Thought for the Day - Rev Professor David Wilkinson
Good morning. While some scientists have provided a formula to say that this is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year, other scientists will use the next three days to encourage us to lift our eyes to the skies for fun and inspiration. Stargazing Live returns for a second series, presented by Professor Brian Cox and Dara O Briain from Jodrell Bank Observatory, complimented by lots of local activities. But what is it about the observing of the universe that continues to fascinate people?
It may be its vastness, for our Sun is one of 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, or it may be the beauty and intelligibility of the scientific laws which allow us to understand exotic objects such as black holes. This sense of awe has a long history in both science and religion. Yet it poses the question of what it means to be human in such a cosmic context. Indeed, a recent paper, in the journal Nature, used the microlensing of light by planets and stars beyond the solar system to suggest that there may be billions of Earth sized planets in the Milky Way. As the writer of Psalm 8 questioned ‘When I look at the heavens, the moon and the stars which you have created what are human beings that you are mindful of them?’
This isn’t an easy question to answer. Dara O Briain himself in his stand up routine, suggests that looking at yourself when you get out of the shower in the morning is enough to destroy belief in a perfect Creator God, asking ‘what kind of off day exactly was God having when he threw you together’. Yet the answer of the psalmist is to find human significance not in perfection but in the gift of relationship with the Creator God. Christians have developed that understanding, seeing the evidence of that gift in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
The awe engendered by my own experience in astronomy has posed some tough questions for my Christian faith, not least in reminding me that my picture of God is often too small. As Sir Bernard Lovell, the founder of Jodrell Bank, put it we live with questions of God and human beings ‘at the centre of immensities’.
Of course the perspectives of faith or astronomy don’t solve all the difficult questions and struggles of everyday life. Yet the vastness and beauty of the universe have increased my excitement with science and faith, reminding me that there is a bigger context to my life. And at least on this blue Monday, star gazing is certainly a less depressing activity than gazing at myself in the shower.