Gravitational Waves and the imperative to listen to Science and Religion in Dialogue


The discovery of the gravitational waves has opened a new window on our universe. The gravitational waves being composed of longer peaks like sound waves literally invite us to listen to our universe. It promises a new era for the field Cosmology. Cosmology that mainly saw the universe in the power of light waves which have smaller peaks, is now enable to hear the universe since gravitational  waves have longer peaks like the sound waves.  Hence, the arrival of new gravitational astrophysics opens new horizons in our understanding of universe.  These new developments also challenge Science and Religion to profoundly listen to each other.  Two or more waves interact by either enhancing or cancelling each other. Following this dynamic wave mechanism, we might be enabled to understand the co-emergence and co- interaction of Science and Religion. The fact that that gravitational waves both contract and stretch spacetime continuum and matter within it, we might be enabled to understand the constitutive plural semiosis between Science and Religion.[1]  Hence, we are challenged enter a paradigm of co-listening in science and religion dialogue.

The Physics of Gravitational waves

Short Historical Survey

Newton’s theory of gravity had a great explanatory value[2] but is assigned the space of particular case in the   explanatory power   of special and general theory  relativity. Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity proposed the existence of Gravitational waves in 1916.[3]  It was difficult to detect these waves as they are very weak. But the detection of these waves are supposed to open another window on observational astronomy.  It was to unveil the fabric of the universe that would  lead us to observe  directly the formation of black holes or the merging of binary systems like the black holes or neutron stars, dig deep into the early universe, leading to the understanding of the fundamental laws of Physics and reconfirm theory of relativity.  In 1916 Albert Einstein completed his final formulation of the field equation of general theory of relativity. These momentous achievements lead to the prediction of the existence of gravitational waves.  He discovered that linearized weak-field equations had wave solutions.[4]  Though, Einstein gave the world that idea of the existence of gravitational waves. It was only after the Chapel Hill conference in 1957, that there irrupted a significant debate concerning the physical existence of the gravitational waves.  The recent developments in black hole cosmology have enabled modelling of binary of black holes mergers and accurate prediction of gravitational waves forms.  Besides, the discovery of the binary pulsar system PSR B1913+16 by Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor and subsequent observation of its energy loss in the form of gravitational waves   by Taylor and Weisberg led to the manifestation of the existence of the existence of gravitational waves.  The evolution of experiments to detect gravitational waves, led to the generation of sensitive network of advance detectors to begin observations.[5] This led to the first  direct detection of the gravitational waves through the first direct observation of the  merger of the binary black holes forming a singular black hole. This observation provided a unique access to the properties of space time in the strong-field, high velocity regime confirming the predictions of general relativity for the non-linear dynamics of highly disturbed black holes.

Uncoding the Physics behind Gravitational Waves

The theory of general relativity teaches us that we are constantly bathed by the gravitational waves. But it has been very difficult to detect these waves.  What we need to do is to measure the distances between  objects and wait for it to change when a gravitational wave passes them. But the change is infinitesimally small.  Big events like exploding of a massive stars or the merging of two black holes releases huge amounts of energy, shaking the spacetime. The spacetime is very stiff that the gravitational waves being very weak and get even weaken as they spread. It evolves watching of changes at the order of a fraction of diameter of an atomic nucleus. Gravitational waves are produced all the time in our cosmos. Stars are exploding and colliding constantly but we are not able to detect them instantly, though such astronomic events leave their relics behind.  Thus, for instance, just before two stars collide, they might spend a short amount of their life swirling around each other at thousands of revolutions per second.  When the stars finally collide,  they shoots out a huge amount of  material that travels at the speed of light.  We know that matter moving at the speed of light converts into energy. Thus, this massive event shakes us the very fabric of spacetime. This shaking of spacetime is what we call the gravitational waves.  The vibrations of the gravitational waves spread through the universe like ripples on a pond.  Although, the gravitational waves are caused by a huge cataclysmic events like the collision of stars or merger of the black holes , as they reach the earth from huge distances they are weakened.[6] The earth is bathed by these gravitational waves all the time but they are very weak and hence, we cannot detect them except with highly sensitive detectors/ instruments. [7]

New window on the Universe

The detection of the gravitational waves opened new window for observational astronomy on the universe.  This new window on the universe will put new light on the fabric of spacetime around the black holes. We may be enabled to observe directly the formation of the black holes or the merger of binary systems consisting of black holes or neutron stars, look for rapidly spinning neutron stars, ding deep into the early moments of the universe and search for super massive black holes hidden at the centre of the galaxies. Besides, the detection of gravitational waves allows us to understand the fundamental laws of physics. This means other well established orthodoxies of physics like the sameness of the speed of light and gravitational waves can be verified.  Scientists tell us that gravitational waves are closer to the sound waves. They have wave length that is closer to that of sound.  Sound lets us to listen to pitch, tone, rhythm and volume and we infer a story behind the sound. This means we decode from the different amplitudes and frequencies that we can listen to different stories behind those sound waves. At least for LIGO, the gravitational wave pattern that is detected is of the range   that is similar to that of the sound.  The gravitation waves fall in the audio bent.  The gravitational waves will let us to listen to the universe. If light waves assisted us to see the universe, gravitational waves may assist us to hear the universe. If we convert this wave pattern into pressure waves in air, we will literarily hear the universe. Thus, listening to gravity in this way can tell us a lot about the collision of the black holes.  It is as if the signature of the dynamism of the black holes is written on the wave form. Thus, we have opened entirely new way to observe the universe. This means we will find things that we cannot discover by seeing but would spot them through hearing. We may be able to listen to the big bang in the power of gravitational waves.

Spacetime Continuum of Science and Religion Dialogue

Waves that Ripple Human Space Time

Science and Religion belong together in our ‘socio- temporal-space’. While avoiding the follies of the Logical positivists, perhaps we might get a profound  insight into Science and Religion dialogue if we see them through a parallel lens of the unfolding of the enfolded spacetime continuum of the cosmos.  Here, we might imagine the space-time continuum as having multiple dimensions of both temporalities and spatialities.  Within this train of thought, we see growth of Science, Religion(s) and Science and Religion Dialogue as events that disturb the ‘socio-temporal-space’ like the ripples of gravitational waves. The ‘social-temporal-space’ being a human space has the power to influence human life at all levels in our society.  Unlike the gravitational wave, the waves that affect the human space grow in strength as they spread across the ‘socio-temporal-space’.  Indeed, the discovery of the gravitational waves by LIGO brought the information of gravitational waves  into the ‘socio-temporal-space’.[8] Even this study is an attempt to take the implications gravitational waves emanating from the merger of two black holes into the ‘socio-temporal-space’ and understand their impact on Science and Religion Dialogue.  Thus, what began at a distant cosmic space-time enters human space and has the power to draw humanity together to each other to the cosmos and to God. It is our effort to listen to the dialogical universe and let it influence humanity to continue the cosmic dialogue. Thus, we strive to listen to the cosmic message and let it influence the growth of Science and Religion Dialogue for a future of humanity and our cosmos.

Waves emanating from Science and Religion

We may also understand that developments in Science and Religion with the analogy of merger of two rapidly circulating binary cosmic structures like the black holes.  Just like the merger of the two black holes produces gravitational waves stretching the spacetime continuum so also the dialogue of Science and Religion can produce waves that can transform the socio-space-time structure  of our society.  We can see the coming together of both as enhancing each of them. From the Religion point of view, it is enreligionizing of religion[9] and from the Science point of view, it may be viewed as ensciencing of religion.[10] That is, this dialogue is synergic and co-constructive. Like the oscillating black holes that are about to merge both Science and Religion affect and influence each other intimately and are co-present to each other. This dynamic co-presencing brings about a copoeisis[11] of both Science and Religion. Riding the waves emanating from this powerful dialogue, we can transform the practices of both Science and Religion. Besides, the dialogical waves can become agents of profound social transformations. This means the dialogical waves of Science and religion relations can indeed transform Science, Religion and our Society. Being deeply embedded into our socio-temporal –space, the dialogue of Science and Religion cannot but affect our Society. It is for us to harness the dialogical waves emanating for the coming together of Science and Religion for deepening our understanding of and relations with God, Humans and creations.

Listening to Science and Religion in Dialogue  

Listening is the fundamental aspect of dialogue.  No dialogue can occur without listening. A dialogical listening is an inter-listening. We might call it as co-listening.   In the context of the dialogue of Science and Religion, both are challenged to listen to each other. In the horizon if Science, Religion has the imperative to decode how the dialogical waves emanating from Science are affecting the socio-temporal-space’ of our society and vice versa. Indeed, this active listening to each other can result into a profound understanding and discovery of what each is as well as lead them to discover what each is to the other. We have already discussed that the discovery of gravitational waves have opened another window on to the universe. We are literally enabled to listen to the universe. This enabling of listening along with our seeing of the universe, will take our understanding of our cosmos to new heights. This can inspire us to make listening as foundational to Science and Religion Dialogue. Listening to what Science is to Religion and vice versa can indeed open a new widow on Science and Religion Dialogue. It can enable us to understand how Science and Religion have become other of same. They seem to have become the shadow images of each other. This has put them in a rival mode and our socio-temporal-space is affected by their rivalry. Hence in dialogue with each other, both Science and Religion will find one in the other. The discovery of one in the other is enabling. It will enable Science and Religion to become complementary and stay different without necessarily one becoming the shadow image of the other

The Shadow of Science and Religion Dialogue

Science as the other of Religion

Listening to Science-Religion Dialogue can reveal how science is often constructed through absent-centric thinking. It is viewed as what its other is not. It is presentifies the absent other.  This absence of its other guarantees its purity and guards its essence.  It is construed on the basis of absent parameters whose presence threatens its very existence. Therefore, absent other becomes measure that defines what it is. From the psychoanalytic point of view,[12] we can call this as the castration anxiety. Within this train of thought, the other of Science thus threatens to contaminate its purity of its existence. The other of Science is always hanging as Damocles sword over it. Hence, as much one remains faithful to dictum, ‘One is not the other’, one stays pure.  Hence, lack or it absent other defines what science is. Science does have several of its others but in the context of science and religion dialogue, religion is the other that has marked the boundaries of science. That is why it is imperative on us to move beyond the phallic economy of the absence/ presence binary and embrace an integral economy of co-presence. This economy of co-presence views both science and religion as co-present to each other. This co-presence is rooted in the socio-temporal-space of our society. The co-presence paradigm can open us to the co-journey of both science and religion and remains open dialogue as co-listening

Religion as the other of Science

The absent-centric thinking that affects science and religion dialogue is also afflicting religion. Since religion is everything that science is not, it also triggers castration anxiety in the presence of Science. The science as the absent other of religion, nurtures a desire to overcome the lack introduced by it by imitating science or rejecting it as rival. Hence, Science can become an enlightened Master or rival to be subdued.  The primacy of the absent other leads Science to become the specula(riza)tion of Religion. This tells us that we cannot understand religion and science relation in a linear manner. Perhaps, the gravitational waves radiating from two colliding stars/black holes can offer non-linear ripples as models to understand Science and Religion dialogue.  In the horizons/ mirror of science, religion can pass through the cloud of unknowing. The same is true of science too. The means that we have dialogical emergence of both science and religion and their interactions and inter-relations can produce ripples that has their impact on our society. There are overlaps in the emergence of both science and religion. Both are co-present and co-presencing to each other from their very origin. Hence, Science-Religion dialogue can take our society to a new level of emergence. This dialogue is founded on the co-recognition of the co-journey of science and religion. It can take humanity to new leaps of communion.

Co-Listening of Science and Religion

The dialogical co-listening that we are trying to explore in this study, demolishes the hierarchization of both science and religion.  Both science and religion belong together on the table of dialogue. None of them is second to the other.  In dialogue animated by co-listening, we refuse to see the otherness of the other through the prism of sameness. Science and Religion belong together in our socio-temporal-space but they are both not same. Each has overlaps and traces of each other. Each live in the other. Each carries each other. That is why both Science and Religion stay co-present to each other in a continuous dialogue.  Science in dialogue with religion does not desire to be the image of it other (Religion). It does not have to mirror the other. In this co-listening, both science and religion dialogue emergence into co-becoming.  In this dialogical co-becoming science and religion leaps to co-emergence. Hence, an active co-listening to both science and religion can assist us to discern their dynamic co-becoming. The dynamic co-becoming does not lead one to assimilate the other but hold the two in a dialogical embrace that is continuously leading both science and religion towards new levels of emergence.  This co-emergence of both science and religion in the power of co-listening dialogue can bring humanity to new levels of profound communion and happiness.

Deeping Co-listening Dialogue of Science and Religion

Science-Religion Listening to Each Other

The paradigm of listening brings us into the world of langue and meaning. Both Religion and Science are active agencies of human quest to make meaning. It is through Science and Religion that we construct meaning of human life. Therefore, a co-listening dialogue has to primarily  put our ear on the ground of our  meaning making. This means we have to draw our attention to the manner in which Science and Religion as operate as signifying practises.[13] As signifying practices, they do not just ascribe positive meaning; they also suppress and subtract meaning. This means the dialogue of Science and Religion operate as a signifying as well as asignifying practices. Hence, we need to listen  to  understand how the dialogue between Science and Religion both adds and subtract the meaning content. Thus, for instance,  of Religion. This supremist position of Religion is contested by the man-of-the-gaps who would in the power of developments in Science will fill the gap and render God as an unnecessary hypothesis. This means the dynamic dialogue of Science and Religion both diminishes and enhances meaning that is constitutive of our life.

Co-listening and the Logic of Difference

Science and Religion affects all aspects of our life.  The logic of difference particularly listens to the respective eschatologies of Science and Religion and looks bring about cross-fertilizations of the two into co-eschatologies.   Science chiefly carries humanistic and secular eschatolgies  while Religion embeds theological and humanistic echatologies. There are coordinates  of overlaps between these eschatologies. Hence, a co-listening paradigm seeks a confluence of these eschatologies to enrich humanity and the natural world. This means the dialogue of science and religion become a project of emancipation(s). In this sense, the dialogue of Science and Religion both impede as well as enhance elements that constitute their different echatologies.  This leads to the integration of two for the emancipation(s) of humanity and natural world.  Thus, the logic of difference is in this sense is one that makes an emancipative(s) difference to humanity and the natural world.  That is why, the confluence of  echatologies of both Science and Religion cannot be thought to be   closed into a  singularity but remains an open to plurality that never closes.  The confluence that we are talking about does not require us to tame the confrontationist aspects of their echatologies. This means the other does not have to be reduced to the same. The gravitational wave metaphor can assist us to understand the open plural curve of emancipation(s) of Science and Religion dialogue.

Thinking the Political in Science and Religion

Both Science and Religion construct different political(s)[14] that politicises us differently in our society. Pushed by the paradigm of co-listening, we are particularly concerned  with the construction of the political(s) through the dialogue of Science and Religion. Every kind of political that affects us  offers us a subject position which almost summons us to become political.  Just like Science and Religion respectively offer different political(s) and fire politics in our society, Science and Religion dialogue also offer multiple subject position(s) and construct the political(s) for us. This means Science and Religion dialogue can spring forth social formation(s) that constructs the political(s) for our society offering us different subject position(s). The subject position(s) that are offered to us trigger our response. It politicises us and we spontaneously resonate with the issue raised by the political(s). This is why we have to draw our attention to the political in our politics. The political(s)  that govern our politics is constructed by our signification practices. These practices as we saw above are both signifying and assignifying. It is by this signification process marked by signifying and asignifying practice that generate the political(s) in our society. Hence, we have to co-listen to the signifying and practices within Science and Religion dialogue to diagnose the political(s) generated by them and responds to them adequately.


The co-listening paradigm that we tried to understand in the context of Science and Religion dialogue is both inward and outward dialogue. As inward dialogue, it deals with the bursting forth of Science and Religion in themselves. The inward direction of listening leads us to the understanding evolution and growth of Science and Religion respectively and manifest that they belong together the Soci-temporal-space of Humanity.  The outward dialogue inspire us to harness these waves of integration as resources and utilize them to transform our society for the emancipation(s) of both Humanity and our natural world.  We find that gravitational waves model can inspire us to understand and promote science and religion dialogue in this direction.



[1]  This study takes forward the semiotic study of Science and Religion Dialogue inaugurated by me in by paper, “ The Semiotics of Science and Religion Dialogue and Global Citizenship” in Omega: Indian Journal of Science and Religion , Vol. 15, No2  December 2016, pp.6-25.

[2] Kostas Dokkotas, “Gravitational Wave Physics’,  the Encyclopaedia of Science and Technology, 3rd Edition, Vol. 7,  Academic Press , (2002).

[3] See accessed on 5/1/2017.

[4] Ignacio Ciufolini and Vittorio Gorini, “Gravitational waves, theory and experiment (overview)” in Ignacio Ciufolini , Vittorio Gorini , Ugo Moschella and Peitro Fere,  Ed.,  Gravitational Waves (Philadelphia: IOP,2001), pp 1-2.

[5] Ibid ., p 2-3.

[6] See Harry Collins, Gravity’s Shadow: the Search for Gravitational Waves (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2004), pp.3-4.

[7] Ibid., pp.14-16.

[8] Ibid., pp. 4-14.

[9] See Victor Ferrao, Involving God in an Evolving World: the Significance of Science and religion Dialogue Today (Delhi: ISPCK, 2013) p. 24.

[10] Ibid.

[11] accessed on 7/1/2011.

[12] We derive these implications to Science and Religion from Lacanian Psychoanalysis  , particularly from the work of Luce Irigaray. See Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the  Other women, Tans., Gillian C. Gill (New York: Cornel University Press, 1985).

[13]  We approach to our meaning making technologies. One approach says that meaning making signification process construct meaning on a tabula rasa. This approach is signifying process. Other is the opposite of this positivist constructionist mode which holds that meaning exists in plenum what we do is we squeeze out or empty, chisel out part of the content of the meaning and leave that part of meaning we need. This mode of meaning making is an assignifying practice. I suggest that Science and Religion are also signifying practices and for a co-listening dialogue that we have tried to enter in this study, we have to pay heed to both the signifying and assignifying practices that emanate in the context of this dialogue.

[14] The notion of political in the politics is borrowed from post-Marxist thinker Ernest Laclau. See Ernesto Laclau, Emancipation(s) (New York: verso, 2007).

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao