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Testing Creation Using the Proton to Electron Mass Ratio

For thousands of years the Bible has been on record stating that the laws governing the heavens and earth do not vary.1 If the constancy of the laws of physics is proven, it would not only establish the Bible’s reliable descriptions of nature and predictions of future scientific discoveries, it would also refute young-earth creationism and significantly constrain speculations about string theories and the possibility that scalar fields alter the character of dark energy. The most effective and unambiguous way to test the biblical claim about the physical laws’ constancy is to take advantage of the lookback times in astronomy.

In astronomy it takes time for light to travel from the stars, galaxies, and quasars to telescopes. Simply by observing galaxies and quasars at varying distances researchers can directly measure the values of several fundamental constants of physics at distant times in the past history of the universe.

Previously, astronomers measured to extremely high precision the velocity of light’s constancy over the past twelve billion years, the fine structure constant,2 and, still to very good precision, the gravitational constant.3 Now a team of nine astronomers from America and western Europe has definitively established the constancy of the ratio of the electron mass to the proton mass.4

Before the twenty-first century possible change in the electron to proton mass ratio was shown to be less than two parts in ten thousand over the past 10.5 billion years.5 Three years ago one team of researchers claimed to have found a tiny change, 2.4 ± 0.6 parts in one hundred thousand over the past 11.5 billion years, in the electron to proton mass.6 That the probable error was so large compared to the claimed result cast doubt on whether this team had really demonstrated any change in the mass ratio.

Consequently, another group determined to make measurements on the same set of quasars but used a different method of analysis. Their result showed that any possible change in the electron to proton mass ratio must be less than five parts in one million over the past 11.5 billion years.7 The nine-astronomer team repeated these measurements. Not only did they confirm the conclusion but they also demonstrated that the wavelength calibration technique used by the team that claimed a positive detection in the variation of the electron to proton mass ratio was responsible for the apparent positive detection. In other words, the “detection” was based on a miscalibration.

A limit of less than about five parts in one million for any possible change in the electron to proton mass is the best yet achieved for lookback times as large as 11.5 billion years. Considerably better limits, though, have been achieved for briefer lookback times. A team led by astronomer Michael Murphy produced the result of a change in the value of the electron to proton mass ratio of less than 1.8 parts in a million over the past six billion years.8 And a team led by Paola Molaro yielded a possible change of less than one part in ten million over the past ten thousand years.9

The bottom line is that the electron to proton mass ratio unquestionably joins the growing list of fundamental constants in physics demonstrated to be constant over the history of the universe. This confirmation has important implications for the Christian faith. First, it testifies of the Bible’s capacity to accurately predict future scientific discoveries far into the future. Among the holy books that undergird the religions of the world the Bible stands alone in predicting that the laws that govern the universe are fixed or constant. Second, it disproves young-earth creationism. All young-earth creation models depend upon physical laws radically altering either at the time of Adam’s sin or at the time of Noah’s Flood or both. By direct measurements astronomers have proven that the physical laws were not altered at any time in the past. Furthermore, as already noted, the Bible explicitly states that no alteration in the physical laws has ever occurred.

For the first time, limits on the possible variability of the electron to proton mass ratio are low enough to constrain dark energy models that “invoke rolling scalar fields,”10 that is, some kind of cosmic quintessence. They also are low enough to eliminate a set of string theory models in physics. That is these limits are already helping astronomers to develop a more detailed picture of both the cosmic creation event and of the history of the universe. Such achievements have yielded, and will continue to yield, more evidence for the biblical model for the universe’s origin and development.

  1. Jeremiah 33:25, Romans 8:20-21. See also discussion about Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 20-22 in Hugh Ross, More Than a Theory (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 79-80.
  2. John N. Bahcall, Charles L. Steinhardt, and David Schlegel, “Does the Fine-Structure Constant Vary with Cosmological Epoch?” Astrophysical Journal 600 (January 10, 2004): 520-43; P. C. W. Davies, Tamara M. Davis, and Charles H. Lineweaver, “Cosmology: Black Holes Constrain Varying Constants,” Nature 418 (August 8, 2002): 602-3.
  3. D. B. Guenther, L. M. Krauss, and P. Demarque, “Testing the Constancy of the Gravitational Constant Using Helioseismology,” Astrophysical Journal 498 (May 10, 1998): 871-76.
  4. Rodger I. Thompson et al., “An Observational Determination of the Proton to Electron Mass Ratio in the Early Universe,” Astrophysical Journal 703 (October 1, 2009): 1648-62.
  5. Alexander Y. Potekhin et al., “Testing Cosmological Variability of the Proton-to-Electron Mass Ratio Using the Spectrum of PKS 0528-250,” Astrophysical Journal 505 (October 1, 1998): 523-28.
  6. E. Reinhold et al., “Indication of a Cosmological Variation of the Proton-Electron Mass Ratio Based on Laboratory Measurement and Reanalysis of H2 Spectra,” Physical Review Letters 96, 15 (April 2006), id. 151101.
  7. Julian A. King et al., “Stringent Null Result on Cosmological Evolution of the Proton-to-Electron Mass Ratio,” Physical Review Letters 101, 25 (December 2008), id. 251304.
  8. Michael T. Murphy et al., “Strong Limit on a Variable Proton-to-Electron Mass Ratio from Molecules in the Distant Universe,” Science 320 (June 20, 2008): 1611-13.
  9. Paola Molaro, Sergei A. Levshakov, and Mikhail G. Kozlov, “Stringent Bounds to Spatial Variations of the Electron-to-Proton Mass Ratio in the Milky Way,” (July 2009), eprint arXiv:0907.1192; S. A. Levshakov, P. Molaro, and M. G. Kozlov, “On Spatial Variations of the Electron-to-Proton Mass Ratio in the Milky Way,” (August 2008), eprint arXiv:0808.0583.
  10. Rodger I. Thompson et al: 1648.