I wish I had paid closer attention in astronomy class when I was a college student. It was one of my hardest classes in my undergraduate years. I could blame it on the fact that I was studying English and philosophy. I was engrossed in the poetry of Eliot and Yeats, Shakespeare’s plays, the early fiction of Joyce, and the works of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. And having to sketch maps of the night skies for astronomy class seemed (at the time) like busywork, something to occupy a student’s time, work the professor assigned so he would have more time to work on his book and earn tenure at the university. I did eke by in astronomy class, glad it was behind me so I could devote my time to literature and philosophy. Now, many years later, I want to go back to my astronomy professor and apologize. I want to tell him that just within the last 36 hours, I have looked up again and again at the heavens. I have gotten online and tried to relearn the names of the constellations. I have tried, like a child, to trace the Big Dipper and Little Dipper with my forefinger on these clear nights. I have tried to learn the names of all the phases of earth’s moon. I have tried to understand the whys and wherefores of the Milky Way. I have studied Polaris.
My mind naturally tracks more with mythologies and the ways in which literature uses the heavens, the stars, planets, galaxies, etc. figuratively to comment upon the human condition and our place under the heavens. But I am beginning to understand now, Dr. H. (my former astronomy professor of many moons ago), why you were so captivated by the heavens. I am now, too, but perhaps for different reasons. You used to lecture us college kids on the mathematical precision of the heavens. You told us physics explained everything–that everything was reducible to math. We were children in our thinking then. We imbibed your pontifications about materialism.
But when I walk out now and look up at the heavens, I see the same sky as you but have much different views. And I have some questions for you:
- Why do you think there is order in the universe?
- How do you think it got ordered?
- Why do you trust your own mind?
- If everything is physical/material, how do you explain your passion to write a book about physics?
- Why should we believe you if we are all just matter in motion?
- Do you think it’s possible that the heavens, the precision of orbits and cycles and the lives of stars and planets and galaxies, and the fact of our wonder at their majesty, could be Authored? Are you even open to that possibility?
I know it’s an old joke about how we English majors write poems and stories about the heavens, and the physicists describe the heavens. But is it possible that neither of us has fully explained the heavens? You see, one writer named David phrased it this way: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
It is possible, Dr. H., that God exists and that He is far from silent, that He declares Himself, His majesty, His nature, and that creation–the heavens and all of us under them–speaks of the Creator?
I don’t know where you are now, former astronomy professor, but the more I look at the heavens, and gaze with childlike wonder at their vastness, I know even a child would not deny that such a story has an Author.