Infinitely Small Imagination

One of the reasons that I am a big fan of science is that it has expanded the human imagination in ways that are truly breath taking.  Consider the lifetime of a relative of mine that was born in 1888 on a farm in Missouri and died 104 years later in a nearby small town.  When she was born, most everything in her area was probably muscle powered.  She walked wherever she went, horses plowed the fields.  The only non-muscle power transportation, trains, was for long distance travel, which she never did.  That non-muscle power zoomed down the tracks at maybe 40 miles an hour.  I don’t think we can really imagine how small the worldview of the people of her town must have been.

What is absolutely amazing to consider is that within her lifetime she went from virtually 100 percent muscle power, moving around at about 3 miles an hour, to watching men land on the moon!  This really is astonishing progress over just a century.  And as I think about the larger picture, I can only think about two technologies that separated her from even earlier times.

If we went back 100 years from her birth, we no longer have trains and the only means of long distance travel is horse pulled wagons of various kinds and ships.  Both of which had been around for thousands of years.  The only other mind expanding technology she would have had the benefit of was the printing press, which in the western world was 400 years old when she as born.

This is the scale of mankind’s worldview for most of human history, walking around at a few miles an hour and ideas only being able to spread at that same speed, often by oral transmission, because written communications were just not very common before the printing press.

And now we come today.  Science and technology is pushing the boundaries of the human imagination in absolutely stunning ways every day now.

Recently, NASA released the largest photo ever taken, a 1.5 billion pixel image of the Andromeda galaxy.  The photo was released January 5th and a guy and his dog, daveachuk, has made a “fly through” video of the photo.

Keep mind as you watch this that each little white, yellow or red point is a star somewhat the size of our sun.  The larger white dots are possibly giant stars or exploding stars, that make all the stuff that makes up who we are.  Astronomers estimate that there are a trillion stars in the Andromeda Galaxy.  And then consider that there are some 100 to 200 billion galaxies in the known universe.  I think this is a case where we can see something, but we can’t really imagine it.  We can say that this picture shows the galaxy as it was 2.5 million years ago, because that is how long it takes for the light to get to us — but can we really comprehend that?  After all that is about 25,000 lifetimes of my long lived relative.

Or to really put it into perspective, if you wanted to walk there, it would take you about 6 trillion years, about 40 times longer than the universe has been in existence.  It is really, really hard to wrap your head around these kinds of numbers, what they are describing is in every sense of the phrase awe inspiring.  So where does the infinitely small imagination of the title come in?

Frankly, in our conception of god.  Our ideas of him come from the bronze age, from a worldview that was infinitesimal compared to what is available to us today.  In religion we blithely toss around terms like “infinite,” “omnipotent,” and “omniscient” like we have any clue what they might mean.  You can begin to see why the creationists, especially, want a 6000 year old universe, which to them is actually pretty much just the solar system.  You need a small universe like that to even try to imagine that it was created for us by a creator that cares specifically about us and only us.

Just wrapping your head around a being that is greater than the known universe is hard enough.  Now wrap your head around this: the creator of a universe with 200 billion galaxies each of which has a trillion stars like our sun, out of all of that, he came down to talk to a bunch of guys in the middle east 4000 years ago.  And gave them advice for living.   And cares what we think about him.  And won some battles between tribes.  And he is going to punish us for eternity (longer than it takes to walk to the Andromeda galaxy!) for thinking the wrong thing or getting sprinkled with the wrong kind of water?  Really? And he did all this before the printing press was invented? Really???

The ancients tried to get their head around the immensity of god by saying things like he knows when every sparrow falls.  And that certainly is hard enough:  English sparrows or African sparrows?  Laden or unladen?  And all that.    But now he has to keep track of even where all those “sparrows” are on all those planets that orbit the trillions of stars in each of the billions of galaxies.

I think this is why the creationist types like to imagine a tiny universe, just 6000 years old.  Sort of a sandbox of a giant, if you will.  With such a tiny god, you can almost imagine that the bible is everything he thinks, no exceptions and no additions.  But you really have to wonder, in all of that universe are we really the only “people” out there?  Why did he create so much extra if it was all just for us?  Could the bible even possibly be the complete thoughts of a being who created all of that?

The creationist god reminds me of Slartibartfast in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  In fact, they look a bit alike, from what I have seen of both of them.  I mean, there they are both designing the crinkly bits around Norway and planting fossils to make the planet seem older.

It always amazes that people would rather spend their time and energy worshiping such a tiny little god rather than opening their eyes to the true wonders that surround us.

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2 thoughts on “Infinitely Small Imagination

    • My pleasure, the only problem is that after I finished I found that Richard Feynman said the same thing much more eloquently: “It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.”

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