Usually mainstream scientists and journalists treat predictions that the world will end on any particular day with utter contempt, as coming from religious nutcases. And indeed they are generally right to do so, for the Bible clearly states that Jesus will come again on a day when he is not expected (Matthew 24:44). Indeed I remember the day in 1975 when Jehovah’s Witnesses were predicting the end of the world (actually I can’t find any mentions now of a specific day, only a year, but there were certainly days being predicted at the time), and reasoning as a young Christian, but not very seriously, that Jesus could not possibly come on that day as there were people expecting him, and so it was OK for me to get drunk that night!
So it comes as quite a shock to find posted on the BBC blog a post entitled The end of the world is not nigh, in which science correspondent Tom Feilden reports that “Some scientists have voiced fears” that something which will happen tomorrow, Wednesday 10th September, “could trigger a black hole that would swallow the planet (and the rest of the solar system for good measure) in a matter of minutes.” Tom has to reassure his readers with:
The world is not going to end … on Wednesday. That’s the verdict of an exhaustive safety assessment.
So what is happening tomorrow which has worried not just religious extremists but some serious scientists, and prompted even the BBC to issue this kind of reassurance?
It is an event which is being covered by BBC radio as The Big Bang. They seem to have taken that title from the worst fears of some scientists, that what happens tomorrow will be something like a replay of the original Big Bang. We can hope that whoever thought up this title doesn’t have the gift of prophecy!
The event is of course the one I already reported in advance in June, the official switch-on of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a new particle accelerator which has been built at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. The huge cost of this has been justified because, it is hoped, it will be able to smash sub-atomic particles into one another with so much energy that completely new particles are formed, providing profound insights into the fundamental nature of the universe. It seems perverse, even a big boys’ toys method as a friend of mine suggested, to investigate such things by smashing things up as hard as we can, but this does seem to be the only experimental approach.
The potential problems have been summarised in this report from CERN, with links to more comprehensive discussions. There seem to be two possible dangers. One is that the new types of matter or energy produced (“strangelets”, “vacuum bubbles” or “magnetic monopoles”) just might react with ordinary matter in some kind of chain reaction, which could immediately turn the whole world into something far more explosive than an H-bomb. The other is that the LHC may be able to produce microscopic black holes which could grow and swallow up the earth.
The basic safety argument here is that the earth has always been bombarded with cosmic ray particles, some of which are far more energetic than anything the LHC can produce, and has survived for billions of years. The CERN scientists note that
Over the past billions of years, Nature has already generated on Earth as many collisions as about a million LHC experiments – and the planet still exists
Well, maybe we have just been lucky so far, or protected by God. Would we know if other planets had disappeared into black holes? Probably not if they were outside our Solar System. So is it responsible for us to launch thousands if not millions of LHC experiments to increase the risk? Anyway, cosmic ray collisions are not directly comparable because any dangerous particles resulting from such collisions of fast moving particles with stationary matter would be shot out of our earth at very nearly the speed of light, so perhaps before they could be dangerous, whereas ones produced by the LHC from head on collisions may be much less energetic and so remain within the earth for long enough to be dangerous.
As I reported in June, if by any chance the earth is swallowed up in this way tomorrow, or later, the way it happens will be well in line with biblical prophecy, especially in 2 Peter.
Will the world end tomorrow? I don’t think so. But, following the apostle Peter’s advice, I won’t take the opportunity to get drunk!