I have always been interested in astronomy. The sheer size and expanse of the heavens speak to me of the greatness of our God, who could create all this with a simple word of command.
Most scientists, whether believers or nonbelievers, ascribe to the theory of the Big Bang, to explain the origin of the universe. They tell us that all existing matter originated from a central point some 13.7 billion years ago, exploding outward in an ever-expanding spiral to create stars, galaxies, planets, and eventually, life on this earth.
It seems overwhelmingly likely that some of the billions upon billions of other stars also have planets that can sustain life. Almost every week, astronomers are discovering new planets outside our solar system, although they are yet to find life on any of them.
Scientists must propose theories based on observable evidence. They try to explain everything from natural causes without positing the existence of a Creator. We, who are believers, say that all this was created and is guided by the supreme, intelligent Being whom we call God.
The Big Bang theory in no way contradicts the creation stories in the Book of Genesis. On the contrary, a God who could create all that exists, over the course of billions of years, directing the process of evolution from primitive matter to the appearance and development of human life, must be a powerful and magnificent God.
A new year seems to me to be a perfect time to reflect on the incredible vastness of the universe and the short time each of us has on this earth compared to the billions of years that the universe has existed. An editorial in the New York Times a few years ago gives us some perspective. (The following is a summary of the editorial.)
“One of the great advantages of being short-lived by geological standards is that life seems relatively stable to us. In the span of time that we humans have been fully ourselves as a species the oldest human fossils are only 160,000 years old life on this planet has gone on essentially uninterrupted.
“Many species have gone extinct in our lifetimes, and yet, we’ve experienced nothing like the meteor that crashed into the earth 65 million years ago and destroyed the dinosaurs.
“This is a bold reminder of how fragile our human presence on earth really is; it took at least two major meteor collisions to set us on our current path.
“It is also a reminder of the essential vitality of life itself, which can weather such rugged shocks to the system The knowledge of that vitality is immensely encouraging. But it must never serve as a way of excusing our own responsibility as we watch species after species die out during our tenacious occupation of the globe.
“There is no controlling the possibility of a meteor strike. But there is every reason ethical and practical for preventing our own habitation of earth from having the same impact.”
The planet we call home is one of eight (if we do not count Pluto) that revolve around a medium-sized star some 30,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way galaxy, which contains some 200 billion stars. There are 50 to 100 billion other galaxies. The stars in the Milky Way, as in a number of other galaxies, are in the shape of a spiral with a bulge in the middle (imagine a wheel lying on its side with a bulge where the hub of the wheel is).
If we could travel at the speed of light from one edge of our galaxy to the other, it would take us 100,000 years. If we could travel at the speed of light from one edge of the known universe to the other, it would take us 13.7 billion years! Actually, it would take longer, because the universe is continually expanding at an accelerating pace.
Our life on this earth is short. From the point of view of the age of the universe, even a lifetime of 100 years is like a breath.
We have a brand new year, 2009. May we use it wisely.