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Why did God make such a big universe?

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NASAearth-apollo8
As photographed by William Anders from Apollo 8 on 24 December 1968.

Why did God make the universe so big compared to us? Interestingly, some skeptics have even turned this into an argument against God (or, at least an argument against the idea that God cares about us).1

The idea runs like this: the observable universe is 93 billion light-years in diameter, which makes the earth and us on less than a speck against the backdrop of such a vast cosmic dark. Nor do we seem to occupy a special physical location in the universe, e.g. at its centre (at least, according to big bang theory).2 And humans (per the standard scientific narrative) have only existed for the last 1 million years or so of its supposed 13.8-billion-year existence. We’re not just a speck of dust in a vast cosmic dark, but we’re also just a blip on the cosmos’ supposed timeline.

However, Thomas1 argues that this is unexpected if God cares about us: She avers:

Traditionally, the Christian God is held to be deeply concerned with human beings. Genesis (1:27) states: “God created mankind in his own image." Psalms (8:1–5) 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, of course, John (3:16) explains God gave humans his son out of love for us.

These texts show that God is human-oriented: human beings are like God, and he values us highly. Although we’re focusing on Christianity, these claims can be found in other monotheistic religions, too. …

If God is human-oriented, wouldn’t you expect him to create a universe in which humans feature prominently? You’d expect humans to occupy most of the universe, existing across time. Yet that isn’t the kind of universe we live in.1 

Now, as biblical creationists, we of course reject the temporal dimension to this argument. Humans have been around “since the beginning of creation” (Mark 10:6).

NASA/JPL-Caltechv1_palebluedot
Figure 1. Voyager 1’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’ image.

Nonetheless, the size and location issues for many are enough by themselves to create this impression. Carl Sagan eloquently pointed out as he meditated on the famous ‘Pale Blue Dot’ image from Voyager 1 (figure 1):

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. … Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”3

Responses?

Now, it’s always telling to see how proponents of arguments expect their opponents to respond. So, how does Thomas expect theists to respond? She canvasses three—mystery, beauty, and indifference:

Perhaps God exists but his motives for not creating humans sooner, or on a bigger scale, are unknowable. The divine is, after all, mysterious.

Perhaps the swathes of space strung with gossamer nebulae serve some aesthetic purpose, beauty wrought on an inhuman scale. Or, perhaps, God exists but isn’t as human-oriented as we thought. Perhaps God values rocks and cosmic dust more highly than humans.1

Obviously, the ‘indifference’ response is off the table for Christians. After all, God became one of us ‘for us and our salvation’ (The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?). Whatever our size and location, if God becomes one of us to bring us into eternal communion with Him, He clearly cares about us.

Beauty is an interesting response. It is consistent with the Bible, since the heavens declare the glory of God and proclaim His handiwork (Psalm 19:1–2). But it doesn’t really explain why the universe is so vast compared to us. After all, there is as much divine beauty to find at the end of a microscope as there is to find at the end of a telescope.

What about mystery? That could work as a response. However, God didn’t leave this matter a mystery.

The Bible and creation’s vastness

The biblical response to this question begins right under Thomas’ nose. She quoted from Psalm 8:3–5:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

5Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

Note the contrast between vv. 3–4 and v. 5. Looking at the stars causes the psalmist to ask why he cares for us. And yet in verse 5 he crowns us with glory and honour. The psalmist is clearly capable of meditating on his own insignificance in light of the sky, and yet he also acknowledges God’s care for us in the way He made us.

In 1 Kings 8:27 Solomon makes a similar observation, this time concerning God dwelling in the temple he has just built:

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”

Solomon prayed these words after God had manifested his special presence in the temple (1 Kings 8:10–11), so he wasn’t questioning whether God would care enough to dwell in the temple. Rather, he was marvelling that God would condescend so far and fill the temple with His glory. This is even more evident in the Incarnation, where the eternal Word of God “tabernacles among us” (John 1:14) as the human Jesus of Nazareth.

So, meditating on these verses, it becomes clear just how much the skeptics have missed the point. The vastness of the universe impresses on us God’s sheer immensity. Even the cosmos, as large as it is, can’t contain God! But we’re so small. Little dots on a single speck of a planet floating in some nondescript place in the vast cosmic dark. Does it make God feel immense? Of course it does!

And yet, we are right at the centre of God’s spiritual concerns. The Incarnation proves that. But this disjunct is precisely what we’d expect of the God of Isaiah 57:15:

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”

God is a God of loving condescension. He voluntarily descends from His transcendent dignity to care for us ‘mere specks of dust’. What better way for God to create a context for that impression than to create a vast universe in which we’re alone on a tiny speck in the vast cosmic dark? He fills all things, yet concerns himself with us so much that He sends His eternal Son to become one of us to bring us into eternal communion with Him.

Published: 19 July 2022

References and notes

  1. Thomas, E., Can science prove God doesn’t exist? Vastness of space suggests there is no Almighty Creator, newsweek.com/science-prove-god-doesnt-exist-vastness-space-indicates-700688, 3 November 2017. Return to text.
  2. Creationists have in the past argued that we are near the centre of the universe based on quantized redshifts: Humphreys, R., Our galaxy is the centre of the universe, ‘quantized’ redshifts show, J. Creation 16(2):95–104, 2002. However, a subsequent research program by ICR failed to confirm these results. As such, they wisely cautioned creationists against making strong claims regarding quantized redshifts: Hebert, J., Galaxy Redshift Research Update, Acts & Facts 48(1), icr.org/article/galaxy-redshift-research-update, 2019. Return to text.
  3. Sagan, C., Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, Ballantine Books, New York, pp. 6–7, 1994. Return to text.

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