04 Nov Does the Vastness of Space Suggest There is No Almighty Creator?
One professor thinks so.
I recently came across an online article published by Newsweek, “Can Science Prove God Doesn’t Exist? Vastness of Space Suggests There is No Almighty Creator.” In it, Emily Thomas, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Durham University, notes it’s now understood the universe contains at least two trillion galaxies, a very different conception of the universe than existed when the major world religions were founded. And because of this a new way of arguing for atheism has emerged.
Thomas cites philosophers of religion Michael Martin and Nicholas Everitt, who state the vastness of the universe suggests a mismatch between the kind of universe one would expect the Christian God to have created and the one we actually live in. Thomas rightly notes Christian theology is deeply concerned with human beings, citing Genesis 1:27, which states “God created mankind in his own image,” Psalm 8:1-5, which says, “O Lord … What is man that you take thought of him … Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty!” and John 3:16, which explains God gave his son to die out of love for mankind.
Then Thomas asks, “If God is human-oriented, wouldn’t you expect him to create a universe in which humans feature prominently?” And, answering her own question, adds, “You’d expect humans to occupy most of the universe, existing across time. Yet that isn’t the kind of universe we live in. Humans are very small, and space, as Douglas Adams once put it, “is big, really really big.”
To support her argument, she points to the enormous size of the universe, citing some truly mind-blowing stats:
• Scientists estimate that the observable universe, the part of it we can see, is around 93 billion light-years across.
• The whole universe is at least 250 times as large as the observable universe.
• Our planet is 93 million miles away from the sun. Earth’s nearest stars, the Alpha Centauri system, are four light years away (that’s around 25 trillion miles).
• Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains anywhere from 100 to 400 billion stars.
She then concludes, “The observable universe contains around 300 sextillion stars. Humans occupy the tiniest fraction of it. The landmass of planet Earth is a drop in this ocean of space,” and “To paraphrase Adams, the universe is also really, really old. Perhaps over 13 billion years old. Earth is around four billion years old, and humans evolved around 200,000 years ago. Temporally speaking, humans have been around for an eye-blink.”
For Thomas, these stats reveal a discrepancy between the kind of universe we would expect a human-oriented God to create and the universe we live in. And for her, the simplest resolution is that God doesn’t exist because the findings of modern science significantly reduce the probability that theism is true. While she concedes the possibility of explanations other than atheism, to include classical Christianity, in her judgment, atheism is more likely, stating, the “weight of galaxies, the press of years, seem to sweep us towards atheism.”
At first glance, Thomas’s argument might seem credible. After all, we live in a world where the message “bigger is better” is messaged in hundreds of ways, every day. Most of us, if we are honest, would like a bigger salary, so we could get the nicer car, live in the bigger house, and take the longer, more expensive vacation. And bigger usually wins, right? College football programs (Go Bucks!) compete in the off-season to recruit the biggest, fastest, and strongest so they can dominate in the regular season. Fortune 500 companies seek the biggest gains to increase market share and satisfy investors. And politicians work to build the biggest base of supporters to obtain power.
Bigger is better. Right? That’s what everyday life seems to teach. And that’s what Thomas seems to be saying here. That since winning, success, and significance seems to be determined by size and prominence; and since humanity is relatively small in a vast universe; it’s highly improbable that a God who places supreme value on humanity could be responsible for creation.
However, Thomas’s argument is based on a faulty assumption – that size or prominence always determines value. And that God – if there is one – would design creation in such a way that the most valuable pieces would take up the most space.
Does size always determine value?
The richest diamond mine in the world is in Jwaneng, Botswana. In 2016, it produced 11,975,000 carats worth $2,347 million. It’s hard to imagine many things more valuable than a diamond mine of this size, right? But somewhere, a young guy just knelt before his girl and put a $2000 diamond ring on her finger. And to that girl, the $2k ring – because of the love behind it – is more valuable than all the diamonds in the $2,347 million mine.
So what if God created an enormous universe and made us small to teach us something about his ways? That what He values is not based on the size or the prominence of the object of his affection, but on the size of His love towards it. And that the most important truths of creation are matters of the heart that can’t be viewed through a Hubble telescope.
To take it further, what if the vastness of space actually points toward the probability of the Christian God? A God for whom we’re wired to long for. Who seeks us out – not for our greatness – but because of His great love for us?
I believe that’s what David had in mind when he considered his own seeming insignificance against the awe of creation and wrote in Psalm 8:
“O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens…when I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon, and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?”
And again in Psalm 19:
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.”
Professor Thomas suggests our tiny footprint in the universe is inconsistent with the God of Christianity. But according to David (who, by the way, as an unknown teenager took down a giant with a small stone) and the redemptive motif throughout scripture, God’s passion for the small and insignificant IS the story.
Think about it. If we took up more space in Space, we might be tempted to think our value is based on “who” we are, rather than “whose” we are. And that it’s our greatness rather than His grace that determines our value.
Perhaps the seeming insignificance of humanity against the vastness of space is not inconsistent with Christianity at all. And, instead, perfectly captures the central theme of scripture – that a great God has come to save the seemingly insignificant by His grace, simply because He loves them.
My prayer is that Professor Thomas would reconsider our small space in Space in the light grace – the main theme of Scripture. And in doing so, realize, not only is there no theological contradiction between the vastness of creation and the God of Christianity, but that creation itself vigorously preaches that things of great value are sometimes hidden in small packages.