Pale Blue Dot

Perspective is a powerful thing.  As is the case with much in life, we get familiar with the things we do from our homes to our jobs, our possessions, and our families.  These things, and many others, become routine to us, so much so that we fail to comprehend how important they are to us.  When we lose perspective we begin to take things for granted and we stop seeing our jobs and homes, and family as blessings and we become ungrateful.  We could all benefit from a change of perspective on a regular basis to keep us aware of the things in life that matter most.  For the Christian an ungrateful heart can be our greatest enemy and our greatest hindrance from experiencing the full depth of the love of God for us.  What I want to hopefully readjust your perspective on today is perhaps the most elementary and critical blessing of all, one that is common to all humankind.  The place we call home, planet Earth.

Those familiar with the Apollo missions of the 1960’s and ’70s will remember the famous “Earthrise” picture taken by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968.  It is widely considered the most influential environmental photo every taken.  The picture was taken on Apollo 8’s fourth lap around the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 as the Earth rose above the lunar horizon.  After the taking of the Earthrise photo astronauts Bill Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell took turns reading Genesis 1 over the communications radio.  Many viewed the Earthrise photo as a game-changer in how people saw the Earth.  No longer was the Earth a massive planet where nations waged wars against each other or where racial hatred plagued our hearts, but instead people began to view Earth as a small and fragile world.  Despite our differences, all humans live together on this small ball of rock floating in the darkness of space.  We were all made a little bit closer and our differences seemed less important.  Perspective has a way of doing that to us.  What we once thought was normal and insignificant immediately becomes precious and important.

Earthrise photo taken by Apollo 8  Credit:  NASA/William Anders

Earthrise photo taken by Apollo 8 Credit: NASA/William Anders

More recently in 2006 the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn took one of the most remarkable photographs of space ever seen.  When Cassini passed behind Saturn and Saturn was in between the spacecraft and the sun the planet was blacked out but its marvelous rings were bathed in sunlight and shone brilliantly.  That’s hardly what makes the photo remarkable though.  On the left hand side of the rings, in between the thin G ring and the main ring group you can see a pale blue dot barely discernible.  This dot is not a meteor, an asteroid, or even a moon.  It is the planet Earth shining 1 billion miles away.  Our fragile island home was illuminated by the light reflecting off of Saturn’s rings!  For me this is the ultimate picture of perspective within the solar system.  To be reminded of our place in the solar system and that we are but a minuscule part of that solar system is extremely poignant.  I’ve always been a fan of space and the overwhelming vastness of the universe has never been lost on me.  This picture however, changed the way I view the Earth as a planet.

Pale Blue Dot from Cassini  Credit:  NASA/JPL/ESA

Pale Blue Dot from Cassini Credit: NASA/JPL/ESA

We always see in the Bible that God is the creator of everything in the universe from galaxies to tiny microscopic bacteria.  When viewed on the scale of the unimaginably large and unimaginably small God’s power and glory are revealed like nothing else.  That God would create such a staggeringly huge universe and focus His attention on us living on a small rock orbiting an average sized star about halfway out in a typical galaxy is mind-boggling!  The significance of Earth is also magnified when you consider how important humans are to God in the story of the Bible.  God determined before time that He would give a redeemed humanity to Jesus as a gift of love.  Humanity is basically a gift from God to His Son Jesus to show how much God loves Jesus.  Earth is the stage on which the human drama unfolds and all of God’s actions in history are meant to advance to the cross where Jesus offers Himself as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind.  Further than that, the Bible tells us that all of creation longs for the day when it will be restored to perfection and when God will glorify Jesus and His redeemed people in heaven.

God chose to place humans on the Earth and for the job of hosting the epic story of the  redemption of mankind and the glorification of Jesus, God equipped Earth like no other planet we know of.  Since the turn of the century astronomers have discovered literally thousands of planets in our own galaxy.  Most of them are gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn with no hope of hosting life.  A small group of the newly discovered planets are rocky planets like Earth but are either too far away or too close to their host star to support life.  There is what astronomers call “the Goldilocks zone”, being just the right distance from the parent star to be neither too hot nor too cold for life to emerge.  Earth exists happily within the sun’s Goldilocks zone where water can exist as a solid, liquid, and gas.  This is the crucial element in how life arose on Earth.  Without liquid water life on Earth would not have been possible.  So far, there have been a limited number of Earth-like planets discovered in the Goldilocks zone and there have been zero confirmations of possible liquid water on the surface.

From what we know so far, Earth is unique in the galaxy.  Will we ever find another planet that truly is like Earth in its life supporting capabilities?  Only time will tell.  Even if we eventually do, nobody will argue that Earth is a rare gem among a galaxy full of uninhabitable planets.  When seen from the vantage point of space, Earth is a diamond against a black cloth.  The blackness of space makes the Earth shine as brilliant as the most carefully cut diamond but far exceeds the value of any precious gem found on its surface.  For something as precious and invaluable as the Earth, we must take care in how we steward it.

In Genesis God gave Adam the task of subduing the Earth and He gave Adam dominion over all the animals and all that grew on the surface.  With that great power comes great responsibility.  We are not only meant to subdue the Earth, but to care for it like Adam and Eve cared for the Garden of Eden.  God made the Earth beautiful so that it would show of His glory.  We must take care that we protect the beauty of the Earth to preserve the image of God’s glory it represents.  We have done a pretty terrible job of being good stewards of the Earth over the past 200 years.  Largely in ignorance we polluted the waters and air with chemicals, deforested millions of acres of jungle and rain forest, and hunted many species to extinction.  Our focus on human progress has come at the expense of God’s beautiful creation.  We have even managed to ruin the night sky by over-using artificial lighting to light the night.  The heavens which God says proclaim His handiwork are no longer visible to 2/3 of all humans because of light pollution.  The effects of human ignorance that lead to pollution are lamentable but not wholly permanent.  The Earth, much like a living creature is able to stabilize itself and heal from injury.  With a proper understanding and respect for the Earth we can begin to live again in harmony with the Earth.  As people who know God and have a relationship with Him, we should seek to be excellent stewards of the greatest resource God has given us.  We are called to be stewards of our resources in the Bible.  The Earth is by far the most valuable resource we have been given as without it our lives would not be possible.

Good stewardship of the Earth is another way for Christians to glorify God, the same way good stewardship of money brings glory to God.  We honor God when we use our resources with respect and the understanding that they are not ours, but God’s.  When you borrow a friend’s possessions whether they be clothes, vehicles, or money you treat them with respect because you acknowledge that your friend holds them in high regard and that they trust you with what you’ve borrowed.  We need to acknowledge that the Earth belongs to God and we live here because of God’s love for us and His good grace.  Our treatment of the Earth should reflect such love and grace.  Despite the harm we’ve done to the Earth there is hope for a better future if we seek to find sustainable ways to live.  There is no need to forsake technology or the comforts of modern living but there is a pressing need to figure out how to live our lives in a way that both honors God and the fragile island home He’s given us to live on.  Technology and intelligence are a mighty gift from God so we should focus on how to use each to better steward the Earth and its resources.

Forgetting how precious and valuable the Earth is is a dangerous thing.  Losing sight of the vastness of the universe and the wonderful creation of God can create an improper sense of importance, even an arrogance that we are greater than we really are.  When it comes down to it, we are just a bunch of hopeless sinners living on a pale blue dot floating in insignificance among an innumerable amount of planets in the universe.  That’s not the full picture of humanity though.  God has chosen to create us in His image and likeness that we should reflect His glory and proclaim His greatness.  One of the simplest ways to accomplish this purpose is to better understand the uniqueness and value of the Earth, our gem of a planet.  By making much of and enjoying Earth we bring glory to our Creator who is blessed forever.

Why the Universe?

Mankind has always asked “Why?”.  Why indeed?  Through one simple three-letter word we have asked questions of the stars, unearthed secrets of our planet, harnessed the power of nature, developed technology, and explored the deepest depths of the oceans.  The word “WHY” has fueled the engine of human exploration, discovery, and advancement for thousands of years.  We know almost all there is to know about our planet and are well-versed in the workings of the universe (though our knowledge be vastly incomplete), but one “why” has eluded us since the dawn of time.  Why does the universe exist?

I’m sure you’ve heard a story of someone in college who, when asked on their biology final the simple question, “Why” wrote “Because” and received full marks.  Whilst that answer might have sufficed for the purposes of the freshman Biology course it is a supremely inadequate answer.  It is an extremely disappointing answer to say the least.  We learn of this answer’s disappointment from a very early age.  When a child asks why he can’t have ice cream for dinner the parent responds, “Because.”  “Why?” asks the child.  “Because I’m your father and I said so”  in order to avoid having to embark upon a futile dissertation on why ice cream is not healthy and dinner is.  However, the child is always disappointed because their question was not adequately answered (in their mind).

As humans we are driven and we feel compelled to understand the nature of things around us.  Why does the sun move across the sky?  Why does the moon go through phases?  Why does everything stick to the surface of the Earth instead of floating away into space?  Why does it get cold in the winter and hot in the summer?  Through the simple word “why” we have developed science which is nothing more than the art of asking “why?”  We are curious beings and a cop-out answer of “because” simply won’t suffice.  We seek the truth and nothing less.

The science of seeking the answer to why the universe exists is known as Cosmology.  The popular belief among today’s cosmologists seems to be that the universe exists because of a cosmic dice game.  Conditions for the universe existing are just right because the dice fell the correct way.  On a traditional die there are six outcomes so the die is a cube.  In the case of the universe, the dice used would have so many sides that it would almost be spherical with the probability of the current outcome being rolled is almost infinitely small.  This has led to the exploration of a theory of the multiverse.  Are there more than one universes?  Are there an infinite amount of universes existing simultaneously?  If so then that would greatly increase the chances of our universe being the way it is more realistic.  Are we really just the result of chance?  Is the complexity of our bodies, the planet, the stars, and galaxies really just by accident and random?  If so, then the universe is a dreadfully bleak and meaningless object.  My life has no purpose and neither does yours.  The Milky Way galaxy is here, but it could not have been here, or there, or anywhere at all.  If the power to exist is derived from the sums of all its parts probabilities of existing then it would seem that we’re just multiplying by 1/∞.

Just a game of dice? Who’s playing? Credit: G.E. Ely

We all know you can’t divide by infinity.  It could be true that the probability of anything existing is the sum of all it’s parts existing, but for this to be possible you would need a finite probability for each component.  One way of rationalizing this would be to assume that the universe was created on purpose.  There are simply way to many components that influence the existence of any one object that to quantify them would always create a denominator so large, the resulting probability is infinitely small.  So for me, chance is out right.  There has to be some purpose and order to it all.

I am neither a cosmologist nor a scientist.  I am simply a layman who is taking what he sees and using it to make sense of the world.  As John Milton says in Paradise Lost, “We see things not as they are, but as we are.”  It is impossible for us to make truly objective conclusions about anything because we always see things and approach things based on personal opinion, experiences, and perceptions.  The trouble with the cosmic dice game explanation of the universe is that those scientists have always had a perception of the universe being random and chaotic and harsh and will see only the evidence that supports their perceptions.  If only there was a source of knowledge that came from outside a human mind not subjected to false perception or bias then we could accept that as pure truth.  Could this be the same external force that exists outside of human knowledge and mathematics that created the universe on purpose?  Could there be a designer who’s knowledge and power caused all things to be?  My belief tells me that there indeed is.  There is a Creator who exists outside of human existence in whom all creation finds its source.

Apart from my personal beliefs, the notion of a creator is not as completely crazy as it sounds.  If you think about how marvelously fine-tuned the universe is and how everything works together in complete harmony it seems almost ridiculous to think that the order of the universe evolved from chaos by chance.  If say, the gravitational constant was less than it is stars would not be able to hold their elements inside where more complex and heavier elements are created there would be nothing in the universe except hydrogen and helium and nothing worth note could have formed from those lightest of elements.  Similarly, if the gravitational constant were larger then even the smallest of stars would explode into supernovae and black holes would ravage much of the known universe.  Planets would almost never form and galaxies would look very different.  Just in the case of gravity alone there seems to be evidence that a creator fine-tuned the knobs and locked them in place to the perfect setting.

This could easily turn into a 5,000 word essay but I will conclude here.  I believe there is simply too much detail and evidence of fine-tuning to believe that it all happened as a result of chance.  There has to be some kind of intelligence behind it.  The mathematical laws of the universe suggest this.  Math is beautiful and it binds the universe together.  Could we even have math to explain something that is infinitely random?  We study probability but balk at the thought of infinity.  So what if infinite probability is not even a part of the equation?  What if the probability was 1?  That certainly seems possible if there is a creator.