Did astronomy just break science?
In February, researchers reported something unexpected at the edge of the known universe. The James Webb Space Telescope revealed six previously undiscovered galaxies. According to popular scientific belief, these galaxies give us a glimpse of the distant past, which those scientists also believe was long, long, LONG ago.
But that’s where popular science faces a big problem—emphasis on big.
The newly spotted galaxies are huge.
Why is that a problem? That answer requires some science.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the $10 billion successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. It launched on Christmas Day in 2021, and it has given gifts to science ever since. It can see more deeply into space than any telescope before it—and with more clarity by creating composite images that earlier tech couldn’t manage.
Science measures what it sees in deep space in light years. A “light year” is how far light travels in one year. If you’re looking at a star one light year away, you’re actually seeing a year into the past. That light took an entire year to reach you.
Here’s where things get sticky. According to popular science, if you look at something 13 billion light years away, you’re seeing 13 billion years into the past. Those who believe the universe began in the event called the Big Bang say that means the Webb telescope can nearly see the beginning of time.
As astronomers studied distant space, they expected to find newborn galaxies far from the location of the Big Bang. Instead, they found six massive galaxies, each one billions of times heavier than our Sun. How could galaxies so young look so old?
One researcher, Pennsylvania State University’s Joel Leja, calls these galaxies “universe breakers.”
“It turns out we found something so unexpected it actually creates problems for science,” says Leja.
Christians sometimes disagree about the age of the universe. But they agree it took more than a Big Bang. God created everything by the word of His power.
These latest discoveries remind us that science is only a tool for making sense of God’s creation. The more we learn, the more that tool changes. Centuries ago, scientists believed in a universe with Earth at the center. Because of evidence from astronomers like Galileo Galilei, that science changed. But God’s creation stayed the same.
Science always changes. That doesn’t make science bad—it makes science science. But it does make science a poor source of ultimate authority. For that, we look to the One who never changes: the God who created the universe. He’s the same God who created Adam and Eve as mature adults. Believers know that He can create at any stage of development He chooses. He can make new galaxies that look old. He can make new wine that tastes aged like the finest would. He is not bound by the scientific laws that He set into motion.
Researchers are still awaiting final confirmation of their discovery. Some of the newfound galaxies could actually be black holes. But it appears certain that at least some are real galaxies.
What can we learn from this discovery? “To let go of your expectations,” says lead researcher Ivo Labbe. “And be ready to be surprised.”
Why? Science gives us tools to learn about the universe, but even “settled” science changes when new data comes to light.