I am a scientist, and I believe in God, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible, and of all things infrared and ultraviolet, x-ray and gamma ray, luminous and dark. I am the youngest child of missionaries who worked for the Reformed Church of America in Hong Kong in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I have always believed in God, ever since I was a child. The intervening years of learning, thought and scientific education have never brought me to question the existence of God. In fact, the more I understand about the universe (admittedly a tiny fraction of all there is to know and understand), the deeper my appreciation for our creator.
Here’s something that I never knew as a child: The universe is remarkably good at recycling. Our whole solar system is made from the recycled and reprocessed remains of several previous generations of stars. You and I are made of material forged in the furnaces of stellar interiors. The iron and magnesium in our blood come from a star much more massive than the Sun that lived briefly perhaps 10 billion years ago, when the universe was young. And that iron and magnesium now in our bloodstreams, a small piece of the universe, will return to the universe when we die.
When I was a child, I told my Mom (with whom I apparently had many deep religious conversations) that I thought when we were born, a small piece of God came into us, and that this piece of God stayed in us until we died, when it went back to be with God. So from a young age, my concept of an afterlife was like a reunion, that a small part of us that was from God would return to be with God. In the same way that our physical body would return to be with the Earth, another part of us would return to the well from which it was drawn.
I believe that we are made in God’s image, “In the image of God…male and female [God] created them.” I don’t think that means that God looks like humans. I believe that the universe is filled with living things made in God’s image, most of which look nothing like us. I believe that God created a universe with the potential to make atoms, molecules, life, intelligence, curiosity, self-awareness, exploration and understanding. If we humans have these attributes, and we are made in God’s image, then I believe that God has them too. I believe that whatever God is, that God must be filled with the same playfulness and inventiveness found in us.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God created the universe with language. God said “Let there be light” and there was light. Language is one of our most stunning achievements as intelligent creatures. Language allows intelligent beings to communicate complex ideas and share understanding. We use language in prayer when we speak to God, even in our silence. We have sent language out into space, hoping for an answering voice. Humans want to not just observe the universe, but to be in communication with it. Particles can communicate through the vastness of space with light. An atom emits a photon somewhere in the universe, this photon travels for millions of years until another particle absorbs it, and these two particles have communicated. Light is particles in communication. Language is intelligence in communication. Let there be language. Let there be light.
Observations of the universe tell us that creation appears perfectly balanced, that if the fundamental constants were not exactly what they were, that the universe could not have been stable and that we could not exist. If the ratio of the proton mass to the electron mass were not exactly what it is, then atoms would not be able to exist, even the simplest of atoms. If the force of gravity, or the relative strength of gravity to electromagnetism were not exactly what they are, then stars would never have formed, or would have gone through their lifetimes far too quickly for life to evolve. But the universe is the way it is, and you and I are here as a result.
Observations tell us that the universe is fertile and is perfectly balanced for the formation of intelligent life. This fertility has allowed consciousness to emerge from a haze of particles. It has been said that if the universe were not exactly the way it is, we would not be here to observe it. There are at least two ways out of this conundrum, sometimes called the Anthropic Principle.
Either an infinity of unobservable universes exist, most of which cannot support stars, much less life, and ours is just one universe in which things are “just so”, making our existence possible. Or, things are “just so” for a reason, perhaps because God, whatever God is, chose for there to be something rather than nothing, created a universe with the possibility for stars, galaxies and planets, molecules and life, observers and understanding.
Given the choice between an infinite number of unobservable universes and God, I choose to believe in God, maker of all that is seen and unseen. There are many things about this universe that I do not understand. But I believe that God has created a universe that is understandable, one that we can and must explore, because the more we understand the universe—all of creation—the more we understand our God, creator of all things.
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