“O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!”
If the distance between the earth and the sun (93,000,000) was just the thickness of a piece of paper, then the distance between the earth and the next nearest star would be a stack of papers seventy feet (70’) high; and the distance of the earth and the next nearest galaxy would be a stack of papers 310 miles high; and our galaxy, the Milky Way, is comparatively a speck of dust among the hundred billion galaxies! (That we can see)
I don’t know, personally, if these comparative figures are accurate. I am quoting Tim Keller, who was quoting someone else. I do know that the universe is mind-boggling in its immensity and complexity. As much as we have learned about the vastness of the universe and the macro and micro complexities of the world it demonstrates, we uncover more questions than answers as our knowledge grows.
When the Psalmist penned the words above, he didn’t know the half of it, but what he did know (and did not know) inspired in him the awe of God. He wasn’t much different from us in that respect, though we are tempted to treat our vastly superior knowledge from the Psalmist (as minimal as it it still is) as something that warrants discounting the knowledge of God.
Yet what is our knowledge that we raise more questions with every answer?
In ancient times people saw gods in the rocks and trees, idols they made and volcanoes and lightning and thunder. These were gods that were larger than they, but they were accessible. Their gods lived in their environment. Their gods were arbitrary, but they tried to appease them anyway.
Roman and Greek gods were larger than the material world, and they manipulated the material world for their own ends. They controlled volcanoes and earthquakes and lightning and thunder, but they were human-like, even in their imperfections. People could approach them. People could reason with and try to appease them.
Buddhist, Hindu and Eastern gods are not defined by the rocks, trees, lightning and thunder. They do not simply manipulate the material world. They are intimately and intricately part of the material world, and the material world is an extension of them, and the entirety of the material world is all ultimately one and the same in its essence.
Many scientists, like Einstein, who stood in awe of the universe, saw “god” in this way. People can fathom these gods/this god and understand them/it and seek to become one with them/it because these gods are made of the same stuff as people and all of the universe ultimately. These gods cannot be appeased. We can only hope to understand them.
I haven’t heard anyone say specifically that nature caused itself, in so many words,(other than the Hawking axiom about the laws of gravity causing the universe), but that is the question begged by any assertion that God doesn’t exist. Anyone who maintains that nature and natural causes are the beginning and the end of all reality is begging that question: did nature cause itself?
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to the assertion that nothing supernatural exists is the Big Bang. The Big Bang is accepted science. The evidence is very compelling, though it wasn’t received well when it was first postulated. The thought that the universe was not eternal and had a beginning was thought to be “repugnant” and to “betray the very foundations of science”. This is because a beginning to the universe suggests that the universe had a Beginner.
A self-described atheist threw out this proposition offhandedly in a dialogue I had recently. I think it makes sense to respect the people we dialogue with, including atheists, so I chewed on that proposition a bit. As often is the case, I woke up this morning thinking about things that I had been thinking about the night before.
As I reflected further, it dawned on me that, perhaps, time is an illusion. It actually makes some sense. Let me explain.
NASA’s Voyager I probe left our solar system this past week, thirty-six (36) years after lifting off from the earth in 1977. I was still in high school then. In that time, it has traveled 11.5 billion miles and is just now pulling away from the influence of our sun. (See Fox News and voyager.jpl.nasa.gov) There are 200 billion stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way, but we have only begun to look for and research other solar systems. We do not have any idea how many solar systems exist in our galaxy. We confirmed the first planets outside our solar system for the first time in the mid-1990’s; and then we only detected them by the “gentle tugs” caused by those planets as they orbit their stars. (See Nasa’s spaceplace.nasa.gov)
Today, scientists have discovered more than 500 solar systems in the Milky Way. They estimate there might be tens of billions of solar systems, maybe even 100 billion more than our solar system!
Astronomers estimate there are at least one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe! Imagine one hundred billion galaxies, each with 100 billion solar systems! And that is all we can see! According to physics.org, a grain of sand held up to the sky would cover 10,000 galaxies (not solar systems, but galaxies – like our Milky Way).
We live in a vast universe. More vast than most of realize or think about on a regular basis, other than the NASA scientists and quantum physicists among us. The Voyager I probe is going where no man-made object has gone before, but we are only now putting our toe in the water of the universe.