For many years now both quantum mechanics and wave theory have given equally valid alternative ways of looking at the world of atomic particles and empty space. But the mystery of the true nature of things grows deeper all the time. One entire school of thought in physics has been to treat empty space as truly empty. This posed no special problems for photons (light particles) because we can easily imagine particles hurtling from one place to another with nothing in between to impede them. The wave theory of light, on the other hand, left us with the problem in regard to the vacuum in that that we can not imagine waves without a medium which wiggles and moves in response to a stimulating source. However, by assigning arbitrary properties to the vacuum--namely an electric permeability and a magnetic permittivity--and by assuming the speed of light in free space was always constant, wave propagation in the vacuum of space was at least manageable.
It now appears that the vacuum has some remarkable properties. That is, it is not nothing! Empty space has elasticity and inertia--all media which transmit waves have these two properties. Switching to the Quantum Mechanics model it is now clear that photons traveling through empty space are constantly absorbed and re-emitted by "virtual particles" which continually appear and disappear everywhere in empty space! We have long known that when light photos enter glass or water or even air, it is the absorption and re-emission of the photons as they collide with matter that produces the speed of light which is characteristic of glass, water, or air. (These speeds are always less than the speed of light in vacuo).
A growing body of evidence now suggests that space itself can be stretched, bent, or distorted. In the vicinity of a massive object, such as the sun, the local "virtual particle density" of free space increases and light slows down and is bent when photons pass near the sun. There is no a priori reason for assuming the speed of light is a fixed constant, indeed the measured data and newer model of cosmology suggest it is not. Neither is the present value of c the highest possible velocity attainable--there is good reason to believe (1) that the speed of gravity is at least ten orders of magnitude greater than c.
The vacuum of "empty space" also appears to be an energy reservoir of immense capacity. Several elite scientific groups have been seeking practical ways of harnessing this "ZPE," ("zero-point energy"), for if it could be tapped it would be source of power that would make nuclear power seem old fashioned overnight. "Richard Feynman and others have pointed out that the amount of ZPE in one cubic centimetre of the vacuum is greater than the energy density in an atomic nucleus. In an atomic nucleus alone, the energy density is of the order of 1044 ergs per cubic centimeter. The minimum value that I have seen quoted for the ZPE is 1052 ergs per cubic centimeter In actual practice, recent work suggests there may be an upper limit for the estimation of the ZPE at about 10114 ergs per cubic centimeter. In order to appreciate how large this quantity of energy is in each cubic centimeter of space, consider the most conservative estimate of 1052 ergs/cc. This is equivalent to the energy required to vertically lift 100,000 billion tonnes a distance of 1024 kilometers through a gravitational field as strong as at the earths surface. And 1024 km is roughly equivalent to 100 billion light years, about 5 times further than the most distant object observed in the universe! Another example may be in order. Most people are familiar with the light bulbs with which we illuminate our houses. The one in my office here is labeled as 150 watts. By comparison, our sun radiates energy at the rate of 3.8 x 1020 watts. In our galaxy there are in excess of 100 billion stars. Let us assume that they each radiate at roughly the same rate as our sun. Then the amount of energy expended by this whole galaxy of stars shining for one million years is roughly equivalent to the energy locked up in one cubic centimeter of space." (2)
In the first book of his science fiction trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, (3) C.S. Lewis describes the abduction of Dr. Elwin Ransom, a Cambridge don, by an atheist physicist, Professor Edward Weston. The latter is bent on space conquest and other life forms because he views himself as superior to all. His god is the impersonal "Life Force." Along with his henchman Devine, Weston takes Ransom on a space trip to Mars, which, it turns out is indeed populated, as is Venus. Leaving the spiritual darkness of Earth, Ransom is elated by his awareness of space:
"But Ransom, as time wore on, became aware of an and more spiritual cause for his progressive lightening exultation of heart. A nightmare, long engendered in modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. He had read of 'Space': at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how it affected him till now--now that the very name seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean radiance in which they swam. He could not call it 'dead'; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the all their life had come? He had thought it barren: that it was the womb of world, whose blazing an able offspring looked down nightly even upon the so many eyes--and here, with how many morel was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser they named it the heavens." (3)
Lewis imagines great angels who have charge of whole planets and his depiction of evil is vivid and realistic. (4) Earth is the scene of the final conflict in Book Three because our dark planet is ruled by a mighty but "Bent" angel who seeks to maim and to destroy. Ransom, it turns out, is destined to play a part in God's program to save our race. The idea that space is filled with the presence of God, with life and power does not mean that the energy physicists attribute to the vacuum is identical with God nor would it be correct to attribute to the vacuum Weston's idea of the "Life Force." As I have suggested in an earlier article the aether, the vacuum of space, may be the interface between the material and the spiritual worlds. God supplies force and energy into our world from "the other side of the vacuum." The Apostle Paul said something like this when he spoke to the philosophers of Athens long centuries ago.
"The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for `In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your poets have said, `For we are indeed his offspring.'
The God of the Bible is separate (transcendent) from all that He has created. But He is also is a Personal and a Moral being. As the Apostle goes on to say, he holds all men accountable and will one day judge us all through His Son Jesus, raised from the dead:
Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead."(Acts 17:24-31)
It is Jesus Christ who sits in the control room of the universe today directing the course of the stars and the plan of human events. It is He who is the appointed heir of all things and it is to this man that we all must give account!
"As a professor of English at an evangelical school who does much work with Dante and C. S. Lewis, I'd like to add a few thoughts that are relevant to the resurgence of paganism.
In his Space Trilogy, Lewis offers an older, more medieval, more Dantean view of the cosmos that is radically different from our modem one. Space is not cold, dead, and meaningless; it is rich, vital, and filled with meaning and purpose. We live in what Dante would call a sympathetic universe: a universe in which the stars do have something to do with us, for both they and we were created by the same God, who is a God of harmony, order, and beauty. The stars do not control our destiny (as astrology presumes), but they are related to us and possess a reality that has bearing on our own.
Lewis was influenced by Dante (whose Divine Comedy presents a universe that shimmers with love, meaning, and vitality) and the writings of Owen Barfield (a fellow Inkling). Barfield argues in Saving the Appearances (and elsewhere) that in the past men did not perceive the natural world as a thing apart from themselves, to be studied and dissected coldly and rationally, but as a kindred spirit whose existence is interdependent on our own. Barfield calls this lost sympathy with nature "original participation" and calls for a return, albeit on a higher level, to a more human view of the cosmos that would grant the universe an eschatological purpose related to our own.
I truly feel that much of the reason that young people are abandoning the church for "New Age" is that they need to feel that they are a part of a living universe that is not just our house, but our home. To end with a paraphrase from Lewis's Voyage of the Dawn Treader, though a star may be made of burning gas, that is not what it is. Likewise I am made of flesh, blood, and sinew, but that is not who I am. I (and the star) am something more. Louis MARKOS, Houston (Texas) Baptist University.
April 27, 1999, February 6, 2000.