For me, images released recently by Northwestern University scientists of tiny light flashes signaling the moment of human conception are evocative of a larger, cosmic-sized truth espoused by both science and the Bible. Namely, the creation of the universe itself – the mother of all moments of conception – was likewise marked by an explosion of light.
According to their article in Scientific Reports, the Northwestern researchers collected immature human eggs from willing female patients at the Fertility Center of Illinois – eggs that would have been discarded in the normal course of the patients’ fertility treatments. The researchers used special chemicals to mimic the moments of conception – the law forbidding them to use actual sperm. In each case, they discovered, the decisive moment was accompanied by a small burst of zinc atoms. The eruptions appeared as flashes of light because of fluorescing agents used by the scientists.
According to science – at precisely a moment of conception known as recombination & decoupling – an incomprehensible outburst of light accompanied the creation of hydrogen and helium, the first atoms of the embryonic cosmos. To this day, the dim afterglow of that seminal light – the so-called cosmic microwave background – is visible to certain kinds of powerful telescopes.
According to inflation and big bang theories, it didn’t end there. Hydrogen atoms eventually began to fuse, the way they do in a hydrogen bomb, and – voila! – once again, in a flash of light, the first stars came into being. They, in turn – like colossal stoves – cooked up the heavier elements known to us today. Including the zinc atoms that explode, like fireworks, every time a human being is conceived.
I find it notable that the Bible agrees with science that the universe was conceived in a paroxysm of illumination – I imagine, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. According to Genesis 1:3, that event happened at exactly the moment God uttered the immortal words, “Let there be light.”
The Bible’s explanation of things goes even further, by actually assigning a sacred status to light. In 1 John 1:5, light is identified with the Creator himself: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”
Scientists don’t use that sort of language, of course, but amazingly, they do agree that light very definitely has a transcendent status. It wasn’t always the case, though: scientists made that discovery only relatively recently.
The momentous change of heart began in 1905, when an unknown outsider named Albert Einstein published his heretical theory of special relativity. According to Einstein, contrary to what scientists had always believed, light experiences a reality wholly unlike the one you and I do – inhabits an otherworldly realm where, among other things, the commonplace laws of space and time are not obeyed. Like God, if you will, light transcends the restrictions of the ordinary, physical world.
Scientists were slow in coming around to believe Einstein’s heterodoxy. But today, it is a key component of the modern scientific catechism.
Like the Bible, therefore, science now agrees that whenever we interact with light, we interact with something that is at once in this world, but not of this world. Chief among these divine-like encounters are those instances when light makes abrupt, attention-getting appearances. Like a moment of creation when something truly special suddenly comes into existence that wasn’t there before – be it a human embryo, a star, or an entire universe.