The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Our Glorious Insignificance

We are, all of us, unimaginably small.  Our entire planet, everything that we are as a species, all of the plants and animals that make up our world, our entire biosphere is infinitesimally small.  While our world and our civilization and our individual societies and their attendant squabbles are profoundly important to us, their importance is purely relative - in any sort of cosmic scale, they dwindle into utter insignificance.

Carl Sagan, discussing the first picture of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it passed Saturn described Earth as "a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."  Few quotes have ever been more apt.

If you look closely, in the sunbeam to the right, you can see a single pixel, a single point of light.  That is our planet as seen from three planets away.  This is a picture of our planet from within our own solar system, about 6 and a half hours away if you're travelling at the speed of light.  Even at this incredibly close cosmic distance, our planet dwindles to utter insignificance.  A single point.  Little more than an aberration in the background of blackness.  From the nearest star, over four light years away, our planet would be utterly invisible, detectable only by the way its gravity tugs at the Sun or obscures a tiny fraction of its light as it passes by.

Even when viewed from our closest celestial neighbors, we are incredibly small.  Viewed from any further vantage point, we dwindle into utter obscurity.

Theists have posited the theory that the Universe is 'Finely Tuned' to foster the formation of intelligent life, that the physical constants that underlie the fabric of space, time and matter are so finely balanced that it is somehow evidence of some kind of intelligent authorship, that it is evidence of God.  This is utter rubbish.  This anthropocentrism, this arrogance, this narcissism, this persistent belief that WE are somehow the center of the Universe, the purpose of the Universe is obscenely conceited and utterly, hopelessly backwards.  The Universe is not 'Fine Tuned' to generate beings like us, WE are fine tuned to live in the Universe as it exists.  Our biology is adapted to the physical constants that exist.  The physical constants are not designed to generate us.

It is undoubtedly true that if the Universe were other than it is, beings like us probably would not exist.  To argue that other kinds of beings, however, other formations of matter or electro-matter or anti-matter or what not would not or could not form, is utterly baseless.  We are merely a small part of the Universe.  A single spore floating in the void.

Even assuming that some manner of entity created all of this, what kind of conceited, arrogant, narcissist could possibly believe that WE are worthy of its attention?  That WE are worthy of its companionship?  That WE are worthy of a personal relationship with it?  As I describe in great detail in the Great Chain, the difference between such a being and ourselves is far greater than the difference between me and a single bacteria.  To be sure, such a being COULD do whatever it wanted, but to believe that it is probable or even plausible that such a being would have the slightest interest in beings such as us is laughably silly.

And so what?  So what if the Creator of the Great All isn't interested in us?  Who cares?  We are what we are.  We dwell on the level of existence that we dwell on.  And within that level, within our glorious cosmic insignificance, we have done amazing things.  We have created wonders that surpass anything previous generations have ever dreamed of.  We have created societies that value peace and freedom and personal autonomy.  Imperfect as we may be, our civilization continues to progress, continues to evolve, continues to grow and thrive.

And so what if we are insignificant in a cosmic sense?  Who cares if God doesn't want a relationship with us?  We don't need him.  We don't need him for companionship, or comfort, or meaning, or morality.  We have each other.  We have friends.  We have lovers.  We have laws.  We have society.  We have our beautiful, amazing, living, breathing, breathtaking world.  And we have a glorious future.

Theists often confuse meaning with cosmic importance.  The reality is that meaning is not something that is derived from without, but something that comes from within.  So revel in your cosmic irrelevance.  Revel in your humanity.  Revel in who and what we are - in our glorious insignificance.


  1. Well said Jeffrey. I bet you write good closing statements. ;-P

  2. The thought of our insignificance against the backdrop of the cosmos and then nothingness in death is a concept that most people just can't handle,hence the need of a sky daddy to comfort them.

    The universe: love it or leave it.

  3. This whole silly concept just because we live within a tiny speck of the universe, therefore there must be a god, is simply a part of our being human – we simply create god to explain what we have no understanding of. I don’t even believe that our human brains today, are even capable of understanding the universe, and our place in it. We simply survive today because we were better adapted, then the countless other animals who went extinct over the history of our planet

    Great post!!!

  4. I believe what Jesus said, that the creator of all this including the little mote of dust we call home, knows the number of hairs on my head. It may be laughably silly but I can't dismiss his words. Moira, Uganda.