Scientific communities are celebrating the discovery of gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves were the final part of Einstein’s theory of general relativity to be confirmed. In the theory, space and time are woven together in a sort of fabric. When massive gravitational events occur, in this case the collision of two black holes, they send out ripples into this fabric, causing mass to expand and contract by incremental degrees.
The waves were detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory on Sept. 14 of last year.
Up until this point, the waves had been theorized and their nature had been predicted, but they had never been observed. Einstein, who predicted the existence of gravitational waves, also predicted that they would never be observed simply because they were too small.
Discoveries such as these tend to exacerbate the growing conflict between the evangelical and scientific communities, occasionally making evangelicals nervous. According to Jane Beers, associate professor of biology at John Brown University, these discoveries are just new ways of understanding our world.
“It really is a human endeavor to try and answer questions,” Beers said. “When I see all the work done by thousands of people over 20 years to try and find something that Einstein predicted, it really is a new dawn, a new era.”
Beers also addressed the evangelical response to new scientific discoveries.
“There is so much fear over what these new discoveries are going to bring because people keep God in a little box,” Beers said. “They have their understandings about God based on a particular reading of Scripture, so when something new comes in, it ripples their understanding of who God is, and they don’t know what to do with it.”
“Something that is important to recognize is that science is not something to fear. As Christians, we can recognize it as a way that God reveals Himself through the world. It’s a new way to understanding creation,” Beers said.
Kenneth Hahn, associate professor of physics, expressed a similar view.
“It’s the way the universe works. If I were being interviewed 300 years ago, you’d be asking me about the implications of Newton’s Principia, and Newton would say that’s how God holds the universe together, and it’s much the same here,” he said.
Hahn said that the implications of this discovery will not be seen much in day-to-day life, at least not immediately.
“The applications? Well, a couple dozen physicists are still employed. The practical applications are none at this point, not until we get to the day of interstellar travel,” he said.
“Our observation of gravitational waves accomplishes an ambitious goal set out over five decades ago to directly detect this elusive phenomenon and better understand the universe, and, fittingly, fulfills Einstein’s legacy on the hundredth anniversary of his general theory of relativity,” David H. Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Laboratory, said in a press release on Feb. 11.
The discovery caused the academic community to rejoice.
Stephen Hawking said in an interview with BBC, “Gravitational waves provide a completely new way of looking at the universe. The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionize astronomy.”