I used to think, as many do today, that the universe was way too big, wasteful in fact. I’ve since changed my view. However, many still hold the view that the ‘the universe is too big.’ What’s worse is that some even argue that since the universe is so big and wasteful, that, therefore, there cannot be a God. Why? Because according to some, God would not create so much waste. Is the universe too big for God?
Now, for something to be wasteful means that there are too much of unnecessary and extraneous amounts of some of its properties. When we talk about the size of the universe, the thing people generally find unnecessary is the amount of empty space – there is too much of it. However, in order to properly say that there is too much of a certain something inside a thing, one has to have grounds that the thing he’s claiming as unnecessary, does not actually have a function in any way, both mechanistically within the system and teleologically outside the system. A little caveat before we delve deeper – the size of the universe in its current state is far bigger than it has been in the past. The universe has been expanding for a while. In its infancy, it was extremely small. For our intents and purposes, we’re examining the current size of the universe in modern times with our advanced instrumentation and scientific advancement.
When we object that the universe has too much space, we have to first show that the empty space does not, in fact, have a mechanistic function within the system. In other words, the amount of empty space does not play any role in how the universe works. But that’s not all – we also have to show that the amount of space has no teleological value (the why?) – the designer does not have any reason at all for all the space.
When it comes to the purpose (the why?) of the amount of space and the size of the universe, we can only get to any possible purpose by having that information revealed to us. When someone does something, and we have no conceivable reason for their action, unless they tell us why they did that thing, we’d be limited to speculation. In this instance, we can know the purpose of the size of the universe as far as its purpose goes only by being told by God as a matter of revelation or by knowing the mind of God. Now, God has not revealed the reason for the size of the universe explicitly in any revelation. The closest thing we have in the Bible is Psalm 19,
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1)
Notice that this doesn’t refer to size. It does point to grandeur, which can be seen to reveal something magnificently large and leads one to think of the grandeur of the universe being a witness to God. So we’ve not been explicitly told by God why the universe is so large but we do have some reason to think it is to demonstrate the majesty of God. Neither can we delve into the mind of God to understand explicitly why he would have made it so large.
Teleologically speaking, suppose we had absolutely no clue as to why God created the universe to be so large. Even if we were to come to the conclusion that the size of the universe plays no mechanistic role in the universe, we still cannot call it wasteful simply because we cannot with any confidence say that teleologically speaking, the designer did not have any purpose in mind. We can conceive of the amount of space having some potential purpose beyond just the mechanism and the role the size plays in the natural realm. For example, the designer may have wanted to show his grandeur (as the Bible seems to tell us) by designing the universe in such a way so as to make us in our current stage of scientific advancement to be in awe of its magnitude and possibly draw us closer to knowing Him. The fact of the matter is that agent causation, which is the product of a mind is very different from event causation, which is the product of a blind mechanism.
I hope it’s clear by now that one cannot say the universe is too big and wasteful if God created it. We cannot delve into the mind of God to know the purpose of the size of the universe. And if we were able to delve into the mind of God, it would mean that there has to be a God whose mind we’re delving into, which would make the ‘wasted space’ objection implode. However, let’s keep going and examine the mechanistic reasons. This gets more interesting.
Our observation of the universe and out best estimates tell us that the universe contains 50 sextillion stars (that’s 50 billion trillion or 1021 number of stars). That’s enormous, and yet, stars make up less than 1% of the total mass of the entire universe. That’s so big it’s difficult to comprehend.
Does the size of the universe play a role in how the universe works? It sure does. For one thing, the size of the universe actually allows us to observe and measure its size.
If the universe were any smaller or larger, younger or older, brighter or darker, more or less efficient as a radiator, and if human observers were located where most stars and planets reside, the view would be so blocked as to give few (if any) clues about what lies beyond. We would be blind to the realm we live in! IRoss, Hugh. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (p. 29). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
More importantly, however, if the size of the universe were any smaller or larger at this stage in the universe’s expansion, we wouldn’t even be alive. The universe must have the right mass!
“The density of protons and neutrons in the universe relates to the cosmic mass, or mass density. That density determines how much hydrogen, the lightest of the elements, fuses into heavier elements during the first few minutes of cosmic existence. And the amount of heavier elements determines how much additional heavy-element production occurs later in the nuclear furnaces of stars. If the density of protons and neutrons were significantly lower (than enough to convert about 1 percent of the universe’s mass into stars), then nuclear fusion would proceed less efficiently. As a result, the cosmos would never be capable of generating elements heavier than helium—elements like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium, which are essential for any kind of physical life. On the other hand, if the density of protons and neutrons were slightly higher (enough to convert significantly more than 1 percent of the mass of the universe into stars), nuclear fusion would be too productive. All the hydrogen in the universe would rapidly fuse into elements as heavy as, or heavier than, iron. Again, life-essential elements (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.), including hydrogen, would not exist.” IIRoss, Hugh. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (pp. 33-34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.”
And the fine-tuning of the size of the universe doesn’t just stop there. The universe must have the right expansion rate, which is tied to its mass density!
“The second reason the universe must be hugely massive concerns its expansion rate. The rate at which the universe expands throughout cosmic history critically depends on its mass density. According to the law of gravity, the closer any two massive bodies are to one another, the more powerfully those bodies attract each other. Therefore, the closer various bits and pieces of mass are to one another in the universe, the more effectively they will slow down the universe’s expansion. Conversely, the farther apart those bits and pieces are, the less “braking effect” gravity has on cosmic expansion. Without any additional cosmic density factors such as dark energy (see pp. 38–40), a universe with less mass density would not form stars like the Sun and planets like Earth.” IIIRoss, Hugh. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (p. 34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
What would happen if the universe was slightly more massive?
“With only a little extra mass, the universe would expand so slowly that all stars in the cosmos would rapidly become black holes and neutron stars. The density near the surface of such bodies would exceed five billion tons per teaspoon (one billion tons per cubic centimeter). At such enormous densities, molecules are impossible. So are atoms. Therefore, life would be impossible.” IVRoss, Hugh. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (p. 34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
So, how finely-tuned is the universe with respect to its size?
“…the universe is fine-tuned to provide two life-essential features simultaneously: (1) the just-right amounts and diversity of elements, and (2) the just-right expansion rates throughout cosmic history so that certain types of stars and planets form at the just-right times and in the just-right locations. Fine-tuning to provide two life-essential characteristics at once hints louder than a whisper at purposeful design. So does the high degree of fine-tuning.” VRoss, Hugh. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (p. 35). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
An analogy might help. Astrophysicist, Hugh Ross, to the rescue once more,
“Picture a huge vehicle—something much bigger than a car. Maybe the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier the USS John C. Stennis (see figure 2.2, p. 36). Now imagine a tiny fleck of paint from that ship, so small against your hand you can barely see it. If such a vehicle were compared to the universe in its earliest moments, removing that speck or adding an extra drop of paint to it would be enough to alter the vehicle’s mass so much as to make it completely useless for transporting passengers. In reality, the delicacy of that ratio is far more extreme than the ship analogy reveals. For the reasons noted above, and if no other density factors influence the expansion of the universe (see pp. 38–40), at certain early epochs in cosmic history, its mass density must have been as finely tuned as one part in 1060 to allow for the possible existence of physical life at any time or place within the entirety of the universe. This degree of fine-tuning is so great that it’s as if right after the universe’s beginning someone could have destroyed the possibility of life within it by subtracting a single dime’s mass from the whole of the observable universe or adding a single dime’s mass to it.” VIRoss, Hugh. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (p. 35). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Mind blown! What now of Carl Sagan’s comments about our pale blue dot and “our imagined self-importance?” It’s not so imagined after all.
Today, skeptics objecting to the size of the universe being the result of God’s creative power, object to the universe being too big (and wasteful). However, would it surprise you to find out that in the past skeptics used to object to how small the universe was thought to be? They used to reason that if God were all powerful he would have surely created a universe that was bigger.VIISee, for example, Immanuel Kant, “Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens,” trans. W. Hastie, in Theories of the Universe: From Babylonian Myth to Modern Science, ed. Milton K. Munitz (New York: Free Press, 1957), 240; Giordano Bruno, “On the Infinite Universe and Worlds,” in Theories of the Universe, 174–83; John North, The Norton History of Astronomy and Cosmology (New York: Norton, 1995), 374–79.
Since the universe was thought to be “too small”, many reasoned that God did not exist. Is it not ironic then that today many people object that God does not exist because the universe is too big. This should not be dismissed as a worthless piece of information. It goes to show that even when there are no good logical objections to God, people will allow their imaginations and preconceived notions about reality to run wild to offer what they think is a legitimate argument against the existence of God. And time, well, time is the patience with which we eventually see how foolish some of those objections have been. The objection to God from the size of the universe is one great example of that. When the universe was thought to be small, people objected it was too small. Now that we know the universe is bigger than what we originally thought, people object that it’s too big.
The irony is, of course, that while some people object to the size of the universe claiming it to be too big for there to be a God, through science we actually see the opposite – the size is not too big and it is not too small. It is set precisely where it needs to be for us to even exist – a great hint that an Intelligence had us in mind even before the universe began to exist.
References [ + ]
|I.||↵||Ross, Hugh. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (p. 29). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.|
|II.||↵||Ross, Hugh. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (pp. 33-34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.”|
|III, IV.||↵||Ross, Hugh. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (p. 34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.|
|V, VI.||↵||Ross, Hugh. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (p. 35). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.|
|VII.||↵||See, for example, Immanuel Kant, “Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens,” trans. W. Hastie, in Theories of the Universe: From Babylonian Myth to Modern Science, ed. Milton K. Munitz (New York: Free Press, 1957), 240; Giordano Bruno, “On the Infinite Universe and Worlds,” in Theories of the Universe, 174–83; John North, The Norton History of Astronomy and Cosmology (New York: Norton, 1995), 374–79.|
Arthur is an author, a former agnostic, and a current ambassador of Jesus of Nazareth who loves to share the best of reasons for God's ultimate reality. His love and passion are helping skeptics and Christians grow in their faith and knowledge of God through accessible materials.