the beliefs and influence of Christianity even though he did not believe in two key parts of Darwinism: gradualism and natural selection. Huxley rightly pointed out to his friend and colleague that there was no evidence for these necessary elements of early evolutionary theory. Darwin countered that people should be patient because as yet undiscovered fossil evidence was sure to confirm his hypotheses. The fossil and genetic evidence has done just the opposite, but humanists dogmatically oppose any challenge to Darwin’s beliefs because he has been anointed as one of the three great prophets of atheistic humanism.

There is a simple way to test this assertion. Find a professional biologist and try to get him to say the following, “Darwin was wrong about most things.” This statement is undeniably true. Darwin was a true scientist worthy of honor, and a case can be made that Darwin’s contributions in the field of biology are equal to those of Copernicus in astrophysics. But, physicists have no problem giving Copernicus credit for his immense contribution to modern science while fully accepting and publicly acknowledging that he was wrong about a lot of things. Biologists who cannot or will not make a similar public statement about Darwin’s limitations because of their opposition to Christianity are not true scientists, they are apologists for atheism who are corrupting science.

Behavioral Science

The effects of secular humanism are even worse than the corruption of an existing science such as biology. Secular humanism has proven to be an absolute barrier to new science. The other two prophets of atheistic humanism, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, are truly disturbing examples of the deadening effects of humanism on science.

Marx’s so-called ‘scientific socialism’ was dominant for generations in the social sciences. The application of truly scientific beliefs based on Christianity led to genuine science, the Industrial Revolutions, and the rise of governments based on the observance of human rights. Efforts to reform societies according to Marx’s atheistic ‘science’ led to the horrendous death, destruction, and inhumanity of the communist movement. It is truly appalling that after such complete theoretical and practical failure, Marxism is still influential on America’s college campuses.

Freud, the other great prophet of atheism, dominated the study of individual behavior from the beginning of the 20th century. Freud was a charlatan who couldn’t even cure himself or offer any credible evidence for his beliefs. He gained his immense power over behavioral science by simply telling humanists what they wanted to hear — that Christianity is bad. His influence and that of many other atheist intellectuals has prevented psychology from becoming a true science. Again, if you doubt this, ask yourself, “Where are the great accomplishments of the behavioral sciences?”

Around the time Marx and Darwin were becoming influential, true scientists in the field of medicine were developing the germ theory of disease. Through the work of genuine scientists, such as the devoutly Christian Louis Pasteur, medical science has saved and improved countless millions of lives through advances in sterilization and immunology. If psychology, sociology, economics, and the other behavioral disciplines had become true sciences, there would be similar scientific accomplishments and benefits to humankind by now. There is a reason that emotional disorders like chronic depression cannot be prevented or cured, and that reason is, psychology is not yet a true science. It will never be a true science as long as the study of human behavior is dominated by humanists who consistently bend science in their pursuit of social influence and political power.

Humanists will never renounce the three greatest prophets of atheism, because Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudianism form the dogmatic foundation of the secular anti-Christian belief system. Darwin is used to argue that God is not necessary. Freud gave a thin scientific veneer to the atheist lie that Christian values constitute unhealthy restrictions on human desires. Marx justified an all-out assault on Christian culture by falsely characterizing it as an intolerable oppression of the masses. The behavioral disciplines will only become true sciences if secular humanism is overthrown and the barriers to truth that humanism has built over the last fifteen decades are torn down.

Climate Change

The corrupting influence of humanism on science is getting worse. The failed science of climate change demonstrates that not only does humanism stand in the way of science, it is diverting humankind in the direction of collective insanity.

The first clue that something was terribly wrong in the study of ‘global warming’ was the assertion that the science is settled. No true scientist would ever utter or condone such a blatantly anti-scientific statement. Science is never settled! It will never be settled unless people someday achieve a god-like understanding of the world in which they exist. The greatest scientists in the study of physics understand this and would recoil in disgust at any suggestion that the great questions in the fields of astrophysics or quantum mechanics are settled. Any person who makes such a statement or agrees with it is a dangerous enemy of science.

Climate change alarmists constantly disregard the basic law of science, which is to go where the evidence takes you no matter what. They violate the rule, because humanist political goals are more important to them than the search for truth, which Christians hold as sacred. Climate change activists posing as scientists have ignored the evidence about global temperatures from satellites that shows no global warming for almost two decades, they’ve ignored the evidence about global temperatures from weather balloons that confirms the satellite evidence, and they have been caught shamelessly manipulating the ground station evidence so that it conforms to their failed climate models.

Christian beliefs, values, and faith lifted the majority of mankind out of ignorance, squalor, and tyranny through genuine science, the Industrial Revolutions, and the pursuit of human rights. At the beginning of the 20th century about three-quarters of the world’s population lived in abject poverty. At the end of the century only about one-quarter of humanity remained in poverty. The world economy fueled by fossil sources of energy and fired by the Christian scientific spirit could put an end to poverty by the middle of the 21st century if current economic trends are allowed to continue.

The stark reality that mankind should be focused on is the estimated 18 million people around the world who still die as a result of poverty each year. If humanists succeed in stopping economic growth by restricting the use of fossil fuels, over a half billion people could die needlessly of poverty by 2050. Climate alarmists have expressed no concern about these hundreds of millions of victims of poverty. Instead the anti-scientists of the global warming crusade obsess about saving polar bears and preventing a modest rise in sea levels, which even if it occurred would pose only a relatively mild inconvenience to nations free of poverty. It is truly insane to believe that science has achieved the ability to control the climate of the world. It is nowhere near that goal. It is absolutely insane to stop the economic progress that is benefitting billions of people in order to prevent mythical hazards. We can only hope that the evidence that refutes climate change theory becomes so overwhelming that it will be impossible to ignore.

Christians have allowed themselves to become alienated from the science generated by Christian beliefs and faith. There is no past or foreseeable alternative to Christian culture as the champion of science. The humanist corruption of, resistance to, and abuse of science must be ended. Christians have to take back science and turn it back into the search for God’s truth.

# Is God’s word difficult to understand? Part I

Editor’s note: Normally I would post something like this under “Fire Back,” since it involves a question from a reader, but it’s such a fundamental and important question that I’m going to devote two posts to it. This first post is written by Surak.

TF writes:

I had a question, but wanted to let you know first that I stumbled upon your website when I read Sarah Salviander’s testimony and watched the well-done slideshow that accompanied it.  I then read the website’s FAQ, several articles, and lots of comments over several weeks.

After reading more than I thought I would, I have a question that keeps nagging at me:  Is truth hard to understand or easy?  I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination (I’m a pastor) but I’ve always loved science, especially when I can connect the dots between my faith and God’s creation.  For most of my life, I’ve held a pretty simplistic view of our world as a result of reading God’s Word, but after substantial reading on your website I feel like my head is going to explode :)  I don’t know if I agree with all of it, but most of it is fascinating and really well-thought out/researched.  My problem is that it is so hard for a person like me to understand (and I think I’m on the average part of the intelligence scale so the majority of the population would be in the same boat as I am).

So would God make the truth about his creation so complicated that only someone well versed in relativity, Hebrew translations, genetics, and 5 or 6 other fields of study could understand it?  Or would God make the truth about his creation simple enough for all to understand?

I’m not saying God is simple or easy to understand or that he wouldn’t want to give us lots of things for even the most intelligent people to discover and ponder over a lifetime, but wouldn’t God make truths as foundational as “where we come from” and “how this world was created” accessible to everyone rather than just a tiny percentage of super intelligent people?

If the truth of creation is as complicated as what it is on your website, I’m afraid I have no chance of ever explaining it to anyone.  If that is the case, then it seems like God made the truth of creation hard to understand and left most people hopelessly in the dark.  Or have we complicated things and there is a truth that is easier for all to access?

When Jesus (who was the embodiment of all God’s truth/love/mercy/etc.) came he was accessible to all, not just the most intelligent, wise, pious, powerful, etc.  He made God’s truth intelligible to even the poor, uneducated of his day, so I tend to think that God would make an important truth like creation accessible to someone as average as me as well.

So what do you think – is the truth (about creation) hard to understand or easy to understand?  And why?

Sarah will get into a deeper discussion of whether God’s word is inherently difficult to understand in Part II. First, I want to demonstrate how easy it will be for the average Christian to acquire the scientific understanding needed to defend scripture.

Here are the four necessary steps:

1. The basic scriptural and scientific truths are easy to understand. They are stated clearly in Genesis 1 and are fully supported by modern science.

God created this world as a place where beings created in his image could thrive physically and grow spiritually. Science now confirms that the universe had a beginning and was created in the truest sense of the word. The work of Dr. Hugh Ross demonstrates beyond any rational dispute that the universe is finely tuned for the existence of human life.

A more detailed understanding of the truths revealed by scripture and science is required, because there are atheists who have misused science for 150 years to falsely attack Christian beliefs. So, there are three more scientific steps people have to take to be fully able to defend their faith in this scientific age. It is well within the ability of most people to take these next steps.

1. Genesis 1 makes at least 26 scientifically testable statements. All 26 are entirely compatible with modern science, and most tellingly, all 26 steps in the Genesis account of the creation of the world and life on Earth are in exactly the correct order.

The odds against someone who lived over 2,500 years ago simply guessing the order of natural events are about one in four hundred septillion. In other words, it’s simply not possible for the author of Genesis 1 to have gotten the details of creation right by simply guessing.

This means the scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that the author of Genesis 1 was divinely inspired.

The third step in a scientific understanding of Christian scriptures is a little harder, but I have found that most people are entirely capable of taking it with a little effort and a good slideshow. Christians must be able to defend the belief that God created the universe in six literal days, otherwise atheists are free to ridicule scripture and mislead generations of young people.

1. Based on the work of Einstein, it can be scientifically demonstrated that the universe is literally both 6 days + 6,000 years old and 14 billion years old. This understanding requires a careful reading of Genesis 1 and a rudimentary understanding of Einstein’s relativity.

In regard to a careful reading of scripture, there was no Earth and no people on the first day of Genesis. That means that time is not being reckoned from an earthly or human perspective in the opening statements of the Bible. Time was being measured through some other means by the Creator of the universe as He created it.

Einstein taught us that time is relative and therefore measured differently in every part of the universe. Gerald Schroeder explains that time during the first six days of creation was by necessity based on a universal measure we can think of as God’s clock. Schroeder points out in The Science of God that earthly time wasn’t used by the Bible until the appearance of Adam and Eve. Therefore, the Bible used universal time through God’s perspective to chronicle time up to the creation of Adam, while the period of time since Adam was measured by earthly time according to human perspective.

Science shows that the period of time before the creation of man can be measured as six days universal time using Einstein’s relativity, and the amount of time since the appearance on earth of conscious humans is most likely in the thousands of years. Therefore the Creationist point of view that the universe is 6 days + 6,000 years old is scientifically defendable and fully compatible with a universe that is 14 billion years old from our current perspective.

The last necessary step in a scientific understanding of Christian scriptures has to do with evolution. From the time of Thomas Huxley, the science of evolution has been misused to falsely attack Christian beliefs. The idea that humans have evolved from apes is dishonestly presented as evidence against God’s existence.

1. Again, a careful reading of Genesis 1 reveals something extremely important both scripturally and scientifically. Genesis says that humans were first made (Gen. 1:26) and then they were created (Gen. 1:27). This is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 15:46-47: The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.

In other words, according to the Old Testament and New Testament, God made the human body with earthly materials. When that was accomplished, God created the human spirit in his own non-worldly image. It does not matter that evolution is scientifically correct in its finding that the mortal human body is biologically related to that of other primates. The basics of evolutionary science are entirely consistent with the biblical account. What matters is that the body is only the worldly vessel for the immortal human soul.

Evidence is abundant that human beings are fundamentally different from every other life form on Earth. Since the unique human ‘consciousness’ is one of the great unsolved scientific mysteries of the universe, science is in no position to deny the existence of the human soul or spirit.

With these four connections between scripture and science, Christians will be able to adequately understand the intimate agreement between modern science and Christian scripture well enough to defend Christian beliefs. Simply put, Christian faith in the Bible as the literal word of God is supported by scientific evidence.

Everything else is just details. Just as we have pastors to explain the details of hundreds of pages of scripture, we have scientists to explain the book of nature to us. God presents challenges that test our faith, but those challenges are not insurmountable.

# Reflections on physics and Christian faith

The following is a guest post by Dr. Kelly Cline, who is both a friend and colleague of Dr. Salviander. Originally from Homer, Alaska, Dr. Cline studied physics at Eastern Oregon University, before earning his Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2003.  He is currently an associate professor of mathematics and astronomy at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, where he lives with his wife and four children.

“All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be…” John 1:3.

When the actor Gary Oldman was preparing to play Beethoven in the film Immortal Beloved, he asked the director to recommend biographies to read. The director replied: “…there is only one he should consider: the music. This music is an unvarnished, uncensored record of Ludwig van Beethoven’s passions, fears, violent anger, humanity and, finally, victory over unimaginable adversity. It is a direct link to his state of mind.”

In works of art created by the human hand, there is powerful connection between the creator and the created. The symphonies of Beethoven, the paintings of Raphael, and the plays of Shakespeare tell us something very deep about the artists who created them.

In this spirit, there is a very old tradition, going back at least to Galileo of asking the question: What does the scientific study of the basic physical laws of the universe tell us about its Creator? What can physics tell us about God?

Physics is the most fundamental of the natural sciences. The principles of chemistry can be understood as applications of the physical laws of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. Biology and geology can be understood as applications of chemistry and physics. But in physics we seek to understand the most elemental principles of the physical universe, the deepest laws which govern all physical motion in our universe.

Today we know more about the nature of our physical universe than at any time in history. Of course our knowledge of the laws of physics remains incomplete and imperfect. Yet, we have learned an enormous amount about our universe and its laws since the days of Isaac Newton, and currently our theories at least provide a remarkably powerful and accurate approximation to the laws of physics under a wide range of conditions.

For reasons, such as the incompleteness of our knowledge, it is not simple to see a clear and obvious picture of the Creator painted in the equations of physics. However, as we immerse ourselves in this science, I think that we can see certain striking points of resonance between the Creator that we come to know through science and the Creator that we come to know through scripture. In this essay we will consider (1) the role the unification in the development of physics, (2) the apparently paradoxical discoveries of relativity and quantum mechanics, (3) the discovery of the big bang event, the moment of creation, and (4) the unchanging and universal nature of physical law which has led to the development of the world we know. Perhaps these points of resonance may give us some insight into the Author of all things.

Unity and Unification in Physics

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Deuteronomy 6:4

Physics begins with the study of motion and its causes. The first person we know who wrote seriously about why things move was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. In approximately 350 B.C., Aristotle examined the world and saw different types of motion in different places. Here on Earth he saw stones fall to the ground, while smoke and flames flickered upward, but in the heavens he saw the moon and planets move in what looked like perfect circles. So, Aristotle proposed that different things move in different ways according to different rules. Aristotle argued that here on Earth all things are made of four basic elements, earth, air, fire and water, and that these seek their natural level in the universe, with the force of gravity causing heavy objects to sink, while the force of levity caused light objects to rise. But Aristotle said that objects in the heavens must be made of a different substance, which he called aether, and Aristotle said that elements composed of this aether must naturally move in circles. Aristotle’s solution to seeing different objects move in different ways was essentially to divide the universe into different realms, composed of different substances, which followed different rules.

Almost two-thousand years later, Isaac Newton finally brought the universe back together again. Perhaps inspired by his deep faith in one God, one hand which shaped every part of the universe, in 1687 Newton published his law of universal gravitation, a precise mathematical theory which explained both the falling of a stone and the orbit of the moon. Newton unified two very different types of motion, showing that they are both a consequence of one universal force of gravity. To Newton, gravity was a force pulling each pair of masses in the universe directly towards each other. So if the Earth pulls the moon straight toward it, why does the moon move in an orbit around the Earth? Using the newly developed calculus, Newton showed that because the moon is in motion, the force of gravity from the Earth bends the moon’s path creating the elliptical orbit that we observe.

Newton took two apparently disparate types of motion and showed that they could be explained as manifestations of one deep underlying principle, the first of several great unifications that have shaped the development of physics.

For you are great and do wondrous deeds; and you alone are God. Psalm 86:10

In the 1700s, the electric force and the magnetic force appeared to be completely unrelated forces. The magnetic force is what attracts and repels magnets from each other, and causes magnets to stick to refrigerators. The electric force is what pulls around electric charges, causing a balloon to stick to wall after you charge it up by rubbing it on your hair. But there does not appear to be any special force between a charged balloon and a refrigerator magnet.

Then, in 1820, while giving a lecture at the University of Copenhagen, the Danish physicist Hans Christian Orsted discovered that an electric current – moving charges – produced a magnetic field and could move a compass needle. Magnets and charges don’t appear to interact when they are at rest. But when charges are in motion, Orsted showed that they can exert a magnetic force. This quickly inspired other physicists to see if the it could work the other way.

In 1831, the English physicist Michael Faraday showed that a moving magnet can create electric forces which can cause the charges in a metal to move, creating an electric current. This is the basic process that causes our electric generators to operate: Spinning magnets create the currents that light our world!

In 1862, this experimental work was finally brought together mathematically by the Scottish physicist, James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell proposed that electric and magnetic forces were different aspects of one fundamental phenomenon. With one set of equations he unified all that had been done before, and created a theory that made some startling new predictions. Studying these equations, Maxwell discovered that electric and magnetic fields could move together through empty space. A changing electric field could create a changing magnetic field which would in turn create a changing electric field again, in a complete cycle, so that energy could be carried through space as electromagnetic waves. Maxwell calculated that these electromagnetic waves would travel at an enormous speed of about 186,000 miles per second, a speed which closely matched the measured speed of light: Maxwell became the first human in history to understand that light itself is an electromagnetic wave. Even more powerfully the unification of electric and magnetic forces opened up the possibility of other types of electromagnetic waves, and so in 1887 Heinrich Hertz published the first of a series of experiments demonstrating the existence of radio waves.

This great discovery that electric and magnetic forces are the result of a single more fundamental force has shaped our world where we constantly use electromagnetic waves for radio and television transmissions, cellphones, and wireless computer connections.

…one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:6

The 20th century saw the discovery of two new fundamental forces which both seemed completely disconnected from gravity and electromagnetism. Physicists discovered that atoms contain nuclei where positively charged protons and neutrally charged neutrons are packed into a remarkably tiny volume. Positive charges repel each other with a force that gets stronger when the charges move closer together. So the electric force pushing these protons away from each other must be enormous. Binding these protons so closely must require another force, a fantastically strong force to overwhelm this electrical repulsion and hold the nucleus of an atom together. As a result, physicists dubbed this new force, “the strong nuclear force.”

As physicists probe more deeply into the mysteries of the atom, some unusual types of radiation indicated the existence of yet another force which could cause a neutron to transform into a proton and other particles. This force was dubbed the weak nuclear force. Thus by the mid-20th century, it appeared that our universe was regulated by the action of four distinct forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force.

However, in 1968, Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg proposed a startling new theory. Relying on deep mathematical symmetries, they proposed that electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force were both very different manifestations of a single more fundamental electroweak force. Superficially these two forces could not possibly be more different. The weak nuclear force transforms particles and is so short range that it only works inside the nucleus of an atom, while electromagnetic waves can extend so far that they allow us to see the stars. Yet, a profound

mathematical resonance between these two forces led Glashow, Salam, and Weinberg to propose their remarkable theory, and from this theory they predicted the existence of a completely new particle, the Z boson. When the Z boson was discovered at the CERN laboratory in 1983, the physics world celebrated this amazing triumph. Once again, physicists had discovered that two apparently different phenomena could be unified with a single more fundamental theory.

For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, I Timothy 2:5

Again and again, physicists have discovered deeper and deeper unifications in the fundamental laws of our universe. The more closely we look, the more we discover an essential unity in all things. Today physicists are working hard to unify the known laws of physics even further, with “grand unification theories” that integrate the strong nuclear force with electroweak theory, and even more ambitious ideas like “string theory” and “loop quantum gravity” that bring gravity too into the same system of equations.

The Apparent Paradoxes of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways… Isaiah 55:8

The dawn of the 20th century saw an enormous crisis, as physicists were forced to grapple with new phenomena were so strange that they appeared to be paradoxical.

Consider this experimental fact: Every beam of light will always be measured to travel at the same speed, 300,000 kilometers per second, no matter how the emitter of the light is moving or how the receiver of the light is moving. Imagine that you are in a spaceship and someone in another spaceship flashes a beam of light toward you. When you measure the speed of that approaching beam of light, you will get the same speed whether your friend’s ship is flying towards you or away from you. If you were to turn on your own rocket engines and fly directly toward that oncoming beam of light, you would expect to measure that the beam of light would be traveling faster, relative to you. If you were to turn on your rocket engines and fly directly away from that oncoming beam of light, you would expect to measure that the beam of light would be traveling slower, relative to you. Yet, careful measurements make this matter clear: All observers always measures every beam of light as traveling at the exact same speed, no matter how they move relative to the beam of light. This strange fact was first indicated in 1887 by the Michelson–Morley experiment performed at what is now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Over the past century this reality has been confirmed in numerous experiments, and is used every day by our modern GPS system. In order to accurately pinpoint a location on the surface of the Earth using radio waves from moving satellites, the system must account for the fact that the speed of light is constant, no matter how the satellites are moving.

This bizarre reality seems contradictory. It appears to defy our most fundamental definitions of what speed and motion are all about. Yet, in 1905, Albert Einstein showed that there is a logic to this strange phenomenon. Just because something defies our intuition and contradicts our expectation does not mean it is irrational. Einstein showed that this is only a paradox if we assume that time and length

are universal constants. Speed is what we calculate when we take a distance traveled and divide this by the travel time to get miles per hour, meters per second, or some other measure of speed. If time and distance are the same for all observers, then all speeds must be relative and depend on the motion of the observer. To cause all observers to measure the same speed of light, no matter how they move, different observers must disagree about time and length. The time between two events might be one second for me, two seconds for you, and half a second for someone else, if we are all moving differently.

Einstein’s theory of relativity was a startling revelation to the physics community, but it won the day because although it confounds common sense, it is logically consistent, and it accurately explains the experimental data. But just as this revolution was winning acceptance, an even stranger and more disturbing theory was in its infancy, which would soon shatter our common sense more profoundly.

In order to unlock the secrets of the atom and explain the actions of individual electrons required an entirely new way of thinking. Electrons are bound to the nucleus of an atom by the electric force, because their negative charge is attracted to the positive charge of the protons in the nucleus. So early models of the atom proposed that electrons orbited around the nucleus due to the electric force in the same way that planets orbit around the Sun due to the gravitational force. However, this simple model didn’t explain the strange behavior of electrons, sending physicists back to the drawing board. You see, a planet can orbit around the Sun at any distance, depending on how much energy it has. The more mechanical energy a planet contains, the farther away from the sun it will orbit. However, experiments quickly demonstrated that inside an atom, electrons could only orbit at certain specific distance away from the nucleus. Why would that be? To explain this odd behavior required physicists to completely reimagine the nature of an electron.

Rather than thinking of electrons as being particles orbiting a nucleus, like planets orbiting the sun, in 1924 the French physicist Louis de Broglie proposed that electrons are more like musical notes resonating in an instrument, like a trumpet. Louis de Broglie proposed that electrons act like waves. Consider this: the length of a trumpet tube controls the notes that can be played. For a given tube length, there is a specific set of notes that can be played on the trumpet, which fit different numbers of wavelengths into the tube. There is a lowest possible note that the trumpeter can play, then by putting more energy into the lips the trumpeter can play a note an octave higher, but the trumpeter cannot play any notes between these two, because these would not resonate within that length of tube. The theory of waves explains a certain length of trumpet tube can only play a certain set of notes, and in exactly the same way, Louis de Broglie’s theory explained why electrons can only orbit at certain distances away from the nucleus. He showed that an electron will sometimes behave like a particle, a tiny point with one specific location, and sometimes like a wave which can spread out and fill an enormous volume, in the same way that the sound wave from a trumpet can fill a room. If you fire an electron at a screen, first it spreads out like a wave, but when it hits the screen, it turns back into a particle and we see its flash of energy at one specific point on the screen.

But here’s the crux of the problem: When the electron transforms from a big spread-out wave into a single point particle, exactly where will this point be? How does our universe decide exactly where within the broad electron-wave we will see that single flash of electron energy? The answer

shook the physics community to its foundations: It’s random. It happens by chance. When the electron wave hits the screen, the universe picks the electron’s location in a completely unpredictable way. The quantum theory describes a precise distribution of randomness, which can be tested by using enormous numbers of electrons in our experiments, but the location of each individual electron cannot be predicted. The quantum theory says that randomness is woven into the very fabric of our universe at the deepest level. This contradicted physicists’ common sense about what a theory of physics was supposed to say. Einstein himself was so dismayed by this bizarre discovery that he refused to believe it, saying, “God does not play dice!” He spent the rest of his life trying to find another theory which would explain the strange behavior of electrons without the distasteful random factor.

Almost a century later the quantum theory has survived every experimental test with flying colors. After decades of looking for other alternatives the physics community has been forced to accept that randomness is an essential part of the laws of our universe. Even though it contradicts our common sense about what a law of physics should be, the quantum theory works. Initially it appears strange and irrational, but as we study it, we realize that there is a logic to it. The quantum theory is a rational system, even though it is alien to our common sense.

How often do the scriptures tell us that God’s ways are not our ways? Consider the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Defying all expectations of common sense, the owner of the vineyard chooses to pay all the workers equally, no matter how many or how few hours they worked. Although it violates the common sense of the workers, the owner has his own system for choosing how he will distribute his rewards.

The Big Bang: Echoes of Genesis

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Genesis 1:1-4

A century ago, most scholars in Europe and America thought that our universe had always been here. They thought our universe was infinitely old, that it had no beginning, and that our universe was static, eternal, and essentially unchanging. When Albert Einstein was developing his general theory of relativity, his new theory of gravity, he was quite disturbed to discover that his equations indicated that the universe as a whole should be changing, expanding, contracting, or evolving in some way. Even if all the galaxies of the universe were at rest for one moment, then gravity should then pull them all together, causing the universe to contract over time. Einstein was certain that the universe was unchanging, and so in 1917 he a term to his equations which he called a “cosmological constant,” a pressure from empty space which could oppose the attraction of gravity, and cause the universe to stand still.

Then, in 1927 a young Roman Catholic priest and scientist, Father Georges Lemaître began using Einstein’s equations of gravity to create a revolutionary new theory that we now call “the big bang theory.” In 1931 he proposed that our universe had a beginning, a point in which time itself began.

Einstein was initially very skeptical of this new theory, saying “Your calculations are correct, but your physics is atrocious.” Einstein was concerned that this priest was being inspired more by the book of Genesis than by hard-nosed science.

While Lemaître was doing his theoretical work, the astronomer Edwin Hubble pointed his telescope out at distant galaxies and discovered that our universe is expanding: Galaxies are spreading out through space, getting farther and farther from each other. This means that tomorrow, galaxies will all be a little farther apart and yesterday they were a little closer together. The farther we look into the past, the closer galaxies must have been, until we reach a time when all the galaxies must have been compressed together. At the current rate of expansion, all the galaxies in the universe must have all squeezed together at a time about 14 billion years ago.

Using Einstein’s equations of space and time, Lemaître and others created a theory, a set of mathematical equations, which explains the expansion of the universe we see today. The theory says that the universe began in an instant, when all of space everywhere was filled with hot, dense energy under high pressure. The fires of the big bang equally filled every point in the entire universe. This energy caused space itself to stretch and expand, and as the universe expanded, the energy was smeared out across an ever expanding volume, and so it cooled, turning into first the atoms of hydrogen and helium gas. The momentum of this initial expansion causes the universe to go on expanding to this day.

How can we be sure that this event actually took place? No one was around 14 billion years ago to observe the big bang. However, we can use the big bang equations to make a series of specific predictions about things we can see today. Then astronomers can go to their telescopes and see if these predictions are right.

The first major prediction of the big bang theory came from Russian-American scientist George Gamow and his student Ralph Alpher. In 1948, they used the big bang equations to calculate what types of atoms would have been produced by the big bang. During the big bang, the entire universe was hotter than the core of a star, but only for the first three minutes. This was only enough time to leave the universe with 75% hydrogen gas, 25% helium gas, a few tiny traces of lithium and beryllium atoms, and nothing else. The big bang was not able to create any heavier atoms, no carbon, no iron, no nitrogen, and no oxygen. These heavier atoms must have been created much later, in the cores of stars which eventually exploded, spreading them through our galaxy.

Astronomers have been able to test this prediction by studying clouds of gas out between galaxies, which have never been anywhere near an exploding star. What we have found is amazing: Every intergalactic cloud has precisely the same chemical composition. Every intergalactic cloud is made of the exact mix of atoms predicted by the big bang theory: 75% hydrogen, 25% helium, traces of lithium and beryllium, and not the slightest bit of anything else.

But, the most dramatic prediction from the big bang equations came from Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman, also in 1948. They calculated that because the big bang filled every point in the entire

universe, even after 14 billion years, the afterglow of the big bang should still be out there, filling our sky. In 1965 Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered that what we now call the “cosmic microwave background” really does fill the universe. Over the past 50 years, astronomers have measured this afterglow of the big bang with greater and greater precision: It is out there. It is powerful evidence of the reality of the big bang.

There was a beginning. There was a moment of creation.

Our Universe Has Laws

Your word, LORD, stands forever; it is firm as the heavens. Psalms 119:89

At the most fundamental level, physics tells is that our universe has laws. There are rational, logical, consistent principles behind the amazing vast diversity of our universe. We look out and see beautiful structures on all scales, from the vast archipelagoes of galaxies, down to the tiny structures inside the nuclei of atoms, and all of them are governed by the same set of physics laws. We point our telescopes out to the most distant galaxies, ten billion light years away from us, and we see that they composed of hydrogen, helium, carbon, iron, the same types of atoms that we have here on Earth. Everywhere we look, we see the same laws of gravity and electromagnetism, the same forces and energy at work throughout every corner of the universe, on all scales, through all epochs from the present day, back to the age of the big bang itself.

The laws of physics as we know them can be summarized with equations that can fit on one sheet of paper. Yet, when put into action in this vast universe, these laws are sufficient to regulate the motions of particles, atoms, molecules from water to DNA, living tissues, organisms, ecosystems, planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies, and the overarching structure of the universe itself.

The intricate and precise balance of these physical laws is truly astonishing. If any of the laws of nature were changed in even small amount, then our universe would not have formed stars, planets, life, and humans in the way that it did.

Gravity is the weakest fundamental force while the strong nuclear force is the strongest. The balance between these forces is amazingly precise. These forces are delicately poised, governing the intricate chain of events which has led to the development of human intelligence. Just after the big bang, the nuclear and electromagnetic forces were strong enough to form atoms of hydrogen and helium, but not of the heavier elements. Then the force of gravity was strong enough to gather these atoms together to form the first generation of stars, all enormous giants, where intense heat and pressure were sufficient to allow the strong nuclear force to create the atoms of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, which are so essential to human life. Then the interplay between the nuclear reactions and gravity caused these enormous ancient stars to explode, seeding the universe with these elements. Then electromagnetism allowed the gas to cool enough that gravity was able to gather materials together to form a second and third generation of stars, with each generation enriched with the ashes of their forebears. The electromagnetic cooling properties of these heavier elements allowed stars like our sun to form, with a more moderate mass, so that it and others could provide a steady, predictable

source of energy for many billions of years. From here the interplay of electromagnetic forces and quantum effects allowed amazingly complex chemistry to flourish in the oceans of the young Earth, which led to the development of the first living cells.

If any one of the four forces was just a little bit weaker or stronger, then it is difficult to see how the delicate chain of events which lead from the big bang to the evolution of intelligent life on earth could have happened. The beauty, the structure, and the balance of these fundamental physics laws, is truly awe inspiring.

Resonances in Scripture and Science

In this essay we have explored four points of resonance between the Creator revealed in the scriptures, and the science of physics. (1) The scriptures describe the unity of God, how there is only one Creator, one Author of all things. At the same time, unification is one of the central organizing principles of physics. Many of the more important developments in physics have come from finding a single deep theory which explains two apparently disparate phenomena, whether this is the motion of the apple and the moon, the operation of electric and magnetic forces, or the seemingly different natures of the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces. (2) The scriptures tell us that God’s ways are very different from ours, at odds with our common sense. The discovery of Einsteinian relativity and the quantum theory revealed aspects of physical law so strange that they seemed paradoxical in the context of our expectations. (3) The scriptures tell us that our universe had a beginning, a moment when it first came into existence. Modern physics clearly establishes that our universe did indeed begin with a single big bang event. (4) The scriptures tell us of a Creator who is steadfast and true, a Creator who is reliable and stalwart through all things. At the most basic level, physics reveals that our universe has laws, and these laws are constant to the most distant views of our telescopes, to the deepest center of atomic nuclei, and throughout the entire history of the universe.

I’ll never forget the amazing moment of discovery when I did the Millikan oil drop experiment for myself as a college. I squirted a faint mist of oil droplets into the air from a little rubber bottle. Then I shined a bright light onto the droplets from the side, and looking through a microscope I could see a few of these tiny drops as they drifted down through the air, pulled by gravity. Next, I switched on an electric field. Some of the droplets had no electric charge, and continued drifting down at the same rate. But a few of the drops had picked up a little static charge, and they responded, dancing in my microscope as I twisted the knob, changing the electric force on them. I adjusted the voltage until one single drop hung motionless in the air, as the force of gravity pulling it down was exactly equal to my electric force pulling it up. This voltage then told me how much electric charge was on the droplet.

Over the course of an hour, I measured the electric charge on a dozen different oil drops and the results were amazingly clear. About half of the droplets carried exactly one electron’s worth of charge. Several of them had exactly two electrons of charge, and a couple had three electrons of charge. The data from my simple little experiment clearly measured exactly how much charge is carried by each electron. With a microscope and a few odds and ends, I personally measured one of the fundamental constants of the universe.

For me, physics is a deeply spiritual experience. Physics is a science based on careful, painstaking measurements of reality stitched together with subtle works of mathematical creativity. I treasure those special rare moments when patterns emerge, when beautiful, striking relationships of amazing power arise out of the fog, and when I see the fingerprints of the Creator.

Image credit for the Seagull Nebula: ESO

# Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss Tabby’s Star, the meaning of “up,” time dilation, and Christian scientists.

HD, a retired school teacher, writes in with several interesting questions.

I wondered….Could the structures observed around the Tabby star that are postulated be the constructs of the new Jerusalem that is being constructed to come to Earth some day?

She is referring to the star, KIC 8462852, sometimes referred to as Tabby’s Star. This peculiar object captured people’s imaginations after scientists admitted they haven’t been able to explain irregular changes in the amount of light it’s emitting. Observations suggest a close formation of small objects is surrounding the star, blocking out some of its light. One idea is that these objects could be a swarm of comets (see artist’s impression below), while another idea is that they are some form of “alien superstructure.” (Neither idea turns out to be well supported by observational data.)

HD’s idea is novel and interesting, but I think it’s unlikely for the simple reason that Revelation 21 tells us God is going to scrap this universe and start over with a new creation.

And when Jesus says “I have not yet ascended to my Father” and speaks many many times of Heaven…then it is a for sure thing. We can count on it. It is real. It is there. And….it is up. (ascend) So as a scientist who studies space, can you tell me ….where is up?? If I am in Gulfport, I can point up. On the other side of the planet, someone else can point up. So where, scientifically….is up??

“Up” in terms of space and in terms of scripture are two different things. In space, “up” is more accurately described as “out,” as shown below.

When Jesus talks about ascension, I don’t think He is going “up” (i.e. out) from the planet the way a rocket ship does, but rather He is transcending the universe similar to the way a three-dimensional creature would transcend a two-dimensional world. This animated sequence narrated by Carl Sagan illustrates the principle:

Then I saw a special on National Geographic about an experiment on distance and time. Using two atomic clocks, synchronized to perfection, one was left at the bottom of a tall mountain. One was taken to the very top. I think it was four days later the clock from the top of the mountain was brought down. There was a tiny, miniscule difference in time.   So, if 1,000 years are like a day to God (Scripture), how far out would you have to travel to have the 1,000 years equal to a day on Earth?

Gravitational time dilation results from differences in gravity. Despite the fact that it’s difficult for us to escape Earth’s gravity, it’s actually pretty weak, so there’s not much difference between the flow of time on the surface of the Earth and the flow of time out in deep space. It’s enough of a difference that engineers have to account for it, otherwise things like GPS wouldn’t work,  however, it’s not nearly enough to dilate time so that 1,000 years on Earth would be like a day for someone in deep space.

So, the question isn’t how far out you would have to travel in space to make 1,000 years equal a day, but how deeply into a gravitational field you’d have to go before time dilates that much. Turns out, it’s pretty deep, as in just a hair outside of the event horizon of a black hole.

It is amazing that more scientists haven’t become Christians.

There was a time when most scientists were Christian, particularly so in Newton’s time. It’s seems strange from our modern perspective, but in the 17th century, one had to be an ordained Anglican priest in order to hold a professorship at Cambridge. In the 17th century, American universities like Harvard and Princeton were religious institutions.

An entire thesis could be written on the subject, but suffice it to say, somewhere along the way Christianity not only ceased to be the dominant cultural force in the academic world, but academia became hostile to it. Still, the evidence for some kind of conscious creative force is there, and I suspect most scientists know it. English Nobel laureate physicist, George Thomson, observed, “Probably every physicist would believe in a creation if the Bible had not unfortunately said something about it many years ago and made it seem old-fashioned.” I think this is very much the case.

Image credit for Tabby’s Star: NASA/JPL-Caltech