Fun Facts of Lent, Day Forty-Two: The Surface of Last Scattering

I love science, and astronomy is my favorite of all. Astronomy is beautiful, captivating, awe-inspiring. I took an Astronomy class back in college, and I remember one day we were learning about the expanding universe and the history of the cosmos since the Big Bang. Everything in the universe is slowly moving away from everything else, like points drawn on the surface of an inflating balloon. When we look out into the distance, every single thing is running away. Astronomy is really the study of cosmic history. Because light is all we have to measure and light takes time to travel, everything we see has already happened. Even the sunshine on your face is a few minutes old.

Phases of the MoonWhen we look out into the past, we can only ever see as far as the time already elapsed. And when we look as far as we possibly can, we see this fuzzy wall from when photons were first combining into atoms. It’s as though there was a fog around us right after the Big Bang, and every day the universe inside the fog gets a little bigger. But the fog is always there, blocking our view. There is always that moment beyond that we can’t quite see. They call it the Surface of Last Scattering.

When I first learned about this, it sounded like a sermon. As humans we have this constant drive to think and grow, to always know more than we did before. There was a time when we couldn’t know anything more about space than the naked eye could teach us. We built telescopes and we could see more, but the atmosphere got in the way. So we went up into space and put telescopes on the other side. Now we can see so much more than we ever could, and there’s yet another wall we haven’t gotten over. There’s always something just out of reach.

For me, that is God.

That piece of knowledge you don’t have yet is God. That feeling that you know is right but can’t understand is God. If there is anything your human mind can’t understand, that thing is God. We say that ‘God is love’ and toss the thought aside like so many embroidered pillows. But consider for a moment that the feeling you can’t quite pin down, the one strong enough to push you to do something you never thought you would or could (for better and worse) – that’s God. God is the chemicals firing in your brain. God is the unified theory that reconciles General Relativity with Quantum Mechanics. It is everything that is currently beyond us, and it will be the next thing beyond us once these current mysteries are solved. God is the unknown. God is the mystery.

And for me, that’s something to believe in.