(Submitted February 17, 1997)
I am puzzled between my beliefs and religion.
I do not know what to tell my child about the creation of the Universe.
She seems really interested in knowing how all that we know exists.
I personally believe that no one knows for sure how the Universe was
created or how we were created. Why are we here, a place in
the Universe, this infinite Universe.
Where did we come from?
This is a pretty big question! I admire both of you for struggling with it.
Our work -- like those of scientists everywhere -- is concerned with the
'whats' and 'hows'
of the Universe, rather than whether or not there is a 'why'. While it is
not our role to discuss beliefs or religion, we can help you by telling you
what astronomers have learned about the creation of the Universe. The
scientific method (based on testing and modifying explanations until they
agree with observations - and then making more observations to be explained!)
has been astoundingly effective in investigating the history of the Universe
and showing how one event followed another in a way understandable and
predictable from a small number of physical principles (such as Newton's
Laws of Motion and Einstein's Theory of Relativity).
We now have a very good picture of how the Universe has evolved since the
so-called Big Bang (some 15 billion years or so ago) to the present. Even
twenty years ago, Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg was able to write a
popular book "The First Three Minutes" which describes in some
detail the particle interactions likely to have occurred during the first
180 seconds of the Universe!
Many non-scientific groups in human history have also thought they had a
good picture of the Universe, but the crucial difference was that their
explanations were either not tested or not testable. The scientific view
is tested by many thousands of scientists every day and wrong ideas cannot
survive very long. Of course there are still many mysteries remaining, but
most of them concern quite fine details of galactic and stellar evolution.
Even the origin and evolution of life are much better understood than is
usually realized. The mechanisms causing the simple life forms present on
the earth more than 3 billion years ago to diversify into the tremendous
biological variety we see today are well known. Many of the chemical steps
required to produce the first life forms from simple and abundant molecules
have been reproduced in the laboratory. Others have not, but the evidence
for life in the oldest rocks we have examined (and the recently discovered
similar evidence for ancient life on Mars) suggests that life may begin
readily when the right materials and conditions are together for enough
To explore the work of our laboratory go to:
Note that the StarChild part of our site has been written for children
between the ages of 4 and 14.
For other discussions concerning the origin and evolution of the Universe,
books by Hawking ("A Brief History of Time" and others),
Gribbin ("In the Beginning"), and Abrams ("The Birth of
the Universe: The Big Bang and After") are worth a look.
For discussions of the origin and evolution of life, books by Steven Jay
Gould might give you a place to start.
For more on the scientific method, Bronowski's "The Ascent of Man",
Morrison's "Nothing is too Wonderful to be True" and Sagan's
"Cosmos" and "The Demon Haunted World"
contain interesting discussions of how science works. You might also want to
check out the bi-monthly magazine
I had hoped to be able to recommend a much longer list of sites for you to
visit on the World Wide Web, but I was very disappointed when I explored
what is currently available. The average quality of information for the
areas you are interested in is extremely low -- because anyone can make
material available on the Web, so the few good sites are lost in the
noise. I suggest that you will make much more progress by visiting good
libraries and bookstores and reading widely.
I hope that both you and your daughter will continue to enjoy reading
about, thinking about, and discussing these important questions.
for Imagine the Universe!