Composite Photo of Deep Space (NASA/ESA more) framed in Beach Sand
The hosts of heaven cannot be counted; the sand of the sea cannot be measured. — Jeremiah 33:22
Scientists estimate the universe contains a septillion (1024) stars — perhaps many more — which is about the same amount as the estimated number of grains of sand on all of the beaches of Planet Earth (1025). The stars are so far away from each other that it would take a spacecraft traveling the speed of light (≈ 186,000 miles per second) years to travel from one average star to its nearest neighboring star.
Some skeptics look at the vast number of solar systems in the universe and theorize that at least some of them must contain life-supporting planets, like Earth, and further presume that life must have naturally evolved on at least some of these theorized life-supporting planets. In their view, if life only exists on Planet Earth (as maintained in the traditional biblical worldview), the universe displays “an awful waste of space” which is wholly incompatible with the purposeful Creator described in the Bible.
Read this article and explore how Christian scientists and apologists respond to such allegations.
ONE MINUTE BRIEF
Issue: If life exists on only one planet in the universe (as maintained in the traditional biblical worldview), does the vastness of the universe demonstrate an “awful waste of space” wholly incompatible with a rational belief in a purposeful Creator, like the God described in the Bible?
Bottom Line: Although the Bible does not explicitly say God created life on only one planet (Earth), that is the traditional biblical worldview based primarily on Genesis 1:1-2:7 which describes both God’s creation of Planet Earth as well as his creation of man out of the dust of the earth. Those who hold this traditional view confidently maintain it does not discredit a rational belief in a purposeful Creator for the following reasons:
- Scientific evidence does not rationally compel the conclusion that life exists in other parts of the universe; rather, the extensive scientific data gathered to date strongly supports the conclusion that Earth is such an extremely unique planet that it may be the only planet in the universe capable of supporting life;
- Scientists have established that a universe as vast and as dense as the one we live in is necessary to support life even if life only exists on one planet in the universe;
- In addition to providing an environment for man to live, the Bible offers at least two additional reasons why God created the universe: First, the existence of the universe testifies to the necessity of a Creator (more>>) thereby removing any excuse for not believing in God (see, Romans 1:18-20). Second, the magnitude of the universe displays God’s glory inspiring men to worship the Creator as exemplified in Revelation 4:11, Isaiah 40:26, Nehemiah 9:6 and Psalm 8:1, 3-4.
[For further explanation and reference citations, see the Summary Discussion below.]
To picture how many stars 1024 actually is, consider that scientists have estimated there are about 1025 grains of sand on all the beaches of Planet Earth. If you take a moment to think about how long it would take to count just the grains of sand that fit into an average-sized beach bucket, it is easy to appreciate just how many grains of sand reside on all the beaches of the earth and, likewise, how many stars there really are in the universe.
Not only are there an almost unimaginable number of stars in the universe, but if one also considers how far apart the stars are from each other, the incredible vastness of the universe is practically inconceivable. For example, Proxima Centauri (the nearest star to the Sun) is 4.2 light years away from Earth which means it would take a spaceship travelling the speed of light (i.e., ≈186,000 miles per second) 4.2 years to reach that nearest star.
In the view of many skeptics, such as the late Carl Sagan, the vastness of the universe discredits belief in the existence of the purposeful Creator described in the Bible if life only exists on Planet Earth — a speck of dust when viewed against the magnificence of a universe filled with a septillion stars. In the view of such skeptics, it makes no sense for God to have created such a vast universe and limit the existence of life to one seemingly insignificant, small planet orbiting an average star. Rather, they maintain that given the almost incomprehensible number of stars and orbiting planets in the universe, intelligent life has very likely naturally evolved in many regions of the universe. This was a point made in the 1997 movie Contact which was based on Carl Sagan’s view of the cosmos. At the end of the movie, the main characters played by Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey theorize a number of other planets filled with intelligent life must exist because, otherwise, the universe “would be an awful waste of space.”
Christian theologians and scientists respond to the criticism that the vastness of the universe testifies against the existence of a purposeful Creator if life only exists on one planet (which is the traditional biblical worldview) as follows:
Response No. 1 – Earth is a Rare Planet and there is No Evidence that Another Life-Supporting Planet Actually Exists: Scientists have discovered many characteristics about the earth without which Earth would not be able to support life. Discovery of these characteristics have compelled even non-Christian scientists to conclude Earth is a rare planet. See, Rare Earth authored by secular scientists and professors at the University of Washington, Peter D. Ward (paleontologist, biology professor) and Donald Brownlee (astronomy professor).
For example, to be capable of supporting life, a planet must have all of the following just-right characteristics that Planet Earth has:
- The planet must reside in a spiral galaxy of the just-right size [NOTE: Only 6% of all galaxies are spiral galaxies] (more>>)
- The planet must be located at a very rare just-right location between two spiral arms of a spiral galaxy (i.e., at a co-rotation radii) (more>>)
- The planet must be in a just-right location within the galaxy relative to Type 1 and Type II supernovae (more>>)
- The planet must be in a just-right location in the galaxy relative to a white dwarf star that is in a binary star system with a large star (more>>)
- The planet must have a parent star, like the sun, with a just-right mass (more>>)
- The planet must have a parent star, like the sun, which is a single star (rather than a star in a binary or multiple star system) (more>>)
- The planet must have a sister planet, like Jupiter, the just-right size and distance from the planet with a just-right mass and in a just-right location (more>>)
- The planet must have a moon with a just-right mass at a just-right distance from the planet (more>>)
- The planet must have a just-right atmosphere (more>>)
- The planet must have all the just-right forms of water (more>>)
- The planet must have a just-right surface temperature (more>>)
- The planet must have a just-right rotation period (more>>)
The above characteristics are just a sampling of all the just-right characteristics a planet must have to be capable of supporting life. As far back as 2006, scientists had already identified 500 finely-tuned features which must exist and operate in a just-right way for even simple, briefly existing bacteria to exist. Over 800 finely-tuned features have been discovered which are necessary for human life to exist. The list of these necessary features has continued to grow as technological advances have been made and scientists have conducted more in depth research. [See, Hugh Ross, Why the Universe is the Way It Is, pgs. 121-124 (2008)]
Since there are so many just-right characteristics a planet must possess to be capable of supporting life and since no evidence has been produced that even one other planet like Earth actually exists, there is no reasonable basis for skeptics to allege the traditional biblical worldview that God only created life to exist on one planet (Earth) is nonsensical.
Response No. 2 — The Vastness of the Universe Does Not Demonstrate a Lack of Purpose because Such a Universe is Necessary to Support Life on Even One Planet: In response to the allegation that the vastness of the universe evidences “an awful waste of space” incompatible with the purposeful Creator described in the Bible (see, e.g., Isaiah 14:24, 25:1, 46:10, Proverbs 16:4, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:5, 3:20, etc.), some Christian theologians and scientists point out the universe must be as big and as dense as it is for life to exist anywhere in the universe, even on one comparatively small planet. For example:
The expansion rate of the universe (which is governed by its mass density and space-energy density) must be so exquisitely fine-tuned that if the mass density of the universe varied by even one factor in 1060 or the space energy density varied by one factor in 10120, no life would be possible at any time or any place in the entire universe (more>>).
Without the immense number of stars that exist, which not only contribute to the mass density of the universe but also provide the heavy elements necessary to support life, life could not exist anywhere in the universe — even on one planet. [See, Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, pgs. 53-54, 150-151 (2001)]
Accordingly, many Christian apologists adamantly maintain that even if life only exists on the one small planet we live on, it is misguided to characterize the universe as an “awful waste of space” because the entirety of the universe (including all the stars and planets) is necessary for life to exist anywhere in the universe.
Response No. 3: In Addition to Supporting Life, the Bible Gives Other Reasons for God Creating a Vast Universe: As revealed in Scripture, God’s purpose in creating the universe wasn’t just to create an environment for man to live. Rather, as pointed out by Christian theologian, John Piper, the magnitude of the universe was meant to display God’s glory: “The reason for ‘wasting’ so much space on a universe to house a speck of humanity is to make a point about our Maker, not us: “‘Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these [stars]? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:26).’” In deed, it was the vastness of the universe which prompted the Old Testament psalmist to ask:
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens…. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? — Psalm 8:1, 3-4
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.”
For further discussion on related issues, see the following articles:
- Evidence from Design — An Introduction and Summary of the Evidence (here)
- God’s Existence Best Explains Why Anything Exists — An Argument for the Necessity of an Uncaused First Cause (here)
- Evidence from a Beginning — God’s Existence is the Best Explanation for the Universe Coming into Existence (here)
- How to Know God Personally (here)
KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE and WHY YOU BELIEVE IT!
“[W]e do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” — 2 Corinthians 4:2
DO YOU BELIEVE GOD EXISTS? WHY DO YOU BELIEVE WHAT YOU BELIEVE? Browse through the articles on the FactsandFaith.com website and consider some of the REASONS Christian philosophers and theologians give for contending that belief in the God of the Bible is a very rational belief, if not the most rational belief possible given what scientists and philosophers have determined to be true about the universe.
Visit Facts & Faith on Facebook and “Like” and “Share” this ONE MINUTE BRIEF with others so they may consider the reasons Christians have for believing in the God of the Bible.
Have a good and prosperous day. Let your light shine before men so they notice your moral excellence as well as your good and noble deeds and, thereby, recognize and glorify your Father in heaven!
(See, Matt. 5:16, Amplified Bible)
© 2013 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: November 27, 2013
QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos: What Recent Discoveries in Astrophysics Reveal about the Glory and Love of God(Signalman Publishing, 3rd Ed., 2010)
Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God(Navpress; 2 edition, 1995)
R.C. Sproul, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology(Baker Books, 1999)
Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (Copernicus, 2004)
IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING
Slideshow Photo: This image of deep space is a composite photo of a small region of space compiled from Hubble Space Telescope data accumulated over a 4 month period in 2003 and 2004. The image (framed in a picture of beach sand) was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the image is in the public domain because it was created by NASA/ESA.
Proxima Centauri: This photo of Proxima Centarui (the nearest start to the sun at 4.2 light years away) was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the photo was released into the public domain by its author, Two Micron All Sky Survey (2Mass), who has granted anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law
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