A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

On February 11, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) research team announced that they had discovered gravitational waves.1 This remarkable achievement by the world’s most sensitive detector (over a 4 kilometer laser baseline, LIGO can detect a distortion in space-time as small as 0.001 the diameter of an atomic nucleus) affirmed what many physicists consider the most significant prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, namely that gravitational disturbances emanate waves.

Does this Discovery Affirm the Cosmic Creation Event?

The discovery of gravitational waves makes Einstein’s theory of general relativity the most exhaustively tested and best-proven principle in physics. Since general relativity is the foundation for the space-time theorems, proof of general relativity implies that the conclusion arising from the space-time theorems—namely that space and time are created entities that came into existence at the cosmic creation event—is correct.

Alexander Vilenkin, one of the authors of the latest and most potent of the space-time theorems,2 wrote in his book Many Worlds in One, “With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape: they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”3

What is that problem? The space-time theorems imply that a causal agent brought our universe of matter, energy, space, and time into existence. Of all the possible candidates for the role of causal agent, the best match by far is the God of the Bible.

There is more. The discovery of gravitational waves adds to the weight of evidence that the universe experienced a hyperinflation event a little less than a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the cosmic creation event (the big bang).4 This inflation event must be extraordinarily fine-tuned to yield a future universe in which advanced life exists. When combined with all the other known evidence for cosmic fine-tuning, the fine-tuning of inflation implies that the causal agent who brought the universe into existence must be a personal Being.

The significance, scientifically and philosophically, of the gravitational wave discovery leaves little doubt that the LIGO team, or some part of the team, will be awarded the Nobel Prize.

The Unprecedented Mass of the Two Merging Black Holes

What makes this discovery even more incredible is that the gravitational waves resulted from the merger of two black holes weighing in at 36 and 29 times the Sun’s mass. Astronomers had previously detected black holes weighing less than 15 times the Sun’s mass and black holes that are thousands, millions, and even billions of times the Sun’s mass. Until February 11, astronomers had not seen any black holes between 15 and 1,000 times the Sun’s mass. Many theories for the history of the universe predicted that black holes within this mass range could not exist.

The black holes that are thousands, millions, or billions of times the Sun’s mass exist in the nuclei of galaxies and globular clusters where the density of stars is so extreme that literally thousands, millions, or billions of stars merge together. Black holes less than 15 times the Sun’s mass are the aftermath of the nuclear burning of the very largest stars.

Stars that are salted with tiny amounts of elements heavier than helium lose so much mass during their nuclear burning that little is leftover to form a black hole. For example, by the time a 40-solar-mass star finishes its nuclear burning and begins to collapse into a black hole, it will have shed so much mass that it weighs just 10 solar masses. In the presence of elements heavier than helium, the largest star that can form is about 60 solar masses, which explains the 15-solar-mass upper limit for the small black holes that astronomers previously had detected.

One way black holes can reach about 30 solar masses is if the stars formed at an early point in cosmic history when the universe contained only hydrogen and helium. In this case, the two black holes detected by LIGO would have had to form when the universe was less than a billion years old. This formation date raises a problem. The LIGO black holes are located about 1.3 billion light-years from Earth. If these black holes indeed are the aftermath of the universe’s first-born stars, then they have somehow survived as a binary pair for about 12 billion years. Such longevity, though not impossible, is highly improbable.

Another possibility is that the two black holes formed in a galaxy with an extremely low abundance of elements heavier than helium. For example, astronomers have found a few dwarf spheroidal galaxies that possess a concentration of elements heavier than helium measuring a thousand times less than the concentration in the Milky Way Galaxy. Some star formation models predict that stars large enough to leave behind a 30-solar-mass black hole could form in such an environment. The challenge here is that these dwarf galaxies are not only tiny but they also manifest a very low star-formation rate. Consequently, the probability of these galaxies forming stars that would leave behind a substantial number of 30-solar-mass black holes appears very small.

The answers to the puzzle will require the discovery of more black hole merger events by LIGO and several other gravity wave telescopes, which will soon be fully operational. Once astronomers possess some clues as to the frequency and location of these kinds of events, they will be able to use that data to build a much more detailed understanding of the universe’s first-born stars and star formation history.5 This understanding in turn promises to weaken doubts about the validity of the biblically predicted6 big bang creation model.

Food for Thought

Do you think it’s important for us to gain a better and more accurate understanding of the universe’s origin? Visit TNRTB on Wordpress to comment with your response.

Subjects: Origin of the Universe, Universe Design

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @ Reasons.org

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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