Frontiers of Physics
by Donald B. DeYoung, Ph.D.
These are exciting days in the field of physics. Superconductors are in the news with the promise of new energy-efficient technology. The Southern hemisphere supernova has given astronomers their best look at a star explosion since 1694. One also hears about supercomputers, superstrings of space material, and the superconducting supercollider (SSC). Is the prefix "super" being overused these days? Perhaps, but it accurately describes recent breakthroughs in understanding the basics of matter and energy. Questions which Einstein struggled with for the last 30 years of his life are said to be finally near solution. This Impact article addresses just one area of current interest--the search for a Grand Unified Theory of matter.
A chief motive for progress in any field of science is the search for order in nature. Patterns, predictive equations, and elegant problem solutions are all part of this goal. In Newton's day, the very existence of such order was seen as the fingerprint of the Creator. Today's scientists still carry on the search for patterns and design in matter. However, the driving force has become unclear, and is often expressed mystically:
". . . following the instructions from our Greek heritage (or inner voices), there have been attempts at . . . finding some common, all-embracing law of physics out of which the apparently different forces would arise.
But for reasons largely aesthetic, physicists--who, like poets, are driven by a blessed rage for order--believe that at some deep level these seemingly separate forces are in fact the same. They have an almost mystical faith in symmetry. 
The four distinct forces referred to in these quotes are gravity, electromagnetism, weak force (part of nuclear decay), and strong force (binding the nucleus together). Unification theories are an attempt to combine these four forces into a single principle or equation. Such a theoretical reduction of forces to the lowest common denominator would truly be an impressive result, and the challenge remains complex beyond description. Advanced areas of mathematics such as tensor calculus and group theory are needed. Even matter itself must be studied in abstract terms. Astrophysicists speak of superstrings of mass energy in space. These cosmic strings are invisible, massive, smaller than atoms, and exist theoretically in nine different spatial dimensions! Computers aren't much help in string theory, since no one yet knows the proper questions to ask, let alone the answers. No one knows whether cosmic strings will be verified, or instead be replaced by ideas even more complex. For the creationist, such efforts to understand the universe should be an encouragement. "The heavens declare the glory of God," including the integrity and intricacy of "His handiwork."
Particle accelerators have been used in high-energy physics since the 1930s. Protons are given high speeds, and then are directed against various targets of material. The resulting interactions provide a probe of the microscopic world. In our day, large accelerators are able to penetrate the atomic nucleus, and even to split individual protons and neutrons. What results is a shower of more than 150 different "elementary" particles. They exhibit a bewildering array of speeds, masses, charges, and lifetimes. Their names include muons and neutrinos, pions and lambdas. No convenient periodic table has yet been discovered to arrange these many new particles. Instead, even higher energies are needed to study them. Thus the construction of a new supercollider is planned by the U.S. This circular instrument will cost billion, will be 17 miles in diameter, and will give colliding protons an energy of 40 trillion electron volts. It is hoped that this atom smasher may finally reveal the fundamental constituents of matter. However, given the hierarchy of ever deeper levels already seen within the atom, one can predict that modern science will never reach the bottom-level building blocks of nature. Instead, the inner layers of complexity seem to continue without any limit. Of course, similar layers of complexity are also observed in the heavens above. Such results are to be expected from an infinite Creator.
A rough analogy exists between subatomic particles and the fossil record. Both are thought to represent "lower level" building blocks of our present world, and therefore they should be simple and primitive in nature. However, the opposite has been found. Fossils represent complex created life, and elementary particles are definitely not elementary!
One consequence of giving a high energy to protons is to effectively increase their temperature. In this way, physicists are attempting to mimic, on a small scale, the energetic conditions at the earliest moment of the big-bang scenario. Of course, this interpretation is not essential to particle experiments, even though it gets the most publicity. Instead, the discovered laws of the inner atom reveal something of the complexity that came into being at the instant of the supernatural creation. The creationist need not oppose high-energy experiments, but on the contrary, can truly enjoy the search for order. As with the stars above, the microscopic details of God's handiwork are most appreciated by those who know Him.
As the secular mind has struggled with the big-bang theory and its uncertain startup, a novel idea has developed: The universe could have begun from nothing! Instead of an ex nihilo creation, however, reference is made to the entire universe arising from a spontaneous quantum mechanical fluctuation in a preexisting vacuum. In a future instant, we might all disappear again, with another fluctuation! Secular origin theories certainly offer a distinct lack of security for our well-being. The reader may judge for himself whether cosmology is getting closer to the Genesis account, or further away.
Some contemporary scientists have been influenced by apparent parallels between modern physics and the Eastern religions--Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. This has led to some unusual science book titles, such as The Tao of Physics (Capra, 1975) and The Dancing Wu Li Masters (Zukav, 1979). One contributing factor to this bizarre trend is the duality that exists in many science areas. Some physical quantities seem to have a twin nature: the wave-particle model of light; the equivalence of mass and energy, space and time. Parallels are then drawn between the realms of the spiritual and material worlds. All things are said to be mystically connected, and able to change from one into the other. Mind and matter, election and free will, heaven and hell--each pair supposedly contains the seeds of the other, and are in reality the same. A spiritual force is said to pervade every person, and can perhaps be realized by meditation or reincarnation; thus men can become gods, a belief which the New Age Movement predicts, but which Genesis 3 strongly denies! Whatever all this heresy means, it is a travesty to try to use the majestic physics of Einstein to promote it.
One result of current unification theories is the prediction that the proton--the most permanent particle known, should itself eventually decay. Large detectors have been built to measure this proton breakup, so far unsuccessfully. A creationist prediction might be that the proton will indeed eventually show itself to be unstable. This result would not necessarily support big-bang cosmology, but rather, the relentless disordering process of the entire universe.
Another prediction has already been expressed, that a lowest possible level of matter, some ultimate building block, will never be found. Whatever new subatomic particle is on the horizon, whether a quark or a graviton, it will, in turn, await further dissection. Science history demonstrates, and theology indicates, the inexhaustible levels of complexity in nature. Jeremiah declared long ago that man can never search out and completely understand material things (Jeremiah 31:37). For the same reason, we cannot expect easy solutions to current projects in creation research. However, the ICR staff and graduate students have dedicated their work to the Lord's glory, and are experiencing good progress in searching out the riches of the Creation. It is in His light that we see light, both spiritually and scientifically (Psalm 36:9).
* Dr. DeYoung (Ph.D., Iowa State University) is Professor of Physics at Grace College Winona Lake, Indiana, as well as Adjunct Professor of Astrophysics at the ICR Graduate School.
Cite this article: Donald B. DeYoung, Ph.D. 1987. Frontiers of Physics. Acts & Facts. 16 (12).