Thinking Biblically About The Standard Model Of The Universe

Aug 20th, 2022 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

The photographs NASA has posted from the James Webb Space Telescope, orbiting 1 million miles above the earth, are amazing.  As I viewed them and read the details about each photo, I thought of Psalm 19 where David announces, “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. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world . . . .” [ESV] The Webb telescope gives us an opportunity to further study God’s general revelation, the revelation of His created world.  The beauty and complexity of our universe is evident in these Webb telescope photos.  One photo is of a galaxy cluster 4 billion light years away!  The Southern Ring Nebula is absolutely stunning.  The Carina Nebula, a dense cloud of gas and cosmic dust, is spectacular in its splendor.  As my wife once said, “God does indeed create beautiful things.”  As more and more photos from the Webb telescope are released, humanity will once again see proof of what Paul declares in Romans 1:20, “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” [ESV]  The Webb telescope is revealing truth about God—His eternal power and divine nature—and is validating the incomprehensible vastness of our universe.


When I took chemistry and physics in high school and college, I learned that matter consists of molecules, which are made up of atoms with a nucleus of protons and neutrons with electrons spinning around that nucleus. But today, studying particle physics reveals a great deal of complexity and mystery far beyond the simplicity of molecules and atoms.  Ten years ago, scientists at CERN, the world’s largest particle-physics laboratory located in Geneva, Switzerland, announced that experiments at their Large Hadron Collider (LHC) had found the elusive Higgs boson.  This was proof of the existence of a force field which permeates the universe, and gives all other known particles their mass.  It was the final piece of the Standard Model, the scientific theory that, for now, best describes the properties and behavior of all known matter and forces in the universe.  [The LHC has been switched off for 3½ years for an upgrade which will make it more powerful to explore the complexities of matter in this universe.  It has just been switched back on.]   CERN and its American counterpart Fermilab are seeking to posit a “theory of everything,” which, based on the work of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and the mysterious field of quantum mechanics, will explain everything in the universe.


But the Standard Model is not a complete description of the universe.  Not only does it fail to account for gravity (this is the purview of general relativity), it does not say anything about two other important but obscure phenomena:  dark matter and dark energy.  Physicist Katie Mack, a theoretical cosmologist at the Perimeter Institute, offers a helpful explanation:  “. . . with the use of more powerful telescopes in the 1970s, stars within individual galaxies were found to be moving at impossible speeds . . . As the evidence mounted, some astronomers began to suspect that the stars we see in the night are mere window-dressing—sparks of light embedded in massive but invisible clumps of the only truly important substance in the universe . . . Not knowing what to call an unseen substance that vastly outweighed everything else, they leaned into the mystery and dubbed it ‘dark matter.’  Decades of investigation have brought us nothing to contradict these astronomers’ suspicions of our essential unimportance, nor any answers as to what dark matter might be made of.  We have found no real leads, but many dead ends . . . Nonetheless, study after study has found seemingly incontrovertible evidence that dark matter not only governs the motions of stars and galaxies, but is responsible for their very existence.  Individual matter—or something that acts exactly like it—has directed evolution of the universe from the earliest moments of creation . . . .”   Mack concludes with this observation:  “[We] have been forced to accept the scenario that best matches the data:  that more than 80% of the matter in the universe is invisible to us.  To make matters more perplexing, just a few decades ago we found reasons to believe even dark matter’s cosmic dominance is dwarfed by a mysterious phenomenon that we, in our increasing desperation, call ‘dark energy.’  One is tempted to despair of understanding the cosmos at all.”


In a most helpful article on the Standard Model and the “theory of everything,” The Economist writes, “What physics no longer has, though, is an all-embracing model of the future to try to fit everything into . . . For the moment, fundamental physics is back a pragmatic phase, gathering more pieces of the jigsaw in the hope of fitting them together later.  Physicists have by no means abandoned the lofty goal of unifying forces and creating a grand theory that encompasses everything.  But they need a new map to get there.”


The “new map” The Economist calls for should begin with faith, faith in a God who has revealed Himself to humanity.  His revelation is necessary for us to know Him because we are so different from Him.  In terms of capacity, God is infinite and we are finite.  In terms of nature, He is holy and we are sinful.  As Rick Cornish writes, “God is inaccessible without His accommodating Himself to us by revealing Himself.  We cannot know God or relate to Him unless He reveals Himself.”  What theologians call general revelation is His communication to all people, at all times, in all places.  God’s general revelation is found in creation, both in nature (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:18-25) and in human beings created in God’s image with a conscience (Romans 2:14-16).  The content of this general revelation reveals broad truths about God—His existence, his power and that He is the creator.  Our inability to understand everything in the universe does not mean that God is the author of confusion or chaos.  The presence of mysteries or paradoxes does not mean that God is incomprehensible or that His world is incomprehensible.  He further has revealed Himself in His special revelation, His written Word.  Based on our study of His creation and His Word, we can posit the following propositions:  [1]  God is the sole originating source of everything; He is ultimate and sovereign.  [2]  The universe is not eternal—it had a beginning.  [3]  Nothing, either material or spiritual, exists apart from God.  [4]  Everything has value because God made it and pronounced it good.  [5]  Scientific study of the universe is possible—and will bring glory to God as the Creator.

In conclusion, Michael Guillen, a Harvard physicist and former ABC News Science Editor (1998-2002) who became a Christian, writes, “When I was an atheist . . . my worldview rested on the core axiom that seeing is believing.  When I learned that 95% of the cosmos is invisible, consisting of ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy,’ names for things we don’t understand, that core assumption became untenable.  As a scientist, I had to believe in a universe I mostly could not see.  My core axiom became ‘believing is seeing.’”  He goes on, “science’s worldview is becoming more mystical, not less.  Witness supernatural-like concepts such as virtual particles, imaginary time and quantum entanglement . . . Faith is the foundation of the entire human experience—the basis for both science and religion.  Our faith in physical reality drives us to seek treatments for deadly diseases like COVID-19, to explore the depths of the sea, to invent the perfect source of energy.  Our faith in spiritual reality drives us to create breathtaking works of art, music, and architecture; to see life as a divine creation, not an accident of nature; to be curious about things that are not of this world. .  . Faith is anything but a weakness.  It is the mightiest power in the universe.”  Soli Deo gloria.

See Katie Mack’s review of The Elephant in the Room in the Wall Street Journal (9-10 July 2022); The Economist (9 July 2022), pp. 75-7; James P. Eckman, The Truth about Worldviews, pp. 17-26; Rick Cornish, 5 Minute Theologian, pp. 49, 109-110; and Michael Guillen in the Wall Street Journal (24 September 2021).

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