Einstein’s Gravitational Waves Discovered – and the Implications for Theism
This month a group of scientists announced what they think to be one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of our generation: Einstein’s gravitational waves discovered. Roughly a century ago Einstein predicted that our universe should be composed of gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of spacetime – and now scientists may well have just found physical verification of their existence.
The science of this discovery is explained more fully here, but for this article I want to explore the theological implications of such a finding, assuming that it turns out to be verified.
What the Discovery of Gravitational Waves Means
Regarding the consensus scientific picture of the universe, nothing changes with the discovery of gravitational waves. It simply serves to confirm – and give us deeper insight into – what scientists have increasingly believed for the last 100 years: Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and the Standard model of Big Bang cosmology.
Neil Turock, director the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics at Waterloo in Canada, explains this point nicely:
For me the most exciting thing is we will literally be able to see the big bang. Using electromagnetic waves we cannot see further back than 400,000 years after the big bang. The early universe was opaque to light. It is not opaque to gravitational waves. It is completely transparent.
So literally, by gathering gravitational waves we will be able to see exactly what happened at the initial singularity. The most weird and wonderful prediction of Einstein’s theory was that everything came out of a single event: the big bang singularity. And we will be able to see what happened. (quotes found in the article referenced above)
Big Bang Cosmology
In the simplest terms, the Standard Big Bang model of the universe holds that all matter and energy, and even space and time themselves, came into being about 13.7 billion years ago in the form of an initial singularity, a infinitesimally small and dense point. Since then the fabric of the universe has been expanding, and the galaxies in the universe been been moving away from each other like buttons glued on a balloon being blown up.
With the observation of gravitational waves, scientists believe that they can in a sense look back in time and “see” the origin of the universe, the beginning of this rapid expansion.
Implications for the Existence of God
Some theists and Christians ignore, argue against, disbelieve, fear, or otherwise resist Big Bang cosmology, thinking that it is an alternative to the existence of God. But this is simply unwarranted; in fact, quite the opposite is the case: the Standard Big Bang model is has much affinity with Christian theism.
Why is this? Because the first verse of Genesis itself posits that the universe is not eternal but came into being a finite time ago. The Big Bang theory agrees with this assertion.
The theory itself does not add that the universe was created by God, and many scientists may not believe that God created it. But the theory itself is entirely consistent with the existence of God: Big Bang cosmology is necessarily neutral about anything prior to the Big Bang, because we cannot detect anything prior to the Big Bang using the tools of science.
What is inconsistent with Christian theism, and plausibly necessary for an atheistic or naturalistic worldview, is that the universe is not finite in the past but exists eternally.
And in fact, this is precisely what atheistic skeptics of the Big Bang initially held to when the theory was first posited, as they proposed alternative models which held to an infinite past (such as the Steady State model).
It is also plausibly a large motivation for present day speculation about the idea that we live in a past eternal multiverse – a collection of perhaps infinitely many universes, of which our universe is just one.
The Big Bang Theory Supports Christian Theism
Christians should therefore celebrate the discovery of gravitational waves, not only because it gives us greater insight into the features of God’s creation, but also because it confirms a view of the universe that was predicted by the Bible thousands of years ago: the universe began to exist a finite time ago.
What thoughts or questions do you have about the discovery of gravitational waves? Do you agree or disagree that the Big Bang model of the universe supports the existence of God? Let me know in the comments below!
For additional evidence for the existence of God, see our arguments page.