Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Come to the Dark Side

It's always a dicey thing to try to simplify a complex scientific idea, but here's my roll of the dice on the subject of dark matter.

With the given that stuff in the universe is held in proximity to other stuff by the force of gravity - a force inherit in all stuff - scientists have been scratching their collective heads for a while because there appears to be more gravity than can be explained by the amount of stuff.

A quote from schools-wikipedia.org:

The first to provide evidence and infer the existence of a phenomenon that has come to be called "dark matter" was Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky, of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1933. He applied the virial theorem to the Coma cluster of galaxies and obtained evidence of unseen mass. Zwicky estimated the cluster's total mass based on the motions of galaxies near its edge. When he compared this mass estimate to one based on the number of galaxies and total brightness of the cluster, he found that there was about 400 times more mass than expected. The gravity of the visible galaxies in the cluster would be far too small for such fast orbits, so something extra was required. This is known as the "missing mass problem". Based on these conclusions, Zwicky inferred that there must be some non-visible form of matter which would provide enough of the mass and gravity to hold the cluster together.

Translation: We can't explain why the universe doesn't just blow apart. There isn't anything natural/physical there that we can detect, so for now, let's call it "dark matter" and say that we haven't found a way to determine exactly what it is...but we can see its effect in the gravitational forces that are evident.

Okay...I read all that...then I turn to Colossians 1:17...

"[Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

Truth is...I think maybe the Apostle Paul has had the answer all along.


  1. That is an intellectually stultifying position, and it reduces God to a god-of-the-gaps. Are you sure you want hold on to that?

    I'm skeptical of dark matter too, but the fact that it seriously confuses me doesn't mean settling for hand-waving.

  2. Sorry...I guess I don't understand what is so particularly foolish or ridiculous about proposing an alternate explanation for "too much gravity". Also, please don't assume that this one thought is the lone bit of reasoning that leans me in the direction of faith in God.

    One other apology...I'm ignorant of what it means to be "settling for hand-waving." Not familiar with that figure of speech.

  3. "Hand-waving" is where, instead of answering a question or addressing an argument, one "waves their hands" to make the question or argument disappear, and proceed as though the question/argument was never posed.

    So, for me dark matter is fundamentally confusing; I haven't looked into it hardly at all, and rather than ignore it or pretend I have an answer, I simply acknowledge my ignorance in the matter.

    The god-of-the-gaps argument is the name for when one argues that "I don't understand X/We don't have a good explanation for X...therefore God handles/made/explains it." The problem with making this argument is that nearly every time it's been invoked in the past, a natural, physical explanation has later come to light.

    Even for believers this is a problematic position, because the God they posit shrinks and shrinks as new explanations encroach on the old "God did it" territory, leaving the believers either settling for a much-reduced God, abstracting God or positing a Deist imagine of it, or giving up on belief altogether.

  4. Thanks for the clarifications. The point I was trying to make, however, was not that science found something they couldn't understand ("Why does the universe hold together?") and so God was used to fill the gap...rather, it's just possible that Paul gave God as the answer before the question was even asked ("In Him all things hold together").

  5. But you're not arguing the same way for how gravity works (which would be a form of occasionalism), so it's simply an implicit version of that god-of-the-gaps type of argument.

  6. Unless you want to talk about God controlling all physical laws, it makes no sense to treat dark matter as an exception; speaking of gravity, the weak force, combustion, etc in physical terms but dark matter as some sort of divine intervention.

    That's inconsistent. I'm pushing you towards consistency; either bring God into all these other physical events (despite our explanations of them not requiring a God) or come to terms with this use of God in discussing dark matter as simply a semantic marker for indicating our lack of knowledge; "Paul knew it all along" translates to "We don't have a physical explanation for dark matter yet, and so we are able to use theological language for it until a naturalist explanation is developed, as has happened for nearly every other situation where God was described as the actor until a better explanation was found."

  7. Valid point/worthy goal...but I wouldn't consider dark matter a physical law like gravity, combustion, etc.

    And I'm still not getting my thought across in a way for you to understand, apparently. I don't agree that "Paul knew it all along" translates to "We don't have a physical explanation for dark matter yet, and so we are able to use theological language for it.

    In 1933, Fritz Zwicky noticed that there was no discernible, physical reason for the universe to be holding together and created the idea of dark matter. However, in ~80 AD [disclaimer: I didn't do any specific research to determine when Colossians was written; this is just a rough guesstimate], Paul of Tarsus explained that the universe was being held together by its creator.

    Besides...I'm not saying there's no such thing as dark matter. Just as it's a possibility that Yahweh has used biological evolution to accomplish His creative work, it's possible that dark matter bears His fingerprint as well.

  8. It's because we don't have an explanation for the phenomena currently described as dark matter that it qualifies; it's just like the phenomena of maggots appearing in meat -- it was assumed that they spontaneous arose from the meat itself, and it was only when an experiment could be devised (sealing the meat off) that showed that it was the presence of flies landing on the meat that yielded the maggots.

    We haven't devised a suitable experiment to deal with the dark matter question. Paul's statement is a faith statement if used metaphorically can mean a lot of things. Connecting it to dark matter is unhelpful though, if an explanation *does* arise later.

    Unless of course, you're actually arguing that God holds the universe together through the physical laws, in which case it's not a direct intervention.