Does the size of the universe support atheism or Christianity?

Posted on 01/05/13 56 Comments

The extent to which our presuppositions shape how we interpret data can hardly be overstated.

To consider one excellent example, let’s take a look at how an atheist and a Christian would differ in how they assess the significance of the size of the universe.

First up, let’s consider atheism. The following popular youtube video goes through a catalogue of increasingly large celestial objects. That’s all fine. But then it closes in on the conclusion that you are not the center of the universe. The video can be taken to be an example of the Copernican Principle according to which the earth does not occupy a privileged or special place in the cosmos. By implication, human beings do not occupy any special place in the cosmos. Granted this doesn’t get you to atheism — for example, there could be a creator God who doesn’t care about us — but it does get us close. (For more discussion of this video see my article “You’re not special because the universe is really, really big.”) Anyway without further ado:

And then there are Christians looking at the same data and drawing very different conclusions. Suddenly when you get to church the very same data has a very different meaning. Rather than saying “You’re not special” it now says “God is awesome”. Consider this popular pastor, Louie Giglio:

At this point we might be tempted to ask “So who is right? Is the atheist right to think the universe says we’re not special? Or is the Christian right to think it shows that God is great?” The answer is both and neither. In other words, if you begin with atheistic assumptions then you will predictably (but not necessarily) draw the conclusion that the size of the universe supports atheism. If you start with Christian assumptions then you will predictably (but not necessarily) draw the conclusion that the size of the universe supports Christian theism.

So both.

And as I said, also neither. Given that different presuppositions can interpret the data differently we have good reason to believe that the data itself underdetermines its own interpretation. Simply learning that the universe is vastly large and that there are huge objects within it doesn’t provide any evidence in and of itself either for atheism or (Christian) theism. The evidence, such as it is, awaits interpretation relative to a set of presuppositions.

There are many lessons one might draw from this fact. Let’s close with two of them.

First, do not adopt a triumphalistic attitude regarding your own worldview because much of the evidence you appeal to in support of your worldview is already interpreted to support the assumptions you hold.

Second, extend some charity to those with other worldviews because they’re probably interpreting the same data from a very different starting point. And as a result (to allude to one of my books), they’re probably not as crazy as you think.

For further reading see my article “Does a really old universe show that human beings are not important?”

Share
  • AdamHazzard

    The difference is that one begins with an observation and derives a conclusion, while the other begins with a conclusion and derives an observation.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Can you articulate the chain of reasoning that leads from observation to conclusion?

      • AdamHazzard

        In the first case, the observation of the miniscule, finite and unexceptional part that human beings, our planet, our star, our galaxy and our local cluster of galaxies play in the ongoing existence of the universe suggests that the universe does not exist solely to sustain or foster us. (A conclusion that could, of course, be wrong, but it hardly seems unreasonable.)

        In the second case, the conclusion that a god created the universe makes our observation of the vastness of the universe a testimony to what a Really Large and Impressive Thing this god has created.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          You’re broadly accurate in your “second case”. It’s the “first case” that presents problems. For the size of the universe to lead to atheism you’d have to assume that if there were a God then (a) he would have made the universe for the sole purpose of sustaining or fostering human beings and (b) the fact that the universe existed for the sole purpose of sustaining or fostering human beings would be evidenced in the size and position of the earth relative to the universe.

          The problem is that I don’t know any Christians who would hold to (a) and (b). So at best you’re reasoning on fallacious premises.
          As I said, the bottom line is that each group interprets the data relative to their background set of beliefs.

          • AdamHazzard

            I’m not claiming that first case “leads to atheism.” As you said in the post, “this doesn’t get you to atheism — for example, there could be a creator God who doesn’t care about us — but it does get us close.”

            To address the point you’re making, it isn’t that a purposed universe implies any particular size — you’re right about that — but that a purposed universe would serve the purposes for which it was created. The universe may have been created, but it was patently not created in such a way that all its parts serve the interests of human beings or their planet.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              “The universe may have been created, but it was patently not created in such a way that all its parts serve the interests of human beings or their planet.”

              True. And this fact wholly underdetermines the truth of Christian theism (or of theism generally).

              So I don’t think that your characterization of the first position is accurate. The atheist, no less than the theist, interprets the data in accord with his/her presuppositions.

              • AdamHazzard

                True. And this fact wholly underdetermines the truth of Christian theism (or of theism generally).

                But it’s hardly my fault (or atheism’s fault) if a true fact undermines theism. Sometimes facts support presuppositions; sometimes they contradict them.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  I said “underdetermines”, not “undermines”. In other words, the evidence of the universe’s size doesn’t provide direct support for theism or atheism but it can be interpreted in light of each.

                  • AdamHazzard

                    Sorry, Randal, I actually misread it as “undermines.”

                    If you mean to say the size of the universe isn’t a clinching argument for either point of view, of course you’re correct.

                    However, there isn’t complete parity between the positions, either. As I pointed out, one of the examples you cite draws a conclusion from observation while the other does the opposite.

                    And look at the positions you’re contrasting! Both agree that the universe is immense. One draws the reasonable conclusion that the universe was not assembled around our needs and that we are not literally or figuratively central to it. One may or may not take the further step from there to atheism. (It’s logically allowed but not logically necessary.)

                    The other position begins with an unproven assertion (that God exists) and uses the immensity of the universe as an example of God’s greatness. This is not the same evidence being differently interpreted. The first case does not presuppose atheism; the second case very much presupposes Christianity. The equivalence is false.

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      “one of the examples you cite draws a conclusion from observation while the other does the opposite.”
                      But that’s simply false as I pointed out. The Christian theist isn’t committed to the position that the universe was created for the needs of Homo sapiens.
                      There are two “unproved” starting points. The first says that the universe originated apart from an agent cause. The second says that the universe originated from an agent cause. Those are two competing theoretical accounts and each has an explanatory burden to shoulder.

                    • AdamHazzard

                      We’re talking past each other. The “examples” I’m talking about are the ones you linked to in your post, not atheism versus theism. Of the examples you linked to, one draws a conclusion from observation while the other does the opposite.

                      As for the two “unproved starting points” (atheism versus theism), you’re half right: they’re unproved. But they’re not “starting points,” or needn’t be. Ideally, they would be conclusions drawn from evidence, not conclusions in search of justification.

                      Of course we all bring along our own presuppositions when we sit down to the table, but the interesting thing is that we sometimes get up without them. Evidence has that interesting effect. To take one example: one hundred and fifty years ago, you and I and Augustine and Hume and Aristotle and Plato would have agreed that a thing cannot be a wave and a particle at the same time. It was a perfectly reasonable inference. And what destroyed it was not philosophical reasoning but the famous double-slit experiment. In effect, nature said “Sorry, wrong.” And the reasoning had to be adjusted to fit the observation.

                      Many branches of Christianity have adjusted their doctrine to suit observation over time. (Heliocentrism being one obvious example.) Which is fine, though I think it explains some of the Christian anxiety over science — if clever observation can overturn cherished beliefs, are the most basic foundations of faith at risk of being similarly eroded?

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      “Of the examples you linked to, one draws a conclusion from observation while the other does the opposite.”

                      Yes, but doesn’t it matter that the inference from observation is a whopping non sequitur? In the linked article I called it the “pale blue dot fallacy”.

                      “But they’re not “starting points,” or needn’t be. Ideally, they would be conclusions drawn from evidence, not conclusions in search of justification.”

                      Insofar as a person is an atheist, they interpret events and states of affairs from the perspective of atheism. The same for a theist. Even if one argued to their atheism or theism eventually they start interpreting data from that position.

                      “Many branches of Christianity have adjusted their doctrine to suit observation over time.”

                      You should read up on the history of the concept of “naturalism”.Or, for that matter, any other comprehensive explanatory framework. They all do this.

                    • AdamHazzard

                      I think we’re a little closer to agreement here.

                      You should read up on the history of the concept of “naturalism”.Or, for that matter, any other comprehensive explanatory framework. They all do this.

                      Yes! They do! And they should! I’m not making the argument that adjusting doctrine to fit observation disconfirms Christianity; I want Christianity to do that. But it does pose the risk that observation might challenge not only peripheral doctrines, such as geocentricity, but core doctrines. For faiths whose core doctrines include, for instance, a young Earth, that problem is real and pressing. Most of us would agree that YEC has been utterly disconfirmed by countless and varied observations; clinging to it really is a choice of allegiance to a doctrine in the face of fact.

                      More liberal and thoughtful strains of Christianity have finessed that conundrum by acknowledging the fact of evolution. But the risk that other core doctrines might be similarly disconfirmed is real.

                      So what about me, as an atheist? Randal, I tell you this truly: I experience my atheism as a reasonable inference from what I know of the universe, not a presupposition or a “core doctrine.” If a god exists, I’m wrong. If no god exists, I’m right. Bring on any pertinent evidence: it would be nice to settle the issue once and for all.

                      The theist, perhaps, can say the same thing: he has inferred the existence of a god and welcomes any pertinent evidence.

                      The Christian is in a rather different position. For Christianity to be true, it’s not sufficient that a god exists; it must be the right god; it must have certain characteristics (omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence,three-in-oneness, et alia); its nature must accord with the acts attributed to it in scripture; it must have a particular teleological relationship with humanity, and so on and so forth.

                      All of those doctrinal aspects are potentially vulnerable to disconfirmation by observation, and I believe that’s why some Christians might be understandably anxious about the advance of scientific knowledge.

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      “I experience my atheism as a reasonable inference from what I know of the universe, not a presupposition or a “core doctrine.””

                      But once you believe “There is no God or probably no God” then you begin to reason from that putative knowledge claim. And so, for example, you seek accounts of the origin of the universe or the nature of morality that are consistent with your atheistic beliefs.

                      Atheism and theism are both theories to explain the nature of existence. We may reason to those theories but once we do we also reason from them.

                    • AdamHazzard

                      And so, for example, you seek accounts of the origin of the universe or the nature of morality that are consistent with your atheistic [or theistic] beliefs…

                      Yes, I may seek “accounts” consistent with my inferences about the universe — but that doesn’t determine whether those accounts are consistent with observation. I may also seek observations that are consistent with my inferences, but that doesn’t determine whether such observations exist.

                      As the previous example of the double-slit experiment suggests, the presuppositions we bring to nature may not be the ones nature allows us to leave with.

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      “As the previous example of the double-slit experiment suggests, the presuppositions we bring to nature may not be the ones nature allows us to leave with.”

                      I certainly agree with that. Christianity is built on a titanic paradigm shift in Jewish thinking brought on by the incarnation, atoning crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

                    • AdamHazzard

                      …or at least a titanic paradigm shift in the thinking of a minority of Jews who subsequently repudiated Judaism. You might do better to cast it as a titanic paradigm shift in Hellenic thinking…

                      But I don’t mean to quibble. It’s as interesting to find common ground with Christians as it is to argue with them, in my experience. (And that’s a sincere comment, not a sarcastic one.)

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    The size of the universe does undercut the belief that there exists a personal god with a body who exists in time, or any of these beliefs independent of one another. It certainly undercuts what we find in the Bible, that’s for sure.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Christians define God as a maximally great non-physical agent who exists in three persons and who created the universe. If you’re claiming that the sie of the universe “undercuts” that definition, could you please explain how? If you’re not claiming this then your comment is irrelevant to the claim of this article.

      • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

        My claim is that a certain conception of God is undermined by the size of the universe, yes, the kind we read in the Bible that informs your theology.

        • John w. loftus

          I also argue that certain types of theologies are undercut by the siz of the universe, yours.

          • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

            I didn’t see where you argued anything. You just asserted it.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          I’m not sure what you’re claiming here. I provided a clear definition of God as a maximally great non-physical agent who exists in three persons and created the universe. This definition of God completely underdetermines how large God should have made the universe or where he should have placed earth within it. Thus anybody who thinks that those bare facts provide evidence for theism OR naturalism/atheism are mistaken.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      It isn’t obvious to me at all that “the size of the universe undercuts the belief that there exists a personal god with a body who exists in time.” Why do you suppose it undercuts that belief?

      • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

        Jeff, an argument does not have to be convincing in order for it to be a good one. You’ve read my chapter on this topic in my self-published book and you disagree. So?

        • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

          This reply has me scratching my head.

          an argument does not have to be convincing in order for it to be a good one

          I agree and never said otherwise, so I’m not sure why you think this is even relevant to my question. I said that your claim wasn’t obvious to me. The fact that it isn’t obvious to me does not mean that I think your argument is weak. It literally means just what it says: the truth of the claim isn’t obvious to me. I don’t have enough information yet to evaluate your argument. I’m still very interested in learning why you think “the size of the universe undercuts the belief that there exists a personal god with a body who exists in time.”

          You’ve read my chapter on this topic in my self-published book and you disagree. So?

          Huh? I never said anything about your chapter. In fact, unless I am having a momentary lapse of memory, I don’t think I’ve read your chapter. Indeed, I’m not even sure which chapter or which book you’re talking about!

          Please take my original reply at face value. It is a question, albeit a skeptical one, written in response to your comment on this page, nothing more. There was no response to anything you’ve written anywhere else.

          • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus
            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              So your claim is that it is problematic to think God “supposedly created the universe for the specific purpose of gaining the affections of people on this lone planet of ours.”

              As I already pointed out, this claim is not part of Christian doctrine. It seems to me that once again your “argument” reduces to a bit of personal biography.

              • John w. loftus

                Not so at all Randal. In my chapter I exegete a few passages and quote from about six biblical scholars that show otherwise.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  I’m only going on what you’ve written here and in your article. If you’d like to summarize what you’ve written elsewhere to explain how your argument is something more than personal biography, I’ll consider it.

                  • John w. loftus

                    You know the history of theology, the bible and how to do research don’t you? Don’t feign ignorance here, okay?

                    • John w. loftus

                      Gen. I-2; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1, and so forth. Do the exegesis.

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      It seems that you are naively collapsing the construction of Christian doctrine into exegesis of biblical passages. That confirms that your argument really is an expression of personal biography which reveals the long shadow of your naive engagement with the Christian tradition.

                      Once again we see that “Debunking Christianity” is, in fact, “Debunking the naive fundamentalism that John abandoned x amount of years ago.”

                    • John w loftus

                      ;-) I wish I had a dollar from everyone who has ever said such an utterly stupid thing. I might have a thousand dollars by now. You espouse theological relativism since there can be no time in which you or anyone in the church can ever say the truth has been discovered for all time. That’s right, relativism.

                    • John w. loftus

                      Why just yesteryear I had to tell a first time commenter on my blog to become informed. I’m really surprised I have to tell you as we’ll, but here ya go:

                      http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2013/01/bill-mahers-excellent-movie-religulous.html?m=0#comment-757168547

                      You really don’t understand, do you?

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      I’m not “feigning ignorance”. I really don’t know what your argument is. Though your repeated refusal to provide it is not encouraging.

                    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

                      Thanks, John. I’m not sure I follow the argument at that link. If I am reading you correctly — and I’m not sure that I am — you seem to be relying upon what Stephen Wykstra calls a “noseeum” argument.

                      I remember thinking to myself how God could be omnipresent in such a universe

                      In its logical form, this becomes:

                      John Loftus sees no way that God could be omnipresent in a universe of our size.
                      ——————————-
                      Therefore, there is no way that God could be omnipresent in a universe of our size.

                      how he could be a personal agent without a center for his personality in it

                      Again, in its logical form, this becomes:

                      John Loftus sees no way that God could be a personal agent without a center for his personality in it.
                      ——————————-
                      Therefore, there is no way that God could be a personal agent without a center for his personality in it.

                      Ditto for the next two statements:

                      […] how he could be omniscient knowing what was going on at the far reaches of it, and how he could be omnipotent such that he could create and maintain it.

                      Such “noseeum” inferences, in that form, seem weak to me. But, again, I may not understanding you correctly.

                      Turning to the size of the universe, you write:

                      I also wondered how he could care about life on this pale blue dot of ours that exists on one spiral arm in the Milky Way galaxy.

                      To play devil’s advocate, why should the fact that we exist on one spiral arm in the Milky Way galacy even be relevant to whether God, if He exists, cares about us? On the assumption that theism is true, (1) God is an unembodied being; (2) God created the universe; (3) God is able to causally interact with the universe, despite being an unembodied being. Taken together, these three propositions seem to undercut the point.

                      What kind of God could exist given this universe? How could he interact with parts of it several billions of light years away when a light year is a measurement of both time and distance?

                      Theism posits an omnipotent, omniscient, unembodied being who created the universe and designed its physical laws. On the assumption that theism is true, I don’t see why God would have any problem with interacting with any or all parts of the universe. You write as if God is a finite being on the opposite end of the galaxy and is subject to the laws of physics. But that isn’t the hypothesis of theism. At best, you have an argument against Superman or Green Lantern interacting with a part of the universe several billions of light years away.

                      I had already come to think God was located in time in some sense, ever since the creation. So how could such a God act in the present here on earth and also several billions of light years away in a different part of the universe? Does that even makes sense?

                      It makes conceptual sense to me; I just don’t think it happens. On the assumption that there exists a supernatural person who is not a part of “nature” but who is able to causally interact with nature, I don’t see any conceptual difficulty with said person causally interacting with multiple spatial locations simultaneously, even if such locations are billions of light years apart.

                    • John w. loftus

                      Jeff, noseeum arguments are good ones since we must understand enough about God to know he exists and that he cares, especially since we know how God could have done differently. That’s why skeptical theists exist in the first place, because even though they understand the noseeum objection it doesn’t help them to see things differently.

                    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

                      1. Noseeum arguments are inductive, not deductive. Thus a “good” noseeum argument can only mean a strong inductive argument.

                      2. Whether or not a noseeum argument is strong depends on whether we would expect to “see” the thing in question, on the assumption it exists.

                      3. It’s not obvious to me that the noseeum arguments in your article are strong. Can you defend the inference from “I don’t see X” to “X doesn’t exist” in the examples I quoted in my last reply?

                    • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

                      Remember Jeff, I was arguing against a specific kind of God and the theology behind it. Yes, I think we should see the requisite reasons based on the kind of God I’m speaking of. I cannot conceive of how a God in time can act in separate places in the universe. If in time then he’s subject to time. And I cannot conceive how a omnipresent God in time is everywhere in the universe either. Nor can I conceive of a God who can be a person who doesn’t have a center of personality. In fact, I don’t think there is a consistent conception of such a God at all give the size of the universe. What you need to do is show such a conception of God is plausible. You haven’t done that. All you have done is to assert that you can. Assertions don’t cut it.

                    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

                      John wrote:

                      Remember Jeff, I was arguing against a specific kind of God and the theology behind it.

                      Exactly. I’m focused on “the specific kind of God” mentioned in the claim below.

                      The size of the universe does undercut the belief that there exists a personal god with a body who exists in time, or any of these beliefs independent of one another.

                      So, based on THAT kind of God, what reason do we have to believe that your noseeum inference is strong? All you have done is to repeat your noseeum claims: “I cannot conceive how….” You have not, however, given any reason whatsoever to justify the move from “I cannot conceive how X” to “Therefore, X does not exist” or “Therefore, X is incoherent.”

                      If in time then he’s subject to time.

                      Let’s unpack this for a moment. What, precisely, does it mean to be “subject to time”? I think that means “to be subject to the laws of physics, including general and special relativity.” Here’s the point: if God created the universe and designed the laws of physics, then it’s unclear why God couldn’t “violate” one of the laws He made. In short, it seems to me that you are coming dangerously close to begging the question against theism by assuming that God cannot perform miracles.

                      To make a less than perfect analogy, you seem to be saying this. If, as a programmer, I wrote a software program that only allows users to perform certain actions on a piece of information, I am subject to the same limitations as the users. If I wanted to use the software program as a regular user, that would be true. But that misses the point of my special role as the author of the software (or as the “superuser” in the operating system). If I have that role, then it’s trivial for me to insert “easter eggs” or “backdoors” which will allow me to do things the other users can’t do.

                      What you need to do is show such a conception of God is plausible. You haven’t done that. All you have done is to assert that you can. Assertions don’t cut it.

                      You’re right. I haven’t done that. I don’t need to do that since I didn’t make a claim; you did. All I have said so far is that I don’t find these sort of noseeum objections convincing; that’s very different from saying your conclusions are wrong.

                    • John w. loftus

                      Basically then, the noseeum objection is arguing from ignorance in the face of the omniscience escape clause, a clause that all believers use to escape the evidential force of problems to the contrary, leaving them impervious to reason. Since theists don’t let other theists off the hook when using that escape I see no reason to let any of them use it.

  • Walter

    Starting with the assumption of theism it would suggest to me that we are likely not alone. I think the size of the universe suggests that human natives on this planet are not the pinnacle of creation, or at least not the sole pinnacle. An vast universe devoid of sentient life would go a long ways in convincing me that we are some kind of cosmic accident that doesn’t happen with any frequency.

    Shorter version: assuming theism, I expect rational alien life to be abundant.

  • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Hi Randal — I blogged about this before here. Even when we take different starting points into account, I argued that the size of the universe offers extremely weak evidence favoring atheism over theism.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Thanks, that was clear and dense (like a very thick Christmas fruitcake, and like the fruitcake it’ll take awhile to digest).

      A couple comments..

      First, I’m not persuaded by the definition of a “non-privileged temporal position”. Think about the Queen’s arrival at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. She arrived late with James Bond after the show had already started. That would suggest that she didn’t have a privileged seat for the proceedings and thus one might conclude that the Queen isn’t that important after all. But most people would recognize for a variety of reasons that the Queen’s late arrival is not a good indicator of low status. Indeed, it could signal exactly the opposite. Perhaps the privileged position is the one where a species arrives late on the scene.

      Second, I thought your rebuttal to your second anticipated objection was interesting. It reminds me of the way that Bill Craig responds to the claim that the second law of thermodynamics is more consistent with atheism or naturalism than theism. His response is that the second law is required for life to flourish in this universe. But that misses the point that an omnipotent being could have established other natural laws in the universe which wouldn’t require me to paint the fence every five years. That’s similar to your point that on T (but not N) God could have brought life about in the universe much sooner than he did.

      Of course, one way out is to say that we do have a privileged position because God created the world five minutes ago with apparent age. I say that’s a winner! :)

      • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

        Thanks, Randal. Your first comment is well taken. Trying to provide a nuanced definition of “privileged position” (temporal or otherwise) which then works with the intended flow of the argument is a challenge. That is probably the weakest part of the whole argument.

        I sometimes wonder if somehow adding the image of God doctrine into the mix would strengthen the argument, insofar as Judeo-Christian theism is concerned. But I haven’t been able to come up with a good reason to think so. As I understand the imago Dei doctrine, it is much more concerned with the rational, moral, and spiritual attributes of man than it is with man’s temporal or spatial position in the universe. (shrug)

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          “I sometimes wonder if somehow adding the image of God doctrine into the mix would strengthen the argument, insofar as Judeo-Christian theism is concerned.”

          Well let’s try it out. The imago Dei means, first of all, that human beings act as representatives of the divine on earth, analogous to a diplomat representing his country to a foreign nation. (The capacity to fulfill the role of representative entails certain properties as well [reason? language use? moral nature?] but we can set that to one side.)

          The creation narrative clearly identifies the role of human beings as divine representatives to the natural environment of human beings which is the earth. Thus, in retrospect we can see the text as simply not discussing the role of human beings as divine representatives to the rest of the cosmos. The text doesn’t address that issue.

          With that in mind, your argument could be shifted somewhat from focusing on the late arrival of Homo sapiens into the universe to the late arrival of Homo sapiens on planet earth, the sphere on which they are supposedly the divine representative. Given that we’ve only appeared in the last couple hundred thousand years as a species, you could still argue that this is problematic relative to a 4.6 billion year age for the earth.

          • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

            Good points all around. I think I agree with everything you wrote.

  • bryan

    I thought the size of the universe supported atheism even while I was a Christian. Which is partly why I’m not a Christian anymore. So much for my presuppositions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    Randal, I agree with you that the size of the universe provides no logical argument for atheism. What I think it does is provide some content for the bare assertion that God is maximally great. The God who creates billions of galaxies feels different to the one who in Genesis creates a single habitable planet with a sun and a moon, the stars seeming almost like an afterthought.

    Then there is a further step down to the Old Testament God. The God who, when he wants to prevent men from building the Tower of Babel, has to go down and do it. The God who can apparently be defeated by iron chariots (Judges 1:19). Doesn’t seem like the same God somehow.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Today we read such language as anthropomorphism (e.g. “going down”) but it is not simply anthropomorphism. The ancient Hebrews evolved from being polytheists to henotheists to monotheists, and with that evolution came an increasingly exalted conception of the divine.

      From a Christian perspective this development is representative of progressive revelation.

      • Brap Gronk

        From a non-theist perspective it’s representative of the natural progress of human thought, ideas, and creation, which is quite elegantly described in Kevin Kelly’s book “What Technology Wants.” The book has nothing whatsoever to do with religion (Kelly happens to be a Christian), yet the evolution of the world’s religions throughout history fits in very well with the overall theme of the first part of the book, which is that technology “evolves” much like biological systems evolve. (Different processes obviously, but similar ways to describe them both like classification systems, branches, dead ends, etc.)

        In other words, given the number of competing (fictional) gods back in the day, it was only a matter of time before the idea of a God (capital “G”) to rule over all the lesser gods came about.

  • 1981cudd

    To a bible literalist the universe is 6 to 10 thousand years old for these believers, A universe that is 14 billion years old is not an option because they will accept no observations that disprove the “God hypothesis”. To the open-minded, religious (the selective bible literalist) the universe . support their fervent wishes for what they wanted to be true.

  • Pingback: Inquiry vs. Partisanship()

  • Pingback: The Argument from Scale (AS) Revisited, Part 5: John Loftus on the Size of the Universe()

  • Pingback: Does the Copernican Principle favor atheism?()