Tag Archives: NASA

When We (George Weigel and I) Consider Thy Heavens

I am glad to see the valuable and insightful Mr. George Weigel calling attention (on the insightful, valuable First Things.com) to the powerful (if inadvertent) ministry of the NASA folks at APOD. If only all our taxpayer dollars were spent this wisely.

Weigel’s post is entitled “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God.” If that sounds familiar, it is from the often-quoted Psalm 19.

As my faithful readers know, I have been following APOD for years.

As I have said, every new image I see paints a wider, deeper, and more wonderful picture of the universe our Lord has created. And the incomprehensible distance grows between this universe and its beginning in an infinitesimally small seed in the palm of God’s hand barely 14 billion years ago.

Every APOD is a proclamation of the greater glory of God. “When I consider Thy Heavens, the work of Thy hands…” (Psalm 8:3)

Here are some of my favorites (most recent first): Continue reading

Reasonable Steps to Jesus

(With a little help from some scientists.)

1.  Astronomers have determined that the universe began at a certain point in time (14.5 billion years ago, more or less).  It appears to have been created from nothing, paralleling Genesis. (See NASA and Goddard Institute for Space Studies founder Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers).

2.  The universe obeys certain strict physical and mathematical laws and structure, making it comprehensible to human minds.  This suggests an intelligence guiding its creation.

3. Paleontologists have determined that life began, indeed exploded on earth as soon as the planet’s surface had cooled sufficiently to sustain it, within the first billion years of earth’s existence. (See Stephen Jay Gould, A Wonderful Life).   This suggests a universe predisposed towards life.

4.  Human self-consciousness triggered an innate sense of right and wrong in the earliest humans. This moral sense or  “Natural Law”  suggests a lawgiver.  (See NIH and Human Genome Project Director Francis Collins, The Language of God).

5.  Before the earthly life of Jesus, no philosophy or religion had elevated love above all other virtues.  None had ever valued the poor over the rich, the weak over the strong, the childish over the wise, the humble over the proud, or mercy over strict justice.

This, along with the Gospel testimonies and the amazingly rapid growth of Christianity (spread worldwide in three centuries by missionaries rather than armies, as was Islam), suggests that Jesus was, if not divine, at the very least the most unique human or spiritual leader of all time.

The god that could create the world and make it humanly understandable would also be capable of revealing his nature to us, in both indirect and direct ways (miracles).

So there I found myself, in five simple steps, standing at the door of the Church.  The fact that it took me seven decades to take those steps speaks to my own stubborn slowness rather than the difficulty of the steps themselves.  Others, perhaps less clever than I, seem to reach the door, and pass through it, quickly and easily.  I am just grateful that I have been given the time I needed.

 

NOTES and Quotes:

Francis Collins wrote “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshipped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate, and beautiful.”

He also wrote that “God must be an incredible physicist…There is this phenomenal fine-tuning of the universe that makes complexity and, therefore life, possible.”

Robert Jastrow wrote “Far from disproving the existence of God, astronomers may be finding more circumstantial evidence that God exists.”

Circumstantial evidence is exactly what scientists provide us with every day.  Witness testimony is what we get from believers.  Together, the case is made strong.

 

 

 

Who Is Our Neighbor? Andromeda !

Today’s featured APOD stunner is M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.  At a mere 2 million light years away from our own Milky Way, it is our nearest major galactic neighbor. (See Luke 10:29; “And who is my neighbor?”)

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

It is a cliché to express a sense of human littleness in the face of the unthinkably enormous scope of the universe.  But here, as in all things, one must retain a sense of perspective. For this unimaginable immensity is just the grown-up phase of a creation that once was small enough to fit in its creator’s hand (or yours, for that matter.) And we are fashioned in the image of that same creator.

A cliché that is both true and more useful: Biblical religion both humbles us (in the face of the majesty of God) and elevates us (for we are created in the image of that majestic God).  This balance of our smallness and our greatness is mirrored in face of our universe, so huge and yet once so small.

By contrast, as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr put it, “Both the majesty and the tragedy of human life exceed the dimension within which modern culture seeks to comprehend human existence.”

 

 

 

A Nameless Beauty

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.”  Psalm 19

This is NGC136, a galaxy so “ordinary” that it doesn’t even have a name.

[Reminder: When considering the heavens and their magnitude (100 billion galaxies of 100 billion stars each), remember that all of it was, in the beginning, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Well, not your hand, but God’s.]

 

More Stars in the Palm of God’s Hand

This is the Robin’s Egg Nebula. Actually a dying pair of stars surrounded by stardust.  While not a galaxy, still worth a look.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Here we see one galaxy devouring another.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

This is the Red Rectangular Nebula.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Here are a couple more. The one on the left is twice as big as our Milky Way.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

This handful  is only a few of the estimated 100 BILLION galaxies that exist, each with an average 100 BILLION stars.  But keep it in perspective:  This entire, unimaginably vast universe, this galaxy of galaxies, was in the beginning compact and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. We learn this not from theologians, but from astrophysicists,  scientists.  Though the Psalmist told us long ago, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmaments display his handiwork.”  And Genesis foretold the Big Bang.

“In the beginning…” it was all in God’s hand.

When I Consider thy Heavens: APOD and the Psalms

ngc1398_eso_3416I want to alert everyone to an amazing website that should be visited every day.  I turn to it each morning before or after my morning prayer (from the monthly magazine Magnificat, which I heartily endorse).

It is “Astronomy Picture of the Day“, a NASA production featuring astonishing photos of stars, galaxies, planets, nebulas, and other celestial phenomena.  Find it at apod.nasa.gov.  Bookmark it in your Favorites or wherever. It has photos from telescopes around the world and in orbit, from Hubble and other satellites, and from simple earthbound cameras.  Not only distant galaxies but beautiful auroras and eclipses, and everything in between.  There is an archive arrow-button on the left side at the bottom, so you can click through a nearly endless gallery of their past pictures.

I cannot imagine how APOD would fail to trigger a spiritual sense of awe at some level; at least a tingle.

Arp243_Hubble_3978

This is two galaxies colliding and merging, 250 million light years away from us. The top photo shows a galaxy 65 million light years away.  When the light from these galaxies began the trip to us, dinosaurs walked the earth!

 

Some time ago I was corresponding with a friend and confided that I was beginning to think about God.  His response was that he thought the universe was too big, too grand to include something as small and local as a deity, especially a man-centered one.  I didn’t know how to respond.

I thought of Psalm 8, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;  What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

It cut no ice;  my friend thought the grandeur of the stars was wholly natural and self-explaining, and way too big for a tribal bronze-age god.

I wish I had thought to point out that the entire universe, unimaginably immense, was once so small that we could hold it in our hands; that the proto-Big Bang creation moment is completely inexplicable to science; that the universe is only comprehensible as part of an expansion process that stretches outward from the infinitesimal.

And I should have pointed out the mysterious human ability to appreciate the beauty of the skies; no evolutionary theory explains our sense of awe when we gaze at the night sky.

And I wish I had known about APOD back then.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

In saner times, Psalm 19:1 would be the motto of NASA.