A reader asked me to comment on the profound theological significance of gravity waves. Seems like a good idea. So here goes …
About 100 years ago, Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity (GTR), which has been confirmed by countless experiments. But not all of its predictions have been confirmed — most famously, until a few days ago, gravity waves.
The GTR postulates that gravity is the result of the warping of space-time (the universe imagined in four dimensions, three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension — usually represented by x, y, z, and t). Our brains are hard-wired to think in three or fewer dimensions. We really can’t picture a four-dimensional object, although some mathematicians and physicists are better at it than most.
Therefore, the texts all explain this as though space-time were a flat surface (two spatial dimensions). Imagine a rubbery material (like the stuff balloons are made out of) stretched taut and flat (but really strong). This is space-time with the z-axis ignored.
Now put a billiard ball in the middle. The balloon material warps because of the mass of the ball. Einstein theorized that space-time warps around every object that has mass (pretty much everything but light and light-like stuff), giving it “gravity.”
Next, go back to our billiard ball. Imagine that a BB (as in a BB gun) rolls around the inside of the warp at high speed. If not too fast and not too slow, the BB would literally orbit the billiard ball. And this is why the moon orbits the earth and the earth orbits the sun. Both are following the warp in space-time generated by the heavier object. It feels like a force pulling us down but it’s really the curvature of space.
If this is true, then several amazingly cool other things must also be true.
- The sun is so heavy (lots of mass) that it warps space-time so much that light would be bent around the sun. In fact, the math shows that a star on the other side of the sun could literally be seen from earth because the star light would bend around the sun due to the warping of space-time. But only during an eclipse because the corona otherwise blocks the view. This is called gravitational lensing — and it was proved true shortly after Einstein published his paper.
- In fact, for a really heavy star, light from a star exactly opposite the earth could be seen on both sides of the star, as space-time would be warped enough to bend light 180 degrees in both directions. And this has been recently observed — many times.
- Simple physics (which I used to be able to do but have now forgotten) calculates the “escape velocity” of an object launched from a surface. The escape velocity is the speed necessary to overcome gravity and head off into outer space. And it’s not hard to figure how heavy an object would have to be for the escape velocity to exceed the speed of light (much heavier than the sun). And in such a case, light could not leave the surface
— resulting in a black hole. In Newtonian physics, there are no black holes because light has no mass and so is not pulled back by gravity. But when space-time itself is warped back onto itself, even light is trapped — and so the existence of black holes is an important proof of GTR.
I could go on, and there’s much more — such as atomic bombs and such like. I mean, it’s more than a little relevant to modern life.
According to the LIGO website,
Based on the observed signals, LIGO scientists estimate that the black holes for this event were about 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun, and the event took place 1.3 billion years ago. About 3 times the mass of the sun was converted into gravitational waves in a fraction of a second—with a peak power output about 50 times that of the whole visible universe. By looking at the time of arrival of the signals—the detector in Livingston recorded the event 7 milliseconds before the detector in Hanford—scientists can say that the source was located in the Southern Hemisphere.
So imagine two black holes with huge gravitational fields (very, very warped space-time) orbiting each other. It’d be like putting two bowling balls on our stretched out flat balloon surface rolling around. Imagine that the surface is miles and miles large. Imagine you put a stethoscope on the surface from many miles away. If the material is really taut, you could hear the balls rolling — especially if there’s nothing else on the surface quite that big.
Now imagine that the two bowling balls slow down and eventually collide with the force of 65 suns colliding in the space taken up by a single star.
That’s what the physicists “heard” with their gravitational wave listening machine.
Cool. And it’s not really surprising that Einstein thought that such a collision might send waves through the “fabric” of space-time. In fact, every movement by every object with mass sends waves through space — but most create a wave unimaginably small. In fact, the two black holes colliding created a warp that, by the time it hit the earth, was about one thousandth of the width of a proton — which is pretty dang small.
1. For about 100 years, physicists have tried to come up with a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) uniting Relativity with quantum mechanics. You see, quantum mechanics deals with sub-atomic particles that are really waves (sort of). The math that describes them is wave theory. And three of the four known forces of nature are fully described by quantum wave theory. The one exception has been (drum roll, please) gravity. Proof that gravity can be propagated by a wave is a major step toward the GUT — which will give us an even better understanding of the universe than GTR or quantum mechanics do separately. Hence, the experimentalists who heard the two black holes collide will surely receive a Nobel prize.
2. If Einstein was right, then time is part of the universe and does not exist outside the universe. Therefore, the Creator exists outside of time — as we experience it. He may have time of another kind, but it would not correlate to time as we experience it.
3. If that’s so, then the Creator would be able to know the future because he would be no more bound by time than by space.
4. If that’s so, then free will could exist in our space-time and the Creator could know the future even though the future is not necessarily caused by the past. There could be non-deterministic events (acts of free will) not governed by the laws of physics, and yet the future would still be fully knowable by the Creator (but not by us, absent a special revelation by the Creator). (Some people get this and some don’t. Both go to heaven.)
5. If 2 is true, then it also follows that, when someone dies, the Creator could move them (their memories and consciousness) directly to the end of the Age to participate in the general resurrection.
6. Indeed, if 2 is true, then a higher-dimensional being (such as the Creator) could appear to walk through walls by moving from point X to point Y through a dimension that cannot be perceived by 3-dimensional beings. In fact, if 2 is true, all sorts of miracles could be done by a being with an existence outside (higher dimensional than) the constraints of time and space.
And it gets better …
7. Today, we can use optical telescopes to see objects about 13.1 billion light years away. Using microwave radiation, we can get to around 13.76 billion light years away. And that means what we see happened 13.76 billion years ago. That gets us to about 380,000 years after the Big Bang or, as we prefer to say on the blog, the Creation.
For 380,000 years (or so), space was opaque. (The Hebrew would be תֹּ֫הוּ and בּהוּ, that is, without form and void.) Light could not escape the hot mess of sub-atomic particles that filled space (due to the universe being much, much smaller back then). Hence, we’ll never see (with light or microwaves) what was going on before then. (After being without form and void for 380,000 year, there was light, long before there were stars. The light and darkness had to be separated for there to be stars.)
Hence, microwave telescopes can see back to the moment light escaped from the primordial cauldron of subatomic heat — the microwave background radiation. That light fills the universe and was stretched as the universe expanded. It’s now stretched so much that the light has become microwave radiation — at exactly the frequency predicted by Einstein’s equations.
But gravity waves were unaffected by the opacity of the early universe. If we can make our gravity wave listening machines even more precise, we might hear the formation of the universe. We might hear the gravitational effects of … the voice of God.
Oh, and if quantum mechanics is true, there are understandings of the math that make matter and energy products of nothing but the laws of nature. It’s not the math that creates matter and energy. It describes what happens but doesn’t cause it. Rather, something — beyond our ability to perceive — must (to quote Hawking) put the fire in the equations. Something must actualize the math — something higher and better than math because only a computer literally bigger than the universe could run all the equations that make the universe run. So it has to be something other.
The Stoics in the First Century had a word for exactly this. They called it the Logos.