Physics cannot describe what happens inside a black hole. There, current theories break down, and general relativity collides with quantum mechanics, creating what’s called a singularity, or a point at which the equations spit out infinities.
But some advanced physics theories are trying to bridge the gap between general relativity and quantum mechanics, to understand what’s truly going on inside the densest objects in the universe. Recently, scientists applied a theory called loop quantum gravity to the case of black holes, and found that inside these objects, space and time may be extremely curved, but that gravity there is not infinite, as general relativity predicts.
-by Clara Moskowitz
Space.com Assistant Managing Editor
“Space-Time Loops May Explain Black Holes”
Clara had me at “space and time may be extremely curved, but that gravity there is not infinite.” About forty years or so ago, I took my first Astronomy class at UNLV. Yes, I know. That was back at the dawn of time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, or at least it may seem that way to some of you. It certainly makes my knowledge of Astronomy rather antique compared to the advances science has made since that time. But I still enjoy reading a few popular (that is, easy to digest for the average person) articles on such topics.
In those undergrad days (the first time I was an undergrad), I wrote a couple of papers about areas of Astronomy that particularly interested me. One was the end products of stars. What happens to a star when it runs out of fuel to burn? If the star has a mass of three times or more of our own sun, it collapses into a black hole. When I was going to school, general relativity said that a black hole was a singularity and that its mass was infinite. Today, the latest theories suggest otherwise.
My other favorite topic was Cosmology or the theory of the origin of the universe. I found a small book written by a Swedish scientist that involved Matter and Anti-Matter as active components in the origin of the universe, but it was a minority theory then. Today, it’s non-existent.
But Space.com has a really cool and readable article on what we know to date about the “Big Bang” and what followed afterward.
Probably a lot of Christians coming across this blog post are going to raise an eyebrow or two. At the little church were I worship, both the Head Pastor and one of the Associate Pastors have both told me they don’t believe in an “old universe.” They seem to believe, like many conservative Christians and not a few religious Jewish people, that the Earth is anywhere between about ten to fifteen thousand years old.
All of this millions and billions of years stuff as described in the Big Bang article doesn’t work for them. Why? Because of how they read the beginning chapter of Genesis which is literal. God created the Earth and everything else in six (they believe) literal days. The Hebrew word used for “day” in chapter one of Genesis is almost universally translated “day” as in a twenty-four hour period.
Given an inconsistency between human scientific observation and theory and the record of the Bible, they choose the Bible every single time. Biblical sufficiency pretty much demands it.
Or does it?
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
–Psalm 19:1-7 (NRSV)
Especially the first verse of the above-quoted Psalm tells us that God is revealed by the universe itself. We should be able to look at the stars, examine the heavens, and understand that there is a God. This is known as general revelation or the environment and everything we observe in it reveals the existence of God. The more specific revelation, which gives us lots of other details, declares God as well. It’s the Bible.
But should the two revelations conflict? I would think not. We should see them both fitting together like interlacing fingers of the left and right hand of man. Even if a person has never seen a Bible or heard of Christianity and Judaism, simply observing the universe, all of creation in all of its details, is intended to illustrate that there is a God. The Bible reveals many of the specific details of how God interacts with human beings, using principally the Jewish people and the nation of Israel as a model.
So what do we do when the Genesis story and our astronomical observations and theories conflict? What do we do when the Bible says that the Earth (and presumably all of the universe) was created in six literal twenty-four hour periods, and astronomical observations and theories conclude that our solar system wasn’t formed until the universe was already nine billion years old?
A Bible literalist will say that the Bible is always correct and human scientific observation and theory is wrong. A scientist (one who is not religious) will conclude that the Bible is full of hogwash and our best scientific observations and theories present the facts accurately to the best of our ability to interpret them.
But what if they’re both right?
If we believe God and David as he wrote the nineteenth psalm, then the universe is supposed to be a revelation of God even as the Bible is, so they must agree.
But how can they both be right when on the one hand, we have a matter of six days and on the other we have billions and billions of years?
I don’t know.
Ultimately, I don’t have to know, but like Albert Einstein famously said, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” Actually, all that means was Einstein believed the universe should be founded upon solid, deterministic laws. He was probably thumbing his nose at Quantum Mechanics (QM) which is much more dependent on probably and uncertainty in the universe. But he sells the point that the universe should make some sort of sense, at least as far as communicating to human beings that only God could have brought the universe into being. The “Big Bang” was a “spoken Word” (If you’ll read the Big Bang article, you’ll see that the initial tiny, tiny fraction of a second of the start of the universe wasn’t an explosion as we think of such a thing).
Actually, it’s not the awesome vastness of the universe that communicates God to me but the incredible weirdness that QM describes. The idea that “atoms exist in quantized, discrete states, loop quantum gravity posits that space-time itself is made of quantized, discrete bits, in the form of tiny, one-dimensional loops” inside a black hole is beyond bizarre and this, more than anything, tells me there is a God, one whose mind is incredibly and infinitely creative. His universe is shouting at us to pay attention. None of this happens by accident and no human being could have cooked this up.
The more we look, the more incredible and the more surprising the universe gets. We used to think that the universe was composed pretty much of ordinary atoms, the stuff we can see all around us every day. Now, we think that only about 4.3 percent of the universe is made up of atoms (75% hydrogen and 25% helium, with just an itsy, bitsy fraction of the rest being heavier elements, including the stuff that makes you and me), while the rest if full of much more exotic energy and matter.
According to an article by Stephen Hawking, God may well “play dice” with (or introduce uncertainty and some randomness into) the universe (there’s a notice at the beginning of the article that says I can’t reproduce any portion of the content, so I can’t include a quote…maybe Hawking’s cranky over his rather sad boycott of Israel…but I digress). It’s this uncertainly that, rather than suggest the universe came about through a random or unguided (uncreative, unintelligent) process, was built into the universe, and was the product of an infinitely creative mind and force…God.
I have no problem believing that the universe is more or less as we experience it; extremely old from the point of view of a human time scale. Why should God care? He exists outside of His creation, He’s timeless. Theories vary widely about how old modern human beings are, but I think the story of those early humans, our Adam and Eve, are the record of God’s creation of us and the creation of His relationship with us.
Maybe the only meaningful or reasonable historical record of God’s interaction with people is what we’ve experienced over the past ten or fifteen thousand years.
Everything I’m saying along these lines is highly speculative and I’m most certainly attempting to reconcile what human beings know about our environment and ourselves with my faith and trust in the God of Israel. If that’s being more than a little self-serving, so be it. It helps me sleep at night, and God knows I can use the rest.
I once heard an attorney use the phrase “hide the ball.” At the time, I thought she was referring to a children’s game, but I recently found out it’s a legal term. It means to withhold legal evidence. Legal teams sometimes “hide the ball” or withhold evidence from the court (a big “no-no” which could get an attorney disbarred) if that evidence could result in them losing their case.
Rather than refer to dice, I prefer to say that God doesn’t play hide the ball with the universe. That is, God doesn’t withhold evidence. What we see in our environment, from the tiniest particle to the largest galaxy (to the best that we can understand what we see), is what we get. Otherwise, God created the appearance of the universe to tell us a tremendous lie, and why would He do that?
He wouldn’t. But if God didn’t lie about the universe and He didn’t lie about the Bible, and if six literal days is different from 13.7 billion years or so (the estimated age of the universe), then God didn’t screw up, we did somewhere along the line. Biblical literalists assume scientists have screwed up, but I have to say, that’s pretty unlikely unless the entire scientific community devoted to cosmology for the last century or so are idiots or liars. I don’t think Biblical literalists are idiots or liars either, but I do believe that the beginning passages in our Bible cannot be interpreted with absolute literalism. Genesis One isn’t God’s “cookbook” containing the recipe for Creation.
Like Stephen Hawking suggests at the end of his article (although there’s no indication that Professor Hawking believes in a God of any sort), God may have a few tricks of His sleeve. Bible sufficiently just means that it contains enough information for us, not that it contains everything. The Bible fills in blanks in our knowledge of God that the universe doesn’t supply. I think the process works both ways.
For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
–Psalm 33:9 (NRSV)
One more thing. Please don’t imagine that I literally believe God rolled dice in order to create the universe. I just “warped” the above-quoted scripture to make the title. It sounded “creative.”