Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Strong Force and Colossians 1:17

When I was in elementary school I went to Cedar Lake Camp in north-central Tennessee every summer. It was an awesome experience where I learned to handle a canoe, shoot rifles and bows, play tennis, do woodworking, and many more things. Maybe the best part was that I could buy chocolate soda for a dime. Cedar Lake was a Christian camp where Christian principles from the Bible were discussed. I vividly remember one lesson that was given by my camp counselor because it had to do with science and I was interested in science even as a kid. The counselor stated that the nucleus of an atom is made of neutrons and protons. He further explained that the protons all had a positive electric charge and that electric charges with the same sign repelled each other. He reasoned that because all the positive protons in the nucleus repelled each other the nucleus should be unstable, flying apart due to this strong repulsive force. But the nucleus doesn't do that. It doesn't fly apart. He claimed there was no explanation for this stable nucleus except the explanation given in the New Testament in Colossians 1:17 where the Apostle Paul writes, "He [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (NIV). The mystery of why the nucleus doesn't fly apart was solved: Jesus held it together. The counselor seemed to be implying that the laws of physics could not explain the stability of the nucleus but that Jesus supernaturally held the nucleus together.

This counselor is not the only one who has interpreted Colossians 1:17 in this manner. I get more emails and letters from people asking me about this verse in the Bible than any other verse. One reader recently quoted an article in an issue of Decision magazine that said, "Science can’t explain the forces that hold an atomic nucleus together—the protons and neutrons should repel each other but don’t. ...Physicists for years have toyed with the quantum chromodynamics theory, the notion that particles are bound with a sort of atomic glue. Jesus Christ is the real powder behind gravity, centrifugal and centripetal force."1 

It is ironic that I remember that incident from my childhood and now as an adult I have spent over 25 years studying the structure of the proton—what it is made of and what holds it together, including how protons are held together in the nucleus. Part of the irony is that I don't know of any conscious connection between what I heard at camp and the later decisions I made in life to become a particle physicist. The latter was simply a result of following my scientific interests.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Gospels, Historians, and Presuppositions

A number of times I have been asked if I would be willing to accept the consensus of the "majority of historians" when it comes to various conclusions about the biblical gospels, including the time of their writing and their claims about the miracles of Jesus. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable request. After all, aren't historians the experts when it comes to understanding history? Shouldn't we accept their conclusions?

When it comes to most subjects of science, I accept the consensus of the majority of scientists. As a scientist myself, I am well aware that the scientific method provides a reliable method for determining the truth about nature. For instance, it is clear from the evidence that the climate on the earth is changing and becoming overall warmer. There are disagreements about the extent to which this is occurring and the role that human activity has contributed to climate change, but the evidence that the climate is changing and warming is strong, accepted by the majority of climate scientists, and accepted by me as a scientist.

Both scientists and historians have ground rules on which the practice of their discipline is based. One of the ground rules that most historians hold to is that miracles cannot be affirmed as historical events. In the lecture series "The Historical Jesus," the historian Bart Ehrman states, "Because historians can only establish what probably happened, and a miracle of this nature is highly improbable, the historian cannot say it probably occurred."1 In a debate with William Lane Craig in 2006, Ehrman said, "Historians cannot establish [a] miracle as the most probable occurrence because miracles, by their very nature are the least probable occurrence."2