Three eminent and award winning astronomers tackle some of the biggest questions in astronomy. How big is the universe? Are humans significant? Is there a cosmic designer? As well as smaller questions like the science of Star Wars and what to make about the downgrading of Pluto. An action-packed and entertaining extended episode.
This episode was recorded at COSAC (Conference on Science and Christianity) conference organised by ISCAST.
Dr. Jennifer Wiseman is an astronomer, author, and speaker. She is one of the world’s leading astronomers, holding a PhD in astronomy from Harvard, and she’s even discovered a comet - Wiseman-Skiff in 1987.
Professor Ken Freeman is Duffield Professor of Astronomy at Mt Stromlo Observatory at the Australian National University. Ken is an eminent astronomer and a pioneer in the field of dark matter and in 2012 was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.
Dr. Luke Barnes is a postdoctoral researcher at Western Sydney University. He has published papers in the field of galaxy formation and on the fine-tuning of the universe for life and he’s also published a book with Geraint Lewis, A Fortunate Universe.
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Bigger questions asked in the conversation
Welcome all to Bigger Questions. Today’s event is a bit like three astronomers walk into a bar - what happens next? Well, we’re about to find out!
As we start I want to get your thoughts on poor Pluto. It was once the 9th planet of our solar system - but more recently it’s been downgraded and no longer a planet. How do you feel about Pluto?
How much do you know about the science of Star Wars.
Astronomy - planet formation
So there are a number of things Star Wars got right about the universe - for wasn’t it was once thought that planets outside our solar system were quite rare and that planets couldn’t orbit binary star systems?
Jennifer - you study stars and planetary formation - your thoughts on how modern astronomical discoveries inform this?
Could there be a galaxy with desert planets like Tatooine, ice planets like Hoth and forest moons like Endor?
Your research focuses on understanding star formation - is star formation connected to planetary formation? How do stars form?
Ken you’ve spent a long time researching dark matter. Now this is a bit different to the dark side of the Force isn’t it?
Now forgive my ignorance, but isn’t most of the universe dark? What exactly is dark matter?
How did you discover it? Where is it?
What does this mean? The implications of dark matter?
Discovering a comet
Jennifer you discovered a comet - Wiseman-Skiff - what was it like when you discovered it?
How did you find it?
On Nov. 12 2014 the European Space Agency landed a craft on a comet - is there any chance of a similar landing on your comet?
Fine-tuning of the universe
Luke - it’s intriguing that you co-authored your book, A Fortunate Universe with an atheist - Geraint Lewis. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
So you think that there is evidence for fine-tuning in our universe?
Does fine-tuning mean a designed or an optimal universe?
Atheist Christopher Hitchens found the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God as ‘most intriguing’ and admitted that it wasn’t a ‘trivial’ thing to engage. Does fine tuning provide a potential pointer to a ‘fine-tuner’?
Is the multiverse a legitimate scientific theory, or a way of cosmologists to avoid potential theistic implications of a fine-tuned universe with a beginning?
Now you’re all Christian believers - what was it that convinced you to become a Christian believer? Was it your science or something else?
The more you learn about astronomy, the heavens, and space - do these discoveries threaten or enhance your idea of God?
Today’s big question is: Do the heavens’ declare the glory of God. So perhaps let’s consider the vastness of the heavens - how many stars are there in the universe?
Now the universe is just so massive that it defies comprehension at one level. How do you deal with that in your work?
But how could you think humans are significant at all in the vastness of the universe? Skeptic Michael Shermer wrote
“Finally, from what we now know about the cosmos, to think that all this was created for just one species among the tens of millions of species who live on one planet circling one of a couple of hundred billion stars that are located in one galaxy among hundreds of billions of galaxies, all of which are in one universe among perhaps an infinite number of universes all nestled within a grand cosmic multiverse, is provincially insular and anthropocentrically blinkered.”
So are we important?
The Bible’s answer - the heavens declare the glory of God
Today's Big Question is: do the heavens declare the glory of God? And the Bible itself speaks to this question. Psalm 19, is a song in the Old Testament and Psalm 19:1 says,
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
The author here claims that the heavens do declare the glory of God. In what way do you think?
Do you look up at the heavens and see evidence of a creator?
The late great Stephen Hawking one said, "Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation." Was Hawking right?
The passage in Psalm 19 moves the reader from creation to awe - we see what God has made, and it declares his glory. His works declare his greatness, much like an author’s magnum opus declares their glory. Are Christian scientists any less awestruck because we now understand how more of the physical processes of the universe work?
The Big Question
So to our three astronomers, do the heavens declare the glory of God?