“Optimism and pessimism, as cosmic philosophies, show the same naive humanism; the great world, so far as we know it from the philosophy of nature, is neither good nor bad, and is not concerned to make us happy or unhappy. All such philosophies spring from self-importance and are best corrected by a little astronomy.” – Bertrand Russell
Astronomy magazine published one of the coolest graphics ever this month:
The large center oval shows the distribution of 150 million or so galaxies in the local universe. Every dot represents a galaxy of millions to billions of stars. The smaller ovals are slices of the universe at various distances, and thus various times, from the Milky Way. I love it because it takes the unimaginably large, unimaginably numerous, and displays it on a single page in a comprehensible way. Sort of puts our smallness into perspective, no?
Well, apparently not if you’re Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and recent Colbert Report guest. Here’s what he had to say about our place in the universe.
In case you’re having trouble with the video, here’s what Warren said near the beginning of the interview:
Well, God is the creator, and He created the entire universe just so He could create this galaxy, just so He could create this planet, just so He could tilt it at the right axis so it wouldn’t burn up or freeze up, to sustain human life because he wanted to create human beings, he wanted to create you to love you.
That’s right — the entire universe, all those millions of galaxies pictured in Astronomy, were put here just so God could create humans. Wow. Just wow.
Let’s put the existence of humans in a little historical context. Current estimates place the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years, plus or minus a couple hundred million years. The Milky Way formed not long after (in astronomical terms), probably more than 13 billion years ago. The earth formed around 4.55 billion years ago. The first life arose somewhere between 4.4 billion and 2.7 billion years ago. Modern homo sapiens, the species to which all existing humans belong, didn’t arise until approximtely 120,000 years ago. (Rick Warren, incidentally, was born in 1954.)
Riddle me this, Pastor Rick. If God created the universe so he could create this galaxy, so he could create this planet and tilt it at just the right axis, just so he could create human beings and love them, why did he wait 13,699,880,000 years to get down to the lovin’?
The simple and correct answer is that humans are a product of the universe’s natural processes, not its intended beneficiaries. We are tiny, impotent creatures, crawling across a tiny planet (even for our own solar system), circling around a middling yellow star, revolving on an outer spiral arm of what must be admitted is a pretty cool galaxy (yea us!). And that’s an extraordinary place to be and appreciate on its own merits, if only one is humble enough to accept the truth.