We Only Know What We Know

The Cartwheel Galaxy 

The Washington Post began a recent article with this statement:

“The James Webb Space Telescope, performing splendidly as it examines the universe, has got astronomers scratching their heads. The very distant universe looks a little different than expected.”

The JWST records infrared light which provides a more inclusive view of the electromagnetic field than the Hubble Space Telescope had offered. Scientists did their best to understand the universe based on the information available to them, but with this new information, they are rethinking their assumptions.

“What has surprised astronomer Dan Coe of the Space Telescope Science Institute are the number of nicely shaped, disklike galaxies. ‘We thought the early universe was this chaotic place where there’s all these clumps of star formation, and things are all a-jumble,’ Coe said.”

The Washington Post article

They were only seeing part of the picture. “’With Hubble,’ Coe said, ‘We were missing all the colder stars and the older stars. We were really only seeing the hot young ones.’” Now astronomers have a much more comprehensive view of the universe.

Science develops a hypothesis, collects data to test it and makes a conclusion about the accuracy of the hypotheses. When there’s more or different data, they rethink or adjust their conclusions. Astrophysicists are learning more about the universe daily from images that continue to pour in, and they are developing new and/or different understandings. We only know what we know, and we don’t realize what we don’t know.

It would be wonderful if we had a telescope that would reveal more comprehensive pictures of other scientific issues. Diseases that still plague us, truly effective measures to halt climate change, and preventing and handling pollution are just a few of them.

Dan Coe, quoted above, said that they were only seeing the “hot young” stars. We all tend to focus on what’s new, what’s hot, what’s exciting, but that’s never the whole story. In fact, it’s usually a distraction. Right now, electric cars are hot, but increasingly stressed power grids will eventually have difficulty charging them. A wider perspective taking into account all variables would be helpful. Hot politics and huge profits usually get in the way of real progress.

God gave us intelligence to discover truths about his creation, and the James Webb Space Telescope is a stunning use of science, technology, and project management skills that involved people from the U.S., Canada and Europe. It is both an example of what humans can do when united around a common goal and the expanse and order of the universe that God created.

The James Webb Space Telescope’s production of better images of the universe is a reminder that science only knows what it knows. Only God knows it all. There is always more information that will surprise us, and I believe God will smile when we uncover the next surprise. He applauds the work and achievement of the numerous scientists who collaborated to produce the JWST. It is evidence of his glory.

When you see JWST’s photos of the universe, let them remind you of God’s magnificent creation, what can be accomplished when we unite around a common goal, and bear in mind that we only know what we know.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

1 Corinthians 13:12

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