Dark Matter, the much sought chimera of modern cosmology, is roughly explained as being some sort of “matter” that has gravity but doesn’t interact with electromagnetic radiation. It’s thought that it constitutes the vast majority (like +90%) of all gravitating matter in the Universe, but we have no idea what it is. It’s an idea invented to explain the odd behavior of rotating galaxies and to patch up some holes in the Big Bang theory.
But honestly it’s always struck me as this generations luminiferous aether. We invent it because of something we can’t understand, and we keep searching for it but aren’t finding it.
Now there’s a report that a team of observational cosmologists have determined that what is thought to be the dark matter halo that surrounds a galaxy (which then explains the anomalous rotation curve) apparently doesn’t interact with the massive gravitational black hole in the center of the galaxy:
“They have studied six galaxies that contain black holes but do not have a bulge, like NGC 2988 shown above. They did this, they say because: ‘we want to know whether dark matter correlates with black holes in the absence of the component that we know correlates with black holes.’
Their conclusion is that it doesn’t: the size of the dark matter halo has no effect on the size of the black hole at the centre of a galaxy. Their data suggests that bigger black holes simply sit at the centre of bigger galaxies and the dark matter has nothing to do with it.
But in the fine tradition of science, this clears up one mystery only to reveal another. If dark matter has this powerful gravitational influence, why doesn’t it form into black holes?
Nobody knows. But there is another group of astronomers who will be studying this result with interest. These guys think dark matter is an unnecessary invention. Instead, they say, the rotation of galaxies can be explained if the force of gravity is stronger over these galactic distances.
So according to them there is a simpler explanation for the absence of a link between dark matter and black holes: it’s that dark matter doesn’t exist.”
Read the full article here.
There’s obviously a lot more work to be done here, but I think there’s a take-away for those of us who talk about the interactions between science and religion. We tend to try to explain our religious beliefs in terms of scientific ideas and facts. That’s what Bishop Butler of Durham did back in the day with his tome entitled “Analogies”. But as Bishop Butler discovered, while he was able to reach a detente between science and religion in his day (late eighteenth century), within 100 years science had effectively repudiated it’s older understanding and moved on to a new world view that dismissed determinism with relativism and probability.
I think we’re starting to witness something similar in our day. Quantum Physics may have a fundamentally limited scale, dark matter may not exist and string theory has started to fail its tests. People who are trying to construct a theological world view that is informed by all of these ideas (generally subsets of process theology) are going to find out that their scientific underpinnings are washing away with the changing tide taking with it much of the justification for their more radical ideas.
This isn’t a bad thing; theology is in its most basic distillation an attempt to speak about God and God’s work in language that is sensible to a particular time and place. But when folks are jettisoning settled theological ideas willy-nilly because they want to make Christianity more modern and more scientific, they probably need to take stories like the one above as a cautionary flag.