Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dancing with the Stars

The February and March sky this year has been amazing for stargazers. The conjunction of Venus and Jupiter has even been noticed by those who normally don't keep their eye on the night sky. February 26 saw a crescent moon involved with them in the evening sky, and I took the picture which you see at the right. Mars, bright due to its nearness to the earth, has also been a sight to behold as it makes its appearance in the east after sunset. I was moved enough to write this poem.
Dancing with the stars—
Venus, Jupiter, and Mars.
The Lady and Jove
As if they're in love.
Alone the god of wars.

In chapter four of Prince Caspian, Cornelius gives the prince an astronomy lessen as they view a conjunction in the night sky. Caspian asks if the heavenly bodies are going to collide. The Doctor replies,
The great lords of the upper sky know the steps of their dance too well for that. Look well upon them. Their meeting is fortunate and means some great good for the sad realm of Narnia. Tarva, the Lord of Victory, salutes Alambil, the Lady of Peace. They are just coming to their nearest.
As Michael Ward reminds us (See my Review of Michael Ward's "Planet Narnia".), Lewis was fascinated by the medieval view of the heavens, which placed great significance upon the stars and especially the position of the planets. The importance of the heavenly bodies above Narnia is again emphasized in the conversation between Romandu and Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
"In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas."
"Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of."
In our world, and in our time, we have scientific evidence of what stars and planets are made of, but do we understand what they are? Do we understand their purpose?

Long before science had given us the answer to what heavenly bodies are made of, an ancient Hebrew poet explained why God created them.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth. [Psalm 19 NIV]

The psalmist isn't giving a science lesson, but he does, in poetic metaphor, describe how the heavens speak to us about God's glory and purpose. This portion of scripture was not designed to speak to us with left-brain logic, but to connect with our right-brain creativity. It's not that we are to leave the left side of our brain at the door, but to recognize that there is more to existence than empirical knowledge.

I came across an interesting quote the other day.
In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way. — Carl Sagan

Sagan has a point. There are "people of faith" who seem to limit God in that way. However, this does not have to be. With a little searching, I came across an article at which quotes Sagan and gives this response.
And so while some fight conservative battles to maintain traditional doctrines - and at the same time keep their gods small - others of us look at science convinced that it is providing us with a great deal of accurate, useful and important information that must be not only incorporated into our thinking about God, but allowed to shape and transform our thinking about God. And we do so confident that whoever and whatever is truly transcendent and ultimate not only can withstand such scrutiny, but that discovering more about the universe is an aid to eliminating false gods and idols and replacing them with a more accurate sense of the divine.
Can science help us understand God? Certainly. The concept of the universe to those in medieval times—and earlier—was certainly not as accurate as what we have today, but God still used their limited knowledge to speak to them. He even somehow used the concept of the heavens in the minds of ancient stargazers (magi) to lead them to the Christ-child.

We may have more knowledge than the ancients, but I certainly hope we don't the have hubris to think we know everything. If this world goes on for a few thousand more years, I'm sure scientists will look back at our concept of the universe and laugh at how ignorant we are. But I also hope they will have the humility to use their knowledge to expand their concept of how great God is instead of using it as an excuse to reject Him.


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