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The heavens beckon us, telling us this wonderful, mind-boggling cosmic display is indeed the work of the creator. And now, using rovers and satellites, explorations venture further out into the vastness of space than ever before.
Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. David Bradstreet (@EUastronomy) about his book, Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos (Zondervan, 2016).
[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, God of the Big Bang: An Interview with Leslie Wickman, Rocket Scientist]
Just how large is the universe?
Dr. David Bradstreet: We don’t know for sure.
We’re limited to measuring the observable universe because of the finite speed with which light travels: 186,000 miles per second. In one year light travels about 5.9 trillion miles, which we call a light year. We can only detect light out as far as the universe is old; that is, since the creation of the universe—approximately 13.8 billion years ago—light has only been able to travel 13.8 billion light years. But with an expanding universe, the objects which radiated the light that we now see as having come those vast distances are now much further away; and so current estimates as to where those objects are right now are more like 46 billion light years!
And, we don’t know whether or not the universe is infinite or not! So for now, just imagine it to be unimaginably big—and then realize that it’s beyond imagining! Would we expect anything less spectacular from an infinite creator?
How can similarly competent astronomers examine the heavens and each come to different conclusions: either theistic creationism or atheistic materialism?
Dr. David Bradstreet: Frankly, I believe that one’s worldview cannot be excluded from the answer to this question. God has said that it’s impossible to please him without faith (Hebrews 11:6). Thus we cannot prove through science or any other human endeavor that God exists.
On the other hand the evidence that points towards God’s existence seems to me to be overwhelming, and Paul said much the same in Romans 1:20 and the following verses.
So it’s possible to see the exact same evidence and explain it as simply a “natural” occurrence via “natural” laws (the secular worldview) or to see those laws as God at work and we’re discovering his methods.
Perhaps there’s a human pride element here. To admit that there’s a God is to admit that we’re not the pinnacle of all there is. To admit that there’s a God is to admit that we’re weak and fallen and desperately in need of forgiveness and redemption. This is a profoundly humbling state of mind, and perhaps many cannot or will not come to this conclusion.
How has studying the stars impacted your Christian faith?
Dr. David Bradstreet: As I believe is the case with studying almost anything, the more I learn about the creation, the more I marvel at the genius of the creator! How marvelously everything works together; the intricate simplicity of the universe. By that I mean that, despite its complexities, there are still unifying principles that allow us to at least glimpse a little bit of what’s going on, and in some cases make reliable predictions of what will happen as time progresses.
In addition, our limited but expanding understanding of the universe has allowed us to greatly enhance our own existence via technology and labor-saving devices, etc.
What Bible verse or passage means the most to you as a Christian astronomer?
Dr. David Bradstreet: My “heart” is always drawn to Psalm 8, and in particular verses 3 and 4, where David writes that, in considering the unimaginable grandeur of the heavens, what indeed is man that God cares for him; that God treasures us above all of creation?
Indeed, we’ve seen in his infinite sacrifice for us on the cross that we are of inestimable worth in his eyes; proven by that infinite price paid for our redemption. It also shows the depths of our sin; that it took such a price to redeem us! It’s too much for words; almost too good to be true!
What can we know about the character of God from exploring the cosmos?
Dr. David Bradstreet: No one can argue that the creation is not incredibly vast, intricate, beautiful, diverse, and yet composed of all the same building blocks (protons, electrons, etc.)! So there is, as Jacob Bronowski used to emphasize, a profound “unity within variety.”
The Scriptures declare that the universe is a reliable source of inspiration regarding God’s characteristics (for example, Romans 1:20), and so it is. It’s so fantastic that even God declared it “very good” as a whole (Genesis 1:31).
So, God is the genius creator. He obviously loves diversity and loves to create all kinds of marvelous things, from atomic structures to galaxies and everything in between. When the microscope was first used to study tiny creatures like fleas, the investigators were so flabbergasted by the unimaginable details apparent in these “worthless” creatures that they declared them veritable proof of God’s handiwork! I would claim the same of the stars, galaxies, and universe as a whole. To understand the workings of our universe and the idea that our bodies are literally composed of the dust of long dead stars, literally blows the mind to see what God has wrought in order to create us! How much he must love us!
What’s meant by the term “Goldilocks planet”?
Dr. David Bradstreet: Assuming that everyone is familiar with the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the idea of a “Goldilocks planet” is one which is “just right” for life to thrive upon it.
Earth resides within the habitable zone of our Sun; that is, that region where the temperatures allow water to exist in abundance in liquid form which we believe is necessary for life to persist.
The Earth also has its rotational axis tipped relative to the plane of its orbit such that the Sun’s rays do not continually strike directly on the equator. Our climate is mitigated by the fact that the earth’s tilted rotational axis results in a more moderate and life-enhancing climate. If the Earth were not inclined, then the tropics would always be unbearably hot and the polar regions always very cold, with the consequences that the boundaries between these two extremes would be pummeled with continuous storms and hurricanes. It’s unlikely that life would have gained a foothold in such a drastic environment.
However, the ideal conditions of our Earth and hence its “Goldilocks” nature do not preclude that there might be other such “Goldilocks planets” in the galaxy, but rather the idea that Earth is “just right” for all kinds of life to flourish. Going back to the Goldilocks story: just because Goldilocks found certain conditions within the Bears’ house to be just right didn’t mean that there weren’t other Bears’ houses spread throughout the forest with similar ideal conditions.
What does Scripture mean when it refers to the “ends,” “depths,” or “four corners” of the Earth?
Dr. David Bradstreet: Many people have pointed to the Bible’s reference (see Isaiah 11:12 for example) to the “four corners of the earth” as implying that the Bible believed in a flat and square earth.
The Hebrew word used here is kanaph which is translated in several different ways in the Old Testament. I like Dr. Joan Sloat Morton’s explanation from Science in the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978, p. 138,141). She points out that kanaph is translated as borders in Numbers 15:38. In Ezekiel 7:2 it’s translated four corners as it is in Isaiah 11:12. In Job 37:3 and 38:13 it’s translated as ends. In Revelation 7:1 and 20:8 the Greek word gonia is translated as four corners and literally means angles or divisions, most closely related to what we think of as quadrants, according to Dr. Morton.
So it makes complete sense to me that what the Holy Spirit is conveying by saying “four corners of the Earth” is simply “from all compass directions” and is not implying that the Earth is square or flat. In other words, God will bring back all the dispersed of Judah no matter where they are on the Earth; that is, from all directions.
Do you think there’s life in outer space?
Dr. David Bradstreet: This question is such an interesting one, and the answer to it is mind-blowing no matter what it is!
It’s possible that life is so challenging to create that it takes a universe this large and this old in order to sustain its existence on just one planet! That idea certainly boggles the mind; that we may indeed be the only sentient (self-aware) creatures in the entire universe!
But the idea that God has created other life on other worlds is certainly possible and just as mind-boggling!
Although not directly pertaining to extraterrestrial life, I always remember Jesus’ statement in John 10:16 where he talks about the fact that he has “…other sheep, which are not of this fold.” Certainly in this context he’s speaking of the Gentiles, but, as the Jews believed that only they belonged to the family of God, perhaps we Earthlings should not make the same egocentric claim regarding the potential of extraterrestrial sheep?
Yes, I believe that there is the potential for sentient life elsewhere in the universe, but I also admit the possibility that we’re the only ones.
Should your book be considered a contribution to Christian apologetics?
Dr. David Bradstreet: Yes, absolutely! One of the overarching principles which we hope pervades the book is demonstrating how an evangelical can also be a respected scientist, and that I don’t have conflicts between my faith and my science. I firmly believe in Jesus Christ and everything that he said.
Steve Rabey (my co-author) and I are trying to show that science and faith are partners in the search for truth, and that discovering scientific principles or “laws” are simply discovering how God continually sustains his creation.
Most of the great scientists of the scientific revolution were also devout Christians and believed firmly that they were worshipping God by studying and trying to understand his reation. Kepler wrote in a letter that he believed he was “thinking God’s thoughts after him” as he discovered the mathematical principles we now know as Kepler’s Laws of planetary motion.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Dr. David Bradstreet: One of the main themes of Star Struck is the idea of God as creator and sustainer. The Bible is replete with references that God not only created the universe but sustains it at all times as well. See for example Psalm 104, Acts 17:28, Colossians 1:16-17.
Why is this such a critical point? If we make the mistake of only emphasizing God as creator (which is, of course, critically important in itself) but neglect the fact the he is sustaining his creation at all times and in all points, then we can be led down the path of deism. Deism is the belief that God created the universe as a self-sustaining entity (machine), run by natural laws, and now God is not necessary except with perhaps an occasional interjection of a miracle here and there.
To see God as continually sustaining the universe is to understand that everything that we discover through science will reveal that he is continually at work (as Jesus said in John 5:17). God controls every electron in every atom throughout the entire universe (and possibly in an infinite number of them!) and yet this is “no sweat” for him.
An infinite God can handle an infinite amount of “work” and still have plenty of time for each one of us! If you think this is beyond his abilities, then you need to rethink the greatness of your God! No discovery of science will ever diminish God’s greatness. If God didn’t exist, NOTHING would exist.
Bio: David H. Bradstreet is an award-winning professor, author and binary star expert who has been teaching students about the heavens since 1976 at Eastern University, where he serves as Professor and Chair of the Astronomy and Physics Department and Director of the David H. Bradstreet Observatory and Julia Fowler Planetarium. He’s been teaching astronomy to children from ages 4–20+ and adults of all ages in the planetarium since he was a freshman at Eastern in 1972.
Dave earned a BS in Astronomy, Communications and Secondary Ed. at Eastern University, and a MS and PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics from the University of Pennsylvania. He’s worked with NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the International Astronomical Union, and has over 100 professional publications. He’s the author of two volumes of the Spitz Fulldome Curriculum, a popular curriculum product used by SciDome planetariums internationally. He also authored the Binary Maker 3.0 software program that helps astronomical researchers worldwide calculate the characteristics of binary stars. Asteroid 5826 Bradstreet was named by the International Astronomical Union in honor of his achievements. He’s been happily married to his best friend, Colleen, for 40 years and has two grown sons and two rambunctious grandchildren. You can find out much more about Dr. Bradstreet at the Astronomy Department website at www.euastronomy.com.
Co-writer Steve Rabey is an award-winning author of more than 30 books and more than 2,000 articles for more than 100 major media outlets including The New York Times and Christianity Today. His books on faith and culture for ABA and CBA publishers include study Bibles; the bestselling Rachel’s Tears about Columbine shooting victim Rachel Scott (more than 350,000 copies sold) and The Lessons of St. Francis (more than 50,000 copies sold). Steve’s articles have been published by major outlets including The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Religion News Service. He’s covered religion for the Colorado Springs Gazette for two decades (church mergers, Billy Graham’s legacy, “nones”). Recent stories about Christians and legalized marijuana for OnFaith generated more than 7,000 Facebook shares. Steve has an MA in church history from Denver Seminary. He’s taught at Denver and Fuller seminaries and the US Air Force Academy. He and his author/speaker wife Lois are celebrating 25 years together.