Relativity and VAT

Feb 2nd, 2008 | By | Category: Ministry

Eight years ago the BBC ran a radio programme looking at the origins of the universe. Presented by Melvyn Bragg, it was an attempt at getting physicists to explain the universe in terms that listeners might understand.

There were two ways of looking at the universe. One was Einstein’s way, looking at the whole universe as something held together by gravity. Gravity is something that causes everything to curve back towards the source of gravity – as in the way when we throw a ball that it gets so far before the pull of gravity causes it to curve back down again. The whole universe is held together by this gravitational pull; it is all curved and, if I understood it correctly, even light bends when projected far enough.

Einstein’s theory seemed to be an attempt to explain the universe from the top down. The second explanation, string theory, seemed an attempt at explaining the universe from the bottom up. String theory suggests that there are little strings of energy a billionth of a billionth the size of an atom and that these strings of energy vibrate differently, just like the strings of a violin, and that it is the differences in these vibrations that makes things appear as they do. Melvyn Bragg asked, “if these strings are the billionth the size of an atom, how do you know they exist?”

One of the physicists replied, “We don’t – we need to discover six or seven more dimensions before we can confirm the theory”.

The programme explained that the theory of relativity and string theory did not fit together. It was a fascinating exploration of complex questions, so much so that I kept a note of it!

If this is the nature of the universe, then there is a need to look at what the church has to say in response. If this is where the scientists are, what have the theologians to say?

The discussion came to mind last night as I read the newspaper. The Irish Roman Catholic bishops had issued a statement condemning the reduction in the rate of Value Added Tax on condoms from 21% to 13.5%. Such matters would seem to be of far greater theological significance than the realities of the universe in which we all live.

Is it any wonder many people don’t take the church seriously?

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  1. I love the way you post these conundrums! You’re so challenging. I wish we’d had that program here because string theory has always baffled me but made a lot of sense in a theoretical way. We soooooo have to have coffee! Maybe the institutional Church feels it can try to control the small things but has no impact on the big issues. It’s easier to stick to the old ways than embrace the possibility that God isn’t a white clad bearded dude sitting atop a cloud but possibly a sub atommic string that constitutes the building block of the universe. It’s certainly why I don’t take the Church seriously, it has nothing to offer me in the modern world but old fashioned ethics and a demand for blind faith.

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