Chapter 8
A Christian physics teacher’s personal outlook
on the wonders of the universe

    In this chapter I am not trying to prove anything. I begin with the fact that I am a Christian, and I believe there is a God and the universe is His creation. The reasons why I believe this were in Chapter 6. Here I am describing what it means to me personally.

    If you have a friend who is an artist, you can appreciate his or her art in a way different from someone who does not know him. And from seeing his art, you appreciate him in a different way. The same is true if you have a friend who writes a book. For me, this is what it is like to both study the creation and know the Creator. Each one increases my appreciation for the other. I enjoy nature in a special way because I know God made it to show His glory and for us to enjoy. And I respect and understand Him better because I see what He has created.

I Beauty

Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God,
the firmament shows His handiwork.”
    There are countless aspects of beauty in nature, and God Himself especially mentions the sky. A sunset is beautiful. There is no need for it to be beautiful. The sky could be white in the day, black at night, and gray in between; we would still survive just as well. When it is dark, the stars become visible, in all their beauty if you can get away from air and light pollution. One hundred years ago this was possible in the center of a city; now it may be difficult to find such a place even in the country. The loss of this opportunity for most people is a major loss to our entire outlook on life; we become enclosed in a small, man-made environment and forget how small it is.

    The stars are twinkling, rapidly changing in brightness from one instant to the next. Of course this is not the star itself changing, only the light rays being bent in the last few kilometers by turbulence in the air. But very few people have noticed that a bright white star near the horizon is also changing rapidly in color, flashing all the colors of the rainbow.

    There is beauty in all areas of creation. The difference between God’s hand-work and ours is that when you put God’s work under a magnifying glass you see new worlds of beauty, but ours looks rough and ugly.

    Living things are another vast display of God’s handiwork, about which I know very little.

    Why did God create beauty? He must enjoy it Himself, because in most of this vast universe no one but Him sees it. But He enjoys sharing a little bit of it with us, and this green and blue planet must be the most beautiful place in the universe. So the next time you enjoy a sunset, consider it as a gift from God.

    Gifts from God show His love for us as His children. But the greatest proof of His love is that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for us and rise again, to save us from our sins. I John 4:10

    Have you accepted His love? Are you His child? Or do you complain about many things? “This shouldn’t happen to me. God doesn’t love me.”

    Faced with such an awesome display of God’s creative ability and artistry, what can we hope to do to impress Him, or earn His favor or acceptance? Absolutely nothing. And yet He does accept us, and values whatever we do as an expression of our love and gratitude to Him. This is all strictly due to His grace, not anything we deserve or earn. This is both humbling and a great relief to us.

II Complexity

    In Job 38, God Himself chooses the stars and the weather to illustrate His greatness, so it is not just my personal interest that considers these as important examples!

    The earth’s climate is extremely complex. In my five years in graduate school studying the atmosphere, the main thing I learned is that we do not yet really understand the weather. It is controlled by a delicate balance of at least seven or eight important processes, and a small change in one or more of the processes could cause a significant change in the balance. When we make a complex new system, we can only estimate in advance how it will work, and when we start it up we must adjust it until it is the way we want it. But God designed this intricate world, turned it on, and it worked exactly right the first time.

    I had a one-year graduate course on how raindrops form! It is a complicated process of several steps, that was not well understood until computers became available. As far as we know, the earth is the only place in the solar system, perhaps in the universe, where liquid drops fall out of a gas atmosphere. One other possible place is Saturn’s moon Titan, but if it rains there the rain is methane, and the temperature is extremely cold.

    I also had a one-semester course on atmospheric electricity, primarily lightning. The main conclusion was that we do not know how a cloud generates electricity. That was in the early 70’s. Scientists are a little more sure now, but still not positive they know how it works.

    Examples of complexity are of course endless. The motions of heavenly bodies are going many different directions all at once, yet staying perfectly in order. The most complex system in the universe, though, is living things.

    All this complexity shows the wisdom of God. If He can manage all the complexity of the universe, He surely can manage our problems too. Romans 8:28. But so often we worry and complain, and try to manage everything ourselves, and think He is not paying attention. We disobey His commands, thinking He doesn’t understand our special situation. Do you trust Him?

    Faced with such awesome wisdom and competence, what can we do to impress God with our ability? What help does He need? Absolutely none. This is both humbling and a relief to us. Our acceptance by Him is based totally on His grace, not on anything we can achieve or do to impress Him by our great accomplishments.

III Power

    Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

    The universe has many examples of power. The motion of objects represents kinetic energy. The earth is moving 30 km/sec around the sun, and the sun is moving about 250 km/sec around the center of the Milky Way. And so on.

    But a far greater power is represented by Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2. This means that the very existence of matter represents energy, and a lot of it. In the 60s I calculated that the entire electrical power consumption of the United States for a year equals the energy of 20 kg, and the total power of all kinds equals 200 kg. So each one of us could provide all the electricity for the US for several years, if we wanted to sacrifice our bodies for the purpose! Of course, at present there is no known way to convert mass completely to energy. All our chemical reactions, and even nuclear reactors, only convert a very small fraction of the fuel to energy.

    The sun’s power output means that every second 4,000,000,000 kg of its matter vanish, converted to sunshine. And the universe is full of countless stars, some of them far brighter than the sun.

    God has no energy crisis! All the matter in the universe represents tremendous energy, but the Bible only mentions it in the short first sentence, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God wasn’t even tired. In the rest of the Bible, He reminds us many times that He is “the Maker of heaven and earth.”

    But this is not the greatest demonstration of God’s power. When the New Testament writers want to express the greatness of God’s power, the example they choose is the resurrection of Jesus, and how that power can change us. The only thing that was difficult for God Himself was saving us from our sins.

    Do we really believe He can save us and change us? Or do we just give up? “This is just the way I am. I can’t change.” What we mean, but don’t say out loud, is “And God can’t change me either.”

    Once again, faced with such power, what can we offer to God? We are again both humbled and relieved. He certainly doesn’t need our help. Yet He offers us the privilege of participation in His plan, and even of a position of importance in it. This is amazing, something we can only accept as a gift of His grace.

IV Vastness

Psalm 8:3, 4 “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”
    David, the writer of that psalm, was impressed with the vastness of the sky 3000 years ago, and he had no idea of what we know now about how vast it really is. Let me give a few numbers to explain it.

    The diameter of the earth is 13,000 km.; can we really imagine a ball that big? What we can usually see of it is such a little bit that it looks flat. But the earth of course is only a tiny speck in the vastness of space.

    The moon is 380,000 km away from the earth. Light takes about 1 1/4 seconds to travel that far. It was a major accomplishment that astronauts were able to go there and land. But of course this distance is tiny.

    The sun is 150,000,000 km away. Sunlight takes 8 minutes to reach the earth from the sun. Do we understand such a number? How much is 1,000,000? How long is 1,000,000 seconds? It is about 11 days.

    The largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter, is 780,000,000 km from the sun. Sunlight takes about 45 minutes to get there. When you look at Jupiter in the sky, you are seeing what it looked like 45 minutes ago, plus or minus 8 minutes or less. When a spacecraft was flying by Jupiter, the scientists on earth were not operating it by remote control. They had sent a program to its computer several weeks before, and it was running totally automatically; the scientists receiving the signals were seeing what the spacecraft had done 45 minutes earlier. If something went wrong, they did not know about it for 45 minutes, and if they were able to solve the problem immediately and send a signal to correct it, it would take another 45 minutes for the signal to reach the spacecraft.

    The farthest planet, Pluto, is 5,900,000,000 km away. Sunlight there has traveled 6 hours. How long is 1,000,000,000 seconds? It is about 31 years.

    We are still talking about the solar system, and kilometers are already a very inconvenient unit of distance. We need a much bigger unit. Beyond the solar system, astronomers use a more convenient unit, the light year, the distance light travels in a year, traveling 300,000 km/sec. A light year is slightly less than 10,000,000,000,000 km.

    The nearest star, called Alpha Centauri, is 4 1/2 light years from us. The light we see has traveled 4 1/2 years. That is our next-door neighbor. Most of the stars we can see with the naked eye are between 10 and 1000 light years away, and the ones we can see are only the brightest among them. When we look into the sky, we are looking at history, what the stars looked like several decades or centuries ago.

    The hazy strip of light that goes around the sky is called the Milky Way. It is the combined light of millions of stars that are too small to see by themselves. They form a huge system called the Milky Way Galaxy. This strip around the sky is bright because the Milky Way is flat, like a plate, and the hazy light is where we are looking along the plane of the plate so we see the most stars. The Galaxy does not have a sharp edge, but we can say that its diameter is about 100,000 light years. We are about 30,000 light years from the center.

    If we made a model of the Galaxy 3000 miles across, about the size of Mainland China, how big would the solar system be in our model? The orbit of Pluto would be about 2 centimeters in diameter. The solar system compared to the Galaxy is like a postage stamp compared to all of China. The earth’s orbit is about 1/40 of this, or half a millimeter in our model. The model earth itself is too small to see with a microscope. And you and I are tiny on this earth.

    Not far from the Milky Way in the evening sky in autumn, there is short streak of light. The light you see has been traveling for over 2,000,000 years. This is M31, the Andromeda galaxy, named after the constellation in which we see it. It is the nearest large galaxy outside our own, our next-door neighbor galaxy.

    Large observatory telescopes can see countless galaxies scattered through the universe. The most distant are up to or perhaps over 10,000,000,000 light years away. The Milky Way Galaxy is a small part of the universe.

    We cannot comprehend 1,000,000,000, and cannot comprehend 1 light year, but God created a universe whose size is many times 1,000,000,000 light years.

    The things we are so concerned about and work so hard for in this life are really very tiny! What is really worthwhile in life? Only God’s plan is as big as the universe. He wants us to be a part of His plan, if we are willing. Are you? Don’t pass up the opportunity.

    From a different viewpoint, the vastness of the universe shows how important we are to God. He made the entire universe so that the earth could be formed, and He formed the earth so that we could live on it. We are the purpose for which the universe exists. That is a marvel of His grace.

V Age

Psalm 39:4, 5 “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.”
    We spend 12 to 16 or more years getting an education. What we learn from teachers and books is information that nearly all is less than 100 years old (except in history class). In that time a tree grows large.

    It has been 2000 years since the time of Jesus Christ. In that time, nations have risen and fallen, rivers have changed their course, the earth has precessed 15 degrees on its axis, and a few stars have moved noticeably in the sky. David wrote Psalm 39 3000 years ago. China, Europe, and Egypt’s recorded history covers about 5000 years. It has probably been about 10,000 years since God created Adam and Eve.

    The island of Taiwan, with mountains up to 4000 meters above the ocean, is one of the youngest geological features on earth, probably about 2,000,000 years old. In that time hills and rivers change drastically, and the movement of the stars changes our sky completely. The stars initially near us move out of sight and different ones come into view.

    It has been less than 500,000,000 years since the earth’s continents began splitting from one large land mass, and drifted to their present positions. In this time many mountain ranges have risen and eroded away.

    The solar system formed less than 5,000,000,000 years ago. The sun has consumed about half of the hydrogen in its core, so it can continue for about another 5,000,000,000 years. After that it will become a giant star briefly (only a few 100,000,000 years!), expand nearly to the earth’s orbit, and completely evaporate the earth. Finally it will shrink into a white dwarf the size of the earth, and shine more and more faintly as it slowly cools for many 1,000,000,000s of years.

    The universe began with a Big Bang, which seems to have been about 15,000,000,000 years ago.

    David had no idea how ancient the universe really is when he wrote in Psalm 39 that our life is only a handbreadth, a breath, like the cloud of breath on a cold morning that evaporates in a second. If our life is 70 years on the average, how does that compare with 15,000,000,000 years? Is anything in our lifetime really important?

    From another viewpoint, though, the great age of the universe shows how important we are to God. He spent 15,000,000,000 years preparing for these few thousand years that the human race has been here. In fact, the Bible says He foresaw each individual, so you can even say that He spent all that time preparing for your lifetime of 70 years, more or less. If your life is that important to God, be careful not to waste it!

    Our life is short, yet the Bible says our soul is eternal; we will outlast the sun and the universe. What is important is what will affect the condition of our soul. Where will you be 1,000,000,000 years from now? What do you have now that you will still have then? Only what you have done for God. Have you done anything for God? Will you be with God? Are you prepared for eternity?

    God has not only been in existence as long as the universe; He transcends time. He created time; that was part of the Creation, along with space and matter, at the Big Bang. It is meaningless to ask about things “before the Big Bang.” That was the “beginning” of Genesis 1:1; there was no “before.”

    Faced with such an awesome time scale, how can anything we accomplish in our fleeting lifetime be of significance to God? It cannot, except that by His grace He makes us important, and offers us an eternal future and value. This is both humbling and a relief.

    These are some thoughts of a Christian physics teacher. Does any of it change your outlook on life at all?

    This concludes this book. I hope it has been helpful to you in strengthening or starting an outlook that is centered in the God of the Bible, preparing one day to meet Him and be with Him forever.