Black Holes and the Wonder of Creation
Astronomers made news by capturing the first image of a black hole. But the beauty that shone from the Event Horizon Telescope didn’t just validate Einstein’s theory of general relativity. It testified that we live in a mathematical and orderly universe. Psalm 19 puts it this way:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2 ESV)
The Psalmist goes on to tell us that the “voice” of this “speech” goes out “through all the earth.” The new image of a black hole is yet another way in which God’s “eternal power and divine nature” have been “clearly perceived … in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20).
Because the only way Einstein can develop a theory on paper, and have it play out in practice a hundred years later, is if our galaxies were designed by an Intelligence far greater than we can fathom.
That’s why Christians in particular should celebrate the recent breakthrough.
Christianity Promotes Scientific Advancement
Many today think of Christianity and science as operating in wholly different spheres. The irony is that the advances of modern science are largely the product of Christian thinking. The ancient Greeks thought the world was rational. But because they figured the laws of science could be deduced from reason, they didn’t vigorously pursue the advancement of science. If nature’s laws could be deduced philosophically, and if the physical world was inherently corrupt and less “pure” than the world of ideas, why conduct empirical research?
For example, Aristotle (384-322 BC) taught that heavier objects fall faster than light ones. In his book Mechanics, Hero of Alexandria (AD 10-70) taught the same thing. It would have taken 10 seconds to perform a simple experiment to disprove this concept. But neither bothered to do this. Because the laws of nature were to be worked out by reason alone.
Christians agreed that nature was intelligible — that there was a discernible, rational order to things — but where they parted ways with the Greeks was on the freedom of the Creator to ordain physical laws as He pleased. God was not restricted by what “made sense” to us. For example, the Greeks assumed that the orbits of planets and moons were circles, since circles are the most perfect form of motion. But later we’d learn that they were in fact ellipses.
Reason alone couldn’t lead us to the truth. Christians were motivated to see what God had established. Doesn’t mean you can’t write a theory or develop a model. But it does mean you need to test your theory or model to see if it fits with reality. That means doing experimental research, and going where the evidence leads you.
Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein
If science were based on reason alone, then Isaac Newton’s concept of gravity being a property of mass makes sense. Even if it wasn’t until the 6th century that Christian philosopher John Philoponus (490-570) finally dropped a heavy and light ball from the same height, proving the Aristotelians were wrong. The objects really did fall at the same rate. Even so, objects with greater mass, Newton explained, would produce larger gravitational forces on other masses. The earth is more massive than its moon. So objects are accelerated towards the earth at a greater rate than objects are accelerated towards our moon. Similarly, the earth’s large mass keeps the moon in orbit. Ditto for the earth orbiting the sun.
But just as these orbits turn out to be ellipses rather than circles, Einstein recognized the limitation of Newton’s model. Once again, we’re not left to what “makes sense” to us. We have to test our theories to see if they fit what God has actually done. Einstein explained that what we experience as gravity is something that arises from the curvature of space and time. Sounds like a science fiction concept if you’ve never studied it. But Einstein’s theory of general relativity is more consistent with what God has established.
In recent decades, several phenomenon consistent with Einstein’s theory of general relativity have been confirmed. Gravitation lensing — when light around a massive object is bent, causing it to act as a lens for the objects behind it. Gravitational waves — ripples in space-time caused by massive accelerating objects. Black holes — regions of space from which light cannot escape due to compact masses. And now we have a nice image of one.
We should join Dr. Katie Bouman in the joy of discovery.
This fresh confirmation of Einstein’s theory points to the amazing God who made a universe that is mathematical and orderly. He built rationality and intelligibility into nature itself. The laws of physics are the laws of God. These laws are elegant, beautiful, and self-consistent, but they clearly evade what reason alone would tell us. Theory and experiment both matter. One refines the other.
Like nature, humanity is the product of God’s mind. Moreover, we were made in God’s image. God has built rationality and intelligibility into us. Why? So that we could glorify Him by discovering the rationality and intelligibility that He built into nature. Let’s celebrate this endeavor in word and deed.
For a closer look at the black hole discovery itself, please read “Astronomers Release First Image of a Black Hole” by Stream contributor Guillermo Gonzalez.
Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).