Reasons to Believe

More Rigorous Test of General Relativity

Prior to twentieth century developments in physics, scientists and philosophers had come to believe that the universe had been static for infinite time. Then the theory of general relativity affirmed that the universe is actually a dynamic entity. As I explain in my book, The Creator and the Cosmos,1 general relativity establishes a cosmic beginning and, hence, a Beginner.

One of general relativity's greatest contributions comes to us in the form of space-time theorems, which spring from its equations. These theorems tell us that the universe's Beginner must have the capacity to create dimensions, specifically all the space and time dimensions associated with the matter and energy of the universe.1-2

No holy book in the world comes close to even hinting at such a concept—except the Bible. Both the Old and New Testaments declare truths about creation and the Creator that general relativity and the space-time theorems help us comprehend and affirm. Establishing the truth of the space-time theorems provides a great opportunity to prove the soundness of the Christian faith. The crux of the case for these theorems lies in determining the reliability of general relativity.

The first-ever confirmation of general relativity took place during the May 1919 solar eclipse. General relativity predicted that the Sun's gravity at its limb (outer edge) would bend starlight by 1.750 arcseconds. A team of British astronomers observed a bending effect equal to 1.8 ± 0.2 arcseconds. Today, over a dozen independent tests of the theory of general relativity have been executed. The most discriminating establish that general relativity reliably describes the dynamics of bodies in the universe to better than fourteen places of the decimal. That is, its reliability exceeds 99.999999999999 percent!

Ironically, the bending of starlight near the Sun remains the least definitive test for general relativity's trustworthiness. Astronomers have improved the original reliability confirmation of this particular test from 90 percent to better than 99.9 percent, but they would like to upgrade it to better than 99.999 percent. Such an improvement would remove any rational doubts about the extent of the reliability of general relativity to describe the dynamics of all bodies in the universe.

A team of American radio astronomers recently used the Very Long Baseline Array to measure with unprecedented precision the solar gravitation deflection of radio waves from the quasar 3C 279.2 Every October, the Sun passes in front of 3C 279. Thus, every year radio astronomers have an opportunity to improve upon their previous measurements.

The researchers employed a new technique for measuring the deflection of radio waves from 3C 279 by the Sun. Their reliability confirmation of general relativity came in at 99.97 percent. However, what especially excited the team was how well their new method performed. They are now confident that they can use this technique on future occultations of 3C 379 by the Sun to deliver a reliability confirmation of general relativity at a level that would exceed 99.995 percent.

Thanks to the astronomy team's efforts, a formerly less-than-adequate confirmation of general relativity has now become substantially improved, with the prospect of a much superior confirmation to come.
General relativity already ranks as the most exhaustively tested and best-proven principle in physics. It will not be long before even the "weakest" of the general relativity tests is improved dramatically. Such additional proof will make the case for the veracity of the space-time theorems even more solid. Consequently, we can look forward to an increasingly compelling conclusion that the God of the Bible must have created the universe.

Endnotes:

  1. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd ed. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001): 31-125.
  2. E. Fomalont et al., "Progress in Measurements of the Gravitational Bending of Radio Waves Using the VLBA," Astrophysical Journal 699 (July 10, 2009): 1395-1402.

Subjects: Big Bang, Einstein / Relativity, Origin of the Universe

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. Read more about Dr. Hugh Ross.