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Out of the Shadows
In Defense of the Faith
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Wendy Wippel

When you think about it, a lot of the phrases we use to mean  certainty  are based on the idea of solidity: ''rock-solid'', ''set in stone'', ''on solid ground''.  Which is kind of funny, really.  Because it turns out that the solidity of the world we live in isn't certainty at all. 

We were all taught in school that everything we see is made of matter. The definition of matter, actually, varies somewhat, but roughly boils down to what has mass and occupies space.  So where did all this matter come from?

Good question, because according to what science seems to understand about the origin of matter, matter shouldn't exist at all.  Matter and antimatter should have been created in equal amounts and (as we all know from Star Trek) would have then immediately annihilated each other as fast as both were made.  Why a surplus of matter hung around to eventually give us both the moon and the moon pie (and the magpie, as far as that goes), has been a enigma to scientists.  (See A matter of Matter for more on that).

So where did all that matter come from? Scientists don't really know. What they do know is that the atoms that make up matter (contrary to what was earlier believed) are not, after all, the basic unit of matter. Atoms are not the smallest indivisible particle.

Nope. Atoms themselves are made up of smaller, "subatomic" particles.  

Subatomic particles, as it turns out, are tricky little things.  In fact, it cost about 8 billion dollars and 30 years to build an instrument--the Large Hadron Collider- that can detect them.  

(Humor columnists Dave Barry once wrote a column about physicists detecting subatomic particles.  He attributed their discovery to three-martini lunches and Friday afternoons with said physicists sitting around the lab shrieking "there goes another one!"  I spend a lot of years working in labs that's a scenario I don't have too much trouble imaging.)

But no, we now have the Large Hadron Collider. Subatomic particle are real. We know because the scientists have seen their tracks. The Large Hadron Collider, kind of like a NASCAR race track, accelerates components of the atom (e.g., protons) until they smash into each other and their parts fly apart. Since we can't see atoms, we obviously can't see subatomic particles either. But the flying subatomic parts of the proton leave ionic gas tracks that  are captured, and scientists analyze the subatomic particle tracks to identify what kind of particle it is.

Just like wolves and bears and turkeys can be distinguished by their tracks, so can subatomic particles: leptons, gluons, W, Z, and gauge bosons, and six kinds of quarks: up, down, bottom, top, strange, and charm. (I think three-martini lunches may have played a role in their naming.)

Ok, so where did the subatomic particles come from?

It gets even weirder. You have probably heard of "string theory" as a proposed solution to the origin of the universe.  String theory (and other related theories which call the strings essentially membranes) define matter as what is created by vibrations on these strings (or membranes). The strings (or membranes) being the infinitely small and therefore invisible substance/matrix of the universe. Kind of like your basic guitar-- the way the strings vibrate create specific notes. The way the strings of the universe were vibrated created different kinds of particles.

That's according to science, obviously.

What about the Bible? Psalm 33:6 gives us a hint of the methodology as well:

"By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth."

The  breath of God's mouth, i.e., His spirit,  helped make the universe. 

Which makes Genesis 1:2 extremely interesting:

"The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters."

The word "hovering" otherwise translated in Scripture as shaking, fluttering, trembling.

In other words, vibrating.

So the subatomic particles, apparently came from the Spirit induced vibrations on those cosmic strings. The subatomic particles together create the components of the atoms. And the atoms make up our world: the moon, the stars, the planets, the trees, the rocks. The Rockettes. Everything. Atoms, in different flavors (e.g iron, aluminum, gold, oxygen, sodium, lead, etc) come together to create the comforting solid certainty of our physical world.

Ok. I lied. 

As it turns out, the solidity of our world is an illusion.  Even the solid objects, well, are not. The nucleus of the atoms that make up everything we see (and much of what we don't), meaning essentially the nanoscopic subatomic particles that compose them, constitute only one ten-millionth of the volume of an object, with empty space and  infinitesimal electrons in motion comprising all the rest. 

Matter is pretty much empty space.

Mount Rushmore in the ShadowsLet's use Mt. Rushmore as an example.  (If you've been lucky enough to see it in person (as I have), it's astoundingly huge.)  Solid granite and roughly 300 feet tall by 500  hundred feet wide.

The heads of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln are all roughly 60 feet tall. Check a picture out if you need to. 

If Mt. Rushmore was an atom, the nucleus would be the size of a carpenter ant, sitting right about Roosevelt's chin. All the rest? Essentially empty space, with a few unimaginably small electrons frantically buzzing around the rest of the frame. Solidity is nothing but an illusion. A stubbornly persistent one, but illusion none the less.

Which makes passages like Isaiah 40 really interesting:

"All the nations are as nothing before him— they are reckoned by him as nothing and chaos."  (Isaiah 40:17)  (NET)

And passages like Hebrews 8:5: the priests;

"serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things."

And Hebrews 10: 1: 

"The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves."

And Colossians 2:17: The festivals are;

"a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."

Our reality is in Christ. This world is emptiness. An illusion. Smoke and mirrors. A house of cards.

A virtual reality, as it were.  And our  mission? Not to fall in love with the game. It's not where we belong. This empty world holds only empty promises.

"If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:1-3)

"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself."  (Philippians 3:20-21)

Finally united with the reality in Christ, and homeward bound!

Any day now.  Homeward bound.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Old as Methuselah

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