Lately, it seems as if everywhere I look there are expanses of stars, images of galaxies, and pictures from the Hubble telescope. I guess I have started noticing these things more, because I have been learning more and more about the universe. The process started a few months back when I was visiting New York City with a friend. We went to the Museum of Natural History and I was captivated by the solar system exhibit; this display had a depth to it I had never before been able to comprehend. Allow me to explain.
Every time I visited a museum in my childhood, high school, and even college years, there was always a confusing amalgamation of information being presented. As I was homeschooled and taught the age of the earth from a biblical literalist view, every time we ventured out to a museum, I was always told that some of the information in the museum was incorrect. Similar experiences were had while watching anything on the science channel or even visiting the zoo - those perfectly laminated plastic info sheets are all wrong, because evolution is not real and God created the earth in seven days. Because I was young and had deep trust of what my church and parents taught, I always experienced a great amount of cognitive dissonance when encountering these situations. Eventually, this dissonance brewed a deep-seated distrust in science - if they were wrong about such a great piece of the age-of-the-earth puzzle, how could scientists be trusted in anything else?
I struggled through these questions, most of the time squelching the dissonance I felt with chapters from Genesis. That is, until I started looking closer. After years of further examination and study, which I have written about here before, here I am - a thirty-year-old visiting science museums and being struck with wonder and awe of how the earth came to be, for the first time in her life.
Back to the Museum of Natural History: for the first time, I was visiting a museum and not having to mentally edit out information about evolution, the age of the earth, where everything began. I could take in the facts and displays with a new appreciation, because there was actually space in my brain to freely accept the information without qualifiers.
As I wandered the Solar System display alone, I found my way into a giant spherical theater, hanging from the ceiling in the shape of the sun. The lights went out and Liam Neeson started narrating as the sphere in front of me became a screen, but gave the illusion of flying through space. He talked of the beginning of universe, and how now we are just beginning to be able to see light that traveled to us from when it all began through the cosmic microwave background. There were photos of galaxies being born and nebulas dancing on waves of gas and dust. We traveled through time together for a beautiful seven minutes, and when the film ended, all I could do was stand there.
As amazing as the literal seven-day creation story is, this origins story was even more incomprehensible. Stars and dust and gas combining and expanding to create life over the course of billions of years - such a beautiful display of patience and grandeur and humility. I have never felt so free just wandering a museum for hours and allowing myself to dream and think and accept the humble workings of the scientific process.
The really beautiful thing about evolution and creation: we all really believe the same thing. When you take it down to the core, we all believe the universe began with a “singularity”. While I choose to believe that singularity is God, others may not, but nevertheless, we all agree it took something we do not understand to start this whole process in motion. The more we focus on the commonalities of our understandings, the more we can progress a world where science and faith do not have to be in conflict, but rather complement and strengthen one another. That is the world where people of faith can trust science and can open their minds to the expanse of it all, rather than being fearful of what they might find. And that is the world I want my children to live in.