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; particles that have properties of neutrinos, except far more massive. WIMPs are theoretically troublesome, neutrinos may have become practically so. The BBC this evening reported that neutrinos may have travelled faster than the speed of light in an experiment between Switzerland and Italy.
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. If neutrinos have exceeded the speed of light, even greater questions arise. If sub-atomic articles can move faster than light, what prevented their escape from the grip of gravity at the Big Bang?
Each development 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.
A scientist friend talks of how religion and science run on parallel lines, lines that should not converge; neither should tread on the ground of the other. Yet, 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, with neutrinos that can break the light barrier, and with a string of other difficult concepts, then Christianity itself will eventually become as elusive as the WIMPs.
While the world takes a further step forward in understanding the nature of the universe we inhabit, bishops argue about what consenting adults may and may not do in the privacy of their own homes.