Friday, September 12, 2008

Large Hadron Collider

As you may now be aware of, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN lab in Switzerland has begun testing equipment that will hopefully provide a glimpse into conditions just moments after the Big Bang. (Actually, they're trying to produce antimatter or "dark matter.") There has been a lot of controversy over this, especially with suspicion by many creationists over any sort of Big Bang idea itself. As a science teacher, people frequently ask my opinions about the Big Bang, evolution, stem cells, and the like. So, I thought I might as well get it over with and say a few things concerning the LHC.

First, the CERN lab's research is not necessarily some sort of misguided quest wasting billions of dollars to prove God doesn't exist. Consider what a recent TIME Magazine article has to say about their research:

The driving principle behind the CERN experiment — and indeed physics itself — is that despite its vast and complex appearance, the universe is actually ordered, rational and elegant. Every major breakthrough in physics has shown the cosmos to conform to mathematical equations so symmetrical and satisfying they can only be described as beautiful. (Physics have christened two of the particles they will study at CERN as "truth" and "beauty," after a Keats poem that suggests the two are interchangeable.)

What drives modern physicists forward is a quest for purer beauty. The Standard Model, the theoretical framework that incorporates all current knowledge about the interaction of subatomic particles, is the closest physicists currently have to a theory of everything. But it is becoming increasingly awkward and messy, and it has holes in it. For example, despite all the gravitational forces that should be reining the universe in and slowing it down, it is expanding at a quickening rate. No one knows why. And something seems to cocoon the universe's spiral galaxies, keeping them from spinning out of control. No one knows what.

The fabric and order of the universe, physicists say, can only be described as "beautiful." I seem to recall a passage of Holy Scripture saying that "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Psalm 19:1). In Genesis 1, we see God ridding the universe of all chaos and establishing his divine order.* If we pray for the outpouring of God's Spirit, may not many people discover the wonder of a cosmos so orderly and inspiring that we are led to believe a rational, intelligent, beautiful Creator is himself behind it all?

"Something seems to cocoon the universe's spiral galaxies [including our own Milky Way], keeping them from spinning out of control. No one knows what." Perhaps the yet-undiscovered reason is itself that all things are being sustained and upheld by the Lord to preserve life and propel forward his redemptive plan for history (Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3). The Genesis account shows God giving the universe not only order, but order for the sake of inhabitability and life.

While I once thought NASA was a totally impractical waste of money, I think astronomy and physics may be a worthwhile pursuit, because they lead us to a deeper awe of our Sovereign.

The alleged Higgs boson, dubbed the "God particle," is supposed to account
for all mass. The CERN lab hopes to discover this elusive subatomic entity.

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Second, the Big Bang theory itself presupposes belief in an immaterial, pre-existing causal agent, i.e., God. (Think along the lines of Aristotle's "Prime Mover.") What? You've never heard that before? Consider this: Any physicist or chemist knows that a reaction cannot occur unless there is disequilibrium in forces within the system. In other words, if the Bang were to have happened, it demanded unbalanced forces within the material sphere of pre-Bang matter. But prior to the Bang there could not have been any disequilibrium within the sphere, or else the Bang would have happened immediately. If there is no disequilibrium in forces, then all is at perfect equilibrium, and the Bang would never happen. So, that means that even if the material sphere existed, the Bang had to have been caused by a causal agent outside of the sphere of matter--an Uncaused Cause who created the disequilibrium. Big Bang cosmology therefore demands a pre-existent immaterial Being. Christians know him to be God the Lord, or El Olam in Hebrew, "the Everlasting God." He is YHWH, the great I AM who is outside of time.

Additionally, though I don't think this is exactly what the Old Testament's writers meant in their poetic language, there sure are a lot of references to God creating by "stretching out the heavens." (The Big Bang theory tries to account for why the universe is actually expanding.)

God made the earth by his power;
he founded the world by his wisdom
and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.
(Jeremiah 10:12)

It's a stretch, for sure, but it's interesting to think that the end of the world is portrayed as the reversal of creation; the firmament will "recede like a scroll" (Revelation 6:14) in the Day of the Lord.

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This brings us to people's fears that these experiments may create a black hole that will swallow our Solar System. However, I'm reasonably confident that the LHC experiments will not create a black hole that will engulf the world and end human history. Though Jesus made it evident that even he didn't know when the Last Day would come, his Word makes it pretty obvious that people will be aware that the End is coming. He says it will be as obvious as lightning (Matthew 24:27). He also says that everyone will see him and mourn, and there will be a great trumpet sound (Matthew 24:30-31). Jesus' revelation to John says that when even the mightiest of people become aware that the Lamb of God is coming for judgment, they will fear him in such a way that they would rather have their skulls crushed (Revelation 6:15-17).

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Finally, why not just lighten up a bit and have some fun with it, as my fellow Michigan State University Spartan Kate McAlpine does in her CERN lab rap video? (It's even complete with a Stephen Hawking-esque voiceover.)

* A dissenter in the Big Bang recently wrote in a blog comment, "Perhaps the most absurd thing ever believed by intelligent people is 'the big bang theory'. One would think smart people would be smart enough not to believe such a dumb thing: The idea that order can come out of chaos." But the biblical account shows exactly that: the world was "formless and void" (Genesis 1:2), but God made separations and distinctions to give it order, and he made substances and life to make it full where it was once empty. Chaos itself did not lead the universe into its established order, but that order was indeed formed from a real mess.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks, Andrew for your good, helpful take on this. I've seen some photos in books of this kind of work- I believe, and they simply are astounding.

Litl-Luther said...

When I ‘dissented’ with those words, I was not looking at the Big Bang theory as you describe it but as the theory is actually held by most all proponents: A theory without God. I am not arguing against your ideas on it. God may have created that way, and only He could have brought such beauty and order out of chaos. However, the vast majority of people who believe in the Big Bang think of it as happening without a Creator and Sustainer. THAT is what is nonsensical to me. And I still believe the idea of no God but rather some huge, random explosion causing such a well ordered universe is the stupidest thing I have ever heard! It is the atheistic Big Bang proponents that I was calling to task.

I enjoyed what you wrote, however. And I am thankful that there are Christians out there who can argue the case for God in the Big Bang theory. …I love that you quoted that text from Psalm 19. I just shared it with my students yesterday in fact. When the Psalmist wrote it, all he could see where the tiny twinkles in the night sky. Now through telescopes we can see much more clearly the glory that God was speaking about through the Psalmist. This is another evidence of how science, properly understood, only serves to strengthen our faith in God, not dispel it. And that is why I am so appreciative of your article because it serves to strengthen our faith in God.

Great quote from TIME Magazine, too, by the way….You don’t lynch dissenters at your blog do you?

Andrew said...


Haha, nope, I don't lynch anybody. And perhaps "dissenter" was an improper word; for that I apologize. I don't have any real commitment to the big bang; I'm sort of neutral to it, really. But I do value the natural sciences, and though I don't necessarily defend everything about the sciences (thought it may seem to the contrary), I simply want Christians to think through tough issues like science a little more diplomatically, rather than with the common carte blanche dismissal of it as "atheistic propaganda."