Dowd: Pondering the meaning of Webb’s cosmic revelations


In the beginning, you were told, God created the heavens and the earth. And He looked upon it and thought it was good.

You now live in an age where mankind can look back in time, almost to the very origins of creation. The beginning is almost in focus – the beginning – captured in countless clusters of light. And the light is being divided from the darkness.

The James Webb Space Telescope is a mere million miles from earth now, orbiting your star, but this month sent back stunning images flashed from the first billion years of time.

The telescope lets you spy on vast galaxies, spiraling cosmic systems of unimaginable size, filled with stars and uncounted worlds, perhaps some like your own star and your own planet.

You ponder whether some of these star systems can sustain life or even living beings as we can comprehend them. Go further, and you wonder if the souls out there can love one another, whether parents out there love their children, too?

In fact: Does love or even logic factor amid the gleaming of the firmament? What sense can be derived from these endless points of light in the distant starry night?

You live in a world scarred by hatred and war, vitriolic rhetoric and political treachery and, always, the omnipresent depravity of greed. Some days you feel only despair.

Yet humanity is capable of prodigious achievement. Long Islanders helped land men on the Moon half a century ago. Your country is still capable of greatness; NASA created this time machine for you. Today, you even interact across earth-bound time and space in an instant, see each other’s faces from oceans apart.

Yours is a world where some give nothing of themselves while others give everything so some might live. In the ponderance of this universe, our differences are so petty, so small, that we have no choice but to ultimately conquer them.

From the James Webb Space Telescope, an image of Stephan’s Quintet – five galaxies, four of which interact. These colliding galaxies are pulling and stretching each other in a gravitational dance. Courtesy of NASA

You see an image focused on a cluster of galaxies. You live in one galaxy, in one solar system on one tiny planet in this cold, forbidding universe. You ponder the light-polluted sky above Long Island with awe and wonder.

The pictures tell stories from 4 billion light-years away. You do the math on 4 billion light years and your calculator proves useless. It does not really compute, meaningless zeros, a distance beyond understanding. You might as well count the rocks on Long Island’s northern shore.

And NASA says the light from that distant place was sent here at the same time the sun and earth were created from distant cosmic dust.

This is what the ancient scribes of Genesis so nobly struggled to convey. Science and faith are colliding, both now and 13 billion years ago. And the past – your past – is here today, confronting you. And you must ask are you ready?

Allow yourself to be overwhelmed. You are comprehending the incomprehensible. You live in such a time, both terrible and wonderful.

You were told as a child that God looked upon His creation and thought it was good.

But is it? Are you about to find out? Are you ready for the answer if it comes?

And this begs another question: If you could go back in time, even to a distant yesterday, would you?

You would not – not for a minute – for it would change everything you are now: Who you are and who you love. You can learn from what is past, but you can only change the here and now, today and tomorrow.

You may look back, but there is no going back.

The answer is as clear as these stars: It is a new beginning.


Joe Dowd is editor and associate publisher of Long Island Business News. His award-winning column appears regularly.


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By Opinion