One of the most interesting free websites is http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html. Every day there is a new picture of something in space and a comment about it by a professional astronomer. Those of us with backgrounds in astronomy enjoy looking at the latest pictures of galaxies seen through the most powerful telescopes. I continue to be amazed at the size and majesty of the creation in which we live. What we also see in a very special way, is the ongoing processes that populate the creation with new stars and elements. In the laboratory we have been able to duplicate many of these processes.
The periodic table of the elements shown to the right is from that NASA website. It shows where we think the elements were made. The elements with an “s” against a yellow background have been synthesized by nuclear fusion in special nuclear reactors. The conditions present in those reactors are only seen naturally in small stars and some large stars in space. We assume that a similar process in those stars has produced the carbon of which we are made.
In some cases we have seen elements being produced in space. In 1987 observers on earth witnessed a star exploding. It was given the name Supernova 1987A (see the NASA picture below). Neon appeared in the spectra of the star after the explosion which had not been seen before it exploded. Some elements like gold and platinum would require conditions that can only be seen in the explosions of massive stars called supernovae.
I was recently in a planetarium where all of this was being presented to a class of third graders. One young man listened carefully to the explanation of the astronomer and responded with, “I thought God did it!” I could not help myself as my teacher instincts kicked in, and I responded, “He did, but what you are learning here is how he did it.” I got a grateful nod from the astronomer and the teacher, but I feel very strongly that the issue of real creation needs to be presented to young people in a complementary way to what they see through the telescope. What you believe about how God did it is up to you. However, suggesting that God did some kind of a magic act that we can never understand is not helpful. As we see how God did it, we see his wisdom and power in all that he does. That opens the minds of young people in the twenty-first century.
The “big bang” is simply an observation that the appearance of space/time and matter/energy happened at a specific beginning. That agrees with the Bible (Genesis 1:1). What banged and who caused the bang is not answered by science. Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8 as saying God used wisdom in what he did. The foundation of space/time is referred to throughout Scripture, but is clearly stated by God in his discussion with Job. God’s process of producing matter from energy continues today, and we can watch it as we see that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows the work of his hands.”
Cmglee (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL, via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nucleosynthesis_periodic_table.svg.