Proving the reliability of general relativity to precisely describe the dynamics (movements) of massive bodies in the universe is fundamental to establishing the spacetime theorems.1 These theorems prove the beginning (creation) of space and time. The creation of space and time implies the existence of a Creator beyond space and time, which uniquely describes the God of the Bible.

It is the theological significance of general relativity that has prompted astronomers and physicists to subject general relativity to exhaustive testing. However, one test of general relativity has proven to be elusive, namely the Lense-Thirring effect.

Josef Lense and Hans Thirring were Austrian physicists who in dialogue with Albert Einstein showed in 1918 that general relativity predicts that a massive rotating body will cause the spacetime fabric in its vicinity to drag. This dragging effect will cause a small-mass body orbiting a high-mass body to precess (change its rotational axis orientation). 

The dragging effect, however, is extremely tiny, only a few parts per billion for a body as massive and dense as Earth (weak field case). For example, general relativity predicts that in one satellite orbit about the earth (~25,000 miles) the spacetime fabric in the vicinity of the satellite would be dragged by only about 1 inch. General relativity, however, predicts more dramatic effects for bodies as massive and dense as black holes and neutron stars (strong field case).

Even though the Lense-Thirring effect was one of the first predicted distinctives of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, it was the last to be put to a set of accurate tests. It remained elusive for nearly one hundred years because of how extraordinarily difficult the tests are to perform. Only within the past fifteen months have astronomers and physicists finally achieved exhaustive confirmation (for both the weak and strong gravitational field cases) that the general relativistic predictions of the Lense-Thirring effect are correct.

Weak Field Confirmations
For solar system bodies, the predicted Lense-Thirring effect is extremely small. However, three laser-ranged, Earth-orbiting satellites, LAGEOS I, LAGEOS II, and LARES have the necessary sensitivity to detect the tiny effect. Using 3.5 years of observations from the LARES satellite and several more years of observations from LAGEOS I and II, a team of a dozen astronomers established that Earth’s dragging of inertial spacetime frames matched the value predicted by the Lense-Thirring effect to within 0.6 percent.2

The Gravity Probe B mission, an Earth-orbiting satellite with four precision gyroscopes on board measured a geodetic drift rate of -6,601.8±18.3 milliarcseconds per year and a frame-dragging of -37.2±7.2 milliarseconds per year.3 General relativity predicted -6,606.1 milliarcseconds per year and -39.2 milliarcseconds per year, respectively.

Strong Field Confirmations
In 2016, a team of four Polish astronomers derived jet energetics and timescales for the two pairs of extended and misaligned lobes emanating from the radio galaxy 3C 293. Their analysis demonstrated that Lense-Thirring precession generated by the supermassive black hole in 3C 293’s nucleus (black hole’s mass exceeds several tens of millions of solar masses4) caused the observed jet dynamics.5

In the same year, an international team of eight astronomers reported on their observations of the iron emission line in the X-ray spectrum of the stellar mass black hole binary H1743-392. They showed that the quasi-periodic oscillations in the iron line centroid energy is produced by Lense-Thirring precession.6 One month earlier, a team of five Chinese astronomers showed that the quasi-periodic oscillations in the X-ray spectra of the black hole X-ray binary SWIFT J1842.5-1124 are consistent with the Lense-Thirring effect.7 Four months earlier, three astronomers in the Netherlands showed that the quasi-periodic oscillations in the X-ray flux from the stellar mass black hole binary GRS 1915+105 are caused by different radii in the inner accretion flow of the black hole experiencing Lense-Thirring precession at different frequencies.8 Ten months earlier, five European and Canadian astronomers’ observations of the black hole binary SWIFT J1753-9237 likewise showed quasi-periodic oscillations due to the Lense-Thirring effect.9

So What?
Today it can be said that no theory of physics has ever been tested in so many different contexts and so rigorously and exhaustively as has general relativity. The fact that Einstein’s theory has withstood all these tests so remarkably well implies that no basis remains for doubting any of the theological and philosophical conclusions dependent upon it. Since general relativity accurately describes the dynamics of the universe in all contexts, the space-time theorems can be trusted. Time really does have a beginning. There really is a God who transcendently created all the spacetime dimensions of our universe.

feature image credit: Mach


  1. I discuss the spacetime theorems in my book Why the Universe Is the Way It is. In the forthcoming reprint of my book The Creator and the Cosmos, I demonstrate why the spacetime theorems are valid both for classical general relativity and also for the extremely early moment in cosmic history where general relativity is modified by quantum mechanics (the quantum gravity era).
  2. Richard Matzner et al., “LARES Satellite Thermal Forces and a Test of General Relativity” (September 23, 2016), eprint: arXiv:1607.08787; Ignazio Ciufolini et al., “A Test of General Relativity Using the LARES and LAGEOS Satellites and a GRACE Earth Gravity Model: Measurement of Earth’s Dragging of Inertial Frames,” European Physical Journal C 76 (March 2016), id. 120, doi:10.1140/epjc/s10052-016-3961-8.
  3. C. W. F. Everitt et al., “The Gravity Probe B Test of General Relativity,” Classical and Quantum Gravity 32 (November 19, 2015), id. 224001, doi:10.1088/0264-9381/32/22/224001.
  4. R. J. Beswick et al., “High-Resolution Imaging of the Radio Continuum and Neutral Gas in the Inner Kiloparsec of the Radio Galaxy 3C 293,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 352 (July 2004), 49–60, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2004.07892.x; E. K. Mahony et al., “The Location and Impact of Jet-Driven Outflows of Cold Gas: The Case of 3C 293,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters 435 (August 13, 2013), L58–L62, doi:10.1093/mnrasl/slt094.
  5. J. Machalski et al., “Dynamical Analysis of the Complex Radio Structure in 3C 293: Clues on a Rapid Jet Realignment in X-Shaped Radio Galaxies,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 595 (October 2016), id. A46, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201629249.
  6. Adam Ingram et al., “A Quasi-Periodic Modulation of the Iron Line Centroid Energy in the Black Hole Binary H1743-322,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 461 (September 2016), 1967–80, doi:10.1093/mnras/stw1245.
  7. H.-H. Zhao et al., “The X-Ray View of Black Hole Candidate Swift J1842.5-1124 During Its 2008 Outburst,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 593 (August 2016), id. A23, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201628647.
  8. Jakob van den Eijnden, Adam Ingram, and Phil Uttley, “Probing the Origin of Quasi-Periodic Oscillations: The Short-Time-Scale Evolution of Phase Lags in GRS 1915+105,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 458 (June 1, 2016), 3655–66, doi:10.1093/mnras/stw610.
  9. Alexandra Veledina et al., “Discovery of Correlated Optical/X-Ray Quasi-Periodic Oscillations in Black Hole Binary SWIFT J1753.5–0127,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 454 (December 2015), 2855–62, doi:10.1093/mnras/stv2201.

Subjects: Creation, Einstein, God's Existence, Origin of the Universe

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About The Author

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. I also am eager to equip Christians to engage, rather than withdraw from or attack, educated non-Christians. One of the approaches I’ve developed, with the help of my RTB colleagues, is a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive. I enjoy constructively integrating all 66 books of the Bible with all the science disciplines as a way to discover and apply deeper truths. 1 Peter 3:15–16 sets my ministry goal, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe. Not all of Hugh's discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and "holy books" and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious "ground zero" and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking the evidence. Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelations in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Wholeheartedly encouraged by family and friends, communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. Thus, in 1986, he founded science-faith think tank Reasons to Believe (RTB). He and his colleagues at RTB keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In this realm, he has written many books, including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, A Matter of Days, Creation as Science, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, and More Than a Theory. Between writing books and articles, recording podcasts, and taking interviews, Hugh travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups, to consider what they believe and why. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest. Having grown up amid the splendor of Canada's mountains, wildlife, and waterways, Hugh loves the outdoors. Hiking, trail running, and photography are among his favorite recreational pursuits - in addition to stargazing. Hugh lives in Southern California with his wife, Kathy, and two sons.

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