by Vern S. Poythress, Ph.D., Th.D.

[Originally published online at  May 13, 2009. Used with permission.]

“So antimatter is real?


“A fact of nature. Everything has an opposite. Protons have electrons. Up-quarks have down-quarks. There is a cosmic symmetry at the subatomic level. Antimatter is yin to matter’s yang. It balances the physical equations. – Dan Brown, Angels and Demons, 63.


Antimatter is indeed real, as Dan Brown’s characters assure us. And symmetry at the subatomic level is real. But it is convenient for Dan Brown, in writing to ordinary readers, to take some liberties elsewhere in his description. Despite Vittoria’s knowledgeable-sounding claim, protons are not the opposite of electrons. Protons and electrons do have opposite charges, but in other respects they are quite different creatures. The symmetric opposite of a proton is an antiproton. Despite the suggestive labels, the symmetric opposite of an up-quark is not a down-quark but an anti-up-quark. Up-quarks and down-quarks do not even have the same amount of electric charge.

Moreover, the symmetries found in nature do not always come in the form of opposites, that is, dualities. Physicists think there are six types of quark, not just two, and all six are related to one another by a fundamental symmetry. Moreover, the fundamental laws of physics look the same in all directions and from all locations. This sameness is a kind of symmetry in space.


Why symmetries?

The symmetry is a butterfly’s wings or the radial symmetry of a flower contributes to its beauty. But why do such symmetries exist at all? Why are there fascinating symmetries not only among ordinary objects such as butterflies and flowers, but at the deeper level of fundamental physical laws?

Many physicists have no answer. Eugene Wigner, nobel laureate in physics, has seen first-hand the fundamental symmetries in laws describing subatomic particles and in the mathematics expressing those laws. He was so struck by the role of mathematics in these laws that he wrote an article, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics 13 (1960) 1-14:

The first point is that the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it. (p. 2)

It is not at all natural that “laws of nature” exist, much less that man is able to discover them. (p. 5)

Physicists accept the reality of law of nature, and the reality of the symmetries that they reveal. But they cannot say why.


Source of symmetry

The Bible has an answer that many physicists have left out of their reckoning. This world has come into existence by the command of a God who is rational and beautiful. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6). God’s rationality is reflected in the laws of nature, which are actually his word, specifying how the world is to be. God’s beauty is reflected in the beauty of nature–not only the beauty of the butterfly, but the beauty of the symmetries of the laws of nature, which are actually the word of God controlling nature.

The most fundamental symmetry of all is in God himself. God has an “image,” the eternal Son of God. “He [the Son of God] is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). This symmetry is expressed in the mutual knowledge between two persons in the Trinity: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).

God the Father loves the Son. And this love is expressed when God makes symmetries within the world. Symmetries reflect the symmetry of the eternal God.



Further Reading

Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006. See especially chapter 22 on symmetry.

James Nickel, Mathematics: Is God Silent? 2d. ed. Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 2001.