Branes, Strings, Gravity, Quantum Mechanics, and GodMost of us read titles like the one above and wonder what in the world the subject matter is about--or if it is something invented to deliberately confuse the reader. In the last 100 years, new discoveries have been made that defy our conventional understandings of physics. The vast percentage of these discoveries have to do with the very smallest forms of matter, the particles that exist inside atoms, inside protons, and inside neutrons. It does not just involve the particles themselves, but also the forces and energies that allow these particles to function. As new understandings are gained about these particles, forces, and energies, there is a need to have a new vocabulary. To try to understand how the whole picture fits together, new theories are advanced and tested to see if they can adequately explain what we see happening. These theories also have their own unique set of words to describe their understandings and hypothetical workings. It is our purpose in this article to attempt to simplify all of this and help all of us to understand what is being suggested and how it relates to questions related to God.
In the laboratory during the twentieth century, scientists learned that all of the common particles that classical physics knew about at the beginning of that century were made up of smaller particles. These smaller particles were given names like neutrons, mesons, hyperons, leptons, etc. Further progress was made in studying these particles, and it was found that they consisted of still smaller particles called quarks which helped explain what electric charge was as well as numerous properties of atoms. What was interesting about all of these particles was how small they were and how unusual their behavior was. It takes about a million atoms to cross the period at the end of this sentence, and it takes about 100,000 protons to equal the size of an atom. Quarks combine in various ways to make protons. The normal rules of physics do not work well at such small distances and sizes, so a new kind of study called quantum mechanics developed to understand this new micro cosmos.
The most basic problem between quantum mechanics and classical physics is gravity. When you take equations that work in classical physics to describe gravity and you put those equations together with the equations of quantum mechanics, you end up with results that have infinite solutions and values of infinity. This obviously cannot be correct so new theories have been proposed to try to correct the problems. These new theories have their own vocabulary--branes, m-theory, matrix theory, membrane theory, superstring theory, etc.
What is interesting to biblical students is that these newest theories virtually all see quantum mechanical relationships as arising from higher dimensions. String theory, for example, proposes that the entire cosmos was created from the harmonies of vibrating strings, membranes, etc., in eleven dimensions. Impossible as this may be to visualize, string theory successfully brings together quantum mechanics dealings with gravity and classical physics. To visualize how small these stings would have to be, it would take 1 with 33 zeros after it strings in the denominator to equal the diameter of a proton.
Much can be said about why anyone cares or what the practical applications of such theorizing might be. Work like this does not always have a practical result that is known at the time, but later very practical things sometimes come out of such seemingly esoteric considerations. The media tends to make bizarre predictions of what may ultimately come from such research. Everything from time travel to congruent parallel universes have been linked to this type of discussion. All of that is pretty much fantasy, but there are a number of positive things that we can learn from this kind of study.
One major understanding that comes out of such study is that the nature of God is far greater than we can imagine and is totally nonphysical. This is no surprise to Bible students because those inferences have been in Scripture all along. Passages like "God is love" (1 John 4:8,16), "God is light" (1 John 1:5), "God is eternal" (Psalm 102:27; 90:4), "God is unseen" (1 John 4:12), and "God is not a man" (Numbers 23:19) make that clear. Even more clear are the biblical references that tell us that God is outside of time and outside of space (see Jeremiah 23:23-28, and Acts 17:22-29, and 2 Peter 3:8). The Bible portrays God as having existed before the Creation (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 90:4, Acts 1:7, 1 Corinthians 2:7, Revelation 22:13) and also as existing after the physical cosmos has dissolved (2 Peter 3:10-11, Revelation 22:13).
If the method of creation is that vibrating superstrings were created to produce the physical cosmos by a series of transformations, such a discovery would simply show us the profound uniqueness and enormous capacity of our Creator.
I would hope that, as the reader reads over the properties we just listed, you would also be impressed with the fact that the cosmos was not produced by methods and from substances perceptible by our senses. The person who claims to only be willing to believe what they can see, smell, taste, touch, and hear cannot accept a cosmos produced by entities that would not be perceptible by any of these devices.
We would also like to point out that the basic cosmological argument for the existence of God is only affected in positive ways by such studies. Genesis asserts that there was a beginning to the heaven and the earth. The idea that the physical cosmos has always been is not supported by string theory or hypothetical models of how higher dimensional entities may have caused physical matter to exist. What is being proposed are models of how the beginning of the three-dimensional creation came to happen. The question of what the cause was may be answered in some way, but that answer points to a causer. The complexity of the process and the number of parameters that have to be controlled at both the quantum and macro scale certainly do not suggest blind chance as the causal agent. What it does do is add tantalizing new understanding to our view of God, the creation, and our own existence. It also gives a whole new perspective to the biblical question.
"What is man, that thou art mindful of him" (Psalm 8:4).
Reference: "Strung Out," by K. C. Cole, Astronomy, November 2001, pages 47-49.
--John N. Clayton
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