"The most advanced telescope ever launched": Has science made religion obsolete?

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“The most advanced telescope ever launched”: Has science made religion obsolete?

December 27, 2021 - Dr. Jim Denison

This photo provided by NASA, the James Webb Space Telescope is separated in space on Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021. (NASA via AP)

"The most advanced telescope ever launched": Has science made religion obsolete?

This photo provided by NASA, the James Webb Space Telescope is separated in space on Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021. (NASA via AP)

The James Webb Space Telescope launched on Christmas Day. It is “by far, the most advanced telescope ever launched into space.”

Named for the NASA administrator who led the space agency through the early years of the Apollo program, its mission is to seek out the earliest, most distant stars and galaxies in the universe. Astronomers say the Webb will examine billions of years of cosmic history using ultrasensitive infrared sensors designed to capture light emitted more than 13.6 billion years ago by primordial stars.

One hundred times as powerful as the Hubble Space Telescope, it was described by a NASA administrator as “one of the most amazing missions that humanity has ever conceived.”

“A quantum leap of understanding”

It is an interesting paradox that the Webb telescope launched on the day billions of Christians were celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. According to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, the telescope will open up “secrets of the universe.” He expects it to enable a “quantum leap of understanding of who we are, how we got here, what we are, and how did it all evolve.”

This “quantum leap of understanding” is precisely what Christmas claims to reveal as well.

Christians believe the birth of Christ signals the entry of the Creator into his creation to show us “who we are” as his beloved. His creative omnipotence explains “how we got here.” His redemptive grace illuminates “what we are” as his redeemed children. “How did it all evolve” is the biblical narrative from “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) to “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).

However, secularists believe such truth claims to be superstition rendered obsolete by scientific progress. Darwinian evolution claims to explain “who we are,” “how we got here,” and “what we are”—animals evolved from lower life forms through natural processes that require no supernatural agency or existence. The Webb telescope and other scientific advances are expected to clarify “how did it all evolve” with ever-greater sophistication.

No God needed—or wanted.

Religion and the “real world”

It’s fine to keep our Christmas traditions, our unbelieving friends might tell us, so long as we treat them like our Christmas decorations: appropriate for a season before they go back in the attic as life returns to “normal.” But they insist that we otherwise accommodate their Platonic demand that we separate Sunday from Monday, the spiritual from the secular, religion from the “real world.”

If we do this, treating our faith as merely “our truth” and God as our Sunday hobby, we’ll get along fine with them. But we cannot accede to their relativistic request.

This is because William Kuyper was right: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”

In the face of rising cultural animosity and accusations of bigotry and intolerance, why must Christians continue to make such an audacious claim?

First, we have the commission of Scripture.

God’s word testifies that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1a). As a result, “the sky above” where the Webb will do its work “proclaims his handiwork” (v. 19b). The Bible claims that Jesus is “the heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2) and “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36).

One day every knee will bow to him and every tongue will confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11). Accordingly, we are commissioned to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) until the whole world has an opportunity to know the salvation available only in our Lord (Matthew 24:14; John 14:6).

Second, we have the commission of reason.

Our Creator warned through his prophet, “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?'” (Isaiah 45:9). Just as Christopher Columbus did not create the so-called New World he “discovered,” we did not and cannot create anything the Webb telescope will reveal to us.

For creatures to think we no longer need our Creator merely because we are learning more about his creation would be like a small boy who finds a new room in the house his father built and decides he no longer needs his father. Accordingly, we are commissioned to explain the reasonableness of our faith (1 Peter 3:15) to a dark world in desperate need of the true light (John 8:12).

Third, we have the commission of personal experience.

Oswald Chambers noted in his Christmas Day meditation: “God manifest in the flesh—that is what is made profoundly possible for you and me by the Redemption.” Those who surrender their lives to Jesus as Savior and Lord become “God’s temple” as “God’s Spirit dwells” in us (1 Corinthians 3:16).

As a result, God “abides” in us now (1 John 4:16). Accordingly, we are commissioned to share with others the truth that has transformed and liberated us (Galatians 5:1).

Desmond Tutu and our commission from our Creator

Archbishop Desmond Tutu died yesterday at the age of ninety. His battle against apartheid in South Africa was motivated by the commission of Scripture, reason, and personal experience. He knew by God’s word that God loves each person of each race and ethnicity equally and passionately (Galatians 3:28). He knew by reason that apartheid was sinful and ultimately disastrous for his nation. He knew by personal experience that the God who loved him had called him to his work of liberation through truth.

Are you persuaded by Scripture, reason, and personal experience that Jesus is Lord? Not just at Christmas, but in every moment of every day in “the whole domain of our human existence”?

If so, what is your “apartheid” mission, your kingdom assignment, your commission from your Creator?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon rejoiced that Jesus is “Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendor.”

Will you surrender your life to your calling in gratitude for such grace?

NOTE: In four days, 2021 will come to an end. And by December 31, Denison Forum must reach a $2 million goal to end the year strong — so we can help more Christians like you live out their faith in a culture that seeks to silence us more and more. So please help reach the year-end goal, knowing that your gift will do so much to empower this movement of culture-changing Christians. Thank you.

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