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Origin of the Universe

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Creation of the Cosmos

This tour will be led by Dr Ron Choong, PhD (science and theology, Princeton Seminary)

 

A tour of the Hall of the Universe at the American Museum of Natural History

When humans first looked up at the bright lights in the night sky, probably 200,000 years ago, they must have wondered what they were. By 100,000 years ago, humans began to count time by observing the movement of the lights and calendars were born. When writing first began 5,000 years ago, modern astronomy began first as astrology and subsequently, with the invention of the telescope, as astronomy. But why did the ancients try to understand the stars, the sun, the moon and the planets? The answer was survival. 

3 words are interlinked - cult, culture and agriculture.

The changing patterns in the night sky marks the passage of time, which helped keen observers predict the coming seasons, especially rainfall of snowmelt to produce rivers to water the crops. Thus agriculture became the prime reason to study the stars. From this word came the notion of culture, the sharing of resources as humans lived in communities. Finally, such communities also shared beliefs about the world, the visible powers of leaders and the invisible powers of the spiritual world. These beliefs form their cultic practices of worship. This then is the strong relationship between astronomy and belief in God.

In our interdisciplinary exploration, we shall seek convergence between human beliefs and their quest to predict their futures through astronomical observations that continues to this day.

But how did the universe begin? From the astronomical perspective, it has to do with the grand cosmic battle between gravity and radiation. The first crushes and the second expands. It was the impulse of what we call the Big Bang that marked radiation overcoming gravity and detected as light. Everything we know about the universe comes from the many ways we have learned to detect and measure light or the electromagnetic spectrum.

This Hall presents the discoveries of modern astrophysics. Divided into four zones, it covers the formation, evolution, and properties of stars, planets, galaxies, and the universe. The Universe Zone explores the expansion of the universe and the limits of human observation. The Galaxies Zone celebrates the beauty, diversity, and violent history of galaxies. The Stars Zone traces the life and death of stars, and links the stars to the elements created by them, including the chemical building blocks of human bodies. The Planets Zone focuses on the variety of planets and their structure, in addition to examining major collisions that have occurred on Earth.

Science measures and tests theories to explain what we know and predict what we do not. What cannot be measured and tested is beyond the competence of the scientific enterprise. This includes the origin of the universe. But science is very good at understanding the mechanism that might be responsible for the workings of the cosmos.

Religion draws from the wisdom and insights of the human experience handed down as testimonial witnesses in sacred texts. It is not scientific and no sacred texts ought to be used as such. Theological insights are good at explaining the human experience and our deep spiritual sensitivities that are often masked by rational biases.

As such, theology and science make important partners in the quest for understanding our existence in this universe.

The first article of the Nicene Creed begins with the words "I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible" reflecting Genesis 1:1 "In the Beginning ..."

In this one hour tour, we shall consider the convergence between theology and with cosmogony. Can one believe in a creator God and also the inferences of astronomical observations?

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