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Vast, beautiful universe says astrophysicist

July 6, 2012

Pittsburgh

The universe is so vast that trying to understand it makes our minds melt. So said Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, speaker at the Science and Faith lunch on Thursday (July 5) at the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

An astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Wiseman is the director of the Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

It would make sense to conclude that since the universe is so overwhelming, we are small, tiny and insignificant. But, said Wiseman, what we can learn from astrophysics is that we can see the universe tuned for life.

If you have ever looked through a telescope, then you have seen the heavens with your own eyes, she said. The universe is beautiful. The universe is active, not stagnant. The universe is enormous. The universe is expanding. The universe is accelerating. “We don’t know what is causing the speeding up,” she said. “We are calling it dark energy.”

One of the advantages of recent upgrades to the Hubble telescope is that we can more clearly see supernovas, the term for an exploding star. Supernovas leave debris that can be used for the formation of new stars. “This is what I call ‘God’s provisional factory,’” Wiseman said. “God could snap his fingers and create out of nothing. But why not see supernovas star factories?”

Science asks questions: Where do we fit in this amazing universe? Are we alone? Or does it seem possible that there are other stars that could have planets and life?

Turning to the heart of theology, Wiseman wondered, “If there is intelligent life would they have sin? Would Jesus Christ need to go there and redeem them? Or would the atoning sacrifice here include the whole universe?”

Even when nature causes pain and suffering, God is present in that. For example, we have a livable planet because of plate tectonics. The shifting plates recycle the oceans and the atmosphere, which is necessary for life. But they also kill millions of people. “Christian theology doesn’t try to explain suffering,” Wiseman said, “ but claims that God experiences it with us. Jesus comes to heal, but also participates in suffering and death. This is our hope.”

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