Monday, May 20, 2013

A Tiny Speck in a Vast Universe

For my write-up today on Herman Wouk's The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion, I'd like to feature Wouk's quotation of theoretical physicist Richard Feynman on page 65.  Feynman states:

"It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil----which is the view that religion has.  The stage is too big for the drama."

Some of what Feynman says is actually compatible with certain sentiments in the Bible.  The Psalmist in Psalm 8 asks "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?"  God in the Book of Job essentially tells Job that human beings are not the center of the universe, for God pays attention to other aspects of nature, as well.  And why not?  God is a creative God.  Would it be so unlikely that God would create creatures and other aspects of nature for his own satisfaction, even if they don't relate that much to human beings?

But I can understand why people might ask: Why are human beings so small----not just small, but infinitesimal----in a vast universe?  Doesn't that conflict with any religious notion that God is so concerned about the human struggle for good against evil?  Moreover, in Romans 8:19-22, Paul affirms that the entire creation groans and waits for the manifestation of the sons of God, when the creation will be freed from its corruption.  So is the entire universe affected by events pertaining to people who live on an infinitesimal planet? 

My Armstrongite heritage, as I understand it, interpreted Romans 8:19-22 to mean that sons of God would rule over their own planets in the new heavens and the new earth.  Or something to that effect.  When many of us consider outer space, what strikes many of us is its futility.  There is so much space out there that lacks intelligent life.  It all appears rather meaningless!  But, according to my Armstrongite heritage, this will not be the case in the new heavens and the new earth; rather, that space will be populated with life.  And the sons of God, which Christians will become, will be involved in bringing about and supervising this entire process.

Whether Paul himself had that sort of vision, I'm not entirely sure.  When I was in a New Testament Greek class, my professor said that what Paul probably had in mind was things such as deserts, which are futile.  Paul was probably echoing certain prophets in the Hebrew Bible, who held that God would one day replenish the deserts and bring forth life on them.  But didn't biblical authors believe that human beings were small in comparison to the vast cosmos, for the Psalmist in Psalm 8, after all, asks what is man, that God is mindful of him?  In a sense, they probably did.  I doubt that they envisioned what scientists know now----that the earth is a tiny speck in a vast universe.  My hunch is that the biblical authors believed in a universe that was much smaller than what we today know to be the case.  But they could still look at the stars at night, notice how many they were, and feel rather small.

But perhaps Paul and the author of Psalm 8 had only a limited insight, not only into the extent of the cosmos, but into the extent of God's plan.  Maybe God some day will replenish outer space, and the sons of God will be involved in that process.  One problem that I had with Armstrongite discussion of this issue was the dogmatism that often accompanied it: that Christians who did not believe that way were looked down upon.  I wondered what right Armstrongites had to be so smug and dogmatic, when there's no text in the Bible that explicitly says that believers will rule their own planets!  But God is a big God, and the universe is a vast place.  It may happen that the manifestation of the sons of God in the eschaton will lead to a dramatic transformation of the cosmos, as life comes out of apparent futility.

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