The Meaning Of The Webb Telescope Pictures To You And Me
Forgive me if I find the recently released images from deep space underwhelming. I do understand their scientific importance as they confirm many of the conclusions of the Theory of Relativity, allow us to see stars and other celestial phenomenon never before detected, and give us a glimpse into events 13 billion years in the making. Awe- inspiring. But why am I supposed to get excited about integrating this into my life?
If I am to do so, it needs to be put into a context I can grasp. I equate this discovery to that of the structure of DNA or the utility of CRISPR to the average citizen. As a biologic scientist, I believe that the CRISPR discovery is indeed Nobel-worthy as was the structure of DNA, but to most people it will only be through the application of this technology to medicine and other biological science that the discovery will have an impact on their consciousness.
So, here’s what I want to know about the Webb discoveries.
Do these pictures with images from the origin of the universe make the existence of God more or less likely or are we no closer to bridging the faith-provability gap than we were before we spent the $10 billion?
Is there any other life out there? I don’t want to know if there could be. Of course, there could be, but if there isn’t, how can the scientists explain that? It just happened by chance that Earth is the only one of billions of planets to create life? Is that even likely? The simplest explanations consistent with life on other worlds and our not knowing it are either that life exists elsewhere, but it’s too far away to make contact with us, or life developed elsewhere, millions of years ago, and climate change on another world or nuclear war wiped it all out in a fashion that we are approximating ourselves.
Or, is the most likely scenario for the creation of the universe chance? There happened to be a Big Bang for some reason—what? I know. God did it. What was there before the Big Bang and what changed and why?
If the pictures from deep space can begin to allow us to grapple with such matters, the science will have driven our belief systems and our view of ourselves and every penny will have been worth it. If it turns out that, unlike in Carl Sagan’s Contact, we really are alone in this vast universe, what then? Will we take better care of the planet once we learn that there really is no place else to go?
The pictures from deep space taken with infrared cameras are indeed beautiful and humbling. It’s a big universe out there and the fact that we humans could devise a way to look back 13 billion years is remarkable.
But I will reserve judgment on what has really been discovered. The confirmation of Einstein’s predictions is of great scientific value on its own. But answers to the eternal questions about our place in the vastness and the origins of it all are really the ones I want. I guess I’ll have to wait.