# Thinking about God Makes Me Just Want to Keep My Mouth Shut

expanding universe diagram

Smart people tell us that the universe is about 14 billion years old and about 46 billion light years across. Light travels about 5.87 trillion miles a year (you heard me). Multiply that by 46 billion. My calculator broke. I came up with 2.70231100992E23. According to my extensive 10 second Google research, the numbers before the E are to be multiplied by 10 to the 23rd power. I think this is what God laughing at us looks like.

It also seems that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. And if that weren’t enough, now we are told there may be more than one of them.

Add to this the fact that there are billions upon billions of galaxies in our universe, each containing billions upon billions of stars. We cannot remotely comprehend these numbers. I also hear from reliable sources that stars within galaxies are millions, billions, trillions (what does it matter, really) of light years away from each other, and similar distances exist between the galaxies themselves.

And at the other end of the spectrum we have subatomic particles–as if atoms weren’t small enough–and string theory.

expanding universe for dummies diagram

If there is a God….a higher power, a supreme being, who is behind all this, I feel we should just stop talking for a minute and…well…just stop talking for a minute.

What kind of a God is this, who is capable of these sorts of things? What claim can we have to speak for him, to think his thoughts are our thoughts? Who do we think we are, anyway?

Here’s another thing that unsettles me into silence. According to the Christian tradition, this God who does literally incomprehensible things, is also willing to get very small–to line up next to us, to know us, even love us (as the Bible says again and again).

If there really is a God like this–a God who understands and controls things so big my calculator has to use a letter to get it across, who is also a God who walked among a tiny tribe of ancient people called Israelites, who allowed them to write about him in their tiny ancient ways, and who subjected himself to suffering and death (what we work so hard to avoid), well…

I think we’re talking mystery here, people.

A God who does both. There are no words for this sort of thing. Yeah, King David in the Psalms talked about praising God because of the wonders of the heavens (Ps 19), and wondered out loud how a God who put the moon and stars in their place could be bothered by puny people (Psalm 8). But David had a limited, quaint, view of “up there.” He did not, and could not, think of “heavens” as we now have to, what with our telescopes and such.

One God responsible for the unfathomably large, who is also near us. If there is such a God….

To take this all in, as far as I am concerned, is above our mortal pay grade. Those of us who believe this kind of God exists should feel put in our place, pretty much walking around with that “I can’t believe what I just saw” look in our eye.

The Bible calls this humility and awe, which, as hard as it is to pull off, is at least something we can understand.

• Erp

“I also hear from reliable sources that stars within galaxies are millions, billions, trillions (what does it matter, really) of light years away from each other, and similar distances exist between the galaxies themselves.”

Your reliable source isn’t reliable in this. The Milky Way, our own galaxy, is about 100,000 light years in diameter and is on the larger size of average. IC 1101, the largest known galaxy, is about 6 million light years in diameter; Messier 87, the largest in our local cluster, is about 500,000 light years in diameter. Galaxies tend to cluster and our nearest big galaxy, Andromeda, is about 2.5 million light years away though quite a few small galaxies are closer.

• peteenns

Thanks, Erp. That’s a relief: only 2.5 million light years

• Joyce

How is it that the universe is 14 billion years old and yet 46 billion light years across? Since a light year is the distance light travels in a year, it would seem that one of the figures is wrong. Either the universe is 14 billion light years across or it is 46 billion years old. It can’t be both.

• peteenns

You’re asking the wrong guy. I can’t even balance my check book.

• Joyce

I’m not trying to give you a hard time, but where did you get the 46 billion figure? If the universe is 14 billion years old then that’s how far(in light years) that light could travel in that amount of time. Do you see what I am saying?

• Joyce

I might be wrong. I don’t claim to understand it all. Thanks for prompting me to read more about it, though.

• schinizel

Cause you are thinking of it in terms of special relativity. Cosmological scales & behaviors are explained using General relativity. Further explained at – http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=488408

..and no, I am not sure I understand it myself

• Kristen inDallas

A couple odd assumptions here joyce, the speed at which the matter in the universe expands and the speed at which light moves will not be the same. Also a light year is technically a distance, not an amount of time… it is the distance it *would* take light to travel from point a to point b. Thing is, in that amount of time, point a and point b won’t be where they started anyway. But yes, from the numbers here, it looks like the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light, which will make most people stop for a minute… Wha??? But the trick is, we aren’t talking about an object moving with an absolute speed faster than light could move, we are talking about an expanding system of objects each with their own speeds moving away from each other. The relative speeds of some of these points will be greater than the speed of light. Essentially, even though my car caps out at 100mph, I can still travel away from another car at 140mph if we both do 7o in opposite dirrections. This article explains it well… er better. It’s a tough topic. http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=575

• http://um-insight.net Cynthia Astle

Or, as a younger Montgomery Scott says in the rebooted “Star Trek” movie by JJ Abrams: “It never occurred to me to think of space as the thing that was moving.”

• stevek

actually, no. That violates special relativity. What actually appears to be happening is the fabric of space is expanding, leading to the observed red-shift of light and so on.

• Paul D.

The farthest objects we can see were some 13.5 billion light-years away when the light we see from them was emitted, and thus the light has taken that long to reach us, but the universe itself (i.e. the “empty” space between galactic clusters) has been expanding as well, so that the actual distance to the present location of those objects is now 46 billion light-years.

• Logan

You’re forgetting about the expanding universe part. When everything was closer together, the light from distant stars was already close enough to Earth to be seen, and as the universe expands, stars can now be at a distance greater than the number of light years it takes for its light to reach Earth. The universe is expanding so fast that the light from distant stars is “red shifted”, just like a dopler effect of a passing car horn, the sound drops in frequency as it moves away from you, and a lower frequency of light is toward the red end of the spectrum, hence “red shift”. Also, in the past when the universe was more compact, it is theorised that the speed of light was also faster, thus further enabling distant star light being able to be seen even though its far greater number of light years away than the universe is old.

• stevek

you might want to check out inflation theory. Parts of the universe are inaccessible to us via light. Amazing

• AJG

I just finished reading the book “Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life” by biochemist Nick Lane. In it, he states that he and most scientists now think that the process by which bacteria evolved into eukaryotes (organisms which are composed of cells with a nucleus, that is everything except bacteria) was such a rare event that it occurred only one time on earth and probably did not and will not occur anywhere else in the universe. Think about that for a minute. In a universe the size of which you just tried to quantify (and failed through no fault of your own), the 6 billion+ humans on this planet are probably the only thinking, conscious beings there are. How incredible is that? Lane is not a theist, but his book certainly has the potential to drive one to God.

• Beau Quilter

Nick Lane is making a specious claim. Saying that bacteria could not have evolved into eukaryotes anywhere else in the universe is about as useful as saying humans could not have evolved anywhere else in the universe. Of course not! Life that evolved on earth is uniquely suited to this planet.

But to question “has complex life evolved anywhere else in the universe?”, most scientists do NOT assume an answer of no. This is hubris. Most scientists look at the unimaginable vastness of the known universe “I don’t know.”

“Life” may not look like a bacteria. “Complex life” may not look like a eukaryote. These are earth organisms.

• AJG

“Nick Lane is making a specious claim. Saying that bacteria could not have evolved into eukaryotes anywhere else in the universe is about as useful as saying humans could not have evolved anywhere else in the universe. Of course not! Life that evolved on earth is uniquely suited to this planet.”

Of course, but we can only think about life in terms of what we know. Even an atheist would argue that life originated as the result of naturalistic processes governed by basic principles of physics and chemistry. Lane is an atheist, so he is not making these claims based on some desire to prove that God created the earth just right for life. Instead, he looks at the best available evidence and draws that conclusion. Could it be wrong? Of course, which is why I said “probably”. BTW, Dawkins comes to pretty much the same conclusion in “The Ancestor’s Tale”. The latest research simply adds more weight to that conclusion.

That’s all science is anyway, particularly in disciplines like biology or geology where testability and repeatability are not always possible. Use the latest available evidence to draw conclusions about what happened. Of course, always be ready to change course when the data justifies it.

• Beau Quilter

Dawkins, in his own words (from The Greatest Show on Earth):

“My guess, for what it is worth (not much, because there are too many unknowns), is that life is very rare, but that the number of planets is so large (more are being discovered all the time) that we are probably not alone, and there may be millions of islands of life in the universe.”

Whatever Lane intended with the comment that you paraphrase, your comment clearly implies that “most scientists” believe that complex life only evolved on Earth. This is simply false. “Most scientists” do not make this claim.

• Beau Quilter

I have read Lane’s article in New Scientist on this subject, though not the book you mention. He does not go so far as to say that life probably only happened on Earth – only that if it happened elsewhere, it is very rare:

“This line of reasoning suggests that while Earth-like planets may teem with life, very few ever give rise to complex cells. That means there are very few opportunities for plants and animals to evolve, let alone intelligent life.”

Of course, “rare”, in a universe the size of ours does not mean “once”. In this article, Lane is saying that it is unlikely we will ever “meet” complex life on another planet. Other scientists have made similar conclusions for different reasons. Some have suggested that, given a number of intelligent civilizations in the universe, the chances of them occurring during the same time period is remote (our brief human history is a fleeting fraction of the time our universe has existed).

But again, these projections (and they are not demonstrably shared by all or even “most” scientists), do not suggest that complex life happened only once in the universe – they only suggest that complex life happens rarely in the universe, and thus do not carry the implications that you imply.

• http://www.SutterSaga.com Samuel Sutter

i needed this reminder today – thanks.

• James

and even David’s quaint view of the heavens gives us more wonder than we can handle!

• Mark Chenoweth

I agree James. I’ve got to be comfortable with the outdated cosmology in the bible by judging scripture’s claims ABOUT GOD in those instances. It’s remains true that God is worthy of awe and worship and that’s what the author of the Psalm was really wanting to point toward. The fact that he understood cosmology differently is secondary. We can still pray the Psalms with the same awe that David did. Maybe even more.

• Keith Dager

Peter wrote of the awesomeness of the universe which seems to defy faith. A comment by AJG wrote of the other aspect of this expanding science which is important to faith…the uniqueness of a living planet. First, here is my leap of faith… I believe there had to be a power greater than what we can ever know which intentionally “threw the switch” for the Big Bang. Call it God, call it whatever you want. If Christianity rests on Christ’s resurrection, then faith in a God must rest on His creating something from nothing. If “whatever” did this with intention, and odds of life NOT existing elsewhere is true, then it sure seems that there was an INTENT to create JUST this living planet. If we deem ourselves intelligent life with self-awareness and at the top of the evolutionary ladder on earth (my dogs beg to differ), then maybe we are the intended outcome of “God’s” doing. Viewed from this angle, then a God walking among the ancient Israelites, taking interest in its creation down to each person, creating life to test character, cultivate good souls and build his spiritual posse in heaven is not all that hard for me to believe. The personal time planner and reminder calendar for this being must be awesome! So where I have spiritual doubts, my question is not “Is there God” but “Are we God’s full time occupation”, or just something like a fish aquarium or ant colony… a curiosity that an incredible being pays attention to now and then between shooting stray planets into Black Holes like a game of billiards?

• Beau Quilter

This universe, untold billions of light years across, was finely tuned to allow, on an infinitesimally tiny planet, the development of a slightly intelligent creature, with a life span of barely a breath in the tiny fraction of the history of this little planet in which his species arose to believe that entire universe was made for him, by a divine being, who for all practical purposes, thinks and feels like a human.

The universe is finely tuned for extreme narcissism.

• Keith Dager

An atheist asks “Where did God come from?” as if the science of mere mortals could ever answer that… while having no thought as to “Where did the first energy,/time/matter come from?” because such thought involves something greater than human intelligence, challenging our hubris. An agnostic is the equivalent of a man walking between train tracks pondering “ Who laid these tracks? Are they real? Was it with intention? Is there a purpose? Does that really matter? What’s that that noise and rumbling? Is it just symbolic? Is it a… [splat]”

• Beau Quilter

Keith, when an atheist asks “Where did God come from”, he or she is only pointing out that “God” is a meaningless answer to the question “Where did the universe come from.” One might as well say the universe came from Bambam. What is bambam?! How does that answer the question?!

And why on earth do you think atheists have “no thought as to ‘Where did the first energy,/time/matter come from?’”?! For many modern physicists – this is practically all they think about! These questions are basis of modern cosmology. And the believe me the answer, “God”, doesn’t really help.

• Matteo

AJG this possible truth doesn’t prove the existence of a supernatural being. In fact no scientific theory or proof point to any supernatural or natural being. Why do we presume that God, if there is a God, is basically a super duper version of us? No arguement can be offered other than we believe what the Bible says. Thus does not prove anything if tou believe it. I think there is God but that God is not a person or being as we define it. God for me just is and is unknowable and only “knowable” only to the extent that humans treat one another withe live, kindness, gratitude and respect.

• AJG

Of course it doesn’t prove the existence of God, but it does give one pause to consider that God oversaw a process that is practically impossible with the intent of building a creation that resulted in man who bears his image. If the possibility was that intelligent life was ubiquitous throughout the universe, then it becomes harder to justify the uniqueness of man. However, if we are all that there is in the natural universe – if there is no other life form capable of understanding God let alone communing with Him – then man truly was created a little lower than the angels.

• http://www.nature.com Agnikan

Why is human uniqueness an idea in which we need to believe?

• AJG

I don’t suppose we need to believe that is the case, but it certainly strengthens the argument that man is afforded a special status by the Creator. It’s clear that there is something different and special about humankind in comparison to the rest of creation.

If earth is a truly unique place in the Cosmos, then it also helps explain how heaven and earth will be joined in the New Jerusalem as described in Revelation 21. If this is the only abode of life as we know it, then there is no other place in the universe where God’s creation is displayed so mightily.

• http://robertlloydrussell.blogspot.com/ Robert Lloyd Russell

“God is light” – 1 John 1:5
Recently scientists think they have found the God Particle! Colossians tells that “by Him all things consist” so just maybe they are finally starting to come around to something very meaningful.
Blessings to you and your ministy.
~ BloggerBob (author of “God Light: Sunlight Sonlight”)

• http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

Great post, Dr. Enns. This God is great and unfathomably wise. He is utterly beyond us and yet he condescends to be known by us who have barely scratched the surface of the universe that He spoke into existence. This is grace.

• Matteo

All is presupposition which does leave me skeptical about orthodoxy and fundamentalism and post-modern Christianity. All camps have limits to their pragmatic approach of religion. For me silence and humility are the two most pragmatic options which is what I find to be the challenge of the spiritual life. Reasonable faith (as per William Lane Craig and people like him) fail as miserably as do the more “healthy” skepticism group of progressive Christians. Silence is the only way to talk then. What matters more to me are actions and not words.

• Paul D.

46 billion light years is just the size of the observable universe, the horizon beyond which we cannot see due to the age of the universe and the time it takes light to reach us. The entire universe is estimated to be 10^23 times larger than the visible universe.

• Beau Quilter

The universe is unimaginably vast. To recognize this, even to be amazed by it, is an entirely appropriate response.

But to propose that complex life only occurred on our infinitesimal speck of dust within this unknown vastness is an astoundingly short-sighted response.

Didn’t you notice how stupendously large the universe is? And now you think you can know that what happened on Earth is impossible everywhere else? This is the bias of religious thinking. When you are raised to believe that the entire universe was created just for humanity, you tend to see the word “rare” in a scientific statement and conclude “only”. But “rare” does not mean only. Indeed, things that are rare in the universe can be quite numerous – their rarity only means that they are not dense, but are scattered far an wide.

• Bev Mitchell

Beau,

You seem convinced, on statistical grounds, that extraterrestrial life exists. The possibility that life exists beyond earth is just that, a possibility. Nick Lane (book discussed above with AJG) is simply saying that the number of things that had to go right just for life to arise here – particularly eukaryotes and later complex multicellularity – is so large that we can consider the possibility that life did not arise elsewhere. At least, those who think that it certainly must have probably should downgrade to a maybe. In short, biology may provide as many statistical arguments against the possibility as cosmology provides for it.

Either way, and this is a true dichotomy for a pleasant change, life arose either once or more than once. For theists, and perhaps especially for Christians, a crucial related question is “Is my theology – my faith – robust enough to easily accept either outcome?” If the little green women arrive tomorrow, will I say, “That’s interesting, let’s check this out” or will I lament “There goes my religion!” ?

BTW. Lane’s “Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution” is an outstanding contribution. I think you would really enjoy it.

• Beau Quilter

Thanks Bev

But I’m not “convinced” that life exists elsewhere. The answer to the question of whether complex life exists elsewhere in the universe must be a resounding, “we don’t know!” We simply don’t have enough information.

So my argument is not with Peter Enn’s original post. He cites the cosmological data demonstrating the vastness of the universe and pairs this with his presumption of God. I disagree with the presumption, but would never argue with the data.

My argument is with the use (in comments) of Lane’s opinion about the rarity of complex life, to then conclude that human uniqueness must be an indicator of God. This is a huge leap of “logic” based on a misunderstanding of the concept of rare.

The formation of carbon is an extremely rare process that occurs in only certain types of stars. The process is so complex, scientists have only worked out the problem in recent years. Carbon is definitively rare in the universe. Before scientists developed light refraction techniques to detect elements in other star systems, we might well have assumed that carbon was unique to the earth. (Hint: it’s not.)

I am not drawing any conclusions about life in universe. I am simply pointing out that one cannot logically draw conclusions based on something that we do not know.

• Bev Mitchell

Beau,

Thanks for the clarification. As to Lane using some measure of unlikelihood for life derived from data and hypothesizing re the origin of life as we know it to argue for God, I really don’t think that he does that. It’s been at least a couple if years, but I recall finishing the book with the thought that it was good to have a non-believer (as far as I know) not try to parlay great science into bad theology (eg. because science says this therefor God does not exist). He just says something about letting people take the information as they will. Lane had such a suitably humble end to the book probably because he truly feels the enormity of the problem and the remoteness of the probabilities. Even with  our massive ignorance, what we already know should humble us.

Now, the same data may well move believers to the same feeling of humility – and additionally to thoughts of the greatness of God. This, as always, is an expression of faith, not of conclusions drawn from evidence. Unfortunately, in 2012, some forms of Christian apologetics still give off the impression that a proof for God is being sought – even, sometimes, that proof has been found, if unbelievers would only get with the program. This is to conflate knowledge with faith and there should be some kind of tax levied on such behaviour.  :)  And, as I think you understand,  Pete, was not engaging in this kind of pseudo-apologetics. He was merely saying that, as believers, what we see through the eyes of science is not inconsistent with the God in whom we believe, and this should make believers rejoice.

It is good to have you here as it helps us all keep our discussions real.

• Beau Quilter

Bev

Thanks and agreed. I didn’t think that Lane was drawing such conclusions (certainly not based on the article I read).

I was really responding to AJG’s comment about Lane’s book:

“In it, he states that he and most scientists now think that the process by which bacteria evolved into eukaryotes (organisms which are composed of cells with a nucleus, that is everything except bacteria) was such a rare event that it occurred only one time on earth and probably did not and will not occur anywhere else in the universe . . . Lane is not a theist, but his book certainly has the potential to drive one to God.”

My guess is that this paraphrase of Lane is, at best, misleading (“it occurred only one time on earth”), and in any case, even if Lane did say this, “most scientists” have most certainly not said this.

I do appreciate that Pete Enns does seem to be trying to “keep Christians honest”, when it comes to science on this blog. I’m very concerned about the measures that other Christians are pushing through state legislatures these days to support teaching the non-science of young-earth creationism and global-warming-denial in our schools.

• http://um-insight.net Cynthia Astle

Holy Katzenjammers, people! Peter Enns gives us a moment of awestruck wonder at the mystery of creation and we have to start picking it apart by carping on the freakin’ numbers! What hubris! What narcissism! What … sin?
The author makes two critical points: 1) We are not God, and therefore have no standing to speak FOR God; 2) Just because we can measure something by our human standards DOES NOT mean we understand it!
Why is that we always have to ruin a high moment by trying to bring it under our human control? The only appropriate responses to such awareness, as the author describes so eloquently, are awe and wonder … and, might I add, gratitude for our very existence in the midst of such spectacular grandeur as our cosmos.

• Beau Quilter

I completely disagree Cynthia.

The “appropriate responses to such awareness” are awe, wonder, and exiting scientific discovery. How do we know the awesome facts about our universe? Not through silence – but through questions, experiments, astronomical and microscopic probing – through good science!

Asking questions and number crunching and arguing about cosmological theory … this is exactly how would should respond!

• Beau Quilter

Let me correct my spelling above. Scientific discovery is not “exiting” – it is “exciting”!

• http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

Ha! This post on “thinking about God makes me just want to keep my mouth shut” sure did spawn a lot of talking!

• Matteo

Why are Christians do preoccupied with topics like this? Does it really matter? I don’t recall Jesus asking us to believe in the age of the universe or how it was created if we are going to follow him? It seems that on the whole Christianity is more interested in the past and the future than in the present. Do we really believe that God is present here and now? It seems that the writers of the NT (and the subsequent generations) had so much anxiety about the present which completely ignores what Jesus said an did and longed for a future that never came. Had they actually implemented what Jesus said into action we might not be having decisive and perhaps meaningless conversations.

• http://littlegreenfootballs.com/pages/freetoken freetoken

Matteo asks: “Why are Christians do [sic] preoccupied with topics like this?”

That is a good question.

Perhaps the past 500 years or so has chipped away at the ancient belief systems, and now the remaining outline of the religion is perceived as lacking?

• Matteo

I’m an inquisitive person who has always been interested in astronomy, cosmology, and the other sciences. There is a “religious” sense of wonder, awe, and humility that scientists possess which the majority of Christians need. That being said discussing creation and all it’s related issues with our tradition, it doesn’t offer any pragmatic or practical applicatikn when I comes to helping people cope with loss and doesn’t, to how I perceive it, offer any hope as religion should.

• http://www.davetrowbridge.com Dave Trowbridge

“If there is a God….a higher power, a supreme being, who is behind all this, I feel we should just stop talking for a minute and…well…just stop talking for a minute.”

This is a large part of why I became a Quaker, in a Meeting that practices traditional expectant (silent) worship. We “stop talking” for an hour, sometime more, every Sunday (and other times, too). And sometimes, out of the silence, God speaks.

• Pidge (Celia Blay)

I am blessed; I lie in bed and look out of my attic window at a star filled sky and haven’t enough faith to be an atheist.
Should you read this Dr. Enns my thanks for ‘The Evolution of Adam’ (which I’ve just read ) and ‘Inspiration and Incarnation’ (which I’ve almost finished.) I appreciated their honesty.

• http://lisesletters.wordpress.com Lise

The other day I was on a flight into San Diego as the sun set. Looking out the window, as the plane flew above the clouds, I found myself whispering, “This is God. If one does not believe, look at this.” “I think we’re talking Mystery here, people.”

• http://lisesletters.wordpress.com Lise

And I must confess, that my view of the heavens, is very much like David’s. I don’t even begin to have a sense of what the heavens constitute. No matter. Creation still knocks me to my knees every time.

• reinaldo Torres

All I know that since I took a spiritual retirement with the church a few months back, I just needed to remember God before going to sleep and ask for his protection. No more sleeping pills.

• CFH

“Bambam” is as valid an answer as “God” only if “Bambam” has all the same attributes as the being that we name “God”: sc., non-contingent, immaterial, non-composite, pure actuality, etc. But if “Bambam” has all the attributes required of a metaphysically sound solution to the question of why there is something rather than nothing, then “Bambam” would just be another name for the same being that we call “God”. Call him whatever you like, it doesn’t remove his metaphysical necessity.

• beau_quilter

What’s interesting about your list of God’s attributes is that the writers of the Old and New Testament wouldn’t have recognized them, even in translation. You are framing God as modern theologians do, attributing to him the vague quality of “noncontingency” to butress him against the need for any meaningful evidence.

The notion of the “metaphysical necessity” for a noncontingent cause for all contingency is a philosophical word game inherited from an era when we didn’t realize that time itself is a property of the space-time continuum. Before Einstein, we were all under the illusion that eternity was a conundrum unresolvable with an expanding universe. Now we know that time itself is a dimension that bends in on itself, and can even be traversed in reverse by atomic particles.

• http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

Yet typical systematic theologies begin with detailed descriptions of exactly what God is like. Hmmm…

• http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

Understanding the universe may not impact the words and work of God in our lives, but it certainly adds perspective to what it means to be the creator.

• R. W. Schaeffer

Peter (said with a stern fatherly voice), what have I told you about trying to do math?

• http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

Whilst the size of the universe and time itself is quite compatible with the existence of an infinite God having concerns for human beings, it seems rather incompatible with the idea that the judgement day is close and that Jesus is going to return and destroy the whole universe.

It also flies in the face of the popular Evangelical notion that the laws of nature were made evil to punish Adam and Eve for having eaten the false fruit.

I must confess I don’t see how to envisage the second coming. Would it mean that God would put an end to mankind’s existence in this universe and transfer all people willing to love him to another realm where they would experience Him directly?

This is much more unlikely than the futuristic vision our technology will grow to such an extent we will begin colonizing the galaxy and come into contact with space aliens.

Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

• Marcus

The whole idea of God blowing up the universe and getting us “out of here” beforehand is a bit misguided (not to mention far from the biblical picture). In the biblical picture we see God, not destroying the universe, but reversing what has gone wrong in the universe, setting things right within the created order (which God declared good in the beginning). Heaven is not some far away land or hidden realm in which we will be far away from God’s creation; heaven and earth will be joined and we will reign with God here on earth. This was tied to the hope of the second coming among the early Christians and can be seen throughout the New Testament (especially in the Pauline writings). N.T. Wright has very interesting thoughts on the second coming (and new earth) if you are interested. It is also interesting to think of the Genesis account as a Utopian scene. Perhaps it can be seen as a picture of what the “new” earth will be like.

• http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

Hello Marcus.

I know very well these are N.T. Wright’s views on the end times.

The problem is that, due to the vastness of the universe, I’m convinced there are countless aliens out there.

I cannot imagine God renewing a cursed universe just for us, given that it would affect so many beings having nothing to do with our kind.

Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

• Marcus

Perhaps there are aliens somewhere in the universe (I’m fairly open to the idea). If that’s the case then maybe God will renew the universe for everyone; it does not have to be just about us. In any sense, if it turns out to be the case that aliens exist, we will have to do a serious reassessment of our theology. As far as affecting other life forms, the result could be either good or bad for them (bad if our notion of what is good turns out to be what is bad in their case); it does not have to be all negative. I see your point though.

• edwardtbabinski

N.T. Wright is a hoot. He interprets all the apocalyptic predictions of a near final judgment throughout the NT non-literally (see them here: http://www.infidels.org/kiosk/article86.html ), but the book of Revelation, oh, THAT’S the literal truth, heaven and earth joined together right after some big battle on one single planet, and then bodies physically resurrected on a new earth.

Doesn’t Wright recognize the questions raised by modern astronomy? New stars are still being created in stellar nurseries and even the stars already created have enough fuel to burn for billions of years after any paltry battle on earth. And Wright doesn’t even wonder about the future of the human species. We could become extinct and the cosmos would burn on without us, or a single solar flare or asteroid could send back to the stone age, and maybe we’d devolve. A solar flare or nearby nova could wipe away our atmosphere. But even if humanity continues there’s no telling what we will be in the future. We could join with artificially intelligent machines, or they could out evolve us once they learn how to create more of themselves. Or we could fiddle with our genes and grow larger brains and those humans might view today’s as we view the earliest upright hominids. Or, our species can go extinct and in less than a billion years a species other than human could evolve as high a level of consciousness as ours. We don’t know the future unless we take Revelation as literally as Wright apparently wants us to, and cease asking questions.

Looking at the past up till the present, humanity is a latecomer in the history of life on earth, like the coat of paint on the tip of the Eiffel Tower if the rest of the Tower represented the history of life before we arrived. We are a young and immature species presently causing a mass extinction event on our planet. We are spreading with the thoughtlessness of bacteria on an orange, or like lemmings, and the majority of neither religions have sounded muted, ineffective alarms concerning the danger of continuing to raise our population and turn increasing regions and resources of the planet into more people and things for people to eat and use and toss away into the oceans, air, ground water.

Oh, but Wright assures us a beautiful future awaits those who share his religious beliefs and who will be rewarded by receiving new physical bodies to live on a “new Earth.”

Then there are the questions that arise even if Wright is right. Like, what happens after we get new physical bodies on a near Earth? Will people be able to have babies in the New Creation? Seems a bit unfair compared with all the temptations and imperfections of babies born on the Old Earth. New Creation kids would be born with the biggest silver spoon in their mouth one could possibly imagine. And what if such people, living forever, began to fill that New Earth? God could keep expanding the cosmos, moving people to new planets, but then you’d wind up with an infinite number of people who never knew life on the Old Earth at all, and how or why would such an infinite number of New Creation people be concerned with the Christian fall and salvation story on the Old Earth, since they were never born there?

Or take the other possibility, that new babies can not be born in the New Creation, then why have physical bodies, so we can touch each other but remain eunuchs for eternity?

And if we can touch and have sex in the new creation (C. S. Lewis’ idea), but not babies, then isn’t that kind of like a 60′s love in with divinely provided birth control?

Some will argue that you can’t have sex with “everyone,” but only with whomever you were married to when you died, but what if you were divorced and remarried, or widowed and remarried, or never got married but had more than one sexual partner in your life? Who gets to have sex with whom, and on what basis? Some might reply as Jesus did when asked “whose wife will a woman be in the afterlife if she remarries,” and Jesus’ answer was that we would be like eunuchs.

These are all questions that come to mind if you take Revelation with its physical resurrection and New Earth as literally as Wright appears to take it.

And there’s the further question of just how important it is believe in one religion since the majority of people conceived on earth have never heard of Christianity. Half of all zygotes die in the womb. About 30% of single births were twins in the womb but one vanished. And until the 1750s, Buffon estimated that half of all children born never lived to reach the age of eight years old. And the people who study population growth estimate that seven billion people already had lived and died before Jesus was born, some say even before the alleged days of Moses. And today, Christianity remains divided, and many Christians believe you’re not a true Christian, or that you are a lesser or more questionable Christian in danger of damnation if you don’t believe or practice such and such.

So keeping in mind the mortality statistics above, how many people will there be in the next life will know or remember much about “Christianity” at all?

So, LOOK at the cosmos, it’s size and the continuing production of stars and how long each can continue to burn, and LOOK at what a young immature species humans are, and look at morality statistics from the first species of humans till today, and tell me there aren’t enough questions to keep one guessing.

• Norman

I’ve pointed the same inconsistent reasoning of Wright out before. He has no problem with recognizing the metaphorical literature of Genesis and the Garden but he gives it up in Revelation to embrace a literal Garden. It just goes to show that almost all carry presuppositions that eventually cause a disconnect with reality. The story of Job deals with much of the same issue from the ancient position and came to the conclusion that it was futile to attempt to get our minds around God/Creator.

• Marcus

I imagine Wright recognizes such questions but they are irrelevant as far as biblical exegesis goes (but I can’t speak for him).

• labreuer

Would you explain which verses you interpret as indicating that Jesus will “destroy the whole universe”? This seems like an odd way of redeeming the universe. Redemption is God’s modus operandi, after all. There’s a difference between letting something die and come back to life, and, say, nuking it with a Yahweh-sized nuke.

• SpyPlus

This is pretty awesome and illustrates pete’s point. http://htwins.net/scale2/

• amerxp

Dear christians visit something new and fresh

• dangjin

Except that Hubble was wrong. The universe is not expanding and you are changing the topic to make yourself feel better because you do not believe God anymore.

You aren’t humble because you claim God didn’t create everything in 7 days by speaking, You have become God’s judge and jury making you arrogant and self-important.

You claim God couldn’t do it and needed help from a process and an explosion, demeaning God and making him inferior. Then you call God a liar.

No, you are not humble but a deceived person hoping God will overlook your unrepentant sins and allow you in to heaven regardless.

• labreuer

dangjin, what can you predict about the future based on your idea of how reality works? It seems that you wish to close of investigation of how things work by offering “just-so stories”—stories that put you at intellectual ease but don’t actually offer any power. It is my understanding of scripture that knowing God better comes from knowing both the book of nature and book of revelation better—both “through a glass, dimly”.

This gets quite real when you think about building codes in earthquake-prone areas of the world. Those codes are built on an understanding of the world that requires it to be more than 10,000 years old, unless you subscribe to Last-Thursdayism. Do you advocate Last-Thursdayism? Would you prefer that building codes be based on Creationist theories of how the earth’s crust works?

• Susan_G1

no one on this side of life will ever understand God, nor do we need to. He gave us a glimpse of who He is, and a deeper understanding by giving us His son. Honestly, isn’t that hard enough to fully grasp? We are still like the ANE peoples when it comes to God. You will never be able to rely on your own understanding.

The moment of silence is faith. It is the skeptic, the atheist, the fool who keeps talking.

• edwardtbabinski

I “shut my mouth” about “God” ages ago, except to continue to ask questions, because an infinite Being is something I admit I don’t understand. All we have to go on are a few so-called physical or written revelations. That means “God” is like the pincushion hidden by innumerable pins of sensory or written data. The infinite Being remains hidden behind all those pins, and we can’t even agree on exactly which portions of which alleged holy writings of which religions need to be focused on the most, and which are mere accommodations to ideas about “God” common to a particular era or particular religion.

Speaking of people who can’t shut up about God there’s N.T. Wright. He interprets all the apocalyptic predictions of a near final judgment throughout the NT non-literally (see them here: http://www.infidels.org/kiosk/article86.html ), but he interprets the book of Revelation relatively literally. The book of Revelation is the literal truth, heaven and earth will be joined together right after some big battle on one single planet, and then human but not animal bodies, will be physically resurrected on a new earth. REALLY? Wright has no further questions? And all the answers.

Doesn’t Wright recognize the questions raised by modern astronomy? New stars continue to be “created” in stellar nurseries and plenty of stars have enough fuel to burn for billions of years after any battle on earth.

Neither does Wright wonder about the plethora of questions raised by biologists and computer scientists. A single solar flare or asteroid could send the human species back to the stone age, or maybe we’d devolve. Even if humanity continues there’s no telling what our species will be like in future. We could join our brains to intelligent machines, or intelligent machines could superseded us after they learn how to upgrade themselves faster than we can upgrade our own species. Or we could fiddle with our genes and grow larger or more efficient brains and then future humans might view today’s as we view the earliest upright hominids. Or, our species could go extinct and be superseded by another with as high a level of consciousness as ours. We don’t know the future unless we take Revelation as literally as Wright does, and, like him, cease asking questions.

Looking at the past up till the present, humanity is a latecomer in the history of life on earth. If the rest of the Eiffel Tower represented the history of life on earth, the human species would be the coat of paint on the tip of the Tower. We are a young and immature species compared with many others that have been here far longer than us. And presently we are causing a mass extinction event on our planet. We are spreading with the thoughtlessness of bacteria on an orange, or like lemmings, and the majority of religions either teach us to breed more, or have sounded ineffective alarms concerning the dangers of continuing to raise our population and continuing to turn more regions and resources of the planet into more people and things for people to eat and use and toss away into the oceans, air, ground water.

But Wright assures us a beautiful future awaits those who share his religious beliefs and only those people will be rewarded by receiving new physical bodies to live on a “new Earth.”

Then there are the questions that arise even if Wright is right. Like, what happens after we get new physical bodies on a New Earth? Will people be able to have babies in the New Creation? Seems unfair compared with what babies born on the Old Earth had to put up with, including being born into a planet with hunger, disease and danger of eternal punishment. New Creation kids would be born with the biggest silver spoon in their mouth one could imagine. And what if such new babies, living forever, began to fill that New Earth? God could keep expanding the cosmos, moving people to New New Earths, but then you’d wind up with an infinite number of people who never knew life on the Old Earth at all–and why would such an infinite number of people born into the New Creation people be concerned with the Christian fall and salvation story on the Old Earth, since they were never born there? Makes the Christian story sound small in comparison.

Or take the other possibility, that new babies can not be born in the New Creation, then why have physical bodies? Why be allowed to touch each other but remain eunuchs for eternity?

On the other hand, if we can touch and have sex in the New Creation (C. S. Lewis’ idea), but not have babies, then isn’t that kind of like a 60′s love in with divinely perfected birth control?

Some will argue that we will not be allowed to have sex with anybody on the New Earth but only with whomever one was married to when you died, but what if you were divorced and remarried once or more times on the Old Earth? What if you were widowed and remarried on the Old Earth? What if you never got married but had more than one sexual partner on the Old Earth? Then who gets to have sex with whom? Some might reply, as Jesus allegedly did when asked “whose wife will a woman be in the afterlife her husband dies and she has become the wife of several other people?” Jesus’ answer was that we would be like eunuchs. So we are back to having physical bodies and being able to touch each other, but no “becoming one flesh.” And I thought God loved it when we “become one flesh” and even commanded it in Genesis.

These are all questions that come to mind if you take Revelation with its physical resurrection and New Earth as literally as Wright appears to take it.

One final question. How important is it to believe in one religion since the majority of people conceived on earth have never heard of Christianity? About 50% of all human zygotes die in the womb (which even pro-lifers admit). About 30% of single births were twins in the womb but one vanished (see vanishing twin syndrome). And until the 1750s, Buffon estimated that 50% of all children born never lived to reach the age of eight years old. So child morality has been enormous over the ages. And the people who study population growth estimate that seven billion human beings died sometime before Jesus was born. And today, Christianity remains divided, since many Christians believe you’re not a true Christian, or that you are a lesser or more questionable Christian in danger of damnation if you don’t believe or practice what they do.

Keeping in mind the mortality statistics above, how many people will there be on the New Earth who will know or remember “Christianity” at all?

So, LOOK at the cosmos, it’s size and how long each star can burn, and LOOK at what an immature species humanity is, and look at morality statistics from the first species of humans to today, and tell me there aren’t enough questions to keep one guessing.

• James

These are good questions many have mulled over, even NT Wright. I agree we should not take New Creation too literally. I like the idea of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and the New as John Polkinghorne describes it. Hints are what we find in Scripture and the natural world. Much material for thought experiment and speculation. I think Eros will serve a higher purpose than making babies. Obviously, the need to reproduce will be less pressing in a death free world. Difficult to imagine, best to be silent about things “too wonderful.”

• ContraBullshit

What’s most astonishing is that this awesome god decided, after 14 billion years of watching exploding stars and masturbating, to turn himself into a man in the Middle East desert two thousand years ago and allow his creation to nail him to a tree and savagely beat him to death as a pathetic, asinine blood sacrifice for our sins!

Aren’t we lucky!!?

To believe in such Stone Age bullshit, I mean!!

• Andrew Watson

Thank you, ContraBullsit. I read posts like yours, full of petty bitter mean spiritedness, And I see that you are where I would be if not for Christ. I hope like a man very similar to yourself named Saul, you find yourself on the road to Damascus Some day.

• ContraBullshit

Andrew, you should try the road to rational thought. The Stone Age lunacy of Christian doctrine should be an embarrassment to any thinking person in this day and age.

• peteenns

Bullshit, The stone age ended around 4500 BC, as far removed from the advent of Christianity as are removed today from the Epic of Gilgamesh. Christianity arose in the Roman Age (63 BC to AD 325). You probably mean “tribal age lunacy.”

• ContraBullshit

Hey Pete, what you don’t seem to get is that I wasn’t trying to be literal with the Stone Age reference.

Christian doctrines are so pathetically primitive, ignorant and asinine that the only way to adequately equate their lunacy is to associate them with our knuckle dragging ancestors in the very distant past.

If Christianity were less absurd and ridiculous than I might describe it as mere “tribal” lunacy.

But thank you for taking time away from your schedule of encouraging this deluded lunacy in order to comment.

• RedWell

No, I think Pete might be on to something. Though he’s still incorrect: the Abrahamic traditions are basically bound up with formal civilizations, so I think we’re talking about “civilized lunacy.”

“Stone age” is so 19th century. A tritely Nietzschean insult, and a rather blunt instrument. Yawn.

• c’est vai

Bullshit:
There are atheists smarter than me and Christians smarter than you. Your understanding of God is still very superficial. I don’t believe in the superficial god you lampoon. I find the most sophisticated thinkers are respectful of views with which they disagree. I find the ignorant resort to belittling,

• ContraBullshit

C’est vai, if you believe in the Christian god, then you do believe in a pathetic, asinine, superficial fairy tale that was invented by a bunch of ancient, ignorant imbeciles!

The Christian doctrine of blood sacrifice, which is the pillar of the Judeo-Christian religion, is the most asinine bunch of horse shit that the human mind has ever concocted in our entire history on planet earth!

And the idea that some ethereal being spent 14 billion years staring at black holes and dinosaurs and then decided to turn himself into a man and trot around a superstitious bunch of goat herders in ancient Palestine is so fucking stupid and deluded that it almost defies description!!!

• Andrew Dowling

You are supposedly so secure in your atheism you spend your free time trolling blogs on Patheos. Hmmm, sounds like ‘bullshit’ to me . . .

• ContraBullshit

You worship a god that walked around the ancient Middle East belching, farting and squatting over a hole to shit.

Gee, how many frontal lobotomies does it take to be that deluded?

• Muff Potter

It doesn’t matter if you believe in Him or not. He believes in you.

• ContraBullshit

And the Good Fairy believes in you, Potter. And the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Thor, and Zeus, etc., etc.

• ggacre99

Cynthia writes: “…1) We are not God, and therefore have no standing to speak FOR God;…’ Tell it to the preachers (and their henchmen) who are all too willing to not only speak for god but to impose their beliefs on all of America.

• http://practicingresurrection.wordpress.com/ Bill

And then there’s this: the expansion of the universe is accelerating, assuring (scientists tell us) that is is destined to become cold and lifeless, composed entirely of dead stars and black holes within a mere 10 to the fourteenth power years from now. Afterwards even those will decay and dissipate, leaving nothing but some weakly interacting particles and background energy. But not to fear, long before that happens (in about 7.6 billion years) the sun will have used up all of its hydrogen and will swell into a red giant, consuming and incinerating the earth which, about 6 1/2 billion years earlier, it will have already cooked into a lifeless, waterless rock.

• pastordt

Just small words here. . . words that say thank you for this post, thank you for encouraging silence and awe. So sorry that so many of those who read it chose to respond with so very many words.

• Leo O’Bannon

It looks as though ContraBS’ views are much like Richard Dawkins’, but slightly less nuanced.