Gravitational Waves: A Death blow to Atheism?


Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 11.05.57 PM.pngWelcome back to Defender’s Voice. I am Paul Kattupalli. The discovery of gravitational waves opened a very exciting new chapter in unraveling the secrets of our universe. First let us listen to a song and then we will look into the origin, nature, discovery and implications of gravitational waves. The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2017 was awarded to three outstanding scientists: Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne. In the words of Nobel Committee, they are honored “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”.

LIGO detectors are among the most advanced instruments of science. LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. There are two LIGO detectors in the United States: one in Hanford, Washington and another in Livingston, Louisiana. Other nations now developing their own LIGO detectors. India announced plans to develop a LIGO detector. A typical LIGO detector possesses two long arms at right angles, each arm many kilometers in length. They cost billions of dollars because they had to be built with very sensitive apparatus.

     These great scientific observatories are a consequence of great scientific ideas borne out of great minds. We cannot talk about gravitational waves without talking about Einstein. It is unlikely we would stop talking about Einstein any time soon because the best minds in our world  will continue to work to prove the predictions of his theories . Einstein, the most famous scientist of the modern age was born in Germany in 1879. He was Jewish, he loved Europe and Germany and wanted to stay there all his life.  But in 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power, and for the next twelve years, he unleashed hell on earth. Being Jewish, life became dangerous for Einstein and he had to move to the United States. He died in Princeton, New Jersey in 1955.

In 1905, Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity. A decade later, in 1916, he published General Theory of Relativity. These scientific papers revolutionized physics. In General theory of relativity, Einstein presented a radically different view of gravity. The juggernaut of Newtonian physics which dominated the physics for over hundred years came to a screeching halt. Einstein’s theories sounded completely outlandish. Even science fiction writers could not imagine such concepts. Relativity? Light bending? Mass converting into energy? Time travel? space-time? what is he talking about? Even scientists had a hard time to get their heads around Einstein’s physics. Some scientists even shielded themselves behind curtains of bigotry, calling it ‘Jewish science’. Some declared it to be beautiful and aesthetic but unprovable and impractical.

  The success of any scientific theory depends on two things: Theoretical prediction and experimental verification. If you got a scientific theory, what predictions can we make based on your theory and what experiments can we do to verify your theory? Many great minds became curious about Einstein’s theories: Physicists, mathematicians, astronomers, cosmologists, and philosophers came together to understand what this mysterious genius had to say about the nature of the universe. General relativity became a branch of physics, astronomy, mathematics and even philosophy. At the core of relativity, we see reality connected to mathematics: the physical contents of the universe connected to geometry. Physicist John Wheeler gave us a beautiful yet succinct description of Einstein’s theory: “Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells space-time how to curve” Who can make a better sound bite about this theory which is so complex and mind blowing? Only a genius like John Wheeler’ could make up such aphorisms: “Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells space-time how to curve”

The prediction of gravitational waves has a long history. Einstein was profoundly influenced by James Clerk Maxwell. Scottish physicist Maxwell formulated the theory of electromagnetism, unifying electricity and magnetism. Maxwell’s theory became so successful that it became the foundation for theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. It made powerful predictions verified by meticulous experiments.

You can see the parallels between Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism and Einstein’s theory of relativity.The theory of electromagnetism predicted electromagnetic radiation, which should emit electromagnetic waves, carried as photons. Einstein’s theory of relativity unified space and time. It predicted gravitational radiation, which should emit gravitational waves, carried as gravitons.

Dozens of Nobel Prizes were awarded based on these two theories. Einstein predicted gravitational waves in 1916. Now, hundred years later, those waves were discovered and Nobel Prize in physics is awarded to the discoverers. You can see where things are going: just like electromagnetic waves carried as photons, gravitational waves are carried as gravitons. Gravitons are not yet discovered. If you want to win a Nobel Prize in physics, that is where you should focus. Get a couple of billion dollars grant from a science foundation or government, and build a graviton detector. Five or ten years from now, I will be talking about you.

Now, let us see how the predictions of Einstein’s theory verified in the over the last century.

Stars, Pulsars and Black holes

Stars: Einstein said that light bends in the presence of gravity. English mathematician and physicist Sir Arthur Eddington (1882 -1944) wanted to test that idea. Lots of light comes to our planet from distant stars. Along the way there are massive astronomical objects like sun. Can sun bend the light that passes around it? Eddington wanted to see. During a solar eclipse in 1919, Eddington traveled to a small island off the west coast of Africa. He took the pictures of the stars in the region around the sun, before, during and after the eclipse. Then he studied the position of the stars differed due to solar eclipse. The sun was bending the light coming from the stars exactly as predicted by Einstein. Eddington’s observations confirmed the theory of relativity and Einstein became famous around the world.

Pulsars: Then we have to talk about Pulsars. A pulsar is a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star. It emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation. A pulsar with another neutron star forms a binary star system. In this system two neutron stars orbit around a common center of mass. They are revolving and revolving, they are losing energy, their orbit is contracting. Their energy is spreading out in the form of gravitational waves.

In 1974, two astrophysicists Joseph Taylor and Russell Hulse discovered the first binary pulsar, PSR 1913+16. For this discovery, they were awarded Nobel Prize in Physics in 1993. The Nobel committee said their discovery opened up new possibilities for the study of gravitation. They observed this binary star system and its shrinking orbit. They found out its loss of energy due to gravitational waves is in explicit agreement with Einstein’s general theory of relativity. In that way, they indirectly discovered the existence of gravitational waves.

Black holes: Finally gravitational waves from black holes. Gravity is the king of the universe but it is also the weakest of all forces. There are four fundamental forces in the universe.

Two short range forces: Strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force

Two long range forces: Electromagnetic force and gravitational force

So gravity, because it is the weakest of all forces, it is also the hardest to detect. Let us say you went to a lake. You throw a small pebble in the lake, that will generate a small wave. But if you throw a large stone,  that will generate a large wave. Similarly, you need a very massive object to send us its gravitational waves strong enough to reach us. That is where black holes come to our aid. They are regions of spacetime with strong gravitational effects. So strong, that nothing, not even light can escape from inside it.

Einstein also predicted the existence of black holes: a sufficiently compact mass can deform spacetime to form a black hole. So we need a black hole large enough to send us gravitational waves strong enough to reach our planet. That is what happened in the last two years. Two black holes merged and sent us gravitational waves. On February 11, 2016 LIGO announced the first observation of gravitational waves. It was also the first ever direct detection of a binary black hole merger. This is a revolution in astrophysics because now we know that gravity is communicated by a dynamic, vibrating field. Now we know gravitational field does indeed exist. Since the dawn of scientific age, we have used hundreds of thousands of telescopes to understand the nature. They all depend on light. With LIGO, we got a new tool: gravitational waves.

So, stars, pulsars and black holes: The electromagnetic waves and gravitational waves that came to us from these space objects have tremendously impacted our understanding of the nature of reality. With spectacular accuracy they confirmed the predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Not just astronomy, even our daily lives are impacted tremendously. Every time you  use your cell phone or GPS machine for directions, you are proving Einstein. His theories also impacted our worldviews. The theory Great mathematician and quantum physicist Paul Dirac said, ‘the new cosmology will probably turn out to be philosophically even more revolutionary than relativity or the quantum theory’.

The discovery of gravitational waves is the new proof for the existence of God. They are coming to us from sources generated right at the moment of creation. At the beginning of the twentieth century, scientists believed in an eternal universe, a universe with no beginning, no end. Atheists said, ‘universe is eternal, no beginning, no end, so there is no need for a Creator God’. Even Einstein believed in an eternal universe. But his equations were showing him a different reality. In both special and general relativity, he took space, time, matter, energy, gravity and unified them. They lost their independent status in his hands and universe became finite with a beginning.

A finite universe with a beginning? Einstein did not like it. He wanted to fudge with his theory; He wanted to keep the universe eternal, steady and static. But he could not. Gravity is a universal force, it is also an entropic force. Whether universal gravitational force of Newton or the curved spacetime of Einstein, they are expressions of entropy. It obeys the Second law of thermodynamics. With the formation of each black hole, the entropy is increasing dramatically. Universe arose from a low entropy state.

So, both Einstein’s theory of relativity and laws of thermodynamics taking us to a universe which is finite, a universe with a beginning. Then apply the laws of logic. The law of causality which states that everything that had a beginning must have a cause.

Everything that had a beginning had a cause, the universe had a beginning. the universe had a cause.

If the universe is the effect, what is the cause? Universe cannot be its own cause.

I have a beginning, I have a birthday, I cannot be my own cause.

My pen has a beginning, it has a birthday, it cannot be its own cause.

Similarly, universe has a beginning, it has a birthday, it cannot be its own cause. There is a Creator God who made this universe. Some atheists say, ‘no, no, our universe is a part of multiverse’. But multiverse only makes things worse for the atheist, because multiverse is also subject to theory of relativity and laws of thermodynamics. It also must have a beginning and a cause. Let us say, you are in a room. You are wondering, ‘who made this room?’. Your friend came to you and said, ‘you know, your room is not the only room in this building. There are many other rooms. There are many other buildings’. Then you ask, ‘who built all those rooms? who built all those buildings?’. They don’t come out of thin air. They must have a cause. They must have a designer. They must have a builder. Similarly, multiple universes too need a cause, a creator, and a designer. They don’t arise by themselves.

Gravitational waves coming right from the beginning of creation is a great evidence for the existence of God. They are not the only evidence for God’s existence. Cosmology has many other evidences for God. We can talk about CMB: Cosmic microwave background radiation. In 1964,  it was accidentally discovered by two radio astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. They were awarded 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics. Their discovery of CMB became a landmark evidence for the beginning of the universe. Arno Penzias later said, ‘the best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole’. Arno Penzias, this great astrophysicist and Nobel Prize winner, saying, ‘We discovered what is already in the Bible. The universe has a beginning. the universe has a creator’. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis chapter 1 verse 1.

This is very exciting time in the history of science and cosmology. So, whether you take cosmic microwave background or gravitational waves, they are the direct evidence for the existence of a Creator God. In the theory of relativity we see a beautiful relationship between astronomy, physics and mathematics. Like all roads lead to Rome, all sciences lead to God.

That is why many astrophysicists became Christians due to their own discoveries in cosmology. Earlier I talked about Joseph Taylor, who discovered binary pulsars and indirect evidence of gravitational waves. He was awarded Nobel Prize in Physics 1993. After discovering indirect evidence for gravitational waves, he said, I quote, ‘a scientific discovery is also a religious discovery. There is no conflict between science and religion. Our knowledge of God is made larger with every discovery we make about the world.” (Taylor, as cited in Brown 2002). Every scientific discovery increases our knowledge of God, His genius in creation, his unsurpassed wisdom in His creation.

Albert Einstein once said, “I want to know how God created the world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum or this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details”.

I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details.

Arthur Eddington said, in the marvels of Creation ‘I can hear God thinking’

We can talk about many other great scientists like Newton and Faraday.

We read in Psalm 104: Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with honor and majesty–. who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment, who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain;

Verse 31 says,  The Lord shall rejoice in His works. God is rejoicing in His creation. That joy is also revealed to us as we know more about God in His word and in His creation. As we experience that joy, we respond in worship and praise.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, O Lord my God, thou art great. You covered yourself with light as a garment.

The Bible says, God is light. He filled this universe with light. Gravitational waves propagate at the speed of light. The discovery of gravitational waves is a wonderful proof for the existence, the majesty and wisdom of God our Creator. It is a dead blow to atheism. Against the backdrop of law of causality, theory of relativity and laws of thermodynamics, there is no rational basis for atheism.

Arno Penzias, co-discoverer of cosmic microwave radiation said, ‘God reveals Himself in all there is. All reality, to a greater or lesser extent, reveals the purpose of God. There is some connection to the purpose and order of the world in all aspects of human experience’.

There is a purpose to the revelation of God: to bring us nearer to Himself. The God who revealed to us in the creation of the universe also manifested to us in the person of Lord Jesus Christ. He came to this world as an ordinary human being. The Creator of the universe humbled himself to come to this world, to live a simple but holy life, to teach us the love of God, and then to die on the cross for our sins. Three days after His death, He raised from the grave to give us a hope for the future. When you come to Jesus, you will find a meaningful, joyful and purposeful life.

On his deathbed, James Clerk Maxwell said, ‘The only desire which I can have is like David to serve my own generation by the will of God, and then fall asleep’.

The will of God which a gave a purpose to Maxwell will also give you a meaning and purpose to your life.

Gravity attracts everything. I hope the knowledge of the gravitational waves attract you to our Creator, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, we worship you this time, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Savior. You filled this universe with your majesty and unsurpassed wisdom. We haven’t even scratched the surface, yet we marvel at your glory and wisdom. We pray for the people who are lost in their sins. Open their eyes to see you as their Lord and Savior. We pray for the people who are sick and unhealthy. May you comfort them, strengthen them and heal them. In your precious name we pray, Amen.  


God and the History of the Universe

By Jarvis Streeter

Einstein: His life and Universe, Walter Isaacson

Particle at the end of the universe

Now: The Physics of Time; By Richard A. Muller

The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom

Why science does not disprove God

God of the Big Bang: How Modern Science Affirms The Creator

By Leslie Wickman

Sacred Sense: Discovering the Wonder of God’s Word and World

By William P. Brown

The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies

edited by Stephen W. Angell, Pink Dandelion

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