Suddenly the world got so much bigger

I grew up believing that the world was created in 4004 B.C.E. and that the world would end within my lifetime. In other words, I believed that the entire length of the world’s existence would be something just over 6000 years.

As a young adult I learned the scientific evidence behind evolution and found that the world was much, much, older than I had ever thought. As I left religion I suddenly realized that this mean that the world was not going to end with the return of Christ, whether imminent or more distant, but would rather stretch out into the future further than I could imagine.

It’s hard to explain, but my entire perception of the world around me changed with these revelations. It was like time suddenly stretched out and the limits containing it fell away. Suddenly I found that I was part of a much, much longer history, a tiny spot in millions and billions of years of time. Suddenly the world got so much bigger.

One result was that I began to feel much smaller. After all, my life on this earth is but a tiny spec in comparison to the entire history of the world. I also started to feel smaller because I no longer saw myself, as a human, as being at the center of some divine plan for the earth.

But as I grew smaller the thing I was a part of grew larger. I became more aware of the long span of life that inhabited this globe before me and the long span of life that will inhabit it after me. This thing I was part of, the earth with its interlocking ecosystems and myriad of life, suddenly seemed more rich and complex than it had been before.

Practically speaking, this means that I have more respect for the earth than I used to. Its history is immense and fascinating, and its future stretches out beyond the human race. This has made me more environmentally conscious as I think about the affects my own actions may have on life far out in the future and remember that this world was around billions of years before I was born.

There is also a new sense of wonder. As the earth’s chronology spread before me by leaps and bounds I found it ever more fascinating, ever more worth study, and ever more awe inspiring. Of everything that has resulted from my religious journey, this change in chronological perception was perhaps the least expected but by no means the least appreciated.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Predator Handshake

    I think this is a common thought process for those of us who were raised in religion and later reject it. For me, another realization is just how lucky we are to be around in the first place. I came to realize that rather than being breathed into existence by some weird Geppetto, so many things had to go right just for me to be alive. The universe may be vastly huge and mostly empty, but despite all that here we are.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/VeritasKnight VeritasKnight

    I always kinda liked what Carl Sagan said about our place in a massive universe, that “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself”. It might be rhetorical, but it also has a certain resonance.

  • kaleissin

    Have you seen Carl Sagan’s Cosmos? You might not want to, it is known for giving atheists an, ahem, “religious” experience: “Ooh the universe is so cool and the Earth so precious! Lovely bright blue dot in the black vastness of space!” Hmh, there’s got to be a better term for that kind of felt awe. “Sensawunda” isn’t quite there.

    It’s a bit slow compared to tv-shows made today but well worth it, and a trip through the history of science to boot. Maybe see it as a family when the kid is old enough, nineish should do it I think. I always try to do a rewatch between yule and new years.

    • christophburschka

      Have you seen Carl Sagan’s Cosmos? You might not want to, it is known for giving atheists an, ahem, “religious” experience: “Ooh the universe is so cool and the Earth so precious! Lovely bright blue dot in the black vastness of space!” Hmh, there’s got to be a better term for that kind of felt awe. “Sensawunda” isn’t quite there.

      Having seen Cosmos and being completely mind-blown by it, I would submit the term “Sagasm”.

  • Jason Dick

    I think this blog post calls for a bit more Carl Sagan:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYtXoUZbUCQ
    (A Pale Blue Dot, from the Cosmos series)

    • Rumtopf

      Hail Sagan!

  • http://twitter.com/#!/VeritasKnight VeritasKnight

    Well, I see I wasn’t alone in pondering Cosmos on this one.

    There’s an updated version of Cosmos coming out soon with Neil DeGrasse Tyson running it. I hope it is as stellar (see what I did there) as the original.

  • finam

    I certainly know that feeling, and i don’t have any real religious background (other than the usual background noise you’re exposed to in western culture).

    Just about every aspect of our existence, if studied in detail, is overwhelming in it’s own right.
    Our own bodies have billions of cells which work in concert, along with even more bacteria and a myriad of chemicals being exchanged every second, every minute, every hour of every day of every year.
    The most basic tools we use in our everyday life – a knife, a toothbrush, a pen – are the result of thousands of years of human civilization. They are but one product of our complex society that is made out of hundreds of millions (if not billions depending on your definition of “society”) of people.
    And so on.

    My own existence is certainly just a insignificant part of the universe. But that doesn’t matter, i don’t care if my life has a meaning in some greater cosmic plan – it has meaning for me, and more importantly for the people who know me.

  • http://starisland.co.uk Sheila Crosby

    Did you know that the iron atoms in your blood were made by a massive star exploding, long before our solar system formed? In fact, all the atoms on earth (except for hydrogen and helium) were made inside stars, and to spread out into space when the stars died. So the first generation of stars couldn’t possibly have had rocky planets like earth, because there was nothing to make them from. Long after the first stars died, those atoms coalesced into our sun and its planets, and a very few of them wound up in our bodies. It’s not just metaphysical poetry – we really are stardust.

    • Steve

      Jesus didn’t die for us. Stars did

  • Martin

    I came from a secular household in a pretty secular country (England) and had rejected religion by the age of 11. After I started engaging YECs on the Internet I realized how stunted their view of the universe was. Everything was so small…except for their hubris thinking that the whole cosmos with its galaxies, ecosystems and (fake?) history had been created for their benefit.


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