Culture At Large

Gravitational waves and the voice of God

John Van Sloten

"We did it! …Up to now we've been deaf to gravitational waves, but today we are able to hear them."

So said Caltech’s David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), after it was announced last week that scientific history had been made. For the first time ever, humanity “heard” what Albert Einstein hypothesized 100 years ago: a ripple in the fabric of space-time caused by two black holes violently colliding 1.3 billion years ago.

When I first heard the news, I laughed and clapped my hands. It was almost inconceivable that we could hear something that happened 1.3 billion years ago!

This tale of a space-time ripple was like a whisper to me from the eternal God, reminding me that He was, is and always will be there. I thought of the prophet’s promises: “The Lord will cause people to hear his majestic voiceand the ears of those who hear will listen.” In fact, the LIGO discovery has me wondering about all great moments of scientific breakthrough. Is each of them a pointer to and foretaste of the epiphany we’ll one day experience when we clearly hear God’s voice? Could it be that, like our empirical explorations of the universe, we’ll never get to the end of what God has said?

It’s beautiful to imagine that God created the universe as one big icon through which we can hear His voice.

It’s beautiful to imagine that God created the universe as one big icon through which we can hear His voice.

In The Globe and Mail, Ivan Semeniuk wrote that Einstein’s original theory “stands today as one of the single boldest leaps ever taken by the human imagination.” That’s apt, as Einstein was made in the image of the God-of-all-physics, the one who first imagined and then created the universe. While Einstein was unique, it’s compelling to think that one day our imaginations will be at least as boundless as his was. We’ll be able to hypothesize, explore, imagine and listen through creation in ever-greater ways and clearly hear what God is saying, forever. 

Can you imagine that?

The good news of the ongoing LIGO experiment is that there is always more to hear. Even as scientists will never get to the end of the universe, we’ll never get to the end of God. His word is eternal, and our capacity to perceive it is unending. We’ve been given the ears, scientific heritage, exploratory passions and bright imaginations to seek out and listen. Physicist Neil Turok notes that the LIGO discovery “tells us about our capacity to understand the universe.”

Our God-given capacity.

And God has given us the right tools at the right time. Apparently researchers are now working on an even more precise way of detecting gravitational waves. Instead of making their measurements using lasers and 2.5-mile-long tunnels (as LIGO does), the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) will bounce lasers between three satellites some 621,000 miles apart. The thinking is that LISA may enable us to hear gravitational waves from 13.8 billion years ago — back to the time of the Big Bang.

It seems unimaginable, to hear something that old. About as unimaginable as hearing the voice an of eternal God.

Topics: Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Science, Cosmology