I am very excited by the fact that NASA released the first image from the James Webb Space Telescope (here) this week. I have been fascinated by the explanations of the photo that I have seen and particularly about how the light is warped through space. I also found it fascinating the theological conversations this image sparked. A number of individuals I follow on social media were posting the picture with Bible verses as captions. I appreciate the connections that so many saw between this image of the vast universe and verses like Psalm 19:1
"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands."
But I also recognize the theological backgrounds of many of these individuals and I am admittedly left very perplexed to see such individuals celebrating this photo from NASA. I say that because I see these same individuals denying so much of the scientific community; whether the issue is humanity’s impact on climate change, vaccines and public health, or the age of the earth and evolution these individuals balk at science. The trouble is that the people who seem quick to talk about how this image demonstrates God’s glory– and it certainly does– are also the ones who will be very quick to undermine an organization like NASA so much of the time. In fact, I even saw one individual who tried to say how this photo revealed God and undermined the scientific view of NASA.
The problem is so many Christians will see the wonder, beauty, and magnitude of these deep space images but never consider the realities they teach us about our world. Everyone can appreciate the beauty but experts who understand the fields of physics and astronomy can breakdown what is happening in the image, showing that while we perceive shapes to the light those shapes are the result of physics in action as light bends around galaxies. You and I might see something beautiful, but the trained observer sees an added dimension of reality and that added dimension comes with its own story. History teaches us that science as a discipline rose from the belief that God is orderly and organized and would create a world that followed orderly principles. Too many Christians forget this historical fact, and so will accept this photo but attempt to reject what it teaches us about the nature of our universe. For nearly a century and a half a large number of Christians has been taught to reject the findings of experts in scientific fields understanding these experts to be part of an atheist conspiracy to replace Christian truth with secularism. While it is certainly true there are scientists who believe this and there are instances where scientists believe their findings about the physical universe justify or prove their metaphysical beliefs, there is also a reality that Christians need to accept the information provided by the world around us. We cannot talk about objective truth and God creating all there is without recognizing what highly trained intelligent people say about that world. In other words when we see a photo of the universe that shows light of distant galaxies being warped by closer galaxies we cannot limit our reaction to the beauty, we must listen to the explanations of that warping given by experts. Does this mean there can be no disagreement with the scientific consensus or the scientific community? Of course not, but if we are going to do so we must do so honestly and with an eye to using the appropriate facts.
It is disappointing that so many Christians will not engage with the reality of the world around us as defined by the sciences. Instead we say stupid things like, “God is in charge of the world so climate change will not destroy it.”. Or we believe cherry-picked scientific concepts like “the Big Bang proves God created” without considering what the theory says or accepting ALL the science behind the theory or related to it. The same evidence that led scientists to a Big Bang theory also led them to conclude the universe is 13 billion years old. If we are going to accept one portion of this data we must either accept the whole or have valid reasons for not accepting it. We cannot live in a world where we accept only the scientific facts that accord with our favored reading of the Bible, because is to reject the truth of the world and thus the truth of God. If God is the author of both creation and Scripture then there needs to be a level of overlap and if we must reject the realities of the world to accept Scripture then it clearly is not the truth the way we want it to be. This is not to say there must be perfect harmony between the two but we must have an ability to understand both without violent contradiction.
If Psalm 19:1 is true that the heavens declare God’s glory we must be willing to listen to the whole story, we cannot simply tune out the part we do not like because it is inconvenient. The beauty of God’s creation is in part based on how orderly it is, how open to understanding. I will humble myself to recognize that there is so much for this creation to teach me about the order and magnitude of God.