|Christ the Creator|
I have been recently reading some studies focusing on Gen. 1 & 2. That brought this older meditation to mind since it touches on “cosmic issues” about the created realm. It is not about “proving” anything; or even that Genesis can be read “scientifically,” because it cannot be so read. Yet, both Gen. 1 and scientific investigation of the universe can both lead to theological and speculative wonder in their independent ways.
“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19)
In the past, I attended a lecture entitled “Our Amazing Universe.” It was delivered by Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, who studied physics at MIT and earned a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University. In addition she has continued her research as Hubble Fellow at The John Hopkins University. Very impressive credentials! To use a misused term, I am a “layman” when it comes to astronomy, though this is clearly a fascinating and essential scientific discipline. I would like to simply offer a short summary of a wonderful presentation that captivated a large audience of at least five hundred participants or more.
In the first part of the lecture, we were treated to a computer-generated slide show (on two large mounted wall screens) of some incredible images of the universe, including galaxies, clusters of stars, nebulae, super novae, and the more familiar planets of our own solar system. Dr. Wiseman informed us of the continuing research into the vast dimensions of the universe made possible by the technology of ever-more powerful and sophisticated telescopes. What I was ignorant of is the fact the Hubble telescope circles the earth every ninety minutes! Some of these telescopes are placed above the earth’s atmosphere, thus allowing for incredibly clear and wide-ranging views of the cosmos. We saw some wonderful images of star clusters that were so thick that the black space in between was not that visible. And the stars were of different colors: red, blue, green and yellow.
Our own vision of the sky is very limited because the enormous amount of light from our urban and suburban settings simply reduces our visibility to the moon and a few other stars. We are missing a lot! One of her points was to impress upon us the sheer unfathomable scope of the universe, which holds billions of galaxies comprised of billions of stars, one of which is our own sun, though it itself appeared as a tiny dot on one of the shots of our own Milky Way galaxy. We may know this already, but in the context of her lecture, combined with the amazing images we saw, the effect of those statistics is rather staggering. Or, we should say “awesome.”
Dr. Wiseman is a believing Christian – my guess would be something like an Evangelical – so the second part of her lecture was made up of a series of what she called “philosophical and theological” questions and observations. Her first question was: Does the universe seem to make any sense or have any deeper meaning? She was very even-handed in sharing the views of prominent fellow astronomers/scientists. Some argue that it really does not have any deeper meaning beyond its sheer size. Others find it all very meaningful. (One scientist asked: Does the fact that we even ask the question point to the inherent and unavoidable quest for meaning?)
This raised the further issue of the relationship between science and religion. As a scientist herself, she presented an eloquent defense of how the two – both of which are concerned with discovering “truth,” though each discipline a “truth” of a different sort – need to be and can be reconciled. She presented a “two book approach” to this issue of science and religion: the book of nature/science and the book of the Bible are revealing one and the same reality, though different language and thought-forms are used in the process. This sounded very close to something that St. Maximus the Confessor (+662) once wrote. Though he put it something like this: God is revealed in creation, in the Law, and then in the Person of Christ.
Just as my own aside, I believe strongly that we, as Orthodox Christians, cannot ignore this dialogue, and that we need to articulate our own understanding of this relationship, with a clear-headed sobriety about the amazing scope of scientific discovery over the course of the last few centuries. We cannot ignore the discovery that we live on a planet within a universe that is over thirteen billion years old. This allows us the freedom of some exciting and deeply meaningful theological thought. In other words, we cannot abandon the realm of science – and the universe itself – to a one-sided secular mode of thought.
Returning to Dr. Wiseman, once she impressed upon us the vastness of the universe. And how it reveals the power, majesty and awesomeness of God. (Our own Prayer of the Great Blessing of Water formulates this in a rather poetic and archaic form, but the point is well-made). She informed us that the overwhelming majority of the scientific community now unhesitatingly accepts the “Big Bang theory” of the origin of the universe. Atheists, however, are somewhat reluctant in their acceptance, because it points to the idea of a “Creator.” Yet, she asked the unavoidable question of our own perceived insignificance within this vast realm. How short is our life in comparison to that of a star! This allowed her to remind us that “ancient man” was perplexed by those same questions, including the author of Psalm 8, whom she thought was a shepherd gazing up into the night sky (with a clearer vision than our own!):
“When I look at the heavens, the work
of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou are mindful of him?
and the son of man that thou dost
care for him?”
Bu the psalmist then includes this incredible thought:
“Yet though hast made him little less
and dost crown him with glory and
Thou hast given him dominion over
the works of thy hands…”
Dr. Wiseman interpreted this “dominion” as the capability of scientific thought. For regardless of how insignificant we may seem, it is only the human person who can consciously reflect and contemplate the vastness of the cosmos.
And she finally made the connection between the universe and Christ. Quoting the unrivaled Prologue to St. John’s Gospel, she reminded us that this vast universe is the creative work of a Person – the divine Word of God through whom the Father brought all things into existence. And then that this divine Person became incarnate – “The Word became flesh.” Everything is thus connected to and given meaning in Christ. That, at least, is the “faith perspective” of her lecture. Dr. Wiseman does not believe that science can be used to “prove” the existence of God; but there are “pointers” within the cosmos, revealed in the Scriptures, that can indicate that direction. Archbishop Kallistos Ware makes the same point in The Orthodox Way.
This was a very well-thought out presentation by Dr. Jennifer Wiseman. With clarity and conviction; and yet with her vast array of scientific knowledge clearly present within her soft-spoken and humble demeanor, she led the audience to a deep reflection on the nature of scientific discovery and how that can lead us to Christ.
An evening well spent!