People often refer to the Christian God as the creator of the universe. Most of the time, I do a mental face-palm whenever I hear this and get on with my day. But every once in a while, I laugh. I laugh quite hard actually, if my mood is good enough at that particular moment in time. The idea of Yahweh being the creator of something as vast and as complex as our universe is so ridiculous, so obviously stupid, so blatantly wrong that it's laughable. And don’t call me Shirley.
Why, though? Why is the idea laughable? Billions of people believe it, so why not? It seems only rational if you're one of those people. After all, all those people can't be wrong, can they?
A Lesson in Astronomy
To understand why it's laughable, it's good to have an understanding of what the universe is. Most of what makes up the observable, material universe is matter—or atoms. Each atom has a certain number of protons, neutrons, and electrons, and the number of each determines what kind of element an atom is and how it behaves. The vast majority of the universe consists of the smallest atoms, hydrogen and helium. These elements also make up the vast majority of a star's composition for the majority of it's life, fusing hydrogen atoms in helium atoms. Our sun is a low mass star, which means that in about 6-7 billion years, it will grow into a red giant before collapsing into a white dwarf.
Stars tend to be found in large groups, such as star clusters or galaxies. Our sun is located towards the edge of one of the spiral arms in the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way itself is approximately 100,000 light-years across, and contains about 200 billion stars. The current estimates suggest there are about 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe. That means that there could be as many as 10^24 stars in the universe, or 1 with 25 zeros behind it. The universe itself is thought to be as large as 150 million light-years across, according to current estimates. That’s approximately 9*10^20 miles, or 9 with 20 zeros behind it. Even riding on the fastest man-made object, it would take us about 5 and a half quadrillion years to go from one side to the other.
Now why is this relevant, you ask? “Of course, my god could have made all that, he's all-powerful!” Well, you can say that and anything else about your god that you so desire. But let's look at what your holy book says, shall we? After all, it is what you base your faith on, yes?
There are multiple passages in the Bible that talk about the stars and the sky. An example would be Genesis 1:14-18:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights; the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night; and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good."
For most Christians, this passage, along with every other passage about stars the Bible, demonstrates that God created the stars and knew everything there is to know about them. But look at the passage again. All it says is that God created the stars, the moon and the sun, and was proud of his work. Why does it not say how the stars were made? Why are the words stellar nucleosynthesis or hydrogen or helium never mentioned in a thousand pages of scripture? It also says the stars, and the sun. Why doesn't it ever make the connection that the sun is a star, just like all the others in the sky? It's quite simple when one thinks about it. So simple that it escapes most religious people when asked about it.
They. Didn't. Know.
How could they? They had no access to telescopes or the math necessary to calculate the motions of our solar system. Algebra wouldn't even emerge until around 2000 BC, a good 2000 years or more after the events in Genesis, (depending on which YEC you ask) and even then it was not understood by all but a few people.
But why? Why would an all-powerful, all-loving creator of the universe keep that information from his followers? Surely, such a loving god would want his children to learn about the universe in which they were born so they could have better lives through understanding it. Surely, a god as loving as the God of the Bible would leave a detailed, accurate account of the universe and how it works for future generations to read and learn from, and prosper as a result. Surely, a loving god would help us grow to be more than what we are and not keep us docile and grounded.
Instead, we’re left with a book that was formed by multiple authors who chose to write about such things as working on certain days and wearing different clothes. These concerns were canonized by a small group of people who decided that they were important enough to make the best-selling book of all time a steaming pile of bullshit for other ‘leaders’ to profit from and use to convince people to do their bidding.
I do sometimes wonder if there is a consciousness guiding the laws of the universe, using people of faith to suit its whim. After all, the second law of thermodynamics states that order and structure tends to decay into chaos and disorder, given enough time. At some point, billions of years from now, our universe will die a slow but certain heat death. There will be no more galaxies, no stars, no planets, no us. Atoms will crumble into electrons and neutrons and protons, and eventually those will collapse into quarks.
And yet, everything I have seen so far seems to defy that rule. Our sun is still burning, converting hydrogen and helium atoms into heavier elements and electromagnetic radiation. That radiation continues to fuel our planet and its ecosystem, and consequently us. Our population continues to grow and learn and discover things about the universe that we didn’t know previously, as well as things about ourselves. We learned that going back to the beginnings of life on our little mote of dust, our ancestors were nothing more than single-cell organisms. Before that, we were dust amongst the stars, and before that, we, along with the rest of the universe, were a blinding explosion of light.
With the sheer number of stars and planets in our galaxy alone, statistics and probability tell us that life likely exists elsewhere in the universe. Perhaps such life exists in our galaxy, if we’re lucky. Unfortunately, I will never know, if the current rate of technological advancement is anything to go by, for I won’t be around when the first ships capable of traveling faster than light are being built. (And they will be built. We are just now discovering that faster-than-light could be possible after all.)
But if life does exist elsewhere, is it possible that whatever civilization there might be could be contemplating some, if not many, of the same questions we are asking as well? And if that’s true, what conclusions have they come to so far? Have they looked to the stars and wondered what else is out there? Or have they buried their heads in the ground in fear of the wrath of a god, like so many of us have before?
It's not the Answer that drives us. It's the Question.
The truth is, that if life does exist elsewhere, then my previous question needs to be changed. The question isn’t if a consciousness is dictating the universe. The question is, are we part of that consciousness? Are we a part of something so vast, so powerful, so beautiful that we simply aren’t capable of understanding yet? It’s one of the few plausible answers to that highly abused, misspoken question about the beginning of the universe and whether the universe has a creator. After all, we aren’t in the universe, we are the universe. Those same elements that I spoke of earlier aren’t some alien substance under a microscope. They’re not just in your body, they are your body, your heart, your brain. We are the product of billions of years of energy, repetition, and variation, guided by the natural laws of this place we call the universe. And we, along with any other sentient life out there, are the only shot at the universe having any kind of intelligence at all.
If, for whatever cruel twist of fate, the God of the Bible exists, I want no part of him. I, along with what I hope is the vast majority of humanity, am better than him. I know more than he ever taught. I see beyond horizons that he could never reach. I love more genuinely than He. I help more than He. I understand myself better than He ever could. I see planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies just on the edge of humanity’s perception. I can even sometimes catch a small glimpse of our universe, and all the wonder and beauty it holds.
Your god is too small for me.
-Inspired by Phillhelenes