Astronomy &
Cosmology

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ASA/CSCA Newsletter

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"...the problem of epistemological authority - whether the truth of cosmological claims was to be determined by exercise of the human capacities of sense and reason, by appeal to biblical revelation, or by some combination of the two...was the central methodological issue in the Galileo affair. We must also recognize that the issue of epistemological authority in areas of overlap (actual or potential) remains unresolved for some Christians to this day, as we see in contemporary battles between "creationists" and "evolutionists." This lack of resolution means that the tension and the potential for conflict will continue to hover over the relationship between Christianity and science."
David C. Lindberg,
2003

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Astronomy & Cosmology...the big picture


The words "The heavens declare the glory of God.. ." (Ps.19:1) resonate for the Christian today  as they did for the Hebrew Psalmist. 


Sombrero Galaxy M104

The Sombrero Galaxy - 28 million light years from Earth - was voted best picture taken by the Hubble telescope. The dimensions of the galaxy, officially called M104, are as spectacular as its appearance It has 800 billion suns and is 50,000 light years across.
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Cosmology is the scientific study of the large scale properties of the Universe as a whole.
It endeavors to use the scientific method to understand the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the entire Universe -
  ultimately a "theory of everything".
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This page examine ways that Christians have sought to relate their faith and scientific investigation of the sky and offers links to current scientific studies.

" The peoples of ancient times brought to their study of the heavens the entire range of human emotions -- fear, religious awe, humor, and artistry underlie the many sky tales and creation stories of the world. To fully appreciate the skies as seen by the ancients we need to feel the emotional climate in which our ancestors operated. As many of us live in bright, light-polluted cities, and spend much of our time indoors at night, it is difficult to fully  appreciate the majesty of the night sky, and the important role it played in ancient times.  We need to try to remember the rush of emotions we felt the first time we looked at a dark night sky, and clearly saw the Milky Way crossing the sky amidst a sea of countless stars.  In such times, logical and scientific explanations of the stars and the origin of the universe are lost in our overwhelming appreciation of our smallness in the vast darkness of space. "--from pomona.edu.

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The Bible and the Heavens

 Sealey the heavensBiblical references to the heavens need to be examined in the literary context of the ancient near east to gain a fuller understanding of their meaning to the writer and to modern reader.  Clearly pre-scientific, these accounts often offered praise to God for what could be viewed in the night sky. They are found in the creation accounts and in the warnings of the Jewish prophets against the worship of pagan gods related to heavenly bodies. Other references  are incidental mention of the planets Venus and Saturn and clusters of stars. We need to be cautious about attempts made to relate biblical passages to current observation or models of the cosmos.

Scholars differ widely on the actual heavenly bodies referred to by the biblical authors. The prime importance was the meaning attached to the reference.  A more complete story and other resources are found here.

WOW! Biggest Structure in Universe: Large Quasar Group Is 4 Billion Light Years Across Jan. 11, 2013 An international team of astronomers, led by academics from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), has found the largest known structure in the universe. The large quasar group (LQG) is so large that it would take a vehicle travelling at the speed of light some 4 billion years to cross it.
Science Daily

Early Astronomy

One of the most powerful contributions of Greek science was the mathematical astronomy created by Hipparchus in the second century B.C. and given final form by Ptolemy in the second century A.D. Ptolemy's work was known in the Middle Ages through imperfect Latin versions.

Ptoeomy

The geocentric system of Ptolemy

In the Syntaxis (or) Almagest), Ptolemy synthesized mathematical astronomy into a coherent whole which rendered his predecessors obsolete. His ideas would dominate Western and Islamic thought until the sixteenth century.

The thirteenth-century Franciscan Friar Roger Bacon wrote three treatises on the reform of learning based on the natural science found in newly available works of the classical Greek tradition at the request of Pope Clement IV. One of his goals was to show the value of the science to theology and practical church life - science seen as a handmaiden to theology. He devoted many pages to describe the importance of astronomy to theology, to developing a chronology of a sacred history of the world, and the timing of church rituals.

MonksClerks studying astronomy and geometry. France, early 15th century.

By the Middle Ages, the geocentric system took on a new power as the philosophy of Aristotle (newly rediscovered in Europe) was wedded to Medieval theology in the great synthesis of Christianity and Reason undertaken by philosopher-theologians such as Thomas Aquinas. The Prime Mover of Aristotle's universe became the God of Christian theology, the outermost sphere of the Prime Mover became identified with the Christian Heaven, and the position of the Earth at the center of it all was understood in terms of the concern that the Christian God had for the affairs of mankind.

The ideas largely originating with pagan Greek philosophers were assimulated into the Roman Catholic church and eventually assumed the power of religious dogma.  To challenge this view of the Universe was not merely a scientific issue; it became a theological one as well, and subjected dissenters to the considerable and not always benevolent power of the Church.

How was Galileo converted?

painting by Cristiano Banti (1857)

Do you believe that the sun is the center of our solar system?  Why?  Very few people have ever carried out the measurements necessary to determine that earth moves around the sun.  Most of us simply accept it by faith, backed by scientific authority.   But what would we believe if authorities told us that earth didn’t move?  That is the situation that Galileo found himself in 400 years ago.  Though Copernicus had already published his theory of a sun-centered universe, he only had some elegant mathematics but no physical laws to support him.  Few scholars took the heliocentric theory seriously.  What convinced Galileo?   Full Article

GalileoThe Galileo Affair

The most famous challenge to the reigning tradition was that of heliocentrism which moved the earth and humankind out of center stage.  In 1543 church official and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus published his On the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs which offered mathematical models capable of predicting planetary positions and offered it as a true description of the universe - appealing more to professionals rather than the general public. He was convinced to publish the work by friends who included churchmen and dedicated his work to the Pope. There was hardly a ripple. Certainly, no cries of heresy.

Seventy years later the discovery of the telescope stimulated Galileo Galei to revisit the cosmology question using a home made instrument to collect data.  His struggle with church leadership over his affirmation of heliocentrism has reverberated for 500 years and become a touchstone for those who would pit science against religion.Moon Sketch

 

Galileo's sketches of the Moon


Owen Gingerich, "Truth in Science: Proof, Persuasion, and the Galileo Affair," PSCF 55.2:80-87 (6/2003).
In 1616 in a letter destined for Galileo, Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine (the leading Catholic theologian of his day) expressed his doubts about finding evidence for a moving earth. Would the annual stellar parallax or the Foucault pendulum have convinced him? The historical setting explored in this essay suggests that the cardinal would not have been swayed by these modern "proofs" of the heliocentric cosmology, even though they are convincing to us today because in the meantime, we have the advantage of a Newtonian framework. What passes today for truth in science is a comprehensive system of coherencies supported more by persuasion than proofs.

Historian David Lindberg's account of the incident notes:

"...the problem of epistemological authority - whether the truth of cosmological claims was to be determined by  Galileo Recantsexercise of the human capacities of sense and reason, by appeal to biblical revelation, or by some combination of the two...was the central methodological issue in the Galileo affair. We must also recognize that the issue of epistemological authority in areas of overlap (actual or potential) remains unresolved for many Christians to this day, as we see in contemporary battles between "creationists" and "evolutionists." This lack of resolution means that the tension and the potential for conflict will continue to hover over the relationship between Christianity and science." --David C. Lindberg, "Galileo, the Church, and the Cosmos," in Lindberg and Numbers, eds. When Science and Christianity Meet (2003), p. 58.
Galileo Recants (mythic)

First map produced of universe 11 billion years ago


supernova remnantScienceDaily (Nov. 14, 2012)
 — The aftershock of a stellar explosion rippling through space is captured in this new view of supernova remnant W44, which combines far-infrared and X-ray data from ESA's Herschel and XMM-Newton space observatories.

W44, located around 10,000 light-years away within a forest of dense star-forming clouds in the constellation of Aquila, the Eagle, is one of the best examples of a supernova remnant interacting with its parent molecular cloud.

 The product of a massive star that has already reached the end of its life and expelled its outer layers in a dramatic explosion, all that remains of the stellar behemoth is the spinning core of a neutron star, or pulsar. Identified as PSR B1853+01, the pulsar is the bright point to the top left in W44, coloured light blue in this image.

Modern Challenges

Today's technology affords opportunities for space travel, telescopes of incredibly high resolution and the ease of accumulation of space-time data that give a better scientific picture of when and how our cosmos was formed in addition to an enormous and ever expanding size. .   

Modern times have seen new concepts  added to those of an earlier era.. string theory, black holes,  dark matter, and big bang discussions have taken center stage.  Questions of when, how, and why provide new modes of science - faith interaction and controversy.

Why the Hunt for Extraterrestrial Life is Important

On Wednesday, something remarkable happened at Capitol Hill. In a special hearing, lawmakers of the House Science Committee discussed the search for extraterrestrial life with three experts for 2 hours. The question and answer session focused around efforts to find everything from alien microbes under rocks on Mars to full-blown SETI efforts to seek out transmitting extraterrestrial intelligence....

Here are a few articles from PSCF and other sources that open up these topics.

     Cosmology

cos·mol·o·gy/käzˈmäləjē/

Noun:
  1. The science of the origin and development of the universe. Modern astronomy is dominated by the big bang theory, which brings together...
  2. An account or theory of the origin of the universe. FreeDictionary

 

Andrew Zimmerman Jones and Daniel Robbins, "The Basic Elements of String Theory," Five key ideas are at the heart of string theory. Become familiar with these key elements of string theory right off the bat. Read on for the very basics of these five ideas of string theory ... 


Robert A. CatheyThree Christian "Cosmologists:" Three Christian " Karl Barth, Langdon Gilkey, and Kathryn Tanner (web paper) edited by Thomas J. Sienkewicz and James E. Betts and published by Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois in 1997 An analysis of Karl Barth's understanding of the relation between evolutionary cosmology and the Christian doctrine of creation. Barth's own account of the relation between science and theology, or cosmology and creation, also shows some important trends in how Christian theologians in the late 20th century dealt with issues of cosmology, evolution, and science.

Robert B. Mann, "Inconstant Multiverse," PSCF 57:4,  (December 2005) 302.  Explaining why there is something rather than nothing is one of theology's primary tasks. Recent scientific findings in cosmology have suggested a new theological task: explaining why there is something rather than everything. This task arises because of the conjunction of two intriguing properties of our universe: its strong biophilic selection effects and its apparent causal-connectedness on its largest scales. Current explanatory paradigms "respectively the anthropic principle and the inflationary universe" have suggested to many that our observable universe is a small part of a much larger structure called the multiverse. A multiverse presents us with a containment problem, since its logical extension suggests that anything that can exist, does exist. I argue such a perspective is incompatible with the foundations of both science and theology. As an antidote, I propose the altiverse: a set of possible alternatives that logically exist but are not physically realized.

 

J. Bryan Pitts,"Has Robert Gentry Refuted Big Bang Cosmology? On Energy Conservation and Cosmic Expansion," PSCF 12-04.


Robert Gentry has argued that Big Bang cosmology is unsatisfactory because photon
redshifting violates energy conservation and because cosmic expansion ought to occur on all distance scales and so not cause redshifting. By remembering to include the gravitational energy and discussing how to account for it, I show here that Big Bang cosmology satisfies energy conservation adequately. Recognizing the merely conventional nature of Gentry’s key distinction between expansion-based and Doppler-based redshifts reconciles the allegedly suspiciously conflicting explanations. A survey of the work matching Big Bang exterior solutions to local inhomogeneities gives plausible support for traditional claims that cosmic expansion has a negligible effect on small scales. Thus both of Gentry’s conclusions are unsupported by his arguments. I suggest that Big Bang cosmology is neither very harmful nor very helpful for Christian faith, but it is a serviceable physical theory.

 

Ben M.. Carter, "The Problem of Epistemology and Cosmic Models," PSCF 54.2:114-118 (6/2002). Cosmic models are themselves not accurate depictions of the universe but humanizations of it.

Rikki E. Watts, "Making Sense of Genesis 1" (2002). Used by Permission.

Schneider, Robert J. "Does the Bible Teach a Spherical Earth ?," PSCF 53 (September 2001): 159-169. A number of young-earth creationists purport to find in Isa. 40:22 and Job 26:7 evidence that the Bible teaches that the earth is spherical. A detailed analysis of key Hebrew words and their translations in ancient and modern versions shows that there is no substantive evidence and thus no warrant for this claim. This analysis is framed in the context of teaching a course in religion and science, and addresses the fundamental question, also explored in the course, of how one should interpret the Bible in the light of scientific knowledge.

Murphy, George L. "Chiasmic Cosmology and Creation's Functional Integrity," PSCF 53 (March 2001): 7. The belief that the character of God is most fully revealed in the cross of Christ is proposed here as the basis for Howard Van Till's concept of the functional integrity of creation. A theology of divine action in which the kenosis, or self-limitation, of God plays a central role is described and applied to our understanding of the world today and to the origins of the universe and life. The emphasis of this approach on the Incarnation then makes it possible to speak theologically about the design of a universe which displays functional integrity.

Philippidis, Alex, "Cosmic Controversy: The Big Bang and Genesis 1" PSCF 47.3:190-194 (9/1995)  The name "Big Bang" lives, at least for now. In 1993, astronomer Timothy Ferris issued a challenge to rename the event believed by a consensus of scientists to explain the creation of the universe. Ferris and other astronomy enthusiasts, including television personality Hugh Downs, believed that "Big Bang" trivialized cosmic creation by suggesting that a bomb-like explosion took place. Some 12,800 people in 40 countries accepted the challenge, but a panel of three judges found none of the proposed names to its liking, and left well enough alone.

Cramer, John "Adler's Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God," PSCF 47 (March 1995): 32-42. Fifteen years have passed since the book, How to Think about God, by Mortimer J. Adler was published. It is a revised version of the traditional cosmological argument for the existence of God. Since then, many relevant developments in science have occurred and new philosophical critiques of cosmological arguments have appeared. In this article, I review the status of the concept of inertia, current theories of cosmology, and arguments by J.L. Mackie and Adolph Grunbaum that consider their implications for the plausibility of Adler's argument. I conclude that, on balance, these developments enhance its plausibility.

Two Views of the Star of Bethlehem: an enduring Christmas topic

  • Colin Humphreys, "The Star of Bethlehem," Science and Christian Belief , Vol 5, (October 1995): 83-101 Evidence from the Bible and astronomy suggests that the Star of Bethlehem was a comet which was visible in 5 BC, and described in ancient Chinese records. A comet uniquely fits the description in Matthew of a star which newly appeared, which travelled slowly through the sky against the star background and which 'stood over' Bethlehem. The evidence points to Jesus being bom in the period 9 March-4 May, 5 BC, probably around Passover time: 13-27 April, 5 BC. Birth in the spring is consistent with the account in Luke that there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flock by night. Birth in 5 BC also throws light upon the problem of the census of Caesar Augustus. A new chronology of the life of Christ is given which is consistent with the available evidence. This chronology suggests that Christ died close to his 37th birthday.

  • Stephen Milton, "Understanding the Christmas Star," The Turning Magazine Winter 2007, Vol. 2 #1. Each December, stars are placed on top of Christmas trees, in remembrance of the light that shone above Bethlehem. The star only appears in Matthewís gospel, suggesting that it was not a key part of the Christ story for the other Gospel writers. So why does the star get a mention at all?  The answer lies in seeing the stars as the ancients saw them, not as we do now. We need to forget about stars as fiery nuclear furnaces, and return to a view of the stars that prevailed before science was born. As we'll see, that star was a kind of coded signal, delivering a message that would have been clear 2000 years ago, but which we miss if we think of stars in scientific terms.

Scientific Scenario Of A Comet's Impact With Earth And The "Wormwood" Prophecy  --Messianic Literary Corner (2008)

 Arnold PenziasBergman, Jerry, "Arno A. Penzias: Astrophysicist, Nobel Laureate," PSCF 46.3:183-187 (9/1994) "If the Universe hadn't always existed, science would be confronted by the need for an explanation of its existence." Since scientists prefer to

Arno A. Penzias

operate in the belief that the universe must be meaningless -  i.e., reality consists of nothing more than the sum of the world's tangible constituents -  they cannot confront the idea of creation easily, or take it lightly. Well, I hope that we, as modern people, might be able to leave dogma aside and be willing to look at facts, at least the facts as we understand them today." (Penzias, 1983)

Mark G. McKim, "The Cosmos According to Carl Sagan: Review and Critique" PSCF 45.1:18-25 (3/1993) The writings and television appearances of Carl Sagan have done much to popularize the scientific enterprise and to fire the popular imagination. A careful examination, however, shows that Sagan is highly critical of religious frames of reference, especially the Christian one. This article sets forth Sagan's major criticisms and maintains that he is operating from a clear world view, which itself verges on being a religion. A critique of the major points of that world view and a response to the criticisms which Sagan levels towards Christianity are also provided.

Hedman, Bruce A., "Mathematics, Cosmology, and the Contingent Universe" PSCF 41.2:99-103 (6/1989.) To say that the universe is "contingent" Kurt Godel

Kurt Godel 1906-1998  
 

means that it need not be the way it is. A contingent universe does not contain within itself a sufficient explanation of itself. Although the doctrine of contingence is an article of faith which transcends scientific demonstration, modern cosmology is making new discoveries and is asking new questions which point to the contingent character of the universe. Does the universe have a "beginning?" Is the extent of the universe finite? Does mathematical undecidability preclude any system from containing within itself a sufficient explanation of itself? Classical physics thought of the universe as closed, necessitarian, and inincontingent. Thus, certain questions basic to Christian thought were dismissed out-of-hand as invalid. An incongent universe precludes any revelation from the outside itself. Modern scientific models of the universe offer a more hospitable arena for the discussion of Christian theology.

Phillips, Perry G., "A History and Analysis of the 15.7 Light-Year Universe" PSCF 40.1:19-23 (3/1988.)  Objects in the universe are observed by virtue of the radiation they emit. On the basis of strongly supported theories dealing with the formation and propagation of radiation, astronomers have been able to determine distances from Earth to extremely remote segments of the universe.1 If one assumes that the radiation received from a distant object was generated by the object itself, and that the radiation traversed the distance between the object and Earth at a constant velocity, then the universe is at least as old as the radiation's travel time. Since radiation from some objects has taken billions of years to arrive, the universe is at least billions of years old. A common young-earth retort to the above astronomical argument for an extremely old universe is to claim that objects were created with their radiation e-n route to Earth. That is, both the object and the radiation en route to Earth. That is, both the object and the radiation appearing to emanate from it were created simultaneously. ...

Van Till, Howard J., "The Legend of the Shrinking Sun - A Case Study Comparing Professional Science and "Creation Science" in Action," PSCF 38.3:164-174 (9/1986.) In recent years, advocates of the young earth hypothesis have assembled numerous lists of "scientific evidences" for their recent creation scenario. In this paper we critically evaluate the scientific adequacy of one such evidential claim of "creation-science," viz., that the sun's diameter has been shrinking in such a manner as to preclude the credibility of the standard multibillion-year chronology for terrestrial history. Within the professional scientific community, a preliminary report which suggested a long-term and rapid shrinkage of the sun presented a puzzle for solar astronomers. Consequently, additional studies were made and the credibility of the original data was re-evaluated. The result is that secular shrinkage has not beenPost Flare Loops on the Sun substantiated, but an 80-year oscillatory behavior was discovered. Within the "creation-science" community, however, the response to the original report has been remarkably different. The suggestion of rapid long-term shrinkage was uncritically accepted, the evidence and conclusions drawn from subsequent studies were generally dismissed, and extrapolations of the presumed rapid solar shrinkage have been performed without restraint. Isolated from the corrective of continuing professional investigation and evaluation, the "creation-science" community continues to employ this unwarranted extrapolation of a discredited report as a scientific evidence" for a young earth. The credibility of the Christian witness to a scientifically knowledgeable world is thereby clouded.


Books

John H. Walton, Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology [Hardcover] Publisher: Eisenbrauns (September 22, 2011)

John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate [PB] IVP Academic (May 22, 2009

 

Deborah Haarsma and Jennifer Wiseman, "An Evolving Cosmos," Chapter 6 in Keith B. Miller, ed. Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, Eerdmans, 2003.

Brian Greene,, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory  Paperback , Vintage Books,  2000

Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes Paperback, Bantam Books, Incorporated, 1998.

Stephen W. Hawking, Roger Penrose , The Nature of Space and Time  Paperback , Princeton University Press,  2000.

Norris S. Hetherington, ed., Cosmology: Historical, Literary, Philosophical, Religious, and Scientific Perspectives  Paperback , Garland Publishing, Incorporated, 1996

Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God Paperback, Whitaker House, 2000

Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers,  Paperback, Norton, June 2000

Mark J. Worthing, God Creation, and Contemporary Physics, Fortress, 1996.

Howard J. Van Till, The Fourth Day: What the Bible and the Heavens are Telling Us About the Creation, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986. Remains a useful introduction to the field. 

Take a look for yourself!

Explore the Sky in Google Earth

Google Earth goes beyond its initial purpose and has a new feature that lets you explore theMars sky. The latest version (Google Earth 4.2) brings what could've been a separate program for rendering the sky, like Stellarium. After launching the application, click on the black rounded icon from the toolbar and switch to the sky mode. Google Earth shows the sky from the current location and becomes a virtual telescope for amateur stargazers. "This easy-to-use tool enables all Earth users to view and navigate through 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies. High resolution imagery and informative overlays create a unique playground for visualizing and learning about space," explains the press release. The layers include a lot of interesting information about stars, constellations, galaxies, images from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Ned Wrighy's Tutorial on Cosmology, UCLA 2009

Recent News        

Vigorous Star Birth Without Galactic Collisions: Herschel Paints New Story of Galaxy Evolution

Science Daily (Sep. 14, 2011)

ESA's Herschel infrared space observatory has discovered that galaxies do not need to collide with each other to drive vigorous star birth. The finding overturns this long-held assumption and paints a more stately picture of how galaxies evolve.


Neutron Star With a Tail Like a Comet

01 Jun 2006 - This beautiful image shows the supernova remnant IC 443. The area in the box contains what looks like a tiny comet with a tail, but it's actually a neutron star, moving quickly through the nebula. Neutron stars have been seen moving away from supernova remnants before, but in this case, it's moving perpendicular. One possibility is that the former star was moving quickly through the galaxy before it exploded. The gas and dust in the nebula have slowed down and drifted away from the neutron star.
Universe Today

Hubble's Detailed Look at Stellar Jets

 

 

  1. Universe Older Than Previously Thought - NASA Science

    science.nasa.gov › ... › Science@NASA Headline News  2013
    NASA
    Mar 21, 2013 - The map results suggest the universe is expanding more slowly than scientists thought, and is 13.8 billion years old, 100 million years older  ...

Web Sites

Christian Astronomers the website for chr-astro, an e-mail list for professional astronomers who are Christians.

History of Astronomy: ephemeris.com NASA/JPL  A very complete collection of biblical and other Jewish references to the heavens, dates of religious feasts, etc. and calendar design

A History Of Early Astronomy,  Neil Taylor, The early Greeks, Stonehenge to Galileo.

  

Astronomy and Astrology 
A selection of articles and links of interest to Christians by Chris Law

Today at NASA Includes recent missions, news and information, history and launch schedules. Read the latest press releases

Women of NASA  Highlights the contribution of women to NASA's development. Find profiles, forums, teaching tips, and a version of the contents in Spanish                                                    

Jet  Propulsion Laboratory  Center for robotic exploration of the solar system. Includes links to the many organizational programs governed by the JPL.

NASA Academy
 
Application, eligibility and financial assistance for NASA's summer institute of higher learning which identifies future space program leaders.

Astronomy for Kids   Things for kids and their parents to do on a clear evening.


The editor acknowledges the editorial assistance of George Murphy

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