2nd Opinion: God at work, just 1,300 light years away

Hubble Space Telescope image of a region of the Orion Nebula.

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God’s creation still is being created. That may be an awkward way to state this fact, but it’s true.

The creation stories of Genesis might suggest God’s creative activity was a one-time act, but that could not be further from the truth. Based on our ever-increasing understanding of the universe, especially in the field of astronomy, we now know about regions of the heavens where new stars are being born.

rick hammer130Rick HammerFor an ecologist like me, who also loves astronomy and pointing a telescope at the stars and stellar nebula, it’s exciting to be alive in God’s universe at a time when we can know about such things.

For an evangelical Christian like me, who also loves astronomy and pointing a telescope at the stars and stellar nebula, it’s exciting to have such scientific knowledge of the universe powerfully complement and expand my Christian worldview and my relationship to God, our Creator.

This spring semester, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to co-teach a course in astrobiology, or by another name, “life in the universe.” I represent the biology half of the team with our astronomer as the other team member.

Enlarging my view of God’s creation

I was excited about teaching this course because of the chance to be immersed in astronomy and biology together. What I did not anticipate was how this merging of astronomy and biology would transform and enlarge my view of God’s creation and my relationship to it.

A prominent feature of the night sky for the past several months has been the constellation Orion, and many nonastronomers are familiar with this constellation, often referred to as Orion the Hunter. Located just below Orion’s belt of three stars is a diffuse cloud of gas called the Orion Nebula. As nebula go, this is maybe the brightest one in our North American celestial sky and is visible with the naked eye.

It takes about 1,300 years for the light emanating from the Orion Nebula to reach Earth and your eyes when you stand outside on a clear, starry night and look upward to the heavens. In terms of distance, this region is pretty far away, since light travels at 186,000 miles per second.

For light to travel for 1,300 years may seem like a long time, but in a universe estimated to be about 13.8 billion years old, 1,300 years is just a blink of an eye. However, put in proper astronomical perspective, the Orion Nebula, including the newly forming stars inside it, is close enough that we are seeing it in “real time.”

Stars born in real time

The significance of the Orion Nebula, other than its beauty when viewed through even a small telescope, is that it is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. New stars are being born there. For me, this fact is significant from a scriptural and theological perspective. When we read Genesis 1, we have to keep in mind creation is a “present tense” event, not something that only happened in the past and now is finished. It’s still happening, and the universe and its contents, whether stars or earthly scorpions, still are being created.

The universe described in Genesis 1, although divinely inspired and revealed, is not the universe we inhabit today. It has greatly changed since the time Genesis was written and still is changing today. God still must be in the business of creating.

A more general question should be considered: What does this scientific knowledge we possess say about how we approach Scripture and its interpretation? Put another way: Can scientific knowledge, seen as the incremental accumulation of roughly 400 years of investigation into how God’s creation is put together and functions, be viewed as supplementing and complementing our scriptural understanding of God’s creation?

Science can enlighten exegesis

For me, the answer is a resounding yes. For me, the experience of teaching—and learning a lot about astronomy and the universe myself along the way—has given me the opportunity to see how science can enlighten the exegesis and meaning of Genesis and reciprocally provide a Christian perspective and backdrop for relating to our ever-increasing expansion of knowledge and understanding about the physical universe.

Christians, especially those of us who are evangelicals, can be privileged and blessed if we are willing to enlarge our Christian worldview to include the “How Stuff Works” perspective that science can provide.

God still is actively creating his universe. We should be actively engaged in learning as much as we can. What better way to honor God the Creator than to understand and admire his holy work.

Rick L. Hammer is an assistant professor of biological and environmental sciences at Hardin-Simmons University and a deacon at First Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas.

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