If the universe is held together by gravity, then there must be something out there that we cannot see, because there is not sufficient mass in what of the universe we we can see to hold things together. The velocity at which some galaxies turn should cause stars and planets to go shooting off into space, if the only gravity holding them together is matter that can be seen. For our theories of the universe to work, something more must be present in galaxies, something that we cannot see must be exerting gravitational pull—there must be some form of dark matter; invisible stuff without which our universe just would not be the way it is.
The physicists’ answer to the riddle of why the universe does not fly apart are WIMPs – weakly interacting massive particles – and the search for WIMPs is intensifying. The identification and explanation of WIMPS will open up extraordinary new avenues of knowledge. Each step forward in the search for dark matter presents further problems with the Standard Model of the universe; it presents even deeper problems for conventional Christian explanations of the universe; fundamentalism is driven into a tighter corner and mainstream Christians are left to ponder where they might find God in the cosmos.
Preaching on the concept of predestination last autumn, I referred to Hermann Minkowkski, Albert Einstein’s mathematics professor.
Minkowski saw space and time as being not separate, but being one thing. He talked of them as being space-time, according to which says science writer Marcus Chown, “the Universe can be thought of as a vast map. All events—from the creation of the Universe in the Big Bang to your birth at a particular time and place on earth—are laid out on it, each with its unique space-time location . . . But the map picture poses a problem. If everything is laid out—preordained almost—there is no room for concepts of past, present and future”. Minkowski’s most famous pupil, that Swiss post office clerk who became know for the brilliance of his scientific thought and uniqueness of his hairstyle, wrote, “For us physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion”.
After the sermon, a scientist who sang in the choir talked of how religion and science ran on parallel lines, lines that should not converge; neither should tread on the ground of the other.
If the lines should not converge, neither should they diverge. If the religious account of reality is at odds with the actual reality that people experience, then all but the hard-liners and eccentrics will eventually dismiss religion as no more than primitive superstition. If Christian cosmology cannot come to terms with a universe of dark matter, and a string of other difficult concepts, then Christianity itself will eventually become as elusive as the WIMPs.