Gravitational waves make me glad I’m not a Christian anymore

Gravitational waves make me glad I’m not a Christian anymore February 12, 2016

It’s almost ten years since I went to a Sunday morning church service for the final time. Those old ways of thinking are now something from the distant past, and sometimes recalling them is like a distant dream. In fact, dream is exactly the right metaphor, because it feels like I was asleep for my first two decades on Earth.

Occasionally, something happens that makes me remember the bad old days. Something like scientists observing gravitational waves for the first time. (If you’re not yet up to speed on this, PhD Comics has an extremely user-friendly video.)

NASA/Tod Strohmayer (GSFC)/Dana Berry (Chandra X-Ray Observatory)
White dwarf spiral. Photo: NASA/Tod Strohmayer (GSFC)/Dana Berry (Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

This is not the first momentous scientific discovery in my post-Christian life. The discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012 was similarly ginormous. And each of these times, I’ve been awake to see history being made. I’ve been able to share in the joy of uncovering something hidden about the nature of the universe. For the first time, I’m able to share in the collective excitement of humanity. It’s not that I was forbidden from this as a child. We just didn’t.

If you’re wondering what kind of ignorance that produces, this video features 11-year-old me in full flight (relevant bit starts at 0:14):

As a kid, these kinds of discoveries were just a bit unsettling. When scientists make bold predictions which are spectacularly fulfilled, it’s quite a lot more impressive than some post hoc explanation of a vaguely-worded prophecy that just about works if you squint at it. Scientists are not meant to be better than Great Men of God at predicting the future.

I remember being dimly aware of major scientific discoveries (usually when someone from church or on God TV attempted to prove they fulfilled some apocalyptic prophecy), but the important thing was never to look directly at them. Young-Earth creationism is a fragile thing, and the discovery of something like gravitational waves is incompatible with it, even if you have to make quite a few jumps to see exactly why. It’s not that they are completely irreconcilable. It’s just that the people making these discoveries are the ones who claim it all fits into a coherent framework which completely annihilates young-Earthism, while creationists reply “… mumble mumble maybe God made the universe with beams of light already in transit”.

Usually a great cosmological discovery would warrant some comment at church, some “Isn’t God great? The universe is so bafflingly huge! Only something even bigger could have made it! That’s how great our God is! And those tiny-minded atheists actually think all this came from nothing!” followed by loud choruses of LOLs and hallelujahs, directed at the backwardness of atheist scientists and greatness of God respectively.

For me such rejoicing was always tinged with some unease, because any news report about a finding in deep space also contained a lot of stuff that We Did Not Believe. People in white coats explained about the Big Bang and events taking place billions of years ago (which meant we were actually seeing things happen billions of years before the alleged creation of the universe), and how all this fitted together and increased our understanding of the early universe.

The only thing I could do in response to that was shrug and think “Well, obviously they’re wrong”. I didn’t know why, but I knew what the Bible said, so there must be an explanation. I would find out when I got to heaven.

There were a lot of things I was going to find out when I got to heaven.

Otherwise the explanation was just “God decided to make it that way”, which, as explanations go, is more of a dead end than a line of inquiry. Either way, the trick with astronomical or cosmological discoveries was to know just enough about them to say “the universe is amazing” while remaining just ignorant enough to say “the universe is a mystery known only to God”. That’s a narrow window of learning in which to operate, and the best thing was just to steer clear. We’d have all of eternity to catch up on physics. Right now the important thing is staying faithful to God.

Now, though, I am free. I can look the universe square in the eye, and I don’t have to be afraid I might discover something I didn’t want to know.

As I write this, Answers in Genesis has not yet posted anything about the latest discovery. Perhaps the initial results won’t be replicated, and they’ll be spared the trouble, as they were with the gravitational wave false alarm of 2014. I’m betting there will be a response though. There is no scientific finding so robust that Ken Ham cannot find a way to spin it. And the spin will work just fine, as long as you don’t look directly at it.

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