A Biblical Response to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Launch

The expected benefits from the new NASA telescope, the naturalistic assumptions integrated into its mission, and the only way to make sense of scientific investigation: God.

by Rob Webb on January 8, 2022
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The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1–2)

After more than 30 years in the making and numerous delays (from faulty cables, bad weather, etc.), finally, on Christmas Day of 2021 at 7:20 a.m. EST, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) successfully launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, South America.1 This $10B observatory is the largest (tennis-court sized) and most powerful telescope ever built. This launch officially marks the start of a one-month journey to its final parking orbit, which will be at the L2 Earth-Sun Lagrange point2 (about 940,000 miles away from the earth).

JWST is considered “the next chapter in space-based telescope astronomy” and the highly anticipated (and much larger) replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope (which is struggling to stay in operation in low-earth orbit today). Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope that has a single primary mirror, the JWST has an array of mirrors that have a collective diameter nearly three times larger in diameter (which translates to about seven times more light-gathering ability) than Hubble. This helps the JWST to gather more light from distant objects in the universe, thus allowing the JWST to gaze much deeper into space than any other telescope.

Furthermore, the JWST is equipped with instruments that are sensitive to infrared (heat) radiation3 that gives it the ability to detect light beyond the visible spectrum4 and allows astronomers to observe faraway distant objects (mainly in the “hidden” regions of the universe) at infrared wavelengths. And to keep any unwanted sources of infrared from interfering with the light being observed, all the onboard instruments will remain very cold (like -388ºF kind of cold!) primarily by using a large sunshade to keep the mirrors and instruments shielded from sunlight and by constantly keeping the telescope pointing away from the sun during operation.5

According to NASA, the JWST mission is designed to last only five years, but it could last more than a decade if the amount of onboard fuel (used for maintaining its orbit) is efficiently minimized6 (and based on the recent launch performance,7 it looks like it could last even longer than that). But before the JWST can start taking any official measurements or images of the cosmos, it (amazingly) needs to pass 344 single-point failures8 that could ultimately doom the mission at any one of these points, with the most difficult (and riskiest) part of having to “unfold” this massive telescope after separating from the launch vehicle (both the sunshield and mirrors had to be folded in an “origami” type fashion in order to fit in the rocket’s payload fairing). Talk about a nerve-racking engineering challenge!

The Evolutionary “Goals” Behind JWST

So obviously, there are some awesome observational science aspects (observable, testable, repeatable) to this mission, such as observing and studying the farthest regions of the visible universe that were previously hidden to us. However, as seen from the many news reports published by the media (especially from NASA), the overall objectives for JWST are saturated in evolutionary (and really naturalistic) thinking. For example, NASA states on one of their websites, “The primary goals of Webb are to study galaxy, star and planet formation in the universe. To see the very first stars and galaxies that formed in the early universe, we have to look deep into space to look back in time (because it takes light time to travel from there to here, the farther out we look, the further we look back in time).”9

So obviously, there are some awesome observational science aspects (observable, testable, repeatable) to this mission, such as observing and studying the farthest regions of the visible universe that were previously hidden to us.

The prime contractor that developed the JWST spacecraft (Northrop Grumman) stated, “By extending our knowledge of the cosmos, the James Webb Space Telescope will play an important role in our quest to answer compelling questions such as: ‘How did the universe begin?’ or ‘When were the first stars and galaxies created?’ or ‘How do planets form?’ and ‘How do we fit in the cosmos?’”10

Note, these objectives fall into the category of science that’s called historical science (making assumptions about the past based on evidence in the present), which, by the way, can be useful in certain applications (like in forensic science when analyzing crime-scene evidence) but only when used through a biblical “lens” and logical worldview.

However, in this instance, these statements for the JWST are clearly secular (and unbiblical), which inevitably means they’re also fallacious (this is the result of every unbiblical worldview). Notice the claim of “looking” back in time (when looking at objects deep in space) in order to see how everything in the universe began through cosmological evolution (i.e., the big bang). But note that when making this claim, they’ve already merely assumed cosmological evolution (by assuming star/planet formation occurred in the early stages of galaxies) in order to prove cosmological evolution (via “looking” back in time). This is a logical fallacy called begging the question.

What’s the Biblical Response?

So how should we (especially as Christians) respond to these claims? Aside from the arbitrary (circular-reasoning) nature of these statements, these goals are obviously antithetical to the biblical worldview. Rather than relying on (fallacious) assumptions about the past, it’s always better to start with an eyewitness account (i.e., someone who was actually there). And for this, we need to go to the very first chapter of the Bible.

Rather than relying on (fallacious) assumptions about the past, it’s always better to start with an eyewitness account (i.e., someone who was actually there). And for this, we need to go to the very first chapter of the Bible.

In Genesis, we plainly read that God created everything in the heavens and the earth within six literal days approximately 6,000 years ago (per the biblical timeline), all for his glory. And he created the sun, moon, and all the stars in every galaxy and corner of the universe, on day four of creation week (three days after the earth was created) and called it good.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (Genesis 1:14–19)

And like many of the great Christian astronomers in the past have stated, such as Johannes Kepler, we should study the heavens! But it needs to be with the goal of admiring the handiwork and glory of God (Psalm 19:1) and giving thanks to him for creating and sustaining our universe (Hebrews 1:3).

So, for this mission, the JWST will not actually be “looking” back in time. Rather, it’ll be examining distant galaxies (which indeed are very far away in space) that have been in existence since the beginning of creation for thousands (not billions) of years. These observations from JWST will not show us how (or when) these heavenly objects were formed, but rather what they look like by directly imaging Jupiter-size planets orbiting nearby stars and analyzing the molecular composition of atmospheres on extra-solar planets.

But note, this biblical stance should not be confused with some form of theistic evolution, which is currently being propagated by some in the program, attempting to mix the Bible with this evolutionary cosmology.11 Sadly, many in this particular camp (sometimes ignorantly) have actually compromised Scripture by accepting the secular ideas being pushed by the JWST media at NASA (i.e., the big bang and evolution), thus rejecting the plain (biblical) reading of Genesis 1 and instead reinterpreting the days of creation to long ages. This is an unbiblical way of thinking that essentially elevates man’s fallible ideas as the ultimate standard (i.e., humanism) over the infallible Word of God.

This Mission Shows the Foolishness of Atheism

On the other hand, the atheistic secularists advocating for purely naturalistic objectives have actually suppressed this biblical truth (Romans 1:18–21) and altogether rejected God as the ultimate authority. Instead of submitting to God, they have turned to the religion of materialistic atheism (and secular humanism) to answer the fundamental questions posed by the JWST program (“How did the universe begin,” etc.), thus further reducing themselves to absurdity and foolishness (Psalm 14:1).

In this (irrational) worldview, the universe is simply “matter in motion” that’s just bobbing around in a chaotic universe, where everything only happens by chance (random) processes. Consequently, this worldview makes essential concepts required for science, like the order and uniformity in nature (i.e., the future being like the past) and even rationality, utterly impossible.

Nonetheless, many of the (very smart) atheists working on the JWST obviously still used scientific principles to develop and launch this amazing telescope into space (and were quite good at it). So, in reality, they had to be inconsistent with their own worldview and borrow these principles from the biblical worldview, including rationality and logic, thus exposing the complete foolishness of the atheistic worldview. This also shows that the “atheist” is not actually an atheist at all but is rather self-deceived and really does know God in their “heart of hearts.”

On the flip side, God’s logic is built into the universe, which is why the universe operates in a consistent fashion by obeying natural laws (i.e., the way God upholds the universe) and is not simply random or chaotic.

On the flip side, God’s logic is built into the universe, which is why the universe operates in a consistent fashion by obeying natural laws (i.e., the way God upholds the universe) and is not simply random or chaotic. In addition, God has given us reliable senses (Genesis 1:26) to discover and understand our universe. This is what makes the JWST mission a possible—and intriguing—scientific reality.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that this accomplishment of successfully building and launching the JWST is an amazing feat of hard work and ingenuity that will continue to be a great challenge over the next several years of operation. As a former aerospace engineer, I take my hat off to all those involved with this exciting project. And even though the media at NASA continue to push its evolutionary agenda with JWST, this mission ultimately glorifies God and points to his creative works.

And just a side note to further show how awesome our God really is, as previously stated, the JWST uses an array of mirrors to gather light to see objects in faraway galaxies, but did you know that God designed scallops to see in the same manner? In other words, the JWST uses a similar mirror design that has existed in the eyes of scallops since the beginning (Day Five) of creation!

But more importantly, the JWST mission (plus the amazing design of a scallop’s eyes) should direct us to the one that makes it all possible—Jesus Christ, who not only is the Creator (John 1:3) and Sustainer (Hebrews 1:3) of every star and galaxy in this entire universe, is also the Redeemer (2 Corinthians 5:19).

If you haven’t confessed with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord (Romans 10:9), then the call of the gospel is to repent (turn from your sins) and put your trust completely in Christ, and you will be saved from the wrath of God to come (Romans 5:9). None of us know when we’re going to die so this is a time-sensitive message. Turn to Christ today for eternal life (John 3:16) and give the glory to Him who makes space-exploration possible by the mighty word of His power!

Footnotes

  1. Check out the recorded live coverage of the launch from NASA here: “James Webb Space Telescope Launch — Official NASA Broadcast,” NASA, December 25, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nT7JGZMbtM.
  2. If you want to learn about what makes this position in space unique and ideal for JWST, see “What Is a Lagrange Point?,” NASA, March 27, 2018, https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/resources/754/what-is-a-lagrange-point.
  3. You can read more about these instruments here: “The Observatory,” WebbTelescope.org, https://webbtelescope.org/webb-science/the-observatory.
  4. This is important because this distant light is shifted to longer infrared wavelengths (which are invisible to the human eye), and this infrared light can travel through dense gas clouds that block visible light.
  5. Check out the images that help illustrate this orientation here: “How Does Webb Stay Cold?,” WebbTelescope.org, https://webbtelescope.org/resource-gallery/articles/pagecontent/filter-articles/how-does-webb-stay-cold.
  6. You can read more details about this mission here: “James Webb Space Telescope,” NASA, https://www.jwst.nasa.gov.
  7. As per the live launch events/updates that are recorded here: “NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Mission: Live Updates,” Space.com, https://www.space.com/news/live/james-webb-space-telescope-updates.
  8. You can read more about all the risks involved with this mission here: Jeff Foust, “JWST Launch Marks Only the Start of a Risky Deployment Process,” SpaceNews.com, December 23, 2021, https://spacenews.com/jwst-launch-marks-only-the-start-of-a-risky-deployment-process.
  9. “Frequently Asked Questions Lite,” accessed January 4, 2022, https://jwst.nasa.gov/content/about/faqs/faqLite.html.
  10. “James Webb Space Telescope: Observing Cosmic History,” February 2021, https://northropgrumman.com/wp-content/uploads/JWST-Datasheet.pdf.
  11. For example, see the JWST post-launch video from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson here: “‘Great Day for Earth!’ NASA Chief Talks Webb Post Launch,” VideoFromSpace, December 25, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNc6vnPPVLk.

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