What do gravitational waves teach us about creation?
This is a good question. I answered a similar question two years ago about the discovery of the Higgs boson, also known as the “God particle.” There is a sense in which a believer and a non-believer learn the identical thing from the revelation that, as predicted almost exactly one hundred years ago by Albert Einstein, gravity waves do in fact exist. Yet, for the believer much more is revealed as well.
For those who have not seen the reports in the media in the past week or so, a discovery of great importance to physicists and cosmologists was reported. The report concerns an observation made last September. Gravitational waves were unambiguously detected for the first time. The reason that the result is unambiguous is that there were two detectors built more than one thousand miles apart so that any possible local phenomenon could be ruled out if a signal was detected in one place but not the other. The gravitational waves were produced by two black holes which collided roughly 1.3 billion light years away (and therefore the event occurred roughly 1.3 billion years ago). The event produced ripples which have spread from the event, somewhat like the ripples which emerge from a rock dropped in a pond. These waves were of fantastic magnitude when emitted, but, having spread through a volume of diameter 2.6 billion light years, they have decreased in magnitude greatly, to say the least. The “ripple” in space caused detectors to move back and forth by less than one thousandth the width of a proton. It is absolutely incredible that the laser interferometers used were sensitive enough to detect these waves. Because of this measurement, we can be assured that more money will be put into this project, as it will open up a brand new way to look at events in the cosmos that have been undetectable by normal light-detecting instruments. Both believing and non-believing scientists are very excited about this prospect.
But it is time to get back to the theological question. What does this discovery tell us about creation and therefore about the presumed Creator of this creation? My answer is that it tells us things that we already pretty much knew from other discoveries. I will take us all the way back to the 13th century when the natural philosopher, theologian and monk Roger Bacon used his Christian theology to predict three things:
Nature will be governed by a single set of unchanging physical laws.
These laws will be understandable by human beings.
These laws will be well described using simple mathematics.
Roger Bacon made these predictions because he believed in what is called general revelation–that God reveals himself not only through the scripture but also through his creation. Bacon believed that there is one, unchanging God who created a single set of unchanging physical laws. He also believed that this God/Creator wants us to know him and he reveals himself to us, in part, through his creation. Therefore he predicted that the universe would be knowable by us and describable by mathematics. These predictions of the Christian philosopher Roger Bacon have proved true to a fantastic extent. That they have proved true gives credence to the Christian belief from which they came in the first place. Two passages which support this view are Romans 1:18-20 and Psalms 19:1-4.
Romans 1:19-20 (concerning the wicked who suppress the truth)… since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Here God tells us through Paul that his existence is made obvious by the very nature of his creation. I would say that the discovery of gravitational waves adds to the massive and growing pile of evidence that the universe is created, is ordered and is fine-tuned in a way that defies atheistic claims that it is all just a lucky accident. I discuss this in great detail in my book “Is There a God?” available at www.ipibooks.com The size of the force of gravity is “fine tuned” so that if it were either greater or less than it is by one part in ten to the sixtieth power, there would be no stars and planets and galaxies and certainly we would not be here. There is a seemingly unlimited number of examples of the beauty and power of God’s creation which declare his glory (a few more of which I will mention below).
Which brings me to Psalm 19:1-4. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” I definitely find myself agreeing with David here. As a scientist, the incredible complexity, yet at the same time the amazing simplicity of creation is astounding. How did God think up the idea for there to be gravity–the weak force which draws all matter together, which allows for stars and planets to exist? How did he imagine using gravitational waves to carry this force? Where in his great imagination did he compose the idea to have electromagnetic forces as well, which hold atoms together so that the incredibly complex molecules of life can exist? And what moment of inspiration caused him to conceive of the nuclear strong force to hold protons together, using neutrons as the glue? Protons repel one another by the electromagnetic force, but are drawn together by a stronger nuclear strong force. Yet, in his wisdom, God made the nuclear strong foce act only over a short distance, while the electromagnetic force acts over a medium distance and the gravitational force acts over vast distances? By what incredible intelligence did God dream up the mathematics to make this happen, and how did he muster the power to create all these? Oh, and I have not yet mentioned the nuclear weak force that holds protons and electrons together so that neutrons can exist.
So, to be honest, the discovery of these gravitational waves is really awesome to me as a scientist, but about creation they are only one more brick in a rather large building which was already constructed from the other amazing facts of creation discovered by science. That creation requires a Creator to me is obvious beyond measure. I marvel at the faith of atheists who can look at the vast amount of carefully interbalanced laws of nature which are required so that we can exist and NOT see an intelligent Creator there. If the amount of positive and negative particles had not been balanced to one part in ten to the thirtieth power, life would not exist, yet these charged particles were created at different times and in a different manner from one another. If the nuclear strong force had been only very slightly different in size and if it had not had the correct mathematical dependance on its force/distance, we would not be here. If water did not have its amazing properties and the elements carbon, hydrogen, iron, uranium and many more had not had very specific and precise properties we would not be here. Now we have one more to add to the list. If the cosmos were not “warped” by mass and if such mass did not create gravity waves which reverberate for billions of kilometers through the cosmos, then we would not be here to observe these things, and we would not have physical bodies and consciousness and emotions, and we certianly would not have the ability to know God and to be known by him. With David I say that truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). And thank God for gravity waves.