General Relativity: Well-Tested and Standing Strong
General relativity represents the best description known to humanity of how the universe behaves. It explicitly incorporates the idea of constant (in both space and time) physical laws. It also generically predicts a dynamic nature to spacetime such that space expands and the whole universe begins to exist. Such results comport well with biblical descriptions of the universe.
When Albert Einstein first introduced his general theory of relativity, it revolutionized the way scientists viewed space and time. First, it explicitly codified the notion that the laws of physics were constant and consistent throughout the universe. Second, general relativity revealed that space and time comingle in a dynamic fashion (rather than existing as distinct, absolute, static, and eternal entities) such that space expands and time exhibits a boundary in the past. Stated more directly, tracing the history of the universe backward in time ultimately leads to the conclusion that time, space, matter, and energy all began to exist. All this follows from general relativity. And both constant laws of physics and a cosmic beginning bear a remarkable resemblance to the biblical description of the universe.
Scientists seek to verify the validity of general relativity and the latest results affirm its accuracy. One difficulty in testing general relativity arises from the fact that its most “natural” descriptions apply to regions of extreme velocities and/or gravitational fields. Costs and technology prohibit fabricating such environments so scientists utilize powerful telescopes to locate these environments in the cosmos.
More extreme environments permit more stringent tests. For example, the pulsar PSR J0348+0432 resides in a tight binary orbit with a white dwarf. Most pulsars have a neutron star mass around 1.4 times the mass of the Sun. However, PSR J0348+0432 contains a neutron star with two solar masses. Furthermore, a white dwarf orbits the neutron star with a 2.5-hour period. This configuration provides a way for scientists to test general relativity with gravitational binding energies 60 percent larger than previous tests. The precise timing that resulted from pulsar observations allowed astronomers to calculate the energy radiating away from the system, and the data matched predictions from general relativity.1
Such results really come as no surprise because previous tests of general relativity repeatedly demonstrated its reliability. Those tests included:
- the precession of two pulsars in a binary system;
- the orbital characteristics of two massive blackholes in a distant galaxy;
- desktop-sized experiments using precise atomic clocks;
- the Sun’s deflection of radio waves from a distant quasar; and
- many others.
Researchers even tested whether the results of identical experiments might vary from location to location.
Scientists know that general relativity must break down at some point because it does not incorporate quantum mechanics into its framework. Finding environments where general relativity fails will help determine how the theory needs modification. RTB expects that even a more complete theory of general relativity will continue to comport with the biblical description of the universe and affirm the Bible’s accuracy.
- John Antoniadis et al., “A Massive Pulsar in a Compact Relativistic Binary,” Science 340 (April 26, 2013): 1233232.