The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why I Don't Believe - Stars as Cells

70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Our best observations place the number of stars in the observable Universe at something in the range of 10 to 70 Sextillion Stars. A sextillion is a number so large that there is nothing in human experience that we can even begin to use as a comparison. To even begin to describe such a number we are reduced to incredibly poor analogies that fail to truly capture the essence of such a figure. Nevertheless, to provide some sense of perspective, imagine how long a sextillion seconds would be.

Since a second is generally considered to be the shortest unit of time which we can meaningfully understand this is the closest we can come to providing some sense of the true enormity of such a sum. 60 seconds in a minute. 3,600 seconds in an hour. 86,400 seconds in a day. 31,536,000 seconds in a year. There have been only 63,387,370,000 since the time of Jesus of Nazareth. There have only been 157,680,000,000 seconds since the Great Pyramid of Giza was built. There have only been 3,153,600,000,000,000 since Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the Earth. Our entire solar system has only been in existence for approximately 132,564,600,000,000,000. Indeed, our entire Universe has only existed for 428,889,600,000,000,000 or 428 Quadrillion, 889 Trillion, 600 Billion give or take a few hundred trillion seconds. What this means is that one sextillion seconds is the equivalent of 2,219,685,438,863,521 years, or over 163,212 times as long as the entire Universe has existed. A sextillion is an unimaginably huge number.

Put another way, there are something on the order of ten to fifty trillion (10,000,000,000,000 to 50,000,000,000,000) cells in the human body. There are roughly seven billion humans living on Earth at the moment, so if each and every individual cell in your body were to correspond to a single star in the observable Universe, and every single cell in the bodies of everyone else on Earth were all to correspond with a single different star in the observable Universe, then every single cell in your body and that of every single other person on the planet would roughly correspond to the number of stars in the observable Universe.

Several years ago, a Christian author wrote a book entitled 'Your God is Too Small' which argued that people have insufficient faith in what God can do in their lives because they believe that their problems are too large for God to solve, because their vision of God is too narrow, too limited, too small. The problem the Atheist see is exactly the reverse. Atheism looks at the Universe and concludes not that God is small, but that any divinity that exists is so incomprehensibly vast and powerful and incredible, that it seems the height of narcissism, egocentrism and arrogance to believe that such a being could possibly have the slightest interest in anything that happens on our small blue world.

Even if one were to assume that the Universe itself IS God, that we are all part of God's celestial existence, this in no way means or even implies that such an entity would be interested in or even aware of our existence. Remember that our entire solar system is but one among sextillions of other solar systems. That if a single solar system were to correspond to a single cell in the human body, that it would take the cells of every man woman and child on earth to represent the number of solar systems in the observable Universe.

Now even if we were to assume that God IS the Universe, that our solar system is simply a part of the divine body, does it naturally follow that God is aware of us or cares about us? Of course not. Do you concern yourself with your individual cells? Do you feel remorse when you wash your hands when you destroy thousands of your own cells? These are your own cells. They are part of you. They are you, yet you and I and every other person on Earth routinely and thoughtlessly discards millions of cells a day without a single thought – not because we are monstrous or wicked or uncaring, but because the fate of such things is simply beneath our notice because we are concerned about infinitely larger issues. How are we any different than the cells of our own body that we routinely discard without a second thought? Indeed, the difference between our existence and that of our constituent cells is much, much, much smaller than the difference between the divine and our entire solar system.

The simple fact is that our solar system is not special in any sort of cosmic sense. If the sun and our entire planet were to be completely annihilated by a supernova or black hole or a gamma ray burst or some other monstrous cosmic phenomenon, the Universe would continue without a single moment's pause. There would be no divine salvation, no deus ex machina to deliver us from our celestial fate. If our entire star system were to be completely destroyed, the stars and planets in our galaxy would continue their eternal celestial dance, forever spinning under the relentless, implacable tide of gravity just as they have for the last 13.6 billion years and just as they will continue to do for countless trillions of years to come. Our galaxy will continue its own celestial dance, merging with other galaxies, forever twirling within the great cosmic web of galaxies.

The Universe will not pause, because compared to the Universe, we as individuals, our planet, our entire star, are utterly inconsequential. Our 5000 years of ascendance barely register in the scale of galactic time. Compared to the Universe, we are nothing. Compared to the divine who allegedly created that Universe we are far less even than that.

If there is a God who created the Great All of the Universe, that being does not care about you. That being does not care about me. That being does not care about the petty liturgical and theological disputes that have wracked our species in the past. That being does not care about our species at all. Indeed, if such a being exists, it would concern itself with the fates of tens of billions of galaxies, not with a humble collection of apes huddled on a small blue world around a middling star in a mid-sized, middle-aged galaxy. The reality is that you, I and everyone else on this tiny blue planet are irrelevant to the God of the Great All. Our star is of no more importance to such a being than a single bacteria cell half a world away is to you. And you and I as individuals are infinitely less important than that. We and our entire civilization are utterly beneath the notice of such a being – revel in that fact.

Take heart in the fact that you and I and are entire species are beneath the notice of the Creator of the Great All. Advocates of an interventionist deity, a deity who listens and responds to our mental urgings and responds to our pleas and songs advocate a level of human arrogance and narcissism that borders madness. Comforting as it may be to believe that you have a personal connection to the very nexus of the Universe, the simple truth is that you have no such connection. Unless you are an incredibly well connected person, the reality is that you do not even have such a connection with the governor of your state or province, let alone the leader of your nation, and I assure you, those individuals are nowhere remotely near the Creator of the Great All.

The simple truth is that life without God is not meaningless. It is not pointless. It is not empty or shallow or self-centered. My life without God is infinitely more poignant, touching, meaningful and purposeful than my life with God. I have found purpose without God. I have found a path without God. I have found truth and beauty and light and love and life without God. I revel and thrill to the wonders of existence in a way that my theistic life could never fathom.

I recognize the possibility that the Great All may well have been a single staggering act of intentional authorship – the ultimate act of Creation, however, even if such a being existed, it is in no way concerned with the life and fortunes of Jeff Myers. Nor is it concerned with the life and fortunes of any man or woman. That knowledge should not impart a sense of despair or isolation or fear or anguish. It should impart a sense of freedom, a sense of the limitless possibilities that exist for you as an individual and we as a species. It means that the sense of connection that we all feel in those moments of quiet reflection and spiritual clarity are not the stirrings of the Universe or the power of God pouring through us, but of something far closer and more meaningful – the connections we have to one another as human beings.

I have discovered a love for who and what we are that was antithetical to my entire existence as a theist. I am proud of my humanity, proud of our species, proud of our successes, heartbroken by our failures, but always, always, always amazed at our limitless capacity for change and self-improvement. I love our species in a way that is utterly foreign to me – I even love our mistakes and our excesses because it is through our follies and occasional foolishness that we find the path forward.

We as a species are truly blessed.

It is critical that we as humans take stock of our true place in the Universe if we are ever to progress as a species. Critical that we understand not only our place in the Universe, but our place on this planet, and the amazing potential that we as a species possess to transcend the normal limits that apply to beings who dwell on our level of existence.

No comments:

Post a Comment