Of black holes and God

Being a child of the space race years, I grew up at a time when public schools were focused on science education. Before the days of STEM education, students were encouraged to study science and to pursue technological educations. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, I resisted that push even though my family was involved in aviation and I had every opportunity to pursue a career that was related to flying and space exploration. Instead, I plunged into the humanities, studying philosophy and theology in my college career. At that time, however, a bachelor’s degree required some balance. Even a B.A. required basic science and math courses and a B.S. required some basic humanities. Things are much different these days with humanities departments disappearing from university education and students urged to pursue STEM courses without any exposure to the humanities. At any rate, I took only the basic requirements of mathematics and science during my college career.

Without formal eduction, however, I have maintained an interest in science and exploration and have a deep appreciation for scientific method. I simply do not buy into the false dichotomy of science vs. religion. The two fields of exploration are not opposed, but rather enhance each other. Those who portray religion as opposed to science often betray not only misconceptions about the nature of science, but also misconceptions about the history and traditions of religion.

Yesterday we had a presentation by a NASA Solar System Ambassador at our church. The presentation was focused on black holes. The presenter was Arjun Ayyangar, an amazing young man who has been a part of our congregation since he began his collegiate studies at the age of 15. He is a musical prodigy in addition to his studies in science that have brought him to the completion of a masters degree and the beginning of another and a prominent position at Lockheed Martin at an age that is younger than most students have completed their bachelor’s degree. He has served internships at NASA and received recognition from many different arenas. You can check our his web page or YouTube channel to get to know more about him. Although his videos are mostly of musical performances, he has started to post some of his NASA presentations on his YouTube channel as well.

After his presentation, we had a bit of time to go for a walk. The weather was cooperative and although there is a bit of snow and ice around our town, we were ale to pick up our usual vigorous pace and get some exercise. We talk as we walk and our subjects are wide ranging. Having just attended the presentation on black holes, we discussed that presentation. Our conversation drifted to languages and the challenges of translation as well as a wide variety of other topics.

Among the concepts we were discussing was the nature of gravity as presented by Arjun. We often think of gravity as a force of attraction. Things fall to the earth because the mass of the earth attracts them. This is a misnomer and thinking of gravity this way leads to a misunderstanding of black holes. Gravity is not a force of attraction. Black holes do not “suck” material like some kind of giant vacuum cleaner. Rather the curvature of the universe means that the universe presses down on items and creates the force that makes objects in the universe move the way that they do. Instead of a pull, gravity is in reality a push.

In decidedly non scientific lay terms, a black hole is a region of space that surrounds an incredibly dense and most compressed point, know as a singularity. This singularity is surrounded by a region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The speed required for escape from that event horizon is greater than the speed of light, thus trapping those objects that are within it. According to the theory, everything within the event horizon is irreversibly drawn towards the singularity, where the curvature of spacetime become infinite. Gravity, therefore is infinitely strong, pushing towards the center. As a result it is impossible to directly observe what is going on in the black hole because information is not able to escape. What we can do is to observe what lies around the black hole.

The concept requires complex mathematics. Mathematicians suggested that black holes existed before they had been named and before there was anything remotely like observation of even the areas around the black holes. Einstein’s theory of general relativity opened the way for other mathematicians to predict that the phenomena exists.

The concept, it seems to me, is a form of theology. We do not directly observe God. The ancients taught that to look upon the face of God is to die. They also reported encounters with God and moments when Moses and the prophets engaged in direct conversation with God. Those seemingly contradictory concepts emerge from the inability of language to express the complete nature of God. Cosmologists observe the universe, but the reality is beyond the capacity of language to express. Even mathematics, when used as a language, is insufficient to explain the universe. So humans develop hypotheses about the true nature of the universe and set out to prove or disprove the theories extended.

God, like gravity, exists whether or not we have the language to speak of God. And, like gravity, God affects every bit of our existence. Without God we do not exist. It may simply be the way that I think, but I cannot listen to a presentation on the cosmos or think of astrophysics without thinking of the nature of God. Just pushing my mind to expand its understanding makes me think of the nature of God in the universe. And each new concept expands my vision of the universe and expands my concept of the nature of God.

Thus we participate in a church where a discussion of Black Holes is presented on Baptism of Christ Sunday and the conversations spun off from that convergence last all week long.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!