Electromagnetic vs Gravitational Forces as evidence for the orbital differences between objects at atomic vs universe scale

Why should Electromagnetic vs Gravitational Forces make any difference to the way in which electrons in an atom behave vs planets/objects in space orbit?

One of the arguments I have read in favour of the distinction between the two is that the electromagnetic forces are stronger, thus the movement of electrons can behave differently to say planets in a solar system or galaxies within the universe.

Honestly, to me that sounds a little suspect. Heres at least one thought as to why…

When one flies an aircraft, it does not matter which direction the wind is coming from, the aircraft flies relative to the air around it, not the moving mass. Stronger wind is completely irrelevant to the underlying principles of flight (ie lift and drag etc).

How then is it that we seem to be able to theorize about this distinction between orbital behaviour in electromagnetic vs gravitational when other similarly observable things around us in our daily lives do not seem to fit that distinction? I suppose I am saying that when one studies theology, one first looks at the overall theme and then ensures that ones theology remains consistent with that theme…9i should think that this would be no different.

It is almost as if scientists are intent on making the claim that something can be nothing as long as something is small enough. If an atom joins with other atoms in order to form objects such as planets and suns, how can one then ignore that to claim gravity is unrelated to electromagnetic forces and that they act in unrelated ways on things around them on a universe scale? How then can we simply ignore gravitational forces on an atomic scale or electromagnetic forces on a universe scale?

I think maybe we can do a simple exercise. For a hydrogen atom, what is the strength of the electromagnetic force compared to gravitational force?

The gravitational force can be approximated by Newton’s Law of universal gravitation:


where G is the universal gravitational constant, m and M are the mass of the electron and proton and r is the average distance between them.

The electrostatic force can be approximated by Coulomb’s Law:


where k is the electric constant, q and Q are the charges of the electron and proton and r is the distance between them.

If we take a ratio of these two forces you can see it equals:


Looking up these constants we find that for a proton and electron,

F_e/F_g=2.2 x 10^{39}

So for an atom, you can effectively ignore gravity because while it is present, it is 10^{39} times weaker than electromagnetism. The same would apply for why you can ignore electromagnetism on planetary scales. If the earth somehow carried a massive excess charge and so did the moon, then scientists would use the electromagnetic equations combined with gravity equations to describe say the orbit of the moon.

I hope this answers part of your question here. My students would be gaining nothing if they included the gravitational force in the semester on electromagnetism because instead of getting an answer of 5 they would get an answer of 5.000000000000000000000000000000000000001.


an there is exactly my point…this is the big bang dilemma conflicting with the law of conservation of energy highlighted perfectly.

Something theoretically so mathematically small, so tiny its essentially nothing expanded into something that has an enormous mass…so huge its not even possible to calculate exactly how heavy it is!

Again, the very same planets, stars, galaxies we are talking about all have atomic particles as their building blocks do they not?

It appears to me that again, theory is creating fact from “something so small is can basically be ignored”. How on earth can we do that in this case when the atoms we are talking about are found in huge numbers in planets, solar systems, galaxies etc?

Now when we scale up the shear quantity of atoms in the universe, your tiny number isn’t so tiny anymore is it!

If I understand the physics correctly, gravity is a function of mass. The greater the mass of an object, the greater it’s gravity. This is because the mass warps space-time and so gravity can be described as the motion of an object caused in curved space time.

Atoms have very little mass, but put an inordinately huge quantity in one place and densely pack them, such as in a planet, and suddenly you have an object with enough gravitational force to hold objects in orbit.

I’m a similar vein a feather has very little mass. However, if one could get enough feathers in one place, theoretically, one could create a ball of feathers with enough combined mass that it would draw other objects towards it.

Physicists, please correct my armchair knowledge if I am wrong here.

Edit: have you read Hawking’s A Brief History of Time?. It is likely dated by now, but I remember his sections of gravity, relativity, and electromagnetism being really helpful.

The singularity at the beginning of the universe contained all of the energy we see now. There was never a time in our universe’s history where this energy did not exist. When the universe formed and began to expand it had everything, not nothing.

There wasn’t a small amount of energy and mass when the universe began expanding. All of the energy we see now in the universe was crammed into a very small space, so it isn’t at all comparable to the small amount of matter and energy found in an electrical coil in a lab or a magnet on the fridge.

You are forgetting about the space between the masses. That matters.

Let’s do a little thought experiment. Place a paperclip on a table. Place a magnet just a few mm above the paperclip. What happens? Does the paperclip fly upwards, against the gravitational force? Sure does. Now, hold the magnet a meter above the paperclip. What happens? Why do you observe something different when the magnet is a meter away?

The formulas for the two are very similar, aren’t they? Both fall off with the square of the distance and increase proportionally with the quantity involved. The difference in the case of electrical force is the active element, the charge, come in both positive and negative which means they can cancel out. That difference of 10^{39} times weaker for gravity means it takes that much more of the active element to have the same effect. And since the earth has 133x10^{48} atoms, where the mass unlike the electrical charges are all adding together rather canceling each other. So there is quite enough to produce a force a 133 billion times stronger over comparable distances. The electrical is thus only important when we separate the positive and negative charges, or over distances where there already is a separation between them. And the greater effect with the electrical force makes it quite difficult to separate quantities of charge comparable to the mass of the earth.

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I’m not really sure what you are trying to say here as this has nothing to do with the big bang dilemma as you’ve called it, nor the conservation of energy.

A calculation of the electrostatic force and the gravitational force for a single hydrogen atom has nothing to do with the big bang theory.

There are ways to calculate the mass of the universe if you want to walk through those.

I am struggling to understand what you are trying to say, can you try again in different words?

What number isn’t so tiny? Do you mean the ratio of the gravitational force to the electromagnetic force for a single hydrogen atom? This is only for a single hydrogen atom. If I did the same comparison for the earth and the moon, the gravitational force would be way stronger because the earth and moon have no effective excess charge. Look at the original equations, if the masses are very small for two objects, then the gravitational force is very tiny. If the masses are very large, then the gravitational force can be very large. If the objects have zero charge, like the earth-moon system, the then q and Q in my equation above are both zero, and only the gravitational force equation is necessary.


Hawkings definition of the origin of the Big Bang is as follows

" the idea that the universe began by exploding suddenly out of an ultradense singularity smaller than an atom"

Im sorry but that only produces more problems and more questions not solutions.

  1. how did that singularity arrive on the scene in the first place exactly?
  2. what caused it to become unstable…did something poke it? What is the energy source that caused the singularity to expand or explode?

My understanding is that ultimately when being asked the questions above, even Stephen Hawking (like other scientists) admitted “we still don’t actually know yet”.

The nearest answer I have seen is the attempt by a mathematician to create an equation whereby something can exist for such a tiny amount of time…it basically was never there! (I’m paraphrasing but that is the basic claim of his method)

Why then would anyone base their Christian world view on Science that forwards such ideas as “we don’t know yet” when clearly they conflict with the bible themes and theology?

if you say the resultant charge is zero…then is that not the same with the gravitational forces between the earth and the moon? Are they not cancelled out by angular momentum?

I do not see how your statement actually fixes anything here?

That is the difference between theology/philosophy and science. Science simply follows the evidence and doesn’t even pretend to propose final solutions to big questions. It always gives us more questions than answers, and that is what makes scientific progress possible – because then we can answer questions we would never have asked without it. And too often that is the problem with the answers you get from philosophy and especially theology getting answers that sound really good but no more questions. But even more important than this, science gives us more and more tools to answer new questions.

Arrive? scene? There is no scene or arrival. This is not a singularity in space but a singularity in time which all the events and evidence point back to. And this is talking about the origin of energy, space and time. As for explaining how it came to be, for that we have no evidence to follow. And in that case the answer of the theists is as good an answer as any from anybody else.

Why do you presume that it was ever stable to begin with, that it requires something to make it unstable?

It is the energy source for everything which follows according to the Einstein equations of General Relativity.

If you have a genuine interest in understanding the Big Bang then what you do is study physics… for years. Asking someone to explain it to you on this forum is like asking a pharmacist to take a minute to remove a brain tumor. It is hard to credit your sincerity.

Because we prefer to understand the Bible according to what we can see of the world and the evidence it gives us rather than just making stuff up. Why would you base your understanding of the Bible on something which contradicts all the information God sends us from the earth and sky? It only makes sense to open your eyes, ears, and mind as Jesus tells us in order to understand what the Bible is saying.

Why should we ignore what we know because of something we don’t know? Must we refuse to eat honey just because we don’t know how the bees make it. Must we refuse to believe there is a sun in the sky if we don’t know how the sun works? It is enough to know that the honey is good and the sun is in the sky. And likewise we cannot ignore all the evidence which tells us that the universe came into existence 13.8 billion years ago because everything is expanding accordingly.


ah now that I can easily answer because you are now asking questions that come before Science…that is my entire point.

See what TEism appears to do a lot is place Science first, then attempt to organise the theology around the Science.

That is fundamentally an issue simply because it cannot be done this way. No one in their rational mind ignores the basic philosophical questions…these are what drive our need to study in the first place.

So if in our reality, philosophical comes before Science, why then do TEists insist on doing it the other way around when studying the bible?

My point in all of this is leading to this issue that I believe is problematic for Christians…that many galaxies appear to have a pancake type shape. This idea creates problems.

I do not see that the usual scientific explanation (without God) for this is adequate given that atomic particles (as best as I can figure) do not align themselves in this way. If electrons for example do not tend to follow a flattened type arrangement, I am not convinced it is a simple explanation to say that angular momentum in gravity causing galaxies to align the way the do…so I think that the explanations given thus far do not solve the problems.

Therefore, I wish to explore this to try to explain from both a philosophical and scientific angle such that both align and do not conflict.

What are your thoughts about concave cell earth?
What are your thoughts about Unifying Gravity, Magnetism, Electricity & Dielectricity as ONE THING ONLY
Here’s youtube video explaining Unifying Gravity, Magnetism, Electricity & Dielectricity as ONE THING ONLY - YouTube
It appears to click on blue letters it’ll take you to video

Okay, Riversea - I’ll admit that I didn’t listen to that whole video, but even after only a few minutes in, I think it’s a safe bet to conclude that it’s merely a sophisticated word salad accompaniment to watching a guy do really cool spirographic-looking things with a springy coil of wire. Rest assured, if anybody had solved the enigmas of unifying these major theories of physics, they would be busy collecting their Nobel prizes instead of making homespun youtube videos about it.

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What’s wrong with that? Being honest about what we do and don’t know seems to be the best course.

You claimed that the Big Bang violated the conservation of energy. It doesn’t.

They conflict with your theology, not necessarily with the Bible itself.

The map is not the territory. This is a concept you seem to be struggling with. If a map says that there should be a 14,000 foot mountain 30 miles north of where I am standing but there is no mountain, which is wrong? Is the map wrong or is reality wrong? It would be the map that is wrong, right?

All of the evidence supports the conclusion that the Universe started out as a very hot and dense region of energy that then spread out, condensed, and cooled. All of the evidence also demonstrates that this occurred about 14 billion years ago. That’s the territory. If you have a map that says this didn’t happen then the map is wrong, not reality.

You are asking people to deny reality in order to follow your prescribed theology. How do you think that will turn out?

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I note that many theologians in the history of Christian theology also saw it as a virtue to say ‘I don’t know’. It is a pretty damming indictment on YEC apologetics that it has turned intellectual humility into a vice.


It’s a fairly human thing for us to try to build a fortress around that which we feel is most vulnerable. The weakest arguments are probably surrounded by the highest ramparts.


A fair point.

In my experience, they also make the biggest mess when they’re finally knocked down.

It is interesting to see a YEC’s reaction to “I don’t know”. I suspect that they are coming from a position so steeped in authority that they can’t understand how someone could hold to a position where there are unknowns.

To use an analogy, it is a bit like someone who has learned to play the piano by methodically playing the notes on sheet music. They don’t understand music theory or the history of how music has developed. They simply see the note on paper and play it. When asked to improvise or write their own music they are completely out of their element. For them, playing the piano means playing the notes on the sheet music. Authority is the one and only thing. They can’t understand how someone could sit at a piano without knowing what they will play next until they start playing.


They don’t want to play any “wrong notes”.

And to be sure, there are some things that sound a lot better than others on a piano. Good playing and bad playing is a real thing, though it may defy our philosophies to ultimately parse out the difference. But our enculturated ears know it when we hear it.

If you look at Coulomb’s law that tells you the strength of the electromagnetic force between two charged particles, the equation is:


If q or Q equals zero, then that makes the force between the two objects equals to zero.

Newton’s law of universal gravitation is:


You cannot make m or M equal zero, so no, you cannot cancel out gravity in the same way.

I’m not sure what you mean by angular momentum canceling out gravity. That’s not a thing that makes sense to say to me as a Physicist, but maybe you were thinking of something else. Can you elaborate?

I bet what he’s got in mind is “centrifugal force” (such as in circular orbits). Which provokes me to make a comment here about how I teach this to my high school physics students - I want to see what you or other physicists here have to say about this.

I typically tell my students that in at least one way (and as I’ve seen written in at least some textbook somewhere), there isn’t such a thing as “centrifugal force”. At least not in the sense of an actual force pulling a whirling tether ball straight away from the pole. But after I teach them about the undeniably existing centripetal force (the inward-directed force exerted by the rope on the tether ball), I go on to clarify that Newton’s 3rd law guarantees an equal and opposite force (i.e. the ball’s inertia now also pulling back on the tether). And since that is an outward directed force (since it is in constant opposition to the inward directed centripetal force), we can think of “centrifugal force” as being the name commonly applied to that outward component, noting that it only exists in a 3rd law reactionary way, not as a force in its own right.

Thinking of it that way might help in some way as students try to think of centripetal force as somehow “cancelling” gravity, but it doesn’t really - nor does it add to gravity; it is the gravity. If we allow for the “centrifugal force” fiction without clarifiation, it leads to the inaccurate conclusion that an outward force has somehow ‘cancelled’ gravity, which - if that were true, would mean the orbiting object now has no net forces and thus zero acceleration. But it does have acceleration … from the unbalanced force (gravity) that accelerates it toward the source of that gravity.

All of that can and does lead to the sort of confusions like Adam is addressing. At least I was guessing he’s thinking of it that way. Now is the time for me to find out he was going somewhere else entirely than what I guessed! :sweat_smile:

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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