Finding God In a Telescope

One of the things that has been giving me joy is following the progress of NASA’s James Webb telescope. The software engineer/program manager part of my brain is fascinated and thrilled at how well this has come together. I know how difficult it is to successfully release a hardware/software project, so I feared that the Webb telescope would never work as designed.

This month (3/16/22), NASA achieved an important alignment milestone with the optics. Now it’s expected that the telescope’s performance should meet or exceed the design goals. The mirrors on this telescope are so large that the entire thing had to be folded up for the launch, unfolded once it was in space, and then each mirror had to be aligned and adjusted. I can’t even imagine the myriad of things that could have gone wrong!

A scientific discovery is also a religious discovery. There is no conflict between science and religion. Our knowledge of God is made larger with every discovery we make about the world.

— Joseph H. Taylor, Jr
(American astrophysicist and Nobel Prize laureate in Physics)

I think curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge are humanity’s biggest strengths (although simultaneously, I fear that this may cause the demise of our species). I’ve always loved science fiction and have been fascinated by astronomy and cosmology. I suspect that humanity has always looked up at the stars and wondered what is up there, how it got there, and why we are here? It seems natural and inevitable that these science disciplines are so interrelated with religion and spirituality. Both are focused on the big questions of life.

I have no problem integrating science with my Christian faith. Especially when it comes to cosmology. It made me smile when I learned that the Vatican has an observatory. According to their website, in 1891, Pope Leo XII established the modern version of the observatory, “so that everyone might see clearly that the Church and her Pastors are not opposed to true and solid science, whether human or divine, but that they embrace it, encourage it, and promote it with the fullest possible devotion.” Clearly, the Church hasn’t always acted in alignment with this principle, but it gives me hope to hear it stated so plainly and openly.

There are different approaches to integrating science and theology. One common view of God (from 18th-century deism) is called “the clock maker theory.” This philosophical theory asserts that God created the universe but is not actively involved in its operation (like a clock maker who makes a clock which then operates independently of the maker). I suspect many people who say they believe in God think of Him in this way, even though they probably never made a deliberate decision to accept this theology.

But the Christian faith has several key differences from deism. One of the major differences is that Christians believe God is not a detached observer but is interested and involved with humanity. I believe that God wants a relationship with each of us, that he meets us wherever we are in our search for meaning, and that he has the power to change us and the world. And I believe that we can come to find God in all things. Since He made all things, they are all invitations for us to come to know Him better. And for me, there’s nothing that makes me feel a visceral sense of awe and reverence more than looking at and learning more about the universe.

A Closing Prayer

God, never let me lose the wonder I feel at Your creation. Let me feel that wonder not only when I see spectacular pictures of the cosmos but also when I see all the beauty and complexity I take for granted every day. Let me appreciate how everything in nature fits together in an interrelated web of connectedness. Amen.

3 comments

  1. The noun “wonder” was in my mind as I read this blog, and I wondered (ha!) if you would use the word eventually. And, of course, you did. Your curiosity awoke mine this morning and I enjoyed my morning sunrise with a greater sense of wonder. Thank you!

    Like

  2. “curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge are humanity’s biggest strengths” agree! It seems the more we are able to look at things infinitesimally small and infinitesimally large – the more we discover new layers of complexity, often invalidating previous theories we created to explain how things in the universe work. To me this is God’s reminder that His way is not my way, and for that I am truly grateful – His continued involvement in His creation gives me hope!

    Like

    1. Good point that it’s not only by looking at the largeness of the universe, but also at the smallness that reveals the wonder in what God created. I’m fascinated by fractals and your comment made me remember how mind-spinning they are!

      Like

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: