Rumors of things unseen
“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” —Obi-wan Kenobi
In 1977, George Lucas captured the imagination of millions with his epic-adventure, Star Wars. Mystic luminaries, anthropomorphic androids, and groundbreaking special effects served to set this movie apart in the sci-fi genre. But what left the most lasting impression in the minds of many viewers was the light saber brandished by Luke Skywalker in his mortal contests with Darth Vader. Those mythic conflicts fascinated audiences with the rumor of an invisible Force of staggering potential—a source of energy that permeated the entire cosmos, and yet could be called upon by common folk to fend off the forces of evil.
It all proved to be a perfect hook for audiences brought up in the dawning age of high technology and Western mysticism. But could Lucas and company have communicated more truth in their high-tech blockbuster than they may have realized? We’ll see.
“Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).*
Over 20 years after the initial Star Wars episode, the astrophysics community stumbled on a startling revelation. Ever since 1929, when Edwin Hubble detected the redshift of light emitted from distant stars, the outward expansion of the universe had been a well-established fact. But what stunned researchers in the late 1990s were the redshift measurements of supernovae revealing that the universe is not only expanding, but accelerating! That meant that galaxies and stars are receding from each other at an ever-increasing rate. Scrambling to identify the source of this phenomenon, physicists dubbed it “dark energy” because of its mysterious, unseen nature.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Subsequent measurements revealed that this invisible energy suffusing the cosmos accounts for an amazing 70 percent of all the stuff in the universe. If you add to that all of the dark matter in the universe—matter that is not visible—then dark “stuff” makes up 95 percent of the known cosmos. The unexpected appearance of dark energy, and its implications for understanding the universe, has led prominent physicists like Lawrence Krauss, Ed Witten, and Steven Weinberg to call this the biggest question in all of physics. But why so?
“The universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3.)
Ask almost anyone what resides in the dark vacuum of space, and they will likely reply, “Nothing, of course!” Likewise, in the scientific community it was long believed that with the exception of sparse collections of galaxies, stars, planets, and interstellar dust and gas, the vast expanse of space was empty—a vacuous wasteland devoid of matter and energy. However, with the advent of quantum theory and Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity (general relativity), scientists began to realize that space is not a vast region of emptiness but—when included with time—a four-dimensional fabric of the visible universe.
“He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent” (Psalm 104:2).
These revolutionary insights revealed that, at the subatomic scale, space-time is a gossamer-like structure, interwoven with wildly undulating threads of quantum energy in which tiny, exotic particles are continuously popping into and out of existence. At large scales, the movements of galaxies and stars create gravitational waves that ripple throughout the cosmic fabric according to Einstein’s formulation of general relativity. These developments all worked to reshape the long-held notion of space as an inert void, to the recognition of space as a tumultuous ocean of activity. But of what, exactly, did these cosmic waves consist?
“Do not I fill the heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:24).
It is one of science’s great ironies that Einstein modified his original theory of general relativity by including a small repulsive force to counteract the attractive force of gravity. Einstein felt this modification necessary because, over large scales, the inward pull of gravity would lead to the eventual collapse of the universe and, as he and everyone else “knew,” the universe was eternal and unchanging. But with the discoveries of stellar redshifts, universe expansion, and the “Big Bang,” Einstein had to retract his modification and, in doing so, called it his “biggest blunder.” But this “blunder” would re-emerge some 70 years later to become a leading contender for dark energy—the strange force behind cosmic expansion.
“He who created the heavens and stretched them out … gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it” (Isaiah 42:5).
That still left open the question of what this mysterious energy is and where it comes from. A top candidate, for many theorists, is the rolling energy of the quantum field that is thought to be inherent in the cosmos, saturating all of space. But that compounds our dilemma with even more fundamental questions: What is the origin of this perpetual source of energy? And what “engine” sustains it?
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).
Another problem is that, according to quantum field theory, the amount of energy in one cubic centimeter of “empty” space is more than that contained in all of the matter of the universe! (I guess Vader wasn’t kidding when he chided, “Don’t underestimate the Force!” Talk about untapped power!) Which brings up the next question, why is the energy we observe so much less than what is available?
“His glory covered the heavens... rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden” (Habakkuk 3:3, 4).
Finally there is the “coincidence” that energy and matter are in just the right amounts for the universe to sit astride the dividing line between eternal expansion and eventual collapse. This has caused some researchers to conclude that we live in a favored place and epoch in history in which the “just right” conditions for the universe exist, and in which humans can observe and discern many of the mysteries of creation. But as physicist Brian Greene warns, “[any answer that] hinges its success on extremely precise tunings of features for which we lack fundamental explanation makes most physicists recoil.”
“Why is that?” you ask. Because it implies Someone on the “outside” fiddling with the controls, which is strictly against the “rules” of scientific materialism.
In the last days people will be “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).
Over the last 300 years scientists have made tremendous strides in describing the observable phenomena of nature. But with each discovery have come new questions that have multiplied the mysteries we behold. What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is that the move from description to explanation is beyond the realm of scientific inquiry alone. From the infinitesimal to the infinite, the design and structure of nature point inexorably to the wonders of things unseen.
The scientific juggernaut continues to unveil a hidden infrastructure of nature. And with each new discovery, evidence mounts for a supra-natural fabric that not only supercharges and animates the cosmos, but also holds the ultimate answers about the universe and reality itself. Dark energy is but the latest hint that there is something not quite natural about “Nature.”
Speaking for many investigators unsettled by this implication, University of Chicago physicist Michael Turner remarked, “Dark energy holds the key to understanding our destiny [and] could well be the number one problem in all of physics and astronomy.”
“’Who has known the mind of the Lord?’” (Romans 11:34).
Ever since our arrival on the set, there’s been a nagging rumor going around about things unseen; and of Someone behind the stage curtain tweaking the dials. And despite our efforts to set that childish notion aside, each twist of the plot seems to lead back to the inevitable collision with that rumor.
Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a Wilberforce Forum Centurion. Having worked as a nuclear engineer and radiation health professional for more than 30 years, Regis serves as an elder, teacher, and men’s ministry leader in the Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church. He publishes a weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* All Bible texts in this article are quoted from the New International Version.
For Further Reading:
The Fabric of the Cosmos, Brian Greene
A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
Dark Energy and the New Cosmology, Michael S. Turner: http://supernova.lbl.gov/~evlinder/turner.pdf
Dark Energy and the Preposterous Universe, Sean M. Carroll: http://pancake.uchicago.edu/~carroll/snapyellow.pdf
Questions That Plague Physicists: A Conversation with Lawrence M. Krauss: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1178719/posts
Scientists Ponder the Problem With Gravity: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6273955/