String Theory, Origin of the Universe and God

f1d75dbb61e3ae41e2cd855e70fbd8c0--brian-greene-string-theory

Exactly What is String Theory?

String theory attempts to unify the four forces in the universe – electromagnetic, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, and gravity – together into one unified theory. When it was originally developed in the 1970s, the filaments of energy in string theory were considered to be one-dimensional objects: strings. (One-dimensional indicates that a string has only one dimension, length, as opposed to say a square, which has both length and height dimensions.) These strings come in two forms – closed and open. An open string has ends that don’t touch each other, while a closed string is a loop with no open end. It was eventually found that these early strings, called Type I, could go through five basic types of interactions.

The interactions are based on a string’s ability to have ends join and split apart. Because the ends of open strings can join together to form closed strings, you can’t construct a string theory without closed strings.  This proved to be important, because closed strings have properties that might help define gravity. Instead of just being a theory of particles of matter, physicists began to realize that string theory might explain the behavior of particles relative to gravity. Gravity, in its most basic definition, is a force that tries to pull two objects toward each other. Simple enough, right? Anything that has mass also has gravitational pull. The more massive an object is, the stronger its gravitational pull. Earth’s gravity, for example, is what keeps us on the ground, and what causes objects to fall. It is true, by the way, that the Moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth affects tidal cycles of Earth’s oceans.

A Thought or Two About the Intelligence Behind Our Universe

The force of gravity is so universal that every particle feels it based upon its mass or energy. Gravity is the weakest of the four forces by a long shot; it is so weak that we would not notice it at all were it not for two special properties that it has: it can act over large distances, and it is always attractive. This means that the very weak gravitational forces between individual particles in two large bodies, such as the earth and the sun, can all add up to produce a significant force. It makes the earth revolve around the sun!

The electromagnetic attraction between negatively charged electrons and positively charged protons in the nucleus causes the electrons to orbit the nucleus of the atom, just as gravitational attraction causes the earth to orbit the sun. Even though it is very difficult to observe spontaneous proton decay, it may be that our very existence is a consequence of the reverse process, the production of protons, or more simply, of quarks, from an initial situation in which there were no more quarks than anti-quarks, which is the most natural way to imagine the universe starting out. Matter on earth is made up of protons and neutrons, which in turn are made up of quarks. This is true of bone, hair, the blood running through our veins, the veins themselves, the skin that contains everything that makes us a living organism; it’s true of the sidewalk we walk on, the footwear we walk in, the air we breath, and the lungs that turn that air into the exact mixture of oxygen needed to live. And so on.

There are no anti-protons or anti-neutrons, made up from anti-quarks, except for a few that physicists produce on purpose in large particle accelerators. In his seminal work A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking says we have evidence from cosmic rays that the same is true for all the matter in our galaxy; there are no anti-protons or anti-neutrons apart from a small number that are produced as particle/anti-particle pairs in high-energy collisions. If there were large regions of anti-matter in our galaxy, we would expect to observe large quantities of radiation from the borders between the regions of matter and anti-matter, where many particles would be colliding with their anti-particles, annihilating each other and giving off high-energy radiation.

As much as this is difficult to comprehend, it is important to note the fantastic picture it paints of intelligent design. Why should there be so many more quarks than anti-quarks? Why are there not equal numbers of each? Hawking puts it this way: “It is certainly fortunate for us that the numbers are unequal because, if they had been the same, nearly all the quarks and anti-quarks would have annihilated each other in the early universe and left a universe filled with radiation but hardly any matter.” (pg. 76) The result would have been no galaxies, stars or planets on which human life could have developed. I must mention that early in his career Hawking left the door open for the possibility of the existence of God. However, in an interview with Spain’s El Mundo in 2014, Hawking said, “Before we understood science, it [was] natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation.”

So What about these stringy thingys?

Theories of supergravity have developed from attempts to construct a unified field that describes all of the four basic forces. One of the essential features of quantum field theory is its prediction of “force-carrier” particles that are exchanged between interacting particles of matter. General relativity, which relates gravitational force to the curvature of space-time, provides a respectable theory of gravity on a larger scale. Supergravity theories permit extra dimensions in space-time, beyond the familiar three dimensions. Whoa! In essence, string theory states that there is a dimension beyond that of quarks. A quark is a subatomic or fundamental particle which possesses both an electric charge and a “strong” charge. They combine in groups of two or three to form composite objects held together by the strong force. Protons and neutrons are familiar examples of such composite objects – both are made up of three quarks.

According to Hawking, “Up to about twenty years ago, it was thought that protons and neutrons were ‘elementary’ particles, but experiments in which protons were collided with other protons or electrons at high speeds indicated that they were in fact made up of smaller particles.” (pg. 65) Quantum mechanics tells us that all particles are in fact waves, and that the higher the energy of a particle, the smaller the wavelength of the corresponding wave.

These “strings” vibrate in different patterns, thereby creating the different particles that make up the world around us. Literally, these vibrations define the very substance of the physical world. Everything is made up of tiny filaments of vibrating energy. Many physicists see string theory as the perfect solution for unifying the gravitational mechanics of astronomy with the quantum mechanics of electrons and other subatomic particles – one of the great unsolved problems in physics – because their differing mathematics resolve into one. The implication from string theory is that the underlying unity of matter is energetic “vibration.” At the root of all things is oscillation. The difference between the subatomic particles – between quarks, electrons, and neutrinos, for example – is simply the frequency at which they vibrate. Protons and neutrons in an atomic nucleus are simply composites of those subatomic particles.

The Many Dimensions of the Physical Realm

The physical realm has more dimensions than what we can see. Dimensions which are based upon finely-tuned mathematics. Equations so intricate that if off by even the slightest variation the universe would cease to exist. These “extra” dimensions have a very rich, interdependent geometry. One way in which science has been able to prove the existence of these extra dimensions is by aiming particles at each other in the Large Hadron Collider. The particles are sent round and round in a circle, near the speed of light. If the collision produces enough energy, then it may eject some of the debris from the impact, forcing it to enter into the other dimensions. This could be proven because the amount of energy present after the collision would be less than before, indicating it had drifted away. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, so it had to have gone somewhere.

The Voice of God: “Good Vibrations”

Just as different tones come out of different lengths of a string being plucked on a guitar, so different properties come from the different frequencies or tones of vibration characterizing certain subatomic particles. Even our thoughts are characterized by brainwaves of characteristic amplitude, frequency, and wavelength. Thought produces energy in our brain from the electrochemical activity between neurons. As the neural networks fire in a synchronous pattern with each other, this energy can actually be observed using an EEG.

Here’s the fascinating part. The Bible tells us God’s words are the very energy behind creation. God spoke and the entire universe and all its inhabitants came into existence. God’s thoughts were transmitted as spoken sound waves, thereby creating a physical universe which, at its most fundamental level, is governed by vibratory waves of little loops of string. If vibrations are the foundation of physical reality – remember, of course, that atomic particles are in constant motion – then it’s clear that spiritual truth transcends physical truth. Why are atoms and molecules so stable and yet so full of energy and motion? Scripture says, “For in [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17, NIV) [Emphasis mine.] In this manner, Scripture illuminates science. Science does not explain Scripture.

Concluding Remarks

Hawking, in his conclusion to A Brief History of Time, said, “We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask, ‘What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?” To try to answer these questions, we adopt a particular “worldview.” Everyone has one. Just as an infinite tower of tortoises supporting the archaic idea of a flat earth is such a picture, so is the theory of superstrings. Both are theories of the universe, though string theory at least is much more mathematically practical than the turtle idea. Einstein once asked the question, “How much choice did God have in constructing the universe?” According to Hawking, if no boundary proposal is correct, God had no freedom at all to choose initial conditions. He would, of course, still have had the freedom to choose the laws that the universe obeyed. Hawking believes this may not really have been all that much of a choice; there may well be only one, or a small number, of complete unified theories. Hawking states, “Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations.”

Let’s remember, however, that the very physics and mathematics by which Hawking and others attempt to explain the universe, including its beginning, did not exist at the time of the so-called Big Bang. Fascinating, no? I like this quote from NASA Science Beta Magazine Online: “According to the theories of physics, if we were to look at the universe one second after the Big Bang, what we would see is a 10-billion degree sea of neutrons, protons, electrons, anti-electrons (positrons), photons, and neutrinos. Then, as time went on, we’d see the universe cool. It would eventually reach the temperature where electrons combined with nuclei to form neutral atoms. Before this ‘recombination’ occurred, the universe would have been opaque because the free electrons would have caused light (photons) to scatter the way sunlight scatters from the water droplets in clouds.” I believe Genesis has a word or two about what caused light to appear.

Pope Pius XII made a very curious remark in 1951: “True science to an ever-increasing degree discovers God as though God were waiting behind each door opened by science.” More than a few scientists over the decades have said that the facts of the Big Bang, as they are slowly uncovered, could at the very least suggest the work of a Creator. In my opinion, science will never be able to take us to the exact moment of creation– only up to that point where philosophy, metaphysics, and theology begin. Before publicly concluding he was an atheist, Stephen Hawking initially made a tentative foray into this uncertain area by saying, “The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications whenever you start to discuss the origins of the universe. There must be religious overtones. But I think most scientists prefer to shy away from the religious side of it.”

“First this: God created the heavens and earth – all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a sea of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. God spoke: ‘Light!’ and light appeared. God saw that light was good and separated light from dark. God named the light Day, He named the dark Night. It was evening, it was morning – Day One.”

(Genesis 1:1-5, MSG)

References

Boslough, J. (1985). Stephen Hawking’s Universe. New York, NY: Avon Books
Hawking, S. (1988). A Brief History of Time. New York, NY: Bantam Books
NASA Science (n.d.). “The Big Bang.” NASA Science Beta Magazine Online. Retrieved from: https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-powered-the-big-bang

The Genesis Problem: The Methodological Atheism of Science

“There is no such thing as philosophy-free science. There is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”
– Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

YOU DECIDE TO SIT DOWN and examine science in order to come to a better understanding of the empirical world around you. This seems to be a sound proposition, yet there is a problem. The issue is not with modern science itself, but rather with a faulty view of science: The idea that science is a complete framework for understanding man and the universe, and that unscientific claims should be automatically rejected. Scientists naturally like to think of themselves as reasonable people, ready to follow the path of evidence no matter where it takes them. Carl Sagan’s boast is typical in this regard: “At the heart of science is … an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counter-intuitive.” Of course, we must also remember that virtually everyone comes to a subject matter already in possession of a particular bias or worldview. That’s fine. What is not okay is when an individual denies his or her biases or presuppositions, or, worse yet, is dishonest about them when presenting their findings.

Stephen Hawking explains why a large number of theorists were attracted to the steady state theory of the origin of the universe. Steady state theory posits that the universe is always expanding, but it is maintaining a constant average density, with matter being constantly created to form new stars and galaxies at the same rate that old ones become unobservable as a consequence of their increasing distance and velocity of receding. He said, “There were therefore a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a big bang … Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention.” For some time Hawking had given the impression that he is neither a strong believer nor disbeliever in a higher power, but in 2014 he told a symposium, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” This is decidedly quite a reversal of opinion.

Astronomer and physicist Lee Smolin complained, “Must all of our scientific understanding of the world really come down to a [seemingly] mythological story in which nothing exists … save some disembodied intelligence, who, desiring to start a world, chooses the initial conditions and then wills matter into being?” Man must ultimately confront nature in order to develop a sense of who he is within nature itself. Indeed, by default one’s worldview will have an impact on how one defines nature. For example, Western societies do not generally confront nature with the same sense of respect. For us, the physical realm of “not man” is indifferent to man. In the Western Hemisphere, we believe nature exists for man to harness for his own purposes. We do not conform to the universe; rather, we seek to conform the universe to us and our needs. Phillips, Brown & Stonestreet. (2008) How we confront and interpret nature has a direct impact on understanding our place in it.

Today all evidence of God is a priori rejected by science. Even empirical evidence of the kind normally admissible in science is refused a hearing. It doesn’t matter how strong or reliable the evidence is, scientists acting in their professional capacity are obliged to ignore it. If you know anything about the history of the church, all of this may seem surprising, in view of how science developed out of the theological premises and institutions of Christianity. Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle, and others all saw a deep compatibility between science and religion. All believed in God. Today, however, scientists typically admit there is a specific orderliness to the universe and nature, but refuse to consider the source of that orderliness. Science has front-men like Stephen Hawking to attempt to convince everyone that the laws of physics and the language of genetics came from nothing.

Today’s atheists, Dawkins and the others, seem naively to believe they are the apostles of reason who are merely following the evidence. It is important to note that modern science seems to be based on an unwavering alliance to naturalism and materialism. Naturalism is the doctrine that nature is all there is. It is a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes. Supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted. Materialism is the belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Material reality is the only reality. Of course these philosophical doctrines – naturalism and materialism – have never been proven. In fact, they cannot be proven because it is impossible to demonstrate that immaterial reality does not exist. Naturalism and materialism are not scientific conclusions; rather, they are scientific premises. They are not discovered in nature but imposed upon nature. In short, they are articles of faith.

Here’s something to ponder which was written by Richard Lewontin, geneticist and author of Billions and Billions of Demons:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment – a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori commitment to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” [Emphasis added.]

The million-dollar question: Is science intrinsically atheistic? Well, yes. From a procedural or narrow sense, science is anti-God. And this is probably okay, because we don’t want scientists who run into difficulty proving their theories to get out of the dilemma simply by saying, “You know, I’m not going to investigate this any longer. I’m just going to put it down as a miracle.” Could you imagine what would happen to the “reputation” of miracles if we called everything we cannot understand a miracle? Moreover, there are many religious scientists who find no difficulty in working within the domain of procedural atheism while at the same time holding their religious beliefs. Biologist Francis Collins says that as a biologist he investigates natural explanations for the origin of life, while as a Christian he believes that there are also supernatural forces at work. Science is not the only way of knowing.

The more I read the works of today’s apologists and the counter-arguments of today’s atheists, the clearer it becomes to me that we are slowly uncovering scientific facts that speak loudly of the existence of a creative force in the universe. I see that reality goes much deeper than the scientific portrait of it. Many people regard scientific and religious claims as inherently contradictory simply because they are unwitting captives to a second type of atheism, which has been identified as philosophical atheism. The best way to define this term is the dogma that material and natural reality is all that exists. Everything else is illusory. Atheists of this persuasion, and this would include Richard Dawkins, pretend that because God cannot be discovered through science – which is a dubious claim anyway! – God cannot be discovered at all.

Here’s the thing about philosophical atheism: Only data that fit the theory are allowed into the theory. By contrast, the theist is much more open-minded and reasonable. The theist does not deny the validity of scientific reasoning. Again, we have only to look to the great scientists who were Christians. The theist is entirely willing to acknowledge material and natural causes for events. After all, it is God who put the laws of physics in motion when He created the universe. I am of the firm belief that physic did not exist before the universe existed, therefore physics cannot be used to explain how the universe came into being. (Consider, for example, the first law of thermodynamics.) However, the theist also admits the possibility of other types of knowledge

Let me take a moment to point out something very few have focused on in arguing that God simply cannot exist because the explanation of a supreme deity is far too simple to be true. They claim belief in God cannot explain the complex theory of evolution. Richard Dawkins, in his seminal book The God Delusion, faults theologian Richard Swinburne’s concept that examination of electrons shows God’s hand in all of creation, and His ongoing sustenance of all that exists. Swinburne said billions and billions of electrons, all with the same properties, all working together in perfect symmetry, is too much of a coincidence. Dawkins states, “But how can Swinburne possibly maintain that this hypothesis of God simultaneously keeping a gazillion fingers on wayward electrons is a simple hypothesis? It is, of course, precisely the opposite of simple. Swinburne pulls off the trick to his own satisfaction by a breathtaking piece of intellectual chutzpah. He asserts, without justification, that God is only a single substance. What brilliant economy of explanatory causes, compared with all those gigazillions of independent electrons all just happening to be the same!”

First of all, Dawkins and many others continue to quote statements made decades, and sometimes centuries, ago in support of their attack on theists, and do not include remarks that indicate how far science and religion have come as partners in discovering the origin of life. For example, some modern theorists see randomness as a genuine design feature, and not just as a physicalist gloss. Their challenge is to explain how divine providence is compatible with genuine randomness. (Under a deistic view, one could simply say that God started the universe off and did not interfere with how it went, but that option is not open to the theist, and most authors in the field of science and religion are theists, rather than deists.)

Elizabeth Johnson (1996), using a Thomistic view of divine action, argues that divine providence and true randomness are compatible: God gives creatures true causal powers, thus making creation more excellent than if they lacked such powers, and random occurrences are also secondary causes; chance is a form of divine creativity that creates novelty, variety, and freedom. One implication of this view is that God may be a risk taker – although, if God has a providential plan for possible outcomes, there is unpredictability but not risk. Johnson uses metaphors of risk-taking that, on the whole, leave the creator in a position of control (creation, then, is like jazz improvisation), but it is, to her, a risk nonetheless. Why would God take risks? There are several solutions to this question. The free will theodicy says that a creation that exhibits randomness can be truly free and autonomous:

Authentic love requires freedom, not manipulation. Such freedom is best supplied by the open contingency of evolution, and not by strings of divine direction attached to every living creature. (Miller 1999/2007: 289)

What’s fascinating to me is that none of these cherished atheist theories can account for the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, or the origin of human rationality and morality. Any theory that cannot account for these landmark stages can hardly claim to have solved the problem of origins, either of life or of the universe. The universe could not have evolved solely through natural selection, as the universe makes up the whole of nature. Someone made the universe and prescribed the laws that govern its operations. There are innumerable life forms in the universe. These life forms are the product of evolution (natural selection), and Darwin and his successors have elegantly elucidated how the selection process occurred. Of this I have no doubt. Accordingly, I am not a hardcore young earth creationist. But evolution has no explanation for the origin of the universe or its laws. So how can evolution undercut the argument from design as it applies to the universe itself and the laws that govern it?

Simple. Scientific truth is not the entire truth.

REFERENCES

Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Mariner Books
DeCruz, H. (2017). “Religion and Science.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Science. (Spring 2017 Edition). URL: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/religion-science/
D’Souza, D. (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity? Carol Stream, IL: Tyndall Press
Phillips, W., Brown, W. and Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company