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Why the First Verified Detection of Gravitational Waves is HUGE News

LIGO

Now that LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravity-wave Observatory) scientists have published their research in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters, the media is abuzz with the news of gravitational waves. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this announcement. To begin with, gravitational waves were (until now) the only major prediction of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity that still lacked observational evidence. Because LIGO’s measurements align precisely with Einstein’s calculations, they provide further validation for his theory, which has served as the foundation of large-scale physics for a century now. Moreover, gravitational wave astronomy has vast potential to provide new and important data on black holes, galactic structure, and even the formation of the universe.

There are a number of popular articles that provide an overview of how the LIGO team detected the gravitational waves, and MIT has posted a very good video:

The key monitoring devices are two interferometers; one located in Hanford, Washington and one 1,865 miles away in Livingston, Louisiana. (Gravitational wave observatories need a distant twin to validate that local vibrations are not mistaken for actual wave signals.) Each interferometer is an extremely fine-tuned measuring devices with the ability to detect minute variations in received timing between two laser beams that travel up and back perpendicular vacuum chambers.

Because of the constancy of the speed of light, the only thing that could alter the round-trip travel time of the laser beams is an expansion or contraction of space-time itself (as Einstein predicted). In normal operations both beams complete the round-trip simultaneously, but if a gravitational wave ripples through, then the arrival times of the two laser beams will be slightly offset. To learn more about how the interferometers work, I recommend this page on the CalTech LIGO website.

In the General Theory of Relativity, the measurement and geometry of space and time vary according to the mass-energy density in a particular region. This has been verified many times but, as I mentioned above, one prediction remained to be verified—the rippling of the measure of space and time (caused by a disturbance in the space-time continuum) such as might be produced by a collision of two super dense, super massive bodies or a supernova.

In this case the disturbance was the result of a cataclysmic collision and merging of two black holes located about 1.3 billion light years from earth. The gravitational wave from this spectacular event reached the Livingston interferometer on September 14, 2015. Seven milliseconds later (traveling at the speed of light) it hit the Hanford site. Like ripples on a pond, ripples in space-time subside as they propagate, and by the time the wave reached the interferometers its frequency was extremely weak. Fortunately, the two locations had been recently upgraded to increase their level of sensitivity, and because of this were able to detect this “whisper of a wave”. The measurements at Hanford and Livingston were identical and precisely as would be predicted, giving us a remarkable confirmation of Einstein’s General Theory, as well as a penetrating look into the dynamics and structure of black holes—particularly in black hole collisions and merges.

Now that we are reasonably sure that gravitational waves exist (i.e., the rippling of the space-time continuum does occur), we may be able to get further insights into the very early conditions of the universe. One of the most significant predictions of the contemporary Big Bang model is universal inflation—a super acceleration of the space-time continuum that occurred almost immediately after the Big Bang. If such a period of inflation occurred, we would expect to detect indications of gravitational waves in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation (this is the ubiquitous thermal radiation left over from the Big Bang that was discovered by two Bell Labs researchers in 1964.)

One of the exciting things about LIGO’s discovery is that it gives new momentum to the search for gravitational waves in the CMB. In 2014, scientists working with the South Pole based BICEP2 telescope announced that they had made such a discovery, but later data from the Keck Array Telescope (also located at the South Pole) and the Plank satellite indicated that those readings were either partially or completely caused by the effects of intergalactic stardust. A more refined BICEP3 telescope is now operational and probing the CMB for ripples. LIGO’s confirmation of the existence of gravity waves increases confidence that scientists will be able to detect similar Big Bang induced gravity waves in the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation—which in turn will help verify initial universal inflation.

The significance of this discovery is vast indeed. Gravitational waves offer the potential to learn much more about the properties of our universe. Moreover, they may allow us to look even further back in time—to those first moments immediately after the Big Bang. We await the results of further discoveries to peek not only into the formation of super black holes and galaxies but also into the formation of our universe—and perhaps even into the advent of physical reality itself.

 

This article was co-written by Fr. Robert Spitzer, President of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith, and Joseph G. Miller, the Executive Director of the Magis Center.

 
 
(Image credit: LIGO)

Fr. Robert Spitzer

Written by

Fr. Robert Spitzer, PhD is a Catholic priest in the Jesuit order, and is currently the President of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith and the Spitzer Center. He earned his PhD in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and from 1998 to 2009 was President of Gonzaga University. Fr. Spitzer has made multiple media appearances including: Larry King Live (debating Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, and Deepak Chopra on God and modern physics), the Today Show (debating on the topic of active euthanasia), The History Channel in “God and The Universe,” and a multiple part PBS series “Closer to the Truth." Fr. Spitzer is the author of five books including New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Eerdmans, 2010); Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues (Ignatius, 2011); and Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom and the Life Issues (Ignatius, 2011). Follow Fr. Spitzer's work at the Magis Center of Reason and Faith.

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  • I presume this finding gives even more credence to the Big Bang as the starting point for all physical reality, making it less like theory and more like a fact? For example, we do not say the "Theory of Gravity", we say the "Law of Gravity".

    • Will

      We have a proper name for the "Theory of Gravity" being discussed, it's called the General Theory of Relativity. It will always be a theory, even if it's the perfect model of big things in the universe (it doesn't model extremely small things, that Quantum Mechanics). Newton's theory was called "Newton's Law of Gravity", but it was only a special case or oversimplification (more or less) of General Relativity.

    • Peter

      The discovery of the existence of gravitational waves is very significant. It means that the big bang or, more precisely, the subsequent inflationary period, could not have taken place without generating such ripples in the early universe.

      The background radiation is the echo of the early universe and therefore, for inflation to be more of a fact than a theory, they must find signs of gravitational waves there. So far there are no signs which means that inflation, and the big bang model in general, remains just a theory.

  • Will

    Nice article, Einstein was quite right about physics (at least much more right than anyone else so far), wonder if he was also right about God and Christianity. Now for a theory of Quantum Gravity.

    " "It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems."

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein

    I'm still fond of the Spinoza conception of God, even if I don't think we are talking about the same kind of being as Christians are. It still baffles me why anyone would think such a being, if he/she exists, would be concerned with the affairs of men. It's comparable to us being concerned about beetles (comparing the gap in intelligence and we could be worse than beetles in comparison). Don't get me started on people claiming Yahweh as the creator...I sort of find that offensive (good thing the creator doesn't care, the idea he/she cares about blasphemy is contradicted by all the blasphemers who do just fine).

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      And yet, do you not live your life as if it matters?

      It seems to me that when one says, "My life matters. What I do matters. What happens to me matters", this is simply a non-theistic way of saying, "God cares about me". That you happen to be allergic to expressing this sentiment in theistic language doesn't really change the fact that you (seem to) believe essentially the same thing.

      • Will

        Sure, and beetles live their lives as if they matter :) Perhaps I'm expressing a form of cosmic humility more than anything else.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          The lives of beetles do matter!

          It is no affront to humility to say that your life matters. It seems to me to be a far greater affront to humility to say that our lives matter only because we perceive that they matter. This is the hubris of thinking that our perceptions are what determine the ultimate value of things.

          • Will

            Ok, I'll bite. How do the lives of beetles matter?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            They matter because they matter. I don't know. They just do. The life of every living creature matters because ... life matters. I can express the same tautology in theistic language of course, but it would still be a tautology. Either way, it's just a tautology that you either accept or you don't, I guess.

          • Will

            I get you. Objective values would make things easier, but I think values are a mental construct (though an extremely important one that society couldn't function without). As Einstein said, morality is a very important problem, but only for humans. We usually don't fuss with beetles over their morality (I try to with my dog, but it doesn't work that well, lol).

            FWIW I think human lives matter (very much), I think mammal lives matter, I'm not concerned about beetles but wouldn't go out of my way to hurt one. Mosquitos...I wish they would all die. I suppose that makes me some kind of bigot, but I'm fine with that ;)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, but this:

            I think values are a mental construct

            is hardly a stance of cosmic humility. This says that the value of all things is determined by human minds, whereas I am merely saying that the value of things (which exists independent of us) is perceived by human minds. Both of our views are fairly parochial, I suppose, but I think mine wins on the humility scale.

          • Will

            There is something kind of ironic over arguing over who is more humble, it takes a certain amount of pride about humility to even begin to do so. I suppose I'm guilty, hard to help myself.

            I think the problem with the Catholic position is that it thinks the values it perceives are the true values, and anyone who disagrees is flat out wrong. This can be useful for human rights, but problematic when it conflicts with what other people think human rights should involve (like a right for gay people to get married). Homosexuality is part of the mammalian world for some reason (it's very common in Bonobos for example), thus it must be part of God's plan. The Romans and Hebrews hated homosexuality, the Greeks were perfectly fine with it, though I am definitely against any abusive form, some of that was tolerated in Greek circles. The Romans beat the Greeks, and embraced part of the Hebrew Culture via Christianity. Seems like a historical accident of value, to me. If the Nazis had won, we just might both consider the Aryan to be the being of highest value. How do you account for the copying of values via cultural transmission, and what's with the significant variation from culture to culture? How are entire cultures missing it if the values are "out there"? Hinduism historically hasn't had a problem with homosexuality.
            The idea that God hates condoms still baffles me. That's a unique value for sure (though useful for increasing the number of citizens in an empire, and a ban on homosexuality might be slightly helpful to force bisexual people into heterosexual relationships).

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If the Nazis had won, we just might both consider the Aryan to be the being of highest value.

            And if that had happened, would our views simply be different than they are now, or would our views be flat out wrong?

            You seem to be embracing a moral epistemology that is so agnostic that it would preclude you from saying that Aryan supremacy is wrong in any objective sense. On your view, it seems to me, Aryan supremacy is only wrong because the Allies won.

            I fully accept that the public face of Roman Catholic moral teaching is "not agnostic enough". I think it "proves too much", creating the impression that certain moral conclusions are knowable at a finer level of detail than is warranted by reason. So, I am very sympathetic to your complaint there, but I think the solution is epistemic humility rather than complete moral agnosticism or rejection of moral realism. We might not be able to determine the moral correctness or incorrectness of everything, but we can surely say some things are correct or incorrect with relative confidence.

          • Will

            You seem to be embracing a moral epistemology that is so agnostic that it would preclude you from saying that Aryan supremacy is wrong in any objective sense. On your view, it seems to me, Aryan supremacy is only wrong because the Allies won.

            I'd like to think I would think the Nazi's were wrong if they'd won, but would I if I had been raised in the Hitler Youth Movement? Maybe, since I rejected what I was taught from youth, but most of the people I grew up with did not. In fact, there are many, many Christians here in the Deep South who seem to noticeably racist like the Nazis were...they would fit right in. Nazism had a strong appeal to mean, nationalism and racism are compelling because they appeal to natural tribalistic instincts. The only way to tell who would reject Nazi youth indoctrination would be to run an experiment. Most Nazi youth were quite happy with the Nazi party. Did you ever look through History and Nazi we almost always agree with the winner? Is it because the winner was always objectively right? Or was it because he/she was simply the winner and we've copied the winners culture? You might be right, and the Nazis may have been overthrown even if they won (assuming they failed to eliminate enough non-Aryans first, and there was a generation that wasn't brought up via Nazi indoctrination). Childhood indoctrination is powerful.

            So, I am very sympathetic to your complaint there, but I think the solution is epistemic humility rather than complete moral agnosticism or rejection of moral realism.

            Thank you for this, but I'm trying to present a solution, as just express the way I think culture works. Human nature may provide some type of convergence on culture, but I think Nazism is actually compatible with Human nature if you are one of the "Chosen" or "Aryan". We all like to feel like we are part of a special group (though many Nazis did not like the concentration camps, more and more seemed to be able to get used to the idea pointing to a frighteningly level of moral flexibility). This is why cultures try to defend themselves against change...hence conservatism. Culture can mutate just like DNA, and we all hope that the worst strains get selected out. To me, saying there is a "true" moral system is like saying that a bear is the one true organism and all others are approximations (like wolves). I'm glad the Nazis lost, and I'd rather be under Catholic totalitarianism than the Nazi version (for whatever that's worth).

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The question is not whether you, if you were raised in the Hitler youth movement, would think that the Nazis were wrong. The question is whether, the Nazis were wrong and/or whether such a statement is even coherent within the framework you are suggesting.

            You are arguing as if the only path to moral knowledge (if such a thing were possible, which you seem to deny) would be to go around polling what people's impressions are. I would allow that argumentum ad populum is one legitimate line of reasoning (among several) to inform one's moral knowledge, but that source of knowledge must be triangulated against other sources, such as ethical reasoning and analysis of foundational texts.

            Also, I think you are overcomplicating things by imagining that there is vast cross-cultural divergence on basic questions of morality. There is disagreement around the edges on the thorniest questions of bioethics but, just to take Buddhism as one example (because I know you are a fan), the practical implications of the eightfold path (in particular, the implications of the five precepts of "right action") are not all that different from the practical implications of the "ten commandments" as interpreted in Biblical traditions. Granted, the Catholic tradition is more specifically prescriptive on questions of sexual ethics (too much so, I would say, but then again even the 14th Dalai Lama interprets the third precept somewhat prescriptively as "right organ, right place, right time"), but most cultures have converged on the conclusion that sexual restraint is a fundamental part of the moral life.

          • George

            "The question is whether, the Nazis were wrong"

            That is what you value. and it's obvious you'll see a problem with someone else if you apply your value to them while at the same time they do not share that axiom.

            There's another layer to what I quoted from you as well.

            If someone makes a claim about, say, the nature of God, or the nature of the universe, it's easy to hit the threshold of "what one thinks about God/Universe". what isn't as easy to determine is if we really hit the threshold of "what God/Universe actually is".

            is the disagreement simply that you want to stick to ontology and I'm more concerned with phenomenology? I'm not sure if all I did was just turn the question back onto you...

            anyway, I want to know why we should be so concerned if we were to honestly amend the statement "the nazis were wrong" to "the nazi's were wrong to william davis". If both of us like William Davis as a person, what is the problem? what's wrong with William Davis, that we should be disturbed by being to a large degree in-synch with him? :P

            if "the nazis were wrong to William Davis" is not such a terrible thing TO ME, than is that such a terrible thing to you, Jim?

          • Will

            If I had to subscribe to any form of moral realism, it would be a form of utilitarianism. It doesn't mean that utilitarianism is objectively true, but it embraces the pragmatic effects of moral decision making which is very important for any society. Lack of sexual restraint can cause all kinds of societal problems, especially if it involves children out of wedlock, so it isn't surprising to find this in all societies. Exactly how this plays out varies tremendously of course, and I think there are a ton of biological arguments for monogamy (even when STDs can be prevented). Again I don't see how this makes sexual restraint "true" just an important rule of thumb for a happy, untroubled life.

            Love and hatred do seem to be genuine objective phenomena, so I would agree that morality based on love is objectively better, and generally more effective for unity, than morality based on hate. Hate can bring people together though, especially hate of the "other", so it's often hard to say anything here without caveats. Harsher morality, in general, is justified in harsher conditions, so the "objectively true" morality would have to be modifiable based on physical conditions. Fewer resources means harder decisions (like executions instead of prison).

          • George

            "You seem to be embracing a moral epistemology that is so agnostic that it would preclude you from saying that Aryan supremacy is wrong in any objective sense."

            What is your point?

            Are you worried that this agnosticism is so extreme that William Davis would bend over backwards and just let the Nazis have their way if they hypothetically were to re-emerge, knock on the metaphorical door of modern society, and say "Hey, we're back, and we want to impose our will on you."

            It's not enough to say "No"? It's not enough to say "I don't WANT the Nazis to do this to me, I don't WANT them to do this to others, so I'm going to resist you."? Are we somehow obligated, bound, via some transcendent godless rule in a hypothetically godless universe, to just lie down and take abuse? Why should we care about this rule if it even existed? What restricts our actions, simply from an inability to say the other side is "wrong", or "objectively wrong?"

            As for simply wanting a certain outcome, you could argue that there is a WHY behind that Want, behind our Will. And that's true. You could argue that William Davis would do the right thing that you agree he should do because God just wrote it on his mind that way. But what does that really change?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            This line of argument did not develop because I was worried about what William Davis, or anyone else, would do in any given situation. It began as a discussion about whether things, and in particular human lives, might have a value that persists independent of our perception of that value.

            As to your question: understanding the genesis of value might not change anything at all in practice. But I think it is interesting, and possibly even useful, to take the subconscious and hidden premises that guide our (usually naturally good) existential actions and in bring those background assumptions into our conscious foreground. If we understand what we are doing when we do good things, we might become even more competent doers of good things.

          • Rob Abney

            "Homosexuality is part of the mammalian world for some reason (it's very common in Bonobos for example), thus it must be part of God's plan"
            In your view God is responsible for everything that happens, right or wrong, good or evil, everything is God's will. If it happened then it was God's will!
            No wonder you don't embrace the idea of God, you value freedom. What if you could embrace that freedom as a God-given gift? You were made that way!

          • ClayJames

            I feel like the best way to make the point you are trying to make is not to focus on what subjectively matters, but instead point out that given that values are completely subjective, the idea that human lives don't matter at all is equally valid.

            It is this point that many atheists struggle to accept.

          • Will

            Here is the problem with the idea that no human lives matter: It's not prosocial. Any individual can have the idea, but someone who thinks this will likely be misanthropic, not have many friends, and never spread the idea. Now, thinking that only certain lives matter, like those of a certain nationality, skin color or religion (like the "Chosen"), can be quite prosocial within the in group. Human nature tends to gravitate naturally to the "only certain lives matter mode", and the closer they are to the individual, the more they matter (kindred mattering most is also quite consistent with evolution and some principles of group selection).
            If you take away all pragmatic considerations, then you can say that no lives matter is equally valid to all lives matter. All lives mattering runs into real problems, pragmatically, when there are resource restrictions. If there isn't enough food to feed everyone, we have to resort to figuring out who matters more. We can relate this to modern conflicts on taxing the rich to feed the poor (are we really stealing from the rich, should charity be voluntary, or does society itself own a larger portion of the wealth than the individualists think it should). These are all constructs and can only be judged objectively as systems and how well they work, within God as a law giver, of course. I suspect you'll agree with much of what I've said here, and you are right, many atheists don't like this, but that doesn't mean it isn't a consequence of atheism. One can find objective morality written no where in nature, the closest thing we have is some commonalities in human nature, and that is so flexible it's far from a set of rules.

          • ClayJames

            I do agree with a lot of what you have said here. My main beef with talking with atheists about morality is that, without justification, they determine that one ought not hold prosocial behavior as a means to an end instead of an end in and of itself.

            If naturalism is true, one can determine the following statement to be the founding principle of their moral framework: ¨My main goal is to improve my own personal well being (however this may be defined) and I will act in a way that obtains this objective¨. Yes, because we live in societies, most of the time this person will have to act in a prosocial manner since this will accomplish their goal, but this is not always the case. It is certainly less the case in less developed societies or at different times in the past.

            And yet, this is a conclusion that is very hard for naturalists to accept.

          • Will

            Here is a paper you might find interesting from a brilliant philosopher at the University of Oxford I admire (he even has great arguments for agnosticism and considers a cosmic designer as one of many possible explanations for the apparent fine tuning of the universe though he certainly isn't Christian). As far as credentials, he has a "Ph.D in economics from the London School of economics, a B.A. in philosophy, mathematics, mathematical logic, and artificial intelligence from the University of Gothenburg and master's degrees in philosophy and physics, and computational neuroscience from Stockholm University and King's College London, respectively. During his time at Stockholm University, he researched the relationship between language and reality by studying the analytic philosopher W.V. Quine.[13] In 2000, he was awarded a PhD in philosophy from the London School of Economics. He held a teaching position at Yale University (2000–2002), and he was a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford (2002–2005)." He has also been listed as one of Foreign Policy's Top 100 world thinkers. In other words, he's a polymath, which is rare these days.
            Basically he argues that if the universe is infinite, it creates major problems for many modern ethical theories because any finite affect we can have means nothing in the context of infinite good or bad in an infinite universe, resulting in a form of paralysis. Ethics are hard, so it's no surprise really, that they have been bound to divine command historically, even if naturalism is true.

          • Veritas

            Im In 100% agreement on the mosquito problem. That is a completely personal opinion, but as bird or reptile food I suppose they serve a purpose, but I'd be fine if they disappeared and those higher on the food chain had to find a new dietary replacement...cockroaches would be a great candidate

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Einstein was a physicist and was right about many important things in physics (and wrong about some others). There would be reasons to suppose he was speaking sooth when he declared space and time to be metaphysical intrusions into physics and that space and time would disappear if all matter disappeared. But he was not a theologian and so his pronouncements on religion are no more dispositive than would have been his pronouncements on barbecue sauce.

      • David Nickol

        But he was not a theologian and so his pronouncements on religion are no more dispositive than would have been his pronouncements on barbecue sauce.

        I think it is quite possible for someone who is not a theologian to say very insightful things about religion, and I think it is possible for someone who is a theologian to say quite worthless things about religion. And of course theology is not the study of religion.

        I don't know where one goes to find "dispositive" statements on theology or religion.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Sure, but seldom about theology. Yet, that something may be possible does not mean it is true in a particular case. Einstein may have been hell on wheels when it came to barbecue sauce but, until some evidence is presented, I would not regard his pronouncements in the field with less regard than that of a chef.

          That said, Einstein was one of the last generation of scientists to receive a broad liberal education, including in philosophy, rather than a narrow, technical one. That does not mean he was good at it, but it does mean that he did not embarrass himself. The same cannot be said of more recent and more hysterical individuals.

      • Will

        But he was not a theologian and so his pronouncements on religion are no more dispositive than would have been his pronouncements on barbecue sauce.

        Sure, according to Einstein his believes matched those of Baruch Spinoza who was a brilliant philosopher. The SEP calls him one of the most important philosophers of the early modern period and the 17th century philosopher who has the most relevance today.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          That's fine.

  • neil_pogi

    so these gravitational waves suggest that the big bang happened?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      That was settled long ago. Lemaitre predicted the redshift that Eddington got credit for as well as the cosmic background radiation that was discovered even as he lay on his deathbed.

  • Peter

    Now that we know that gravitational waves are real, we know that they must exist in the background radiation if inflation and the big bang are to be true. Must we then withhold judgement on the veracity of the big bang until such gravitational waves are found?

    Does the discovery of the existence of gravitational waves not allow sceptics to deny that the big bang occurred, on the grounds that there is currently no sign of gravitational waves in the background radiation? The future of humanity, not just in a scientific context but also in a religious context, rests upon the findings of BICEP3.

    • Lazarus

      If it is shown that the Big Bang did not occur, would that have an adverse effect on your faith?

      • Peter

        I do not deny that the absence of gravitational waves of the background radiation can now be used as an excuse to withhold belief that the big bang occurred. Such is the significance of this recent discovery.

        However, that is a far cry from demonstrating that the big bang did not take place at all, for the simple reason that these gravitational waves may be detected at any time in the future. It could be a year or a century before we detect any ripples. Even Bicep 3 may not be sensitive enough.

        At which point can we say with absolute certainty that the background radiation does not contain gravitational waves?
        At which point can we claim that the big bang did not occur?

        • Lazarus

          If it is all that difficult to determine then you should have no problem in maintaining your acceptance of the Big Bang and its perceived theological implications.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Any word on whether this confirms the standard GR or the 4-vector gravity version of GR? I understand that there are small differences in the predicted shape of the waves under the two theories, and the media are notoriously unable to make such distinctions.

  • john hickey

    Surely, when we are speaking on these things we ponder the God of the Philosophers. Fascinating and very necessary.
    But Jesus Christ is something else.
    Doubt the existence of the above - but who can doubt Peter and Paul?

    We can hardly doubt the existence of Peter and Paul, who witnessed and experienced so much. That both were willing to die, rather than deny, is pretty convincing to me. Study their personalities and backgrounds.

    • Rudy R

      And how exactly is Jesus related to this discovery? If you are inferring that Jesus would become irrelevant, because this discovery may lead to discovering a natural explanation for the creation of the universe, than I would agree.

      That both were willing to die, rather than deny, is pretty convincing to me.

      So if an atheist is willing to die, rather than deny his position that a god does not exist, than that too would convince you that a god does not exist? You see how this is circular reasoning, right? Paul, according to most Biblical Scholars, never met Jesus, so what experience exactly did Paul have that is so convincing? Again, not doubting someone's existence doesn't necessarily entail that their accounts are factual. Corroborating evidence for Paul's accounts would help here. Especially when there is good evidence that Paul believed in a Spiritual Jesus and not an Earthly one.

      • john hickey

        I'd be very interested in "The Case of the Determined Atheist" - surely easier to deny his faith and live? Surely he/she isn't going to die for the sake of a principle? Do we have any such cases from the Middle-East area?
        As regards Paul - there are many ill-informed opinions on the go - which fail to acknowledge his acknowledgement of Peter. Just humouring him?
        I'd bring your concerns to the Vatican and let them mull over your theories.

        • Rudy R

          Surely he/she isn't going to die for the sake of a principle?

          You know this how? Psychology has a lot to say on the matter. Suggest you read what the experts have to say on the matter and not rely on your Christian anecdotal reasoning.

          As regards Paul - there are many ill-informed opinions on the go

          I'm not referring to the ill-informed.

          I'd bring your concerns to the Vatican and let them mull over your theories.

          And I'll bring your concerns to the National Academy of Science and let them mull over your theories and then we can exchange notes. Let me guess what the outcome of that will be.

          • john hickey

            The Psychology of Over-Investment?

          • Rudy R

            Typical Christian response to a losing argument.

          • john hickey

            Unique events are hard to repeat.

          • Rudy R

            Don't flatter yourself. You guys are a dime a dozen. You raise arguments you can't defend and then spin your way out of it.

          • john hickey

            I wasn't thinking of me Rudy, I was thinking of you. How quick you are to take offence.

          • Rudy R

            I don't need to be flattered. Thanks anyway.

          • john hickey

            That's all right. If your father had stopped for a sandwich on his way home to help conceive you, it wouldn't have been you who was born, but a sibling - possibly not possessed of your high intelligence. Unique you see.

        • Will

          I agree with you, I wouldn't die over atheism. I wouldn't die over 2+2=4 either (should someone torture me to say otherwise like 1984) but just because I wouldn't die for it, doesn't mean it's untrue. The truth of such things simply isn't a strong motivator. Radical Islam has motivated plenty to die for it (suicide bombers, 9/11 attackers ect), shintoism motivated the kamakaze, the list could be long. Does the death of these suicide attackers indicate Islam and shintoism is true? Not even the Japanese think shintoism is "true" anymore.

          • john hickey

            Christ did not ask us to sacrifice the lives of others- only,if need be, our own.

          • Will

            I think you missed the point, in that one's willingness to sacrifice themselves does not indicate the truth of their belief. Here is a Buddhist monk who immolates himself in protest of Vietnamese persecution of Buddhists. He never makes a sound or moves as he burns to death. Self sacrifice is much more common in humans that many realize

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwQTsCiguHc&oref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DZwQTsCiguHc&has_verified=1

            Was it necessary for him to sacrifice himself like that? I don't know, but it certainly worked. Self sacrifice has a powerful emotional appeal...

            Thích Quảng Đức[1] (1897 – 11 June 1963, born Lâm Văn Túc), was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963.[2] Quang Duc was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government led by Ngô Đình Diệm. Photographs of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diệm government. John F. Kennedy said in reference to a photograph of Duc on fire, "No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one."[3] Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of the monk's death.[4][5]

            Quảng Đức's act increased international pressure on Diệm and led him to announce reforms with the intention of mollifying the Buddhists. However, the promised reforms were not implemented, leading to a deterioration in the dispute. With protests continuing, the ARVN Special Forces loyal to Diệm's brother, Ngô Đình Nhu, launched nationwide raids on Buddhist pagodas, seizing Quảng Đức's heart and causing deaths and widespread damage. Several Buddhist monks followed Quảng Đức's example, also immolating themselves. Eventually, an Army coup toppled Diệm, who was assassinated on 2 November 1963.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th%C3%ADch_Qu%E1%BA%A3ng_%C4%90%E1%BB%A9c

            That act arguably led to the overthrow of a brutal regime.

          • john hickey

            That's suicide. Forbidden by Christian teaching - as is the reckless seeking of martyrdom. The Christian martyr would prefer to live. It gets forced upon them.

          • Will

            You said:

            We can hardly doubt the existence of Peter and Paul, who witnessed and experienced so much. That both were willing to die, rather than deny, is pretty convincing to me. Study their personalities and backgrounds.

            Apparently it's only convincing to you if it is within your current belief system. Don't expect Peter and Paul's willingness to die to be convincing to me, an atheist, because it's not uncommon for people to be willing to die for what they believe in, that's all I'm trying to get across to you. It's inconsistent to find the willingness of Peter and Paul to face death convincing, and not find the willingness of those from other belief systems convincing as well. Consistency is important for any argument :) Paul makes it clear why he was willing to die, it was in order to obtain immortality (making his self sacrifice not that sacrificial in a way) 1 Cor 15

            30 And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? 31 I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters,[i] as my boasting of you—a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised,

            “Let us eat and drink,
            for tomorrow we die.”

            He also says:

            12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.

            Paul expected to see the resurrection of the dead in his lifetime, but here we are, 2000 years later, with no resurrection of the dead. By Paul's own words, that means Christ was not raised since he was to be the first fruits of the general resurrection.

          • john hickey

            Catholic teaching is clear. Study.
            Much has been obscured by various protestant scholars whose anti-Catholicism now obscures much in Christianity. (Ibelieve we now have something in the region of 30,000 + popes at a time.)
            Peter's willingness to die found roots in the fact that he had been a witness to Christ's reappearance. This was not the delusion of a lone wtness. Others witnessed it too.
            Peter was an intelligent but uneducated man - hardly middle class. It is also notable that Christ did not go to the highly educated and well-placed. I guess he knew they had a vested interest in not believing him.
            The first Pope was hardly an admirable man at first. Very rough and ready, a little prone to violence. Bad language too when he was in a corner.Something of a hypocrite as regards his dietary teaching and practice - for which Paul called him out. But he seemed to get courage after the Resurrection and Pentecost.
            His particular display of courage is directly linked to his witness of the Resurrection.
            As regards other examples from other faiths the motivation is different. Breathtaking too -I would hardly rush to join them.

          • Will

            Do you know who was persecuting the Buddhist monks, leading to the self-immolation Thích_Quảng_Đức? Catholics.

            In a country where surveys of the religious composition at the time estimated the Buddhist majority to be between 70 and 90 percent,[9][10][11][12] President Diệm was a member of the Catholic minority, and pursued discriminatory policies favoring Catholics for public service and military promotions, as well as in the allocation of land, business arrangements and tax concessions.[13] Diệm once told a high-ranking officer, forgetting that the officer was of Buddhist descent, "Put your Catholic officers in sensitive places. They can be trusted."[14] Many officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam converted to Roman Catholicism as their military prospects depended on it.[14] Additionally, the distribution of firearms to village self-defense militias saw weapons given only to Roman Catholics, with some Buddhists in the army being denied promotion if they refused to convert to Roman Catholicism.[15]

            Some Roman Catholic priests ran their own private armies,[16] and there were forced conversions and looting, shelling, and demolition of pagodas in some areas, to which the government turned a blind eye.[17] Some Buddhist villages converted en masse to receive aid or avoid being forcibly resettled by Diệm's regime.[18] The "private" status that was imposed on Buddhism by the French, which required official permission to be obtained by those wishing to conduct public Buddhist activities, was not repealed by Diệm.[19] Catholics were also de facto exempt from corvée labor, which the government obliged all citizens to perform, and United States aid was distributed disproportionately to Catholic majority villages by Diệm's regime.[20]

            The Roman Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the country and enjoyed special exemptions in property acquisition, and land owned by the Roman Catholic Church was exempt from land reform.[21] The white and gold Vatican flag was regularly flown at all major public events in South Vietnam,[22] and Diệm dedicated his country to the Virgin Mary in 1959.[20]

            Buddhist discontent erupted following a ban in early May on flying the Buddhist flag in Huế on Vesak, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. Just days before, Catholics had been encouraged to fly the Vatican flag at a celebration for Archbishop Ngô Đình Thục of Huế, Diệm's elder brother. A large crowd of Buddhists protested the ban, defying the government by flying Buddhist flags on the Buddhist holy day of Vesak and marching on the government broadcasting station. Government forces fired into the crowd of protesters, killing nine people. Diệm's refusal to take responsibility — he blamed the Viet Cong for the deaths — led to further Buddhist protests and calls for religious equality.[23] As Diem remained unwilling to comply with Buddhist demands, the frequency of protests increased.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th%C3%ADch_Qu%E1%BA%A3ng_%C4%90%E1%BB%A9c

            It apparently took this monks self sacrifice to eventual undo this Catholic abuse and barbarism. That matters, at least to me. Christianity does not have a very good track record when it comes to persecuting other belief systems which is very sad considering how it started (and Roman persecution of Christians was quite wrong).

          • john hickey

            All done under the mighty umbrella of the immense Vatican Army, Navy and Air-Force and its nuclear weapons- in the face of communist expansion?
            I see no mention of usa or la france. Shhhhhh!

          • Will

            I see no mention of usa or la france.

            Since you bring it up, that would be because the the US, at least, was completely against this religious discrimination. The prevention of religious discrimination is an American ideal born of the Enlightenment, after all.

            A number of other monks publicly self-immolated, and the U.S. grew increasingly frustrated with the unpopular leader's public image in both Vietnam and the United States. Diệm used his conventional anti-communist argument, identifying the dissenters as communists. As demonstrations against his government continued throughout the summer, the special forces loyal to Diệm's brother, Nhu, conducted an August raid of the Xá Lợi pagoda in Saigon. Pagodas were vandalised, monks beaten, the cremated remains of Quảng Đức, which included his heart, a religious relic, were confiscated. Simultaneous raids were carried out across the country, with the Từ Đàm pagoda in Huế looted, the statue of Gautama Buddha demolished and a body of a deceased monk confiscated.[100] When the populace came to the defense of the monks, the resulting clashes saw 30 civilians killed and 200 wounded. In all 1,400 monks were arrested, and some thirty were injured across the country. The United States indicated its disapproval of Diệm's administration when ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. visited the pagoda. No further mass Buddhist protests occurred during the remainder of Diệm's rule (which would amount to less than five months). Madame Nhu Trần Lệ Xuân, Nhu's wife, inflamed the situation by mockingly applauding the suicides, stating, "If the Buddhists want to have another barbecue, I will be glad to supply the gasoline."

          • john hickey

            No serious Catholic could support such actions in the name of Christ or His Church. Sin abounds in the world - and myself. To you this will amount to nonsense. Lack of peace is what we can both experience nevertheless.
            Total Reality is quite difficult to grasp William. You may have noticed this. Because of our very own nature it appears to come at random at us. We are rather like the people in the Cave equipped only with flashlight with narrow beams. First we pick out this - and then that.
            Buddhism does not teach its followers to murder anyone. . .have Buddhists ever murdered anyone?
            Communism speaks much of peace - did any Communists pose as Buddhists?
            Did the Western European powers engage in competitive Imperialism - out of which much suffering and trade grew?
            Did Japan resent this and invade Vietnam amongst other places? Did they do it with kisses?
            Did the British ever release Japanese prisoners, arm them, and have them police the nationalist Vietnamese?

            The best answer I could find was that of a child. He said mankind should not have ventured beyond his homogeneous borders to meet other people, for they would only be suspicious. All it would take would be one false step or misunderstanding to create such bitterness, hatred and revenge would endlessly add fuel to the flames which would never completely be extinguished.

          • Will

            Total Reality is quite difficult to grasp William. You may have noticed this. Because of our very own nature it appears to come at random at us. We are rather like the people in the Cave equipped only with flashlight with narrow beams. First we pick out this - and then that.

            I agree, the human mind will never come close to grasping total reality, and as human knowledge increases, reality seems to get bigger with each passing day (new technologies, new branches of science, philosophy, economics, art). We all end up being biased, and confirmation bias (which you alluding to) can be very powerful. Our own minds are all we have to work with to figure things out, and we all do the best we can. Most of the time, we just trust our parents and accept their belief system without much thought, this provides for cultural continuity but can also be problematic when cultures "collide", so to speak. Diem's tribal paranoia (only trusting Catholics) is very human, but it would have been nice if the Vatican had said something to him, that would have gone a long way. Perhaps Pope Francis would have, he seems more than willing to criticize his own organization, which is quite positive in my view. Self criticism is the most important, and most difficult of all types of criticism.

          • john hickey

            We're beginning to connect William.
            It would be difficult for the Vatican to monitor me. It presumes I have some knowledge of what Christian teaching means. The rest is subsidiarity - not a dictatorship.

            Yes. Pope Francis is forcing many to think more deeply and to examine their own hearts. After all, Catholic belief says we answer for our own sins -not the sins of others - unless we have caused them to sin.
            As regards Total Reality, striving to grasp it (or a tiny part of it) can be beneficial to the mind. Isn't that what science achieves? To a Catholic (as you can see from such articles as Fr Spitzer's) such advances reveal the hitherto unknown wonders of Creation. To an atheist such ideas are superfluous.

            But Total Reality includes our departure from this one through death. Atheism is not very satisfying on this, for it essentially says,"When you're dead - that's it."
            This includes not only the atheist but all his loved ones.
            That is what is held out to people. Continuance as temporarily disassociated atoms or molecules fails to inspire most.

            It is possible to do science at the same time as being assured that, we are not so much grasping Total Reality, as resting in its embrace. When one lacks such a faith there is always a striving to grasp more. Only by doing so can the atheist feel secure. But, Total Reality is so big, endless busyness must result - or exhaustion.

      • Lazarus

        The only reason why internet atheists really still contend that Paul believed in a "spiritual Jesus" is that they have not bothered to read books like N. T. Wright's "Who Was Jesus", where this bit of fluff and nonsense gets taken apart. Yes, it will require a bit of reading, but no, Paul did not believe in a "spiritual Jesus" as opposed to a real, flesh and blood Jesus.

        • Rudy R

          I can list biblical scholars that state the contrary, but that doesn't further the argument. What's your best evidence that Jesus was flesh and blood and not a fictional chatacter?

          • Lazarus

            Let's not revisit the battle lines as drawn by the Carriers, Latasters, Ehrmans and others. They have made the respective cases for the existence/non-existence of Jesus as real person, and very little else can be said on either side. Regarding Jesus as a fictional character remains a fringe position, even amongst atheists.

            Paul clearly viewed Jesus as an actual, living person, who died and was resurrected.

          • Randy Carson

            Ehrman disagrees with Carrier and holds that Jesus was a real person. See his book, Did Jesus Exist?, for Ehrman's strong arguments against mythicism.

          • Lazarus

            Yes. I mentioned those names as examples of people that drew those lines.

          • Rudy R

            Ehrman may be wrong.

          • David Nickol

            Paul clearly viewed Jesus as an actual, living person, who died and was resurrected.

            I would not doubt this. But there does seem to be a question—at least in my mind—whether Paul saw (or claimed to see) a flesh-and-blood Jesus after the resurrection. Was there an encounter with a visible presence of Jesus as a "glorified body," or was it some kind of spiritual encounter?

          • Michael

            This article by John J. Pilch offers one possible answer.

          • Rob Abney

            That's a great explanation, thanks for that!

            " it is clear that his experience of the risen Lord Jesus in an
            altered state of consciousness was not only foundational and formative in his
            personal life but persuasive to the leaders among the early believers."

          • Lazarus

            An interesting article, thank you.

          • Lazarus

            I'm not sure how to distinguish between those two categories, but it seems to have been more light and voice than the encounters with a person described in the other records.

          • Randy Carson

            Other than the multiple, independently-authored accounts of his life found in the NT?

            Why, non-biblical sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Mara bar Serapion and the Talmud, of course.

            (And yes, I am familiar with the connections between the synoptics which do not change the fact that four men working independently of one another made separate editorial judgments about whether to include content drawn from one another and from common sources.)

          • Rudy R

            Multiple, independently-authored accounts? Josephus and Tacitus are just about all there is for non-Biblical sources and there is a good argument that the areas mentioning Jesus were interpolations.
            And your familiar with the connections? Both Matthew and Luke copied from Mark, with Matthew copying up to 65% and Luke 40%. And how could you determine they are independent when the authors are unknown?

  • neil_pogi

    if these gravitational waves provide 'proof' for the big bang, then, can someone explain how an 'infinitely small' dot suddenly explode and eventually evolve into a universe? its origin? this is not a natural process/event for me? i need a natural explanations on how an tiny dot evolve into a universe that is huge and vast?