briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, April 12, 2019

It’s Friday, April 12, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What the first picture of a black hole tells us about the amazing capabilities of mankind, the mysteries of God, and the reliability of God’s self-revelation

The Wall Street Journal reported the story this way, “Scientists reveal the first image of a black hole, providing a peek at an object once thought to be unseeable and confirming some of Albert Einstein’s long-standing theories about general relativity.” This appears to be a huge story and, rightly so, it is a very big story. That opening sentence in the Wall Street Journal is just a little bit misleading by saying that the images now give us a peek at an object once thought to be unseeable. It is still thought to be unseeable. A black hole is still invisible to the human eye. What’s not invisible, according to the scientists who released this image, is the fact that there is a ring of light outside of the black hole, and the scientists have an explanation for that visible phenomenon as well.

Christians considering a story like this have to understand we are looking at some of the central mysteries of modern physics. Modern physics, of course, is a science that claims to be able to explain or at least to offer credible hypotheses about the nature of the world, the cosmos, now even related to its beginnings, and it’s end. And you’re looking at modern scientism, which comes as a complete worldview offering an essentially and exclusively scientific explanation for all phenomena. But this is a big story because it is also big news, an image that is now seen for the first time by human beings of what was imagined as a reality, but wasn’t seen until this black hole, or at least the light around the black hole became visible. It is a big scientific achievement. Christians must understand that this is a big moment in modern science.

For one thing, much of modern physics has been predicated upon the existence of black holes at the center of most galaxies, a source of energy within the entire cosmos that became central to the explanation of modern physicists as to how the universe is structured. But at the very same time, a black hole by definition being essentially anti-being can’t be seen. The explanation for the light surrounding the blackness of the black hole is that at the event horizon, where being is about to be sucked into the black hole for its infinite destruction, light is released, and hence there is this halo effect around what is now visible in that sense as a black hole.

Dennis Overbye reporting the same story for the front page of the New York Times put it this way, for years. For all the mounting scientific evidence black holes have remained marooned in the imagination of artists and the algorithms as splashy computer models of the kind used in Christopher Nolan’s outer space epic, Interstellar. Now, he said they are more real than ever. Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said, “We have seen what we thought was unseeable.” And then the reporter describes the pictorial evidence we have seen. “The image of a lopsided ring of light surrounding a dark circle deep in the heart of a galaxy known as in 87, some 55 million light years away from Earth, resembled the eye have Sauron. A reminder yet again,” he said, “of the implacable power of nature, it is a smoke ring framing a one way portal to eternity.”

Now just consider that language. Notice that it is, in one sense, scientific dealing here with astrophysics. It is on the other hand, theological— the word “eternity.” Now you might say eternity is itself a scientific term, but not in modern science, where eternity is actually ruled out by most of the dominant theories of physical science today. Instead, it is believed that the universe is finite and that time itself is finite. But describing something of this immensity, it requires a language that isn’t merely scientific, we should note. It is essentially theological, “eternity.”

As a helpful summary Overbye writes, “The image offered a final ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing, that even Einstein from whose equations black holes emerged was loathe to accept it. If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming, and the place becomes an eternal trap. Here, according to Einstein’s theory, matter, space and time come to an end and vanish like a dream.” Again, we are told that the reality described here or you might say the threat of unreality described here is so dark, that it was loathsome as an idea, even to the man who first formulated it, the most famous scientist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein. But nonetheless, his mathematical calculations pointed to the necessity of something like a black hole. Nothing else could describe the vast amounts of energy detectable in the universe that will be otherwise unaccounted for, the black hole became a way of accounting for that massive amount of energy detectable, but otherwise not explainable.

But let’s face the fact that there’s no way around a theological implication of the fact that matter would be consumed by non-matter, that a black hole would eventually suck an entire galaxy into its non-being. And furthermore, galaxy by galaxy throughout the immensity of the universe of the cosmos, this would be happening again and again and again, leading many theorists to come to the conclusion that eventually, all matter, every single atom and molecule, the entire cosmos will eventually be sucked within a black hole and will disappear. But then again, would it? Actually within the article in The New York Times and in other kinds of media reports, there is the acknowledgement that no one knows, by definition, what exactly does happen within the non-being of a black hole.

There are a couple of issues that are particularly interesting. For one thing, it turns out that the black hole appears visually in its outline to be exactly what those formulas of physics indicated it would be, that is roughly a circle. It is a circular kind of reality. But then again, this stretches our language because how do you talk about unreality as reality, it is a real unreality that is one of the mysteries of modern physics. But the article also points to another massively important issue, and that is the fact that when you are looking at this evidence, it appears to be visually conclusive evidence of the reality of quantum physics.

Quantum physics, we are told is one of the great intellectual achievements of the 20th century and now it has been verified. But here’s where we have to understand that quantum physics one of the absolutely central theories of modern physics runs into direct contradiction with yet another of the supposedly settled facts of modern physics, which is the theory of gravity. Those two different realities are apparently contradictory. One of the greatest intellectual quandaries of our times is somehow reconciling the theory of gravity with the theory of quantum relativity. You can have intellectually, it appears, one or the other. But the universe demands both explanations, and there is yet no explanation of how the two can possibly be harmonized, or related.

That’s also something that is discussed openly in this article, especially this coverage in the New York Times. Overbye was joined by reporter JoAnna Klein, in addressing some of the issues that inevitably arise from this kind of story. First of all, they declare a black hole was a hungry beast. “It swallows up everything too close, too slow, or too small to fight is gravitating force. With every planet, gas, star or bit of mass consumed, the black hole grows the edge of a black hole, it’s event horizon, is the point of no return. At the event horizon, light is drawn into a black hole never and to escape and nothing is faster than light.”

Now that’s fascinating just in itself. That’s a fascinating paragraph, even if there had been no scientific evidence is just one of those paragraphs that points to the reality of the mystery of the universe. The next statement revealed in the article is this if you fell into a black hole, it is not clear how you would die how. Now it gets right to the human scale of the question, what would happen to us if we and our planet were to be sucked within a black hole? Well, the article tells us, “Even with the evidence now known, even with the images now seen, even with the theories now expanded, no one really knows how to answer this question and that becomes one of the central paradoxes of modern science.”

They write “Will gravity rip you apart and crush you into a black holes core? Or will a fireball of energy sizzle you into oblivion? Could some essence of you ever emerge from a black hole? The question of how you would die inside a black hole is one of the biggest debates in physics.” It actually has a name, and it’s called the fire wall paradox posited in March of 2012 by a team of scientists, “Based on the mathematics and Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity of 1915, you would fall through the event horizon unscathed, then the force of gravity would pull you into a noodle and ultimately cram you into singularity, the black hole’s infinitely dense core.”

But at least one team of scientists is arguing instead that an event horizon is “a blazing firewall of energy that would torch your body to smithereens. However,” we are told, “the presence of a firewall would violate the precious principles of relativity, which decreed the existence of black holes and so physics is stuck.” There’s that paradox, “Gravity is true,” they say, “and our experience seems to prove it.” Quantum Physics is true, they say and the mathematical formulas that are produced to explain the cosmos require it. This new image we are told demonstrates it, but the two theories, gravity and quantum relativity cannot at present be reconciled. Is gravity true? Yes. Is quantum relativity true? Yes. Can they be true at the same time? Evidently, yes, but modern physics cannot explain how or why. They can’t even explain when.

Scientists are incredibly excited about this, Janna Levin, a cosmologist and professor at Barnard College in New York simply said, “What a time to be alive.” Meaning to see this kind of image, the first time any human beings have seen any such image, and the verification of one of the central theories of modern physics, the verification that had not been available until just in recent days, even though the theory was formulated in 1915, by our Albert Einstein.

So how are Christians to think about this kind of headline news? Number one, we should never be afraid of it. We should never be afraid to look at a story like this to look at Scientific Reports like these and come to an understanding of how this is to be understood in a Christian biblical worldview perspective. The world can’t throw anything at us that will be something that the biblical worldview cannot explain or cannot understand. As we’re looking at this, one of the central affirmations of the biblical worldview that helps to explain why modern empirical science emerge out of a Christian worldview—one of the most basic affirmations—is what is called the intelligibility of the universe. The Bible begins with the declaration that begins biblical revelation and begins a biblical worldview. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The theory of everything comes down to God being the Creator of all that exists.

But the Bible says that he is not only the Creator, he is the Sustainer. And furthermore, in the New Testament, in the prologue to the Gospel of John, we are told that the agent of creation was none other than the Son. We are told that everything that was made through him, nothing that was made was not made by him. And then we are told, for instance, in the opening chapter of the book of Colossians, that Christ is the force that is holding the entire universe, the entire cosmos, together by the power of His word. But the intelligibility or the know ability of the cosmos is also a very deep biblical affirmation. God has made the universe so that the creatures made in His image can come to know it, can come to unseal some of its secrets can come to discern many of its patterns. This is not human being somehow invading territory that should be of divine privilege. This is instead human beings the creature made in God’s image actually exercising the dominion that God assigned to human beings, unlike other creatures, coming to understand the world even as we use the world and demonstrate God’s purpose and putting us in the world.

But here’s something else Christians need to understand. Every single theory, every single observation, every single argument is deeply rooted in some kind of worldview. The worldview reflected in much of science is a worldview that begins with a basically secular presupposition. But Christians looking at this come to understand we can look at the same data with explicitly biblical presuppositions. Everyone comes to everything with presuppositions. The only questions are, are those presuppositions honest and are the presuppositions right? And so you’ll have respected scientists, even mainstream scientific opinion operating at least functionally out of that secular worldview, explaining that the universe is billions and billions of years old and trying to come to terms with everything that can be observed from a secular perspective.

What should Christians think of this? Well, we have to understand that human beings trying to understand the world are going to be looking at the visible phenomena, and they’re going to be trying to explain it. We shouldn’t be surprised the secular people will look at those phenomena and explain in purely secular terms. And this is where Christians need to understand we are not threatened by any of this, there is no part of God’s truth, that is in any way threatened by all of the intellectual pretensions of human beings, even at our most arrogant. And so Christians looking at this kind of headline news should say, this is exactly what human beings at their most brilliant can do, out of a secular worldview. They are taking what we would call a phenomenological observational view of the cosmos. They’re trying to understand the cosmos as if it can explain itself.

And if the cosmos is going to explain itself, in terms of the best human thinking, this is probably about the best theorizing and observation that can be done. And furthermore, it does demonstrate just how incredibly intelligent a species human beings are, able even to come up with the technology that would allow human beings right now in 2019, to verify a physical theory that was argued for in 1915, and to see images that no previous generation of human beings has ever seen.

But finally, on this story, as we’re looking even at the news coverage, what is extremely important is to note the intellectual honesty that is reflected in so many of the articles on this particular discovery, this very important milestone in modern science. It is the very honest acknowledgement that every time something like this is discovered, what is revealed is, and on the other hand, how much remains to be known. And Christians should think about those closing verses of the book of Job where God makes very clear that even human beings at their most intelligent and diligent will never be able to unlock all of his mysteries.

The Creator God who reveals himself in Scripture made human beings in his image and set us to the task to understand the world that he made understandable. But there are mysteries that will always be ultimately unlockable. I think of Job 38, beginning in v. 4, where God asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding, who determined its measurements? Surely, you know. Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone? When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” This is God saying to Job, “I want you to understand the world but don’t ever think you can unlock my mind.”

Christians looking at news like this have to understand there is nothing that can displace our knowledge and affirmation of the one true and living God who has revealed himself in Scripture. We need to be honest and say we start with this very important first presupposition, and that is the self-existent, self-revealing God. And ultimately, nothing that is true will be discovered to be in contradiction, or in conflict with anything that God has revealed in the Holy Scriptures.

But finally, of all things, Christians looking at an image like the one that was provided for us this week, have to step back and say, not only like that scientist, “What a great time to be alive.” But our response has to be majestic, theistic, biblical worship. What a God who would make such a cosmos, and reveal His glory in it, and create human beings and crown us with the glory of His image, allowing us to observe the world and to see such things with our own eyes. Christians looking at news like this do not in any way, see less than the secular science community sees. We just see infinitely, even eternally, more.

Part II

The largest election in history begins in India where everything from advanced electronics to elephants will be used to collect votes

But next, as we’re going into the weekend, consider the fact that about 1/10th of the entire population of planet Earth is even right now, beginning the process of going to the polls in the biggest election in human history. What are we talking about? We’re talking about what begins this weekend, the election of the Parliament of the nation of India. In India, just a little bit less than 1 billion people—we are talking about hundreds of millions of voters. We’re talking about 11 million poll workers, 2.3 million electronic voting machines, 2000 political parties. That’s right. 2000 political parties, along with, as the New York Times tells us, special trains, boats, helicopters, and even elephants to transport voting equipment.

We are talking about the second most populous nation on Earth right now. India is soon we believe to exceed China in its total population. But of course, China is not in any legitimate way described as a democratic form of government. There is no form of election, the people do not have the authority. Sovereignty resides in the Communist Party, not we are told, politically in the people. In India, it is still otherwise, at least since the beginnings of Indian independence in the aftermath of the Second World War.

There is much to observe here, there is the incumbent Prime Minister who represents a Hindu Nationalist Party. And there is the challenge from the Congress Party, which has been the dominant political party going all the way back to Mahatma Gandhi and the Nehru dynasty, again, in the very beginnings of modern India. There are huge worldview issues here. But perhaps one of the biggest of all issues is simply to understand the bigness of this election. Understand, again, we’re talking about 900 million eligible voters. 900 million. And I just find it absolutely delightful to know that the imperative of freedom and liberty in this sense and it is still rather fragile in a young nation like India.

It is made very clear in the fact that India in this election that will take several weeks to accomplish. Remember, again, the numbers 11 million poll workers and 2.3 million electronic voting machines. It’s going to take the latest in technology, it’s going to take the latest in transportation, but it is still going to take elephants in order to make this election possible. We live in an amazing time, we live on an amazing planet, and human beings do the most amazing things.

Part III

Richard Cole, the last survivor of the Doolittle Raid, dies at 103: A reminder of the courageous men who brought hope to the nation after the attack on Pearl Harbor

Finally, once again, as they come to the end of the week, I want us to turn to a very important obituary. Again, the quintessential obituaries in the United States are published in the New York Times. And you have an interesting story if your obituary makes it into the print edition of The New York Times. Here’s one that ran just in the last several days. The headline: “Richard Cole, last survivor of the Doolittle Raid on Japan, dies at 103.” That’s right, 103. Richard Goldstein writes, “Richard E. Cole who was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the lead plane of a story mission in the history of American airpower, the bombing raid on Japan in retaliation for its attack on Pearl Harbor months earlier, died on Tuesday in San Antonio. He was 103 and the last survivor of the 80 Doolittle Raiders, who carried out America’s first strikes against the Japanese homeland in World War II.”

The Doolittle raid is a huge moment in American history, not so much because of the immediate military impact, but because of the massive message that it sent in the early months of World War II as America was dragged into the war after the surprise attack upon Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. And it showed Americans were absolutely determined to protect American interests, the American homeland, and to send a very clear signal of retaliation against that sneak attack upon Pearl Harbor. And the technology, the military audacity was absolutely amazing. Doolittle’s Raiders—they were called Doolittle’s Raiders because of their commander Jimmy Doolittle later an Air Force General, he was also recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. But it was the Raiders all 80 of them who made history in this incredibly courageous attack upon the Japanese home Island, that had a very important significance because the Japanese Emperor had pledged to his people that Japan itself was impervious of attack by the United States or by others.

Doolittle and his companions, his fellow writers proved that wrong. How they did it? It’s one of the greatest stories of World War II, indeed, it’s one of the great stories of military history. In it, Doolittle and his companions proved that something could be done, which almost no one else believed could be done. On April the 18th, 1942, it was 16 Army Air Corps B25 bombers that took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet. Think about that, B25 bombers, 16 of them taking off from a World War II aircraft carrier the USS Hornet. But you have to understand something else. Those 16 B25 bombers, huge bombers of the day, laden with bombs they were able to take off from the aircraft carrier and that against all advice, but of course they would be unable to land.

Chinese nationalist, aware of the raid and cooperating with the Americans, had hastily built emergency landing strips in China. They were believed to be barely inside the fuel range of the bombers, but few of them actually made it. The Times gets right to the issue, “Three of the 80 Doolittle Raiders were killed in crash landings or while parachuting. Eight others were captured by the Japanese. Three of them were executed. Another died of disease and starvation in captivity. Four survived more than three years of solitary confinement and brutality.”

Richard Cole the last surviving of the Doolittle Raiders who died this week at age 103, along with the commander Jimmy Doolittle bailed out over China. Knowing that he was in friendly territory at last having landed in his pine tree on top of a Chinese mountain, Cole turned his parachute into a hammock and got a few hours of sleep. He was reunited with his commander the next day by the Chinese. He was returned to American authorities, and Richard Cole, who died this week at age 103, went on to fly many other valorous flights on behalf of the Army Air Corps, including many flights over the infamous Burma Hump.

While we’re thinking about milestones at the end of the week, think not only of the milestone of the present with this scientific image, think of the milestone of the past, with Richard Cole dying this week as the very last of the Doolittle Raiders. And we are reminded of the fact that there have been so many who have given so much in order that we would in this nation know the freedom and the liberty that is our inheritance and our stewardship. I never knew Richard Cole, but I’ve known many like him, and I’m thankful for them, every single one of them.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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