Reasons to Believe

Testing the Biblical Claim of Constant Physics

In Jeremiah 33:25, God declares, “I have established…the fixed laws of heaven and earth.” This is just one of several Scripture passages demonstrating that for thousands of years the Bible has been on record as stating that the laws of physics do not vary.1

Proving the constancy of the laws of physics would establish the Bible’s reliable descriptions of nature and predictions of future scientific discoveries, and also refute young-earth creationism. Additionally, such confirmation would significantly constrain speculations about super string and Kaluza-Klein theories and the possibility that scalar fields alter the character of dark energy. The most effective and unambiguous way to test the biblical claim about the physical laws’ constancy is to take advantage of the look-back times in astronomy.

In astronomy it takes time for light to travel from the stars, galaxies, and quasars to telescopes. Simply by observing galaxies and quasars at varying distances researchers can directly measure the values of several fundamental constants of physics at distant times in the past history of the universe.

The one constant of physics most amenable to this testing technique is the fine structure constant, which characterizes the strength of the electromagnetic interaction. Astronomers can determine this constant’s past values by measuring the relative separation of absorption and emission lines in the spectra of galaxies and quasars. Systematic effects and assumptions about the physical mechanisms that generate the spectral lines can pose challenges to the interpretation of their results. However, astronomers can eliminate this problem by using the same set of spectral lines in a large sample of galaxies and quasars at widely varying distances.

The fine structure constant has the additional advantage of being directly related to several other physical constants. For example, it is

  • the ratio of the elementary electron charge to the Planck charge;
  • the ratio of the velocity of the electron in the Bohr model of the atom to the velocity of light;
  • the ratio of the energy needed to overcome the electrostatic repulsion between two electrons separated by distance D to the energy of a single photon at wavelength = 2πD.

Consequently, testing the constancy of the fine structure constant enables astronomers to also test the constancy of several other physical constants.

Previously, three astronomers (John Bahcall, Charles Steinhardt, and David Schlegel) established a limit for possible variations in the value of the fine structure constant over the past nine billion years of less than two parts per ten trillion per year2 from a sample of 42 quasars obtained from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Early Data Release. Now, two Spanish astronomers (Carlos Gutiérrez and Martin López-Corredoira) have provided a much improved limit.

Gutiérrez and López-Corredoira analyzed a sample of 1,568 quasars in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Data Release 6.3 They performed their analysis by measuring the position of the fine structure emission spectral lines of the OIII doublet (λλ4959 and λλ5008). They established at a confidence level of better than 99 percent that the value of the fine structure constant has not changed over the past seven billion years by any more than three parts per hundred trillion per year. This new limit is a factor of six times superior to previously determined limits.

The bottom line is that the fine structure constant unquestionably joins the growing list of fundamental constants in physics demonstrated to be exceptionally constant over the history of the universe. This confirmation has important implications for the Christian faith. First, it affirms the Bible’s capacity to accurately predict future scientific discoveries far into the future. Of all the holy books that undergird the world’s religions, the Bible stands alone in predicting that the laws governing the universe are fixed or constant.

Second, Gutiérrez and López-Corredoira’s confirmation disproves young-earth creationism. All young-earth creation models depend upon physical laws radically altering by a factor of a million times or more either at the time of Adam’s sin or at the time of Noah’s Flood or both. By direct measurements astronomers have proven the physical laws were not altered by even a quintillionth of the amount demanded by young-earth creationism at any time in the past. Furthermore, as already noted, the Bible explicitly states that no alteration in the physical laws has ever occurred.

For the first time, limits on the possible variability of the fine structure constant are low enough to constrain dark energy models that “invoke rolling scalar fields,” that is, some kind of cosmic quintessence. They are also low enough to eliminate a set of Kaluza-Klein and super string theory models in physics. That is, these limits are already helping astronomers to develop a more detailed picture of both the cosmic creation event and the history of the universe. Such achievements have yielded more evidence for the biblical model for the universe’s origin and development. And we predict they will continue to do so.

Subjects: Biblical Inerrancy, Constants of Physics

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.

Endnotes:
1. Jeremiah 33:25, Romans 8:20–21. See also a discussion about Genesis 1–3 and Revelation 20–22 in Hugh Ross, More Than a Theory (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 79–80.

2. John N. Bahcall, Charles L. Steinhardt, and David Schlegel, “Does the Fine-Structure Constant Vary with Cosmological Epoch?” Astrophysical Journal 600 (January 10, 2004): 520–43.

3. C. M. Gutiérrez and M. López-Corredoira, “The Value of the Fine-Structure Constant over Cosmological Times,” Astrophysical Journal 713 (April 10, 2010): 46–51.