The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cutting The Universe Down To Size

One of the fundamental assumptions of every theistic worldview is the assumption that God is aware of and cares for the human species, human civilization, human morality, ethics, behavior, etc.  Obviously, if God was not aware of or was uninterested in our affairs, it would not have taken the time to regale our ancestors with stories, perform miracles, answer prayers or otherwise intervene in our affairs, let alone sacrifice itself to atone for our allegedly naughty behavior.

The obvious corollary to this assumption is the notion that our species and our planet is somehow important.  That we are relevant.  That we matter.

This assumption falls to pieces when we consider the true size and scope of the Universe and consider our place within it.

Imagine that the entirety of the observable Universe, every planet, every star, every black hole, every galaxy, every gas cloud, everything that humanity has ever or will ever see, were reduced to the size of a 1,000 square foot apartment.  Your apartment.  You own it.  You built it.  You furnished it.  You are far and away the most intelligent, powerful and capable being in that Universe.  For all intents and purposes, you would be God.  Congratulations, you are God of your apartment.
Now imagine that our galaxy, the Milky Way, is somewhere in that Universe.  What kind of object do you suppose would be roughly the same size?  Posing this question to theists generates a wide array of answers.  Some assume that our galaxy would be the size of the couch.  Others guess the size of a television.  Others guess something the size of a lamp.  None have guessed anything smaller than a coaster.
None of them are even close to the reality.

Our Universe has a radius of some 46 billion light years (ly) while our Galaxy has a radius of approximately 50,000 ly and our solar system has a radius of approximately 0.00001581 ly.  Using some high school geometry we can determine the volume of those relative objects and then scale them down to approximate their size if the Universe were crammed down to fit in a 1,000 square foot apartment.  Having no wish to bore anyone with the math, I have placed the numbers at the bottom, but the result is this:

If the Universe were crammed down to fit in a 1,000 square foot apartment, every single cubic inch would occupy a region of space equivalent to 2,359,489,230,131,172,839,506,172 ly^3.  Our galaxy, in comparison occupies a measly 523,598,333,333,333 ly^3.  Meaning our galaxy is MUCH smaller than a cubic inch.  Indeed, our galaxy is much smaller than a cubic millimeter.  To measure the size of our galaxy, we need to go much smaller, down to the kind of measurements we use to measure wavelengths of light and make circuit boards.  We need to use microns.

It turns out that if the volume of the Universe were equivalent to a 1,000 square foot apartment the ENTIRE Milky Way Galaxy would occupy a region of space roughly equivalent to a sphere with a radius of approximately 9.5 μm.  This would constitute an object about two and a half times the size of a single red blood cell.  Our solar system would comprise an object far, far, far smaller.  Something on the order of a sphere with a radius slightly over 10 picometers.  For comparison, the smallest atom (helium) has a radius of about 31 picometers.

So if our Universe were crammed down to fit in the size of my apartment, our galaxy would be an object roughly the size of a single cell, and our solar system would be an object somewhere in that apartment that is smaller than an atom.

Now ask yourself, how much do you care about the individual atoms in your home?  Do you worry about their well being?  Do you consider their fates?  Do you ponder their moral failings?  Do you intervene in their affairs?  Do you crave their worship?  Do you bestow your wisdom upon them?  Do you desire a personal relationship with them?  Would you sacrifice yourself for them?  Of course not.  Because such trifling, insignificant things simply do not matter to you.  They are irrelevant.  Meaningless.  Our entire galaxy would be reduced to the kind of thing that I breathe in and out every day without the slightest awareness.  The kind of thing my white blood cells attack and destroy without the slightest hesitation.  And our humble star?  Our humble star would only even be detectable with the largest particle accelerators ever built.

You occupy a level of existence, and possess a level of power and intelligence so far beyond that which exists on an atomic level that to even consider the 'feelings' or 'thoughts' or existence of an individual atom is ludicrous.  200,000,000,000,000 atoms would fit in the period at the end of this sentence.  Is it really reasonable to believe or expect that you would even be aware of, let alone care, about such things?  Of course not.  Such things are simply beneath you.

So it would be with God.

Assuming that there is a God who created the Big Bang, that being would dwell on a level of existence so far beyond our own that our entire existence and that of every other object in our entire galaxy would be rendered totally irrelevant.  Our galaxy would not be the equivalent of the television set or the couch or the refrigerator, our entire galaxy would be far less than a single speck of dust.  Our galaxy would be a particle of grime on the toilet or in the carpet or on God's glasses?  Or a speck inhaled and promptly destroyed by the divine equivalent of white blood cells.  And our humble star?  Infinitely less.

Quite simply we do not represent the kind of beings which an entity on that plane of existence would have any interest.  Certainly not the kind that would spark a desire for a personal relationship.  To expect that the Creator of the Entire Universe, Sovereign over countless septillions of stars is going to cultivate a deep personal relationship and would willingly endure pain and sacrifice for inconsequential creatures trapped on the cosmic equivalent of an atom is perhaps the most insulting and degradingly arrogant belief imaginable.  It does violence to the very idea of divinity.

Theists always protest that it is impossible to know the mind of God, that certainly God is greater than we could imagine and that he COULD desire a relationship with beings such as us.  But is such a belief reasonable?  Is it probable?  We are, afterall, allegedly created in God's image.  If WE have absolutely ZERO interest in cultivating deep personal relationships with bacteria, why would we expect God to have any interest in us when comparatively speaking, our entire planet is far less than the divine equivalent of bacteria?

Is it not far more likely that these assumptions are merely the wishful myths of ancient people with no understanding or knowledge of the wider world rather than a statement of how the Universe actually operates?


Volume of Sphere 4/3π*r^3

Radius of Universe 46,000,000,000 LY
Volume of Universe 407,719,738,966,666,666,666,666,666,666,666 Cubic LY
Radius of Milky Way Galaxy 50,000 LY
Volume of Milky Way Galaxy 523,598,333,333,333 Cubic LY
Radius of Solar System 0.00001581 LY
Volume of Solar System 0.0000662247172 Cubic LY

Volume of 1000 Square Foot Apartment as Universe = 10,000 Cubic Ft
Cramming the approximate volume of the Universe into those 10,000 Cubic Feet yields the following results.  While not perfect, it provides a good illustration.

Each Cubic Foot (ULY/10,000) 4,077,197,389,666,666,666,666,666,666 Cubic LY
Each Cubic Inch (/[12*12*12]) 2,359,489,230,131,172,839,506,172 Cubic LY
Each Cubic Milimeter (/[25.4*25.4*25.4]) (mm^3) 143,984,966,534,476,799,064 Cubic LY
Each Cubic Micrometer (/[1000*1000*1000]) (μm^3) 143,984,966,534 Cubic LY
Each Cubic Nanometer (/[1000*1000*1000]) (µµ^3) 143.984966 Cubic LY
Each Cubic Picometer (/[1000*1000*1000]) (pm^3) 0.0000000143984 Cubic LY

523,598,333,333,333 ly^3 / 143,984,966,534 ly^3 = 3636.479 μm^3  Solve for r.  R ≈ 9.5 μm.

Solar System 0.0000662247172 ly^3 / 0.0000000143984 ly^3 = 4599.449 pm^3  Solve for r.  R ≈ 10.5 pm.


  1. Totally awesome! Sets things in perspective.

  2. Please provide proof that the universe has a radius of 46 Billion Light Years.

    Show your work.

    Thanks in advance!

    Skeptical Skeptic

  3. Anonymous,

    Please go to school before you ask uniformed questions.


  4. As a small distinction, I point out that it is the OBSERVABLE Universe we're talking about. The actual Universe could be 1,000 times, a trillion times or infinitely larger that the Observable Universe but as we will never see light from beyond our light horizon it is impossible to say. That said:

    I suggest reading either this or this or this but it all basically boils down to the relationship between the speed of light 186,000 mi / sec, the age of the Universe, 13.7 billion years and the expansion of the Universe as measured by Hubble's Law.

    In essence, if Universe were not expanding, the radius of the observable Universe would be 13.7 billion years because that would be the farthest point whose light would have had time to reach us. However, since the Universe is expanding, those objects that emitted light 13.7 billion years ago that are just reaching us are actually MUCH farther now than they were when they emitted the light. We can determine just how much farther by measuring the redshift of the light emitted. Edwin Hubble worked this out in the first few decades of the 1900s which is why the rate of expansion is named after him. But basically the redshift of the farthest objects we can see (those in the Hubble Deep Field Image for example) indicates an expansion rate of a little over 3 which is where we derive the 46 to 47 billion light year radius.

  5. Ah, but to a real believer (christian, muslim, jew, whatever) this universal size signifies just the opposite. Earth is possibly (likely) the only planet with intelligent beings made in god's image so all the rest of the universe is just a distraction. Or at most a display of the awesome power of god. Our galaxy's small size is even greater evidence of god's love for humans - I mean how important does this mean that we are in god's eyes. He treasure's us above all else.
    And your statements:
    "So it would be with God.

    Assuming that there is a God who created the Big Bang, that being would dwell on a level of existence so far beyond our own that our entire existence and that of every other object in our entire galaxy would be rendered totally irrelevant." Hah! How can you know the mind of god and how dare you compare your relatively puny human brain with it's puny human thoughts to that of god? How do you know what is reasonable or probable?
    Like many religious people who are trying to find the footprints of god (creationists, ID, god of the gaps, looking for Noah's ark, finding dinosaur and human footprints in the same layer of mud, etc) you appear to be trying to describe the lack of god's footprints by using a guess as to what god's footprints would or should look like: "To expect that the Creator of the Entire Universe, Sovereign over countless septillions of stars is going to cultivate a deep personal relationship ... for inconsequential creatures trapped on the cosmic equivalent of an atom is perhaps the most insulting and degradingly arrogant belief imaginable." It wasn't too long ago that most humans had no concerns for the microscopic nor the interstellar objects in the universe. That has changed. It's not equivalent to 'god' and individual humans but comparing humans to bacteria only works in relation to size.
    Your description of the relative size of things is mind-blowing but not a good argument against a god or supreme being(s). It is one way to inspire people to study astronomy , etc.
    That there is no evidence of a god here on earth, in what we can see so far via science is argument enough.
    I think changing those religious beliefs will need to be accomplished using other tools and methods with support from logic and science.

  6. We don't cultivate relationships with atomic particles?

    Do you understand how much research has gone into understanding atomic relationship? Why atoms behave how they do? How we can manipulate them to do the most amazing things imaginable?

    Think about it.

  7. Not having a scientific mind or the propensity to do the math to establish how insignificant I am, it seems most of us are missing the big picture of religion. The key word in most religions is "belief", or "faith", or insert the word you would like to use. When something is accepted on faith, there is no need to verify why we believe what we do. We need not accept the stories as fact, in order to believe there is a God and he is greater than we are! Here's a thought to ponder if you will. What if we were to go through our entire lives not believing in a supreme power just to find out in the hereafter that we were wrong and God in fact does exist? On the other hand, suppose we go through our entire lives believing in the power of the wholly spirit and in fact die with that belief firmly embedded in our hearts! Where would you rather place your bet? With this in mind, I believe I can answer that for you! Have a wonderful day!

  8. Ron,

    The 'what if you're wrong' or 'where would you place your bet' argument you pose is known as Pascal's Wager. It is a thoroughly discredited philosophical argument for 'believing' in God. If fails for a number of reasons, first and foremoset because it posits a binary universe in which one has a choice between believing in the Christian God and not believing in the Christian God. It fails to recognize that for each and every single one of the over 2800 gods, godesses and other mutually exclusive divine powers posited throughout human history, one can ask the same question 'what if you're wrong.' What if you're wrong about YHWH and Allah is the one true God. What if both of them are wrong and Shiva is the One True God. What if it's Wotan or Zeus or Poseidon or Ra or some as yet undiscovered divinity. An infinitude of infinite punishments are balanced against a SINGLE possibility of salvation. Pascal's wager fails on every possible logical level.

    Pascal posits that the wager is necessary because even he concedes that it is impossible to weigh the validity of supernatural claims and that absent any evidentiary basis for making a choice, hiw wager to believe that God exists is the safer bet. It assumes, however, that God is a gullible fool and that he will not see past the fact that you do not REALLY believe but are merely making a mercenary calculation in the hopes of gaining a prize.

    Moreover, as even Pascal concedes, since it is impossible to weigh supernatural claims against one another, what if you're wrong about God? What if, in fact, you are a brain in a jar running a computer simulation, what if YOU are a computer simulation and what if the ONLY way to wake up from this delusion is to reject false beliefs and embrace skepticism. You see the problem with Faith and Belief is that since they by their very nature HAVE NO EVIDENTIRAY BASIS, they are nonfalsifiable and each and every one, no matter how nonsensical, is equally valid when weighed against one another. Each one is equally impossible to disprove.

    Ultimately, the question comes down to a simple question. Do you CARE whether what you believe is true or not. If you do, you would do well to abandon faith and concentrate on reason, because faith could not possibly care less about truth.

  9. Thats redicolous.
    "We don't cultivate relationships with atomic particles?"

    no we dont! when was the last time you discussed the weather with an ant and felt a real connection?

    when was the last time you had a conversatation with an inanimate object like a shirt or a stone and fell in-love?

    atoms are not living...

    Do you think Gods relationship with us is one of manipulation and experimentation. The goal being the creation of tools, comforts and education. if not, your assumption is flawed.

    The armour of belief can only be taken off by the person wearing it. it wouldnt be so bad if the helmet had eye holes so they could see.

    By creation or chance doth the universe dance
    Unpartnered it’s beauty unknown.
    For all that is beauty that pleaseth the eye is no sweeter than wanting if no soul passeth by and the heavens mere contrasts alone.
    Forsaken of creed saw not the rose from the weed and the truth a slant to be born.
    “Thus it all began” voiced the fruiting of man and foolishly saw himself shorn.
    Frugal in sense, man had journeyed the fence and with the devil enjoyed the odd dance.
    But all came to nought as each god was fought and beauty be smitten it’s chance.
    So here’s to the graveyards and all those therein who lived and loved in softness of skin.
    Now resting in the depths of the land and once more the universe is neither beauty or bland.

    Foot note, l suffer from Parkinsons and often looked for god, guess what?, l never found him.
    I don't argue the subject any more, god is so engrained in the minds of the human race that if
    the world was saved from extinction by Bruce Willis (as he often did),the first grateful words you would hear would be,"THANK GOD".
    So l release my thoughts in practical verse
    This a interesting site and l hope my comments
    are useful.