The God of one—and only one—of the world’s holy books declares, “I have…established …the fixed laws of heaven and earth.”
At the time these words were written (~sixth century B.C.), Greek philosopher Thales, often called “the Father of Science,” had just begun to consider the possibility that intrinsic “rules” rather than capricious forces governed matter and motion. Aristotle said any patterns observed in Earth’s changeable elements (earth, air, fire, and water) had no bearing on the one totally different and unchangeable heavenly element (aether). Such was the state of “science” when the “I Am” of Israel, speaking through Jeremiah the prophet, proclaimed that the entire physical universe operates according to unchanging laws.
If and when these laws could be identified and tested for constancy, this prophetic declaration about one of the core characteristics of the cosmos could be scientifically verified (or falsified), and thus support (or challenge) the veracity of Scripture. Today, after centuries of theoretical and technical advance, researchers have been able to accomplish both tasks to a compelling degree of certainty.
The most effective and unambiguous way to test the biblical claim about physical laws’ constancy is to take advantage of the look-back time astronomy allows. This testing tool depends, of course, on the firmly established constancy of the velocity of light.1 Because of the fixed light-travel-time from stars, galaxies, and quasars to telescopes, researchers can directly measure and compare the values of various other physical constants at different times in the history of the universe—simply by studying galaxies and quasars at varying distances.
Astronomers have most recently confirmed these three constants of physics: 1) the fine structure constant (the strength of the electromagnetic interaction), 2) the proton-mass-to-electron-mass ratio, and 3) the proton gyro-magnetic ratio.
Atoms emit “colored lines” called spectral lines that provide a signature for scientists to know the composition of distant bodies. By focusing on the same set of spectral lines in a sample of galaxies and quasars at vastly different distances, a team of astronomers was able to eliminate the systematic effects and assumptions that might otherwise challenge the interpretation of their observations. They reduced these effects and assumptions even more by using sets of spectral lines from two elements.
Specifically, the researchers recently measured (see figure) spectral lines of both hydrogen and carbon in two distant quasars.2 The team chose this combination because hydrogen and carbon spectral line frequencies are influenced by all three of the above-mentioned physical constants in distinctly different ways.
Figure: The Keck Telescopes atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii
The light-gathering power of these dual 400-inch telescopes enabled a team of astronomers to establish the most sensitive limits yet discovered on the possible variability of three core constants of physics.
The team’s measurements on two quasars (Q0458-020 and Q2337-011, at redshifts = 1.561 and 1.361, respectively) indicated that all three fundamental physical constants have varied by no more than two parts per quadrillion per year over the last ten billion years—a measurement fifteen times more precise, and thus more restrictive, than any previous determination.
The team’s findings add to the list of fundamental forces in physics demonstrated to be exceptionally constant over the universe’s history. This confirmation testifies of the Bible’s capacity to predict accurately a future scientific discovery far in advance. Among the holy books that undergird the religions of the world, the Bible stands alone in proclaiming that the laws governing the universe are fixed, or constant.
These results carry significant implications not only for biblical accuracy in describing the nature of the universe but also for hypotheses about a few-thousand-year-old universe and about alternatives to the big bang.
Young-earth (or young-universe) creation models depend upon radical changes in physical laws—changes of a million times or more—either at the time of Adam’s sin or at the time of Noah’s Flood or at both. By direct measurements, astronomers can now show that the physical laws made no such changes, nor even a tiny fraction of such changes, at any time in the observable, measurable past.
At the same time, these findings place such strict limits on the possible variability of the physical constants as to constrain dark energy models that “invoke rolling scalar fields,” i.e., some kind of cosmic “quintessence”. They also eliminate other proposed alternatives to the biblically predicted big bang origins model,3 including a set of Kaluza-Klein and super string theory models.
In other words, these measured limits are already helping astronomers develop a more detailed picture of both the cosmic creation event and the history of the universe, a picture that amplifies the biblical model for the universe’s origin and development.
1 Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004): 163–66.
2 N. Kanekar et al., “Probing Fundamental Constant Evolution With Neutral Atomic Gas Lines,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 712 (April 1, 2010): L148–L152.
3 Hugh Ross, “Big Bang: The Bible Said It First,” in A Matter of Days, 139–48.