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Thursday, April 26, 2012

God and the Cosmic Microwave Background

Promoting Science and Faith


(Photo by Helder Jacinto)

A week ago I was at an astronomy club meeting and I heard a brilliant lecture by Dr. Michele Limon from Columbia University. He talked about the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) and his cutting edge research into this amazing subject. Several days afterwards, my friend Helder and I rushed to take a look at the Horn Antenna, a microwave receiver from the 1960’s that established the existence of the CMB. This very obscure antenna (how many of you reading this right now have heard the name?) is responsible for one of the greatest discovery’s of the twentieth century. This crazy looking object should be as famous as the Hubble telescope, but it is hiding in plain sight in Holmdel NJ right near the Garden State Parkway. In a way it is just like the CMB. It too has been hiding in plain sight since the beginning of time. And why is it important? It is an imprint, or an echo of the creation of the universe.
The CMB was discovered by accident. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were doing telecommunication research for Bell Labs when they discovered microwave noise that came from every direction and was at a uniform temperature. There were theories about the CMB being written by math geniuses around the world, but these guys nailed it down. When the universe was first created, the energy levels were extreme. So extreme, that if we were exposed to them today all life on earth would be fried to a crisp. Over time the universe has expanded and the energy levels have spread out to the point where we are safe from dangerous exposure. The CMB has slight temperature variations in it, which are due to large galaxy clusters absorbing part of the radiation. Because of this we can ‘see’ how the universe formed and from that derive how it came to look like it does today.
LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
   You have set your glory in the heavens (Psalm 8:1)

The psalmist looked up at the sky and cried glorified God, because of how magnificent the heavens are. I say the same thing when I consider the CMB and how it gives us the ability to look back in time and see the creation of the universe. Rather than consider the universe as something mechanical, I see it as a creation of relationships. All of the cosmos is in relationship with itself, even the tiny photons that make up the CMB. While they fly through the vastness of space they experience slight changes in velocity and wavelength, which are due to their interaction with massive material structures such as galaxy clusters. Eventually they are captured by our microwave receivers. Thus with the CMB we can picture and analyze the relationship between energy and matter in the universe. In the same way, God created the world in which we exist upon one of relationships. Large societal structures (governments) interact with people in ways that affect even the most obscure individual. Even if we hide in the woods, we are in relationship with our environment and with the other inhabitants of our world. God created a universe that is in relationship with itself. And that includes you and I.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.
What is mankind that you are mindful of us,
   human beings that you care for us? (Psalm 8:3-4)

There is a reason that we are in relationship with the world around us. It is because God cares for all of us. God made a remarkable universe just for you and I to live in. The universe is beautifully balanced to create a place where we can exist. The early universe had to be highly energetic in order for the energy to exist for us to live on a world bathed in sunlight. But at the same time, the universe had to expand in order for the radiation to spread out and become less lethal to living things. The CMB shows us the process that God created that went from high energy to moderate energy, from nothingness to structure. All of this was done so that you and I can exist in this time and place. All of this we done because God cares for us.
So, marvel at the creation my friends. It was created for us.
LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
God bless you,
Pastor Bill

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