The Astronomy picture of the day yesterday was a YouTube video illustrating the powers of ten. It dates from the 1960s, but is still a dramatic and relevant illustration. It also has application to understanding what trillion-dollar national debt means. (A trillion has 12 zeros. Now watch the video.)
As we Lutherans like to ask, “What does this mean?”
There are astronomy videos similar to this on YouTube with belligerent arguments between Christians and atheists, though the only comments I’ve actually seen are the atheists’. The videos have an effect similar to this one, only present-day images from orbital telescopes are stunning. But inevitably, it seems that the conversation about these things tends toward the origin of these unimaginably large, distant, and beautiful things, and then also the origin of our own planet and ourselves.
Naturally, atheists have a bone to pick with Christians. Though many of them rail against “religion,” their chief target is Christianity. The generic vocabulary allows them not only to treat Christianity as though every self-identified Christian represents the faith accurately (a ridiculous proposition), but even that every self-identified proponent of other religions represents all religion (possibly the most unscientific proposition ever imagined). I don’t begrudge atheists the right to open their mouths and make fools of themselves, and neither should they deny the same right to me.
When it comes to the cosmic perspective illustrated in a video like this, there are at least two important observations to make, each of which is an independent argument in favor of Intelligent Design as a principle for identifying the origin of all things.
There is a complex ordering evident in the whole universe, across the entire scale that we can perceive, and even beyond that scale to degrees that we don’t understand. The ordering of complexity is information, and that does not occur without intelligence. Hence, it is evidence for design.
The Earth environment in which we live appears (so far) to be staggeringly exceptional in the incomprehesible (though perhaps not unquantifiable) vastness of space. Even if we assumed for the sake of argument that macro-evolution took place here (an unfounded assumption), the environment would have had to be perfect for it, and continued to be perfect for an unimaginably long time. That includes variables like gravity, solar radiation, chemical composition, atmospheric composition, the magnetic core and ionosphere, radioactive decay, the frequency and type of meteors, and probably hundreds more that I don’t know about. These variables are all in the “perfect” range for us to live, but this environment is infinitesimally rare. What are the chances? Some atheists like to say that the scale of the universe makes the Earth insignificant. To the contrary, the extreme rarity of the Earth makes it special, to the point of being evidence in favor of Design rather than Happenstance.
Atheists like to criticize the Bible for saying things they don’t understand. Maybe if they took the time to understand its chief points, they’d begin to see how the rest of it fits together. Then, maybe they could appreciate their own existence for the miracle that it is.
Since there are so many wacky ideas about the Bible, and since it’s a rather large work from multiple cultures and times, it’s not easy to pick a way to approach it. For what it’s worth, I recommend starting with an introductory course at a confessional Lutheran church, because one of the guiding principles of confessional Lutheranism is that the Bible interprets itself, and confessional Lutherans actually follow that principle. It will require a long reservation of judgment, but after studying the Bible, it will make a lot more sense.