Dr. Jennifer J. Wiseman, Director of the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER), recently visited Southeastern Seminary to discuss astronomy and the intersection between faith and science. She included dazzling images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and explained that, with modern technology, we can see more of creation than ever before. She requested that the lights be dimmed so we could see images more clearly, and it created the mood for stargazing.
Though time ran short and she had so much more to tell, the presentation was engaging. Here are some of her main points:
1. The universe should inspire praise and a sense of awe.
The modern technology of the Hubble Space Telescope helps scientists understand how stars are formed, and it reveals images of distant stars we could never see with the naked eye. In fact, we now have images of faraway galaxies that may give us clues to what our own may have looked like at the dawn of creation. We have discovered that our own galaxy has billions of stars, and billions of other galaxies with a similar number in each.
No one can deny that this is amazing. When we look at the stars, we should think about our own place in the Universe and our relationship to its Creator.
When we look at the stars, we should think about our own place in the Universe and our relationship to its Creator.
2. The universe is active, not stagnant.
In ancient times, many philosophers believed that the universe is eternal. Today, we have evidence that the universe is expanding in all directions, implying that there is a center that everything started expanding from.
Even more recently, we have observed the universe actively changing. On July 4, 1054, astronomers around the world recorded what the Chinese called a “guest star.” This bright disturbance in the sky was visible for about two years, and was bright enough to be seen during the day. Today, images of the remains of this supernova-exploded star have been captured with the Hubble Space Telescope. What is left of this dead star is called the Crab Nebula.
While we can see that stars die, new stars are also born. New infrared and ultraviolet light telescopes allow us to see stars that are forming but have not started emitting visible light, or these tools allow us to peer through dust clouds that block visible light. In our universe, things are constantly changing, though in our short lifespans we often do not take notice.
Not only do stars have a birth, life and death, but the death of stars distributes elements into space that are required for life on our planet. Stars primarily fuse hydrogen into helium, but heavier elements can be synthesized as well. The universe is maturing, changing and providing the elements needed for life. Our own galaxy has had several generations of stars to allow for the production of heavier elements like iron, which we require for life as we know it.
3. The universe is enormous in space, time and contents.
As we learn more about the universe, our own sphere of influence seems smaller and smaller. Our own lives are but a blip on the timeline of the universe. At a certain point, Dr. Wiseman admitted that her talk was transitioning from science to philosophy. Given what we know about the universe, does there seem to be a purpose? Astronomers are divided between those that say “certainly” and those that say the universe is “pointless.”
What should the Christian do with this knowledge about the universe? Dr. Wiseman gives a few challenges. First, praise as the psalmist does in Psalm 19:1-4:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork…
Second, we can steward the planet we have. We do this as our duty and out of wisdom — knowing that there really is not another option. Third, we can continue to explore and learn about creation. Discovery of the laws of nature is congruent with belief in God’s faithfulness. We as Christians believe that the cosmos is held up by the living word (John 1). Last, let us praise the one who sustains all things.
Kerissa Armstead is a part of the Center for Faith and Culture’s mentorship program. This year’s theme is faith and the sciences.