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.