The subject of so-called "black holes" is one of the most intriguing topics thrown up by astronomy during the last few years.
Just what are they? A black hole is a concentration of mass, the gravitational field of which is so strong that its escape velocity exceeds the speed of light. The point in space at which this occurs is known as the event horizon. This implies that nothing, including light, can escape from within this 'event horizon.' But what is this 'event horizon'? Specifically, an event horizon is a boundary in spacetime, defined with respect to an observer, beyond which events cannot affect the observer. Light emitted beyond the horizon can never reach the observer, and anything that passes through the horizon from the observer's side is never seen again. So inside a black hole time ceases to exist or to have any meaning! It used to be thought that few black holes existed but it is now recognised that there are thousands of them in the universe with a huge one right at the centre of our own galaxy! The existence of these black holes in the universe is well supported by astronomy despite the fact that none can actually be directly seen! The point is, their presence can be measured and calculated. This effectively means that even within our own galaxy there is a huge area in which time does not exist. Apart from anything else, this has undermined much previous thought on the whole concept of time. Time had been thought of as some great constant within the universe, sure, it was known that time can vary, and be 'bent' etc., but it was generally thought to be a very stable concept, but once one accepts the presence of many thousands of black holes (that is, areas of fierce gravitational pull in which time has no meaning), with one such very large black hole in our own galaxy, it is obvious that time can no longer be seen as a great constant even within our own galaxy.
This Hubble Space Telescope picture is about the closest to photographing a black hole which is currently possible. The outer white area is the core or centre of the galaxy NGC4261.
Inside the core there is a brown spiral-shaped disk. It weighs one hundred thousand times as much as our sun.
Because it is rotating we can measure the radii and speed of its constituents, and hence weigh the object at its centre. This object is about as large as our solar system, but weighs 1,200,000,000 times as much as our sun.
This means that gravity is about one million times as strong as on the sun. Almost certainly this object is a black hole. Space and time have no meaning inside black holes.
Some of the newest thinking...
Outstanding British physicist Stephen Hawking had long proposed that information is permanently lost inside these mysterious black holes, this threw many physicists into a spin because they had long believed that information in the universe can never be lost - it can change shape or form but never be lost. After many years of research, American physicist Leonard Susskind decided to challenge Hawking. Susskind came up with a new theory that information is not lost inside black holes - it simply changes. Other scientists, many never entirely happy with the Hawking view, have come along to support Susskind. Eventually Hawking decided to challenge the Susskind view, albeit in a somewhat surprising way. Hawking agreed that he himself had been wrong and did not defend his original 'information paradox' but he also claimed that Susskind was wrong. Hawking's answer to the dilemma was to insist that there are many universes and some do not have black holes at all. He claimed that he was right in his assertion that information is permanently lost inside black holes, but that he had not previously understood that many universes do not have black holes at all and so - overall - the picture is not as bleak as he had once believed. However, it must be added that many scientists do not accept Hawking's new view and feel that he has not made a very compelling case for his new theory. However, neither are all of Susskind's theories accepted right across the board.
What we know...
What all of this means is simply that there are many theories and a lot of speculation but very little is certainly known about these mysterious black holes and there are very few theories which are accepted by all astronomers and physicists. But away from the theories, those few things which are definitely known about black holes are quite stunning and intriguing enough all on their own. Black holes are a reality. We cannot be sure whether information is being lost through them, but they are areas of incredibly strong gravitational pull which would pull apart anything which gets too close. Are they entrances into eternity? Or are they entrances into a black abyss? Are there possible religious/spiritual connotations here? There is no doubt that the questions are intriguing. What we can be sure about is that if a way was found to get inside these holes, once inside them, time itself would cease to exist or to have any meaning. As the late scientist Dr Arthur Wilder-Smith (who was a commited Christian) used to say,
"If you could get inside a black hole - which you actually couldn't because the gravitation would pull you to pieces - but if you actually could, you would never be able to get out again because there would be literally 'no time' to get back out - time would have ceased to exist the moment you got inside!"
How Evolutionary Scientism ignores what Black Holes teach us about time...
So far Christian theology and Christian philosophy has said very little about these black holes because it is just not an area which these disciplines traditionally inhabit, but I feel that philosophy in particular is going to be asking more and more questions about the effective presence of eternity, or entrances into eternity, even right within our own galaxy, within the coming years. Let us not forget that many people - indeed, across several disciplines - once claimed that space-time is the great constant within the universe, that even though it has been known that time can vary, be bent, and twisted a little out of shape, we cannot escape from it. Evolutionary Scientism says that "we know" that the universe is a few million years old just by considering the vastness of the universe and how long the stars must have been out there (assuming an original 'big bang'), but - as Dr Wilder-Smith used to love to point out - this approach has been very slow to respond to what science now knows about black holes. Science now knows that time-space is not a great constant, that - indeed - not very far from our own planet there is a huge area in which time does not exist at all! - therefore when 'evolutionary scientism' (for we really need to find a new term to distinguish philosophical scientific theory from good science!) asserts the "great age of the universe" what 'time system' are they using? Of course, they are using an earth-based time system, but on what basis? On what assumption? In other words, once it is established that time is not the great universal concept which it was once thought to be, to speak of our universe as being "7-15 billion years old" becomes pretty much meaningless. Eventually, the widely qualified scientist Dr Arthur Wilder-Smith came to accept the time scale for the age of this earth to be that of Genesis - something less that 10,000 years and probably closer to 7,000 years! So this highly-qualified scientist/physicist - with all the scientific data which was available to him - decided that when all the hype, supposition, speculation, anti-religious prejudice and theory is swept away there is no reliable data available to suggest that the Genesis time-scale is wrong!
Dr A.E. Wilder-Smith, who ridiculed those who cling to an understanding of the age of the universe which predated the discovery of black holes and what they tell us about space and time.
So those who cling to an earth age of 7-15 billion years old are truly relying on an outmoded concept of time which insists on continuing to see earth-based time as a universal constant which it is now known not to be.
There will undoubtedly emerge new and fresh theories about black holes and their influence on the universe but leaving all theories aside, what is already known about black holes is amazingly intriguing and theologically and philosophically provocative. Just consider: could any theologian speculating about a hundred years ago about the eternity which God and the angels inhabit (the very concept of eternity and timelessness being scoffed at by the early Darwinists of that time) have ever guessed that physicists would so soon establish that timelessness and eternity not only exist but can be located within our own galaxy?
Science may never learn any more about black holes than it knows already, and all emerging theories about them will need to be treated with a degree of caution, but we can certainly employ guarded speculation. Are black holes indeed entrances into the eternity which Christians believe they will enter in the future when we inherit 'all things' in and through Christ? Conversely, are they entrances from the spiritual realm into our physical realm which angels are daily using right now as they protect, intervene for God's people and help shape the course of events upon this earth? Of course, we cannot be sure - yet one day we will know. But one thing is sure: eternity and timelessness are not mere religious or poetic notions which have nothing to do with scientific reality - for science itself has discovered them and, indeed, found them pretty close to home! - But science will continue to prefer to use such terms as 'timelessness' rather than 'eternity' because of that term's obvious spiritual connotations. The possibilities are fascinating...
Robin A. Brace, 2006.
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