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In some ways, science is reminiscent of one of the biblical proverbs: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). The “hard” sciences—physics, chemistry, biology, and their subdisciplines—represent the spirit of this verse well. Each of these disciplines is an effort to explore the works of the Creator’s hands and seek out facts hidden under the surface. Like an engine concealed beneath the hood of a car, so many of the intricate, inner workings of His creation are concealed under the surface, and there is wonder to be found in revealing them.
Perhaps the proverb helps to explain how science has come to be treated almost like a religion today, and scientists as priests. There is an aura about the work of science. Its findings are treated in a way that pronouncements about God’s revelation and the Bible once were, and those who question the consensus of scientists are sometimes treated like secular heretics.
Yet, for the noble pursuit it can be and the “glory” it brings, science is still a very human pursuit, subject to human fallibilities. This side of science was on display in the news recently, and meditating on what transpired can teach us a number of worthwhile things.
If you were a subscriber of this magazine in 2016, you may have read our article “Einstein, God and Gravity Waves” in that year’s May-June issue. The finding that had been announced earlier that year was impressive and inspiring: A team manning the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment announced that gravity waves had finally been discovered—the result of a collision of two black holes, far away in space. The LIGO teams created innovative and remarkably sensitive instruments that seemed to have detected minute ripples in the spacetime fabric of the universe. Such ripples, or gravity waves, are predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
The discovery was hailed far and wide, and we reported on it ourselves, noting how remarkable it was that Einstein could, essentially, begin with “thought experiments”—limited to the confines of our relatively small world—and draw accurate conclusions about such events deep in the cosmos. The discovery was, as we wrote then, “a tribute to God’s magnificent and orderly design at the foundation of reality!”
Or at least it was until recently.
As reported in New Scientist in their November 3, 2018 issue (“Wave Goodbye?” by Michael Brooks), particle physicist and cosmologist Andrew Jackson and a group of fellow researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, began to examine the LIGO results the moment they were announced, and they had serious questions. They are experts at examining large collections of data and distinguishing between legitimate signals in the data and mere noise. (Imagine listening to a weak radio station with a lot of static. The static is the “noise,” while the music you are trying to hear is the “signal.”)
The Danish team disputes the gravity wave detection, claiming that the LIGO team did not properly process the noise in the data and that the signal detected by the team is an illusion created by that mistake. As New Scientist notes, their doubts have won over a number of scientists. Most of the LIGO team is resolute in their conviction that they did, indeed, detect gravity waves, and others sit along the spectrum between those positions.
It seems that, for now, the jury is still out.
Regardless of how the matter is eventually settled, the questions now surrounding the LIGO experience give an opportunity to reflect.
First, it should be noted that there is a reason searching out something God has hidden is the “glory of kings”: It is not easy work. God’s creation is marvelous and serves as a fitting monument to the ingenuity and intelligence of the One who created it. As we had noted in our own article, it is a wonder that we can understand anything of the cosmos—a tribute to the fact that He has made this physical realm according to real laws and ordinances that can be discovered (cf. Jeremiah 33:25), consistent with His own existence as an orderly and rational God. But that doesn’t mean that they are easy to find and understand.
And, further still, it is a reminder of the truly humble position we occupy in comparison to our Creator. Psalm 147:5 declares, “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.” Note: His understanding is infinite. Ours most definitely is not. When King David contemplated the remarkable capabilities of the mind of God—and the joyous fact that such a mind actually took note of his own small life in this world—he concluded, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).
While we are able to discover true wonders in the manifold creations of our Maker—the traces of His fingerprints upon their forms—we are only catching those glimpses we are capable of perceiving. As the patriarch Job noted, “Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?” (Job 26:14). When searching for those fingerprints, those whispers, humility should be our guide. A profound understanding that we are groping around in His world, not He in ours (cf. Acts 17:27), should be our close companion.
The LIGO discussion should also remind us that, in this life, we will never know everything, however much we may want to. The Apostle Paul embraced that fact, understanding that, at this time, we “know in part,” and that only upon our glorification and entrance into the Kingdom of God will we at last know thoroughly, even as God knows us (1 Corinthians 13:12). Until then, there will always be missing pieces of the puzzle—perhaps just enough missing pieces to prompt us to pause, reflect, and consider whether or not we are spending enough time solving the right puzzle.
Because, in the end, there is a puzzle that is more important that the others—a search that glorifies us more than any other we could undertake. It involves doing more than scouring the works of His hands for hidden knowledge of how everything works. It requires embracing the fact that we, ourselves—all of us—are the work of His hands, and that He has fashioned and molded us for a purpose.
Finding that purpose, and the means of achieving that purpose, is the search of a lifetime. And instead of groping in the dark—unable to separate the signal from the noise—we can find what we need directly, if we are simply and humbly willing to go to the Source. We are told that the search does not cost $620 million like the LIGO detectors, but it does cost “all your heart” and “all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29). On one hand, that seems a much higher price. Yet, on the other, it is a very small price indeed when one understands the goal of such a search: Not to partake of the glory of kings, but to share in the glory of God (1 Thessalonians 2:12).