Although my website is called ratio scientiae, which is knowledge of the physical world, in today’s post we are going to indulge in some crossover with ratio sapientiae, which is knowledge of the divinity. And what better place to start something that deals with the divinity than with the universe.
As I have written in a previous essay, the universe is insanely big. The furthest object that humanity has launched into space is the voyager-1 probe, which has taken 45 years travelling at 35,000 miles per hour to be 22 light hours away from Earth. By comparison the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is 4.24 light years away from Earth. Our galaxy, The Milky Way, is 105,000 light years wide. The nearest galaxy to ours, the Andromeda Galaxy, is 2.5 million light years away. Andromeda, our galaxy, and others are part of a group of galaxies called the Virgo supercluster which is 110 million light years wide. The Virgo supercluster is part of an even larger structure of superclusters of galaxies called the Pisces-Cetus Supercluster Complex which stretches 1 billion light years across space, and is one of tens of thousands of such structures in the universe. The visible universe extends more than 13 billion light years away from Earth in all directions, and it contains more than 7 trillion galaxies, 30 billion trillion stars, and as many planets.
So my question is: Biblically speaking, what is the point of this immense humongously ginormous vastness?
The Bible doesn’t say much about the universe beyond the understanding of people living one of two thousand years ago. Stars in the Bible were nothing more than points of light (nowhere is it mentioned they are suns), and their purpose, along with that of the sun and the moon, is to give light upon the Earth and separate the day/light from night/darkness, and for signs and for seasons, and for days and years (Genesis 1:14-18). But this Earth-centric view of the cosmos can only apply to the universe visible with the unaided eye, which comprises about 10,000 distinct stars, so it begs the question as to the purpose of the rest of the universe which was invisible to the ancients. Additionally, considering that just in our galaxy there are at least millions of Earth-like planets orbiting sun-like stars, another issue about which the Bible doesn’t say much is whether there are intelligent beings other than us in the universe.
Of course, because we are speculating about the motivations of the divinity, there can be many answers to this question. For example, you can argue that indeed is only us in the universe and that God created all that immensity that we have uncovered with telescopes to make us feel humble, and there is no way to refute this argument short of being contacted by extraterrestrials. However, as far as I’m concerned, all those billions upon billions of galaxies, and even more stars and planets seem to me like a waste of creation effort if the sole purpose of creation is us. It also seems to me statistically unlikely that we are alone in the universe.
You would expect that now that humanity has attained advanced knowledge about the universe, God would provide us with an update more attuned to our level of understanding of the cosmos. However, according to Roman Catholic and most protestant faiths, all of God’s revelation is contained in the Bible and no new revelation will be forthcoming.
This is not to say that all Christians accept this premise. A notable example is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS Church (The Mormons), which states that revelation is still occurring. Whereas the Bible says nothing about the new world (the Americas), the Mormons believe that people from Jerusalem came to the Americas and that Jesus visited them after he rose from the grave and taught them the Christian Gospel. Then this information was revealed to their prophet, Joseph Smith, who wrote it into what was to become the Book of Mormon in 1830. A remarkable revelation within the Mormon canon is the doctrine of eternal progression where humans have the potential to become gods and engage in acts of creation giving rise to new populated worlds. And these acts of creation are ongoing. Some of these created worlds have passed away, others such as ours are still extant, while many others are in the process of being birthed.
Thus the LDS Church seems to offer an explanation for the size of the universe and whether there are other intelligent beings out there, although other Christians disagree. Additionally, the Mormon cosmology is not completely compatible with current scientific ideas about the universe. Nevertheless, the Mormon claims seem to me at least a step in the right direction towards providing that much needed update, because the Bible, in view of our present knowledge of the universe, comes across as a highly parochial account of the cosmos, which has not even begun to play catch up with other accounts such as that of the Mormon faith. But I think that this will change.
Now I will proceed to make my prediction/prophesy for the ages.
Unless humanity is destroyed say by a collision of Earth with a large asteroid or some other calamity (in which case doctrinarian Christians will be vindicated), humanity will sooner or later begin its trek towards the stars. At first it will be baby steps such as bases and then settlements on the Moon and Mars and perhaps even some of the moons of Jupiter or other planets such as Saturn. Then, if we can develop the technology to cover the vast distances of space, even if it is with generational ships or some form of suspended animation of the crews of these ships, we may actually begin travelling to the nearest stars.
So, lo and behold! As what I have outlined above unfolds, I predict that in the future within the mainstream Christian religions someone will claim that they have received new revelation from God, a gospel for the space age if you will, which may even include an apparition by Jesus himself. And in this new revelation the questions I have raised in this essay will be answered and a new plan will be revealed for humanity to be fruitful, multiply, and expand into the cosmos where they will meet other intelligent beings. This claim will be attacked by mainstream Christian churches, but it will spread like wildfire and become the leading Christian religion of the space age.
When will this happen? I don’t know. It may be in 10, 100, 1000 or more years, but if it happens, let future generations know that people in this century read about it here first!
Image by R. Halfpaap from flickr is used here under an Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-ND 4.0) license and has not been modified from the original.