Throughout the course of this book we have looked at religion through the prism of our earthly realm. We have looked at the various claims and assertions put forth by our major religions along with their associated effects on our neighbors from the vantage point of our two feet planted firmly on the ground. To gain another perspective with which to consider these claims and assertions, we need to reach for the stars. If every religion purports to speak on behalf of the creator of the universe, it stands to reason that we would benefit greatly in our understanding of this creator by looking at his creation. If I were to say to you that the universe is a big place, I wouldn't be doing the universe justice by declaring that so nonchalantly. The known universe is not just a big place; it is bigger than anything you or I have ever imagined. Human hubris fueled by religious beliefs about our significance in relation to this creator places us as the single most important part of this expanse and this view has permeated our society for millennia. Even today, we can't seem to convince nearly 1 out of every 5 Americans that our planet is in fact not the center of our solar system let alone the center of the universe. For the rest of us, we can begin to look at things in a new light the moment we change our vantage point. For example, when Carl Sagan requested the Voyager 1 spacecraft to turn its camera towards Earth as it was preparing to leave our solar system, our planet was barely discernible. The image of our planet taken by Voyager 1 is perhaps one of the most humbling images I have ever seen. It takes some effort just to try and find our planet which is essentially no bigger than a pixel in the image. As Sagan once said, "all of human history has happened on that tiny pixel, which is our only home."73 From just 3.7 billion miles away, our planet was nothing more than a bluish-white dot. I can't stress enough just how small we are compared to the known universe.
This is literally the creation that the God our neighbors pray to has brought into existence. In order to be Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, you have to believe that this astronomically huge expanse of stars, planets, comets, asteroids, black holes, and supernovas was all created and set into motion so that the creator could have a personal relationship with just one specific species of primates living on a single pixel in the night sky. To be a believer in any of the Abrahamic faiths is to believe that all of this was done so that God could impart upon us what He considers to be the most important lessons of the universe. Stars are literally exploding as we speak and black holes are swallowing anything unfortunate enough to come too close, but through religion we learn that this is all being done consistent with God's desire that we not eat shellfish or pork. He does not want us to wear clothing consisting of linen and wool, plow a field with a yoked ox and ass, cut ourselves, and under no circumstances are we to ever flirt with belief in another divine being. To be a religious person is to believe that the creator of the universe put into motion hundreds of billions of galaxies so that we could know the true virtue of circumcising a young boy. It's hard to imagine how the foreskin of a boy's penis could possibly factor into the functioning of the cosmos, yet here we have religion dictating to us that this is precisely what the creator of the universe desires for us to do. To think in this way is to assume that the purpose of the universe is to provide a fertile ground from which mankind can serve God. If that's the case, then why go to all the trouble of creating the enormity of the universe? This seems a rather obvious question, doesn't it? If we are to believe that the universe was created specifically for us to have a personal relationship with its creator, what purpose does the rest of the universe have that supports this intent? Why does this relationship require the enormous and distant galaxies like Andromeda and Tadpole in order to function? Once we look at the universe as it is and not as we want it to be, it becomes embarrassingly obvious that it's a tremendous waste of space if even one iota of religious dogma is true. There's nothing in the known laws of physics that leads us to believe that life is wholly dependent upon the existence of billions of other galaxies. If God wanted to create human life, He was terribly inefficient at doing so. For much of the 4.6 billion years that our planet has been in existence, we humans have barely been around long enough to qualify as a blip. If our planet were a human being and lived to the ripe old age of 100, our species could have barely been around long enough for a single wink of the eye. If any of this strikes you as odd, it should. In the days of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, we knew very little about the cosmos. The authors of the Bible for example didn't know just how big the universe really was because they barely had a concept of the universe to begin with. To be a Christian, Muslim, or Jew is to believe that this entire thing was created specifically with us in mind. This is at the very least an audacious and egotistical assertion that strains credibility.
If we gaze through a telescope and look for the next closest star to us after our sun, we'll find a star named Proxima Centauri. It is a mere 4.2 light years away. When we see the light emitted from Proxima Centauri, it was created over 4 years ago and we're just seeing it now. It takes that long to reach us! In Genesis 1:3, the Bible tells us that God created light. God gave labels to both night and day in Genesis 1:5 - the dark would be called night and the light would be called day. On the fourth day, God created the sun, moon, and stars. If God created light in verse 3, where did the light that created night and day come from? It certainly didn't come from the sun (or any other star) which hadn't been created yet. Earth would obviously have to be spinning as this is what gives us the concepts of night and day. Where did this mysterious light come from? Let's come back to that in a moment.
When God put the stars into the sky on the fourth day, one would assume that he created all of them at the same time. If someone believes that the universe is less than 10,000 years old, how do they explain the fact that we are able to see stars that are literally millions or billions of light years away when the light that we see was originally created millions or billions of years ago. This is often called the "starlight problem". Let's come back to this in a moment as well.
On the fourth day, God also created the lesser light to govern the night. If the greater light that governs the day is the sun, the lesser light is the moon. So, according to Genesis, God created moonlight. The only problem with this account is that our moon is unable to generate light on its own. The moon's light is actually a reflection of the sun's light, but can we really expect unenlightened men from thousands of years ago to know that? There needed to be an explanation for the moon, and because of our scientific progress, we can reliably say that the Bible was clearly wrong on this account.
Sam Harris, the noted neuroscientist, uses the following example - water is chemically comprised of hydrogen and oxygen. What if someone doubted that? Is there such a thing as a Biblical chemist? In Genesis, God created water before he created light. If there was no light, there were no stars. If there were no stars to fuse helium and hydrogen into heavier elements like oxygen, either the water doesn't contain any oxygen or God created special oxygen. Did God create special oxygen or did Moses simply not have an adequate understanding of how chemistry works? What happens when we apply Occam's razor to this scenario, which essentially says that all things being equal, the simplest answer tends to be the correct one? What is more likely - that the people who wrote the Bible didn't have the same understanding of our universe that we do today or that we have to invoke the Divine Default and say that God suspended the laws of the universe to accomplish everything the Bible says in the order that it proposes? These types of conflicts can and should be expected from texts that are completely man-made.
It's interesting to read the opinions of creationists and religious apologetics as it relates to these conflicts. Most creationists will say that they don't know for sure because the Bible doesn't say. That doesn't mean that they don't have ideas though. I've heard such ideas as the original light from Genesis 1:3 was radiated from God Himself or that the sun was actually created on Day 1. My concern with these answers is that the Bible doesn't say any of it. If the sun was created on Day 1, then why not just explicitly say so? Why bother creating the moon and all the other stars days later? The sun is a star after all, but when the Bible was written, not a single person in the world knew that it was a huge nuclear sphere of plasma. Our understanding of the cosmos at that time was still in its infancy. Assuming this wasn't a metaphor, if the light radiated from God Himself, was God only able to see one side of the planet? If He is everywhere and can see everything, wouldn't His light radiate everywhere? The light was obviously directional. If it wasn't, there wouldn't be the perception of night and day.
I've seen pseudoscientific accounts that suggest that clocks ran at much higher rates during this Creation Week than what they run today. Therefore light from far-flung galaxies would only need days instead of the millions or billions of years that it takes them today. This basically means that time went faster everywhere else in the universe except here on Earth. A day here would be more than a billion elsewhere. This idea only has merit under a creationist framework. There's nothing to suggest that light traveled infinitely faster during God's creation than it does today. This concept is referred to as c-decay and has been thoroughly debunked repeatedly by real scientists. Science has advanced more than enough to detect enough residual decay and yet there is none. In order to make this theory work, light would have to travel more than a million times faster than it does. Dr. Jason Lisle, writing for the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, reminds us that "We should also remember that God is not limited to natural methods as we are."74 Yet again we are reminded that if we invoke the Divine Default, all of these inconvenient contradictions go away.
Each of us is, or at least should be, familiar with the periodic table of elements. If you've taken a chemistry class, you've seen it. If you had taken a chemistry class one hundred years ago and asked your professor where each of those elements physically came from, he/she would not have been able to definitively answer you. They simply didn't know for sure. That answer wouldn't become available until the past fifty or sixty years. Modern astrophysicists are now able to trace the origin of many of these elements. These elements can be found in stars, and when those stars inevitably explode, they spread those elements in every direction across the vacuum of space. The reason these elements are so prevalent in our universe is precisely due to these explosions. It is quite interesting to compare the most common, abundant elements in the universe to the most common, abundant elements in human beings.
~~ Universe ~~
~~ Humans ~~
You'll notice that besides helium, which is an inert gas to humans (ie, it does nothing and our bodies don't require it), our chemical composition is identical to the most common elements in the universe. If God created us, He didn't create us out of anything special. Most of our body consists of water, which is comprised of hydrogen and oxygen. Next we look at carbon which is what life is based upon. Carbon is the most chemically active element in the periodic table so it should come as no surprise that life forms such as ours make such wide use of carbon. We can use carbon to make molecules that have thousands or even millions of atoms. There are more carbon compounds than all of the other elements combined! Because we know that life is carbon-based and carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are some of the most abundant elements in the universe, it would be incredibly narcissistic to think that we are alone in the universe. The fact that we have been unable to create life in our labs doesn't mean that nature isn't capable of doing it here or elsewhere.
Considering the sheer size of the universe, it would take a lot of stars to spread those elements to every corner. There are an estimated 70 sextillion stars in the known universe. That's 70,000 million million million stars. That number does not include planets, moons, asteroids, or comets. Those are just stars and that is ten times more than all of the grains of sand from every inch of every beach on our entire planet. If you recall from the earlier chapter about the Divine Default, I made reference to the fact that the human mind has difficulty with probabilities. It doesn't come naturally for many of us. The potential for life elsewhere in our universe is one of the best examples of probability. If we took just 1% of the estimated number of stars in the known universe and then took 1% of those stars and then 1% of those stars and then 1% of those stars and then 1% of those stars and then 1% of the remaining stars, there would be potential for 70 billion solar systems orbiting around those 70 billion stars where just 1 planet in 1 solar system needs to support life as we know it using the same abundantly common elements that we use. Just because we haven't found life elsewhere yet doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Over the past three years, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has identified more than 2,300 potential planets and has already confirmed more than 100 where the conditions for life could be ideal. Kepler 22b is thought to be in its star's habitable zone where liquid water could exist and perhaps even life as we know it. Additionally, the planets Gliese 581 g, Gliese 667C c, HD 85512 b, and Gliese 581 d have already been identified as potentially life-friendly as well. The Gliese system is only 20 light-years away which is, cosmically-speaking, just around the block from us. Any of these planets could harbor life. Statistically speaking, life may be inevitable! It's important to note that while I can make a statement like this with little fear of retribution, that wasn't always the case. The Italian monk Giordano Bruno was literally burned at the stake by the Church for blasphemy when he suggested and refused to recant his belief that life could exist outside of our planet.
The Church can no longer burn you at the stake, so if you are open to the probability that life could exist on another planet somewhere among those 70 sextillion stars, what theological implications do you think this would pose? Our own human history has produced thousands of Gods. What type of deity might an alien civilization believe in? It certainly wouldn't be Jesus Christ! Christians will tell you that Jesus was sent to Earth to save mankind. There's no mention in the Bible that God impregnated virgins from any other planet. If a civilization from a completely different planet has religion, we can be reasonably certain that it won't resemble the specific, organized religions that we have on our planet. The aliens, assuming that they are equally evolved, would most likely have discovered chemistry, biology, and astronomy. These disciplines can be rediscovered using the same methods. No such methods exist for our religions. They would likely not exist in their current forms and this should tell us something about the nature and truthfulness of our religions. If we had to start human history over, we would most likely still have religion, but each would be different than the ones we have today.