Thursday, April 08, 2010

the theistic implications of vastness

Last night my housemates were watching a special on NOVA called Hunting the Edge of Space. Now, it is known that the producers of the PBS series are allergic to theistic reflection - even in this episode, which wasn't about bashing design inference, they had to casually misrepresent the Galileo affair in the normal "science vs. faith deathmatch" fashion so as to show us that science had moved on from the shackles of clerics via better telescope technology. It might be nice to play along with the charade; but see, I can't. Its not that I just was educated out of a myth about the medieval-to-early-modern relationship between science and religion. Its something more primal: neither I nor my housemates could escape our sense of profound awe at the numinous unfurling of the universe lovingly rendered through NOVA's photographic exploration. And on a primal gut level, our sense of awe defeats blank scientism. On a more reflective level, the notion that that same sense has no theistic implications is simply question-begging, in that it assumes the non-reality of that which is naturally and perhaps even pre-theoretically inferred from sense: the Divine, Being of beings.

Anyway, that impolite and impolitic runway was not meant to overshadow this one particularly affecting idea, which I'll try to express. Spaces which we thought were vast - indeed because they are! - have been discovered to be comparably not so vast at all. We may have forgotten to be shocked at our huge Milky Way. But in light of the universe - the marvel of galaxies and the array of beings which are now yet being discovered - it is quite, quite, quite small. Quite. Yes, I know my words are failing and my science-writing may lack a certain je ne sais quoi, but who knows if using the big, big, big numbers would help convey this either.

I suggest that Pale-Blue-Dot Saganism is precisely the wrong inference. Rather the handiwork of the universe as it truly is proclaims something about the God Who Is. Though the universe is inconceivably vast, for God, it nicely fits the category "that which has been made." If the universe is more than pretty, how much more than pretty is He.

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