The Universe—A “Waste of Space”?
“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be” (Sagan, 1980, p. 4). So begins Carl Sagan’s immensely popular book and PBS television series, Cosmos. A more atheistic, humanistic, materialistic declaration could not be spoken. Sagan (1934-1996), who was an astronomer at Cornell University who lived his entire life resistant to the possibility of God and an afterlife, maintained his unbelief—in the words of his third wife—“unflinching” to the end (Sagan, 1997, p. 225). She, herself, finds comfort after his passing “without resorting to the supernatural” (p. 228).
When people reject or avoid the implications of the created order—i.e., that it is logically the result of a Supreme Creator—they have inevitably “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). Skeptical of the survival of the Earth at the mercy of Homo sapiens, Sagan turned his attention to an almost obsessive dedication to finding answers and solutions from life forms beyond Earth. In his own words: “In a very real sense this search for extraterrestrial intelligence is a search for a cosmic context for mankind, a search for who we are, where we have come from, and what possibilities there are for our future—in a universe vaster both in extent and duration than our forefathers ever dreamed of ” (Sagan, 1973, pp. ix-x).
Less than a year after his death, Hollywood released a movie (on July 11, 1997) based on Sagan’s novel, Contact (1985). The film’s central character, Dr. Eleanor Arroway (played by Jodie Foster), is surely the embodiment of the formative experiences, philosophical perspectives, and spiritual beliefs of Sagan himself. On three separate occasions in the film, a pseudo-intellectual remark, obviously designed to defend the naturalistic explanation of the existence of the Universe while ridiculing the Christian viewpoint, is offered up to viewers. As a child, “Ellie” asks her father if life exists out in the Universe, to which he responds: “Well, if there wasn’t, it’d be an awful waste of space.” As an adult, she converses with Palmer Joss (played by Matthew McConaughey), and, staring up at the starry Puerto Rican sky, expresses her confidence in the evolution of other life forms elsewhere in the Universe: “If just one in a million of those stars has planets, and if only one in a million of those has life, and if just one in a million of those has intelligent life, then there are millions of civilizations out there” (as cited in Bohlin, 1998). [Of course, the scientific evidence does not support this conclusion—see Bohlin, 2002]. Ellie is pleasantly stunned when Joss repeats the same line that her father uttered to her when she was a child. Near the close of the film, Ellie speaks the line again to a group of school children when asked if life exists in space.
This triple declaration was obviously intended to offer a “logical” proof that, rather than looking to some supernatural Being Who is transcendent of the Universe, humans had best recognize that the only life beyond planet Earth are those life forms that have evolved (like our own) on other planets in far off galaxies. The materialist is forced to follow Sagan’s presupposition: life must exist elsewhere in the Universe since there is no God. If there is a God Who created life only on Earth, then He was guilty of poor teleological design—creating a vast physical realm that serves absolutely no purpose—and thus producing a nearly infinite realm of “wasted space.”
But wait! The Bible long ago anticipated the skepticism of the materialist astronomer. At the creation of the Universe, God said: “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth” (Genesis 1:14-15). The luminaries that God made included the stars: “God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night” (vss. 17-18). One very specific function of the stars that occupy space far beyond our solar system is illumination (cf. Psalm 136:9). They are “light-bearers” (Keil and Delitzsch, 1976, 1:56; Leupold, 1950, p. 71).
Another very specific purpose of the vastness of space is seen in the multiple declarations regarding the infinitude of God and the evidence that points to His existence, His glory, His eternality, and His power. Paul affirmed very confidently that “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). It is absolutely incredible—and, according to Paul, inexcusable—for a rational human being to contemplate the magnitude of the Universe and the vastness of space, and then to reject the only logical, plausible explanation for it all: God. Indeed, atheism, evolution, and humanism are simply more sophisticated forms of the polytheism that has plagued humanity for millennia. Moses warned the Israelites of this very thing: “[T]ake heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage” (Deuteronomy 4:19). Evolutionary astronomy assigns an inflated value to the vastness of space by postulating that it can provide mankind with an alternative explanation for the existence of life—an explanation that absents God. Any such postulation ultimately amounts to idolatry.
David, too, paid homage to the glory of the Creator, as evidenced by the eloquent symphony of the majestic Universe that is played perpetually—twenty-four hours a day:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat (Psalm 19:1-6; cf. 74:16-17; 136:7-8).
Separate and apart from the latest evidence that confirms the movement of the Sun through space (see Thompson, 2001, p. 46), these verses reaffirm the fact that the created Universe loudly announces the existence of the Universe-Maker. David also declared: “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth, You have set Your glory above the heavens! …When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:1,3). God “stretched out the heavens like a curtain” (Psalm 104:2). No wonder even a philosopher on the order of Immanuel Kant observed: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me” (as quoted in Geisler, 1983, p. 59).
A third biblical explanation for the creation of the vast Universe was hinted at by God Himself in the attitude-adjusting lecture He delivered to Job: “Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion? Can you lead forth a constellation in its season? Or can you guide the Great Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you fix their rule over the earth?” (Job 38:31-33). Notice the action terms that are used to refer to the movement of the constellations: bind, loose, lead forth, and guide. Observe also the “laws of the heavens” and their relationship to “ruling over the earth” (see Gaebelein, 1988, 4:1037,1042). These verses imply that the heavenly bodies have been deliberately orchestrated, modulated, and regulated by the Creator to serve a purpose or purposes far beyond our present understanding. The text seems to hint that Earth’s status, with its living beings, is somehow affected by the phenomena of the cosmic bodies. Even as the comprehension of scientists has been lacking through the centuries on many features of the physical realm, only eventually to discover the meaning that lay behind observable phenomenon, even so our present comprehension of space is woefully inadequate to justify passing judgment on the intentionality and teleology that lie behind many astronomical phenomena.
Evolutionists have far better arguments with which to attempt to prop up their atheistic stance (the “problem of evil” being the strongest, though refutable—see Warren, 1972). The “wasted space” argument is anemic, pitiful, and hardly worthy of rebuttal. However, since they brought it to our attention, the Christian is once again reminded of the unfathomable attributes of the great God Who stands above and beyond this vast physical realm. The immensity and vastness of the Universe only spurs the rational mind to marvel at the One whose own metaphysical transcendence surpasses the visible. In the words of the psalmist: “I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works. Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts, and I will declare Your greatness (145:5-6). “He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:4-5). Isaiah agreed: “Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power” (40:26).
Bohlin, Ray (1998), “Contact: A Eulogy to Carl Sagan,” [On-line], URL: http://www.probe.org/docs/contact.html.
Bohlin, Ray (2002), “Are We Alone in the Universe?”, [On-line], URL: http://www.probe.org/docs/lifemars.html.
Gaebelein, Frank E., ed. (1988), The Expositor’s Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Geisler, Norman L. (1983), Cosmos: Carl Sagan’s Religion for the Scientific Mind (Dallas, TX: Quest).
Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1976 reprint), Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Leupold, Herbert C. (1950 reprint), Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Sagan, Carl (1997), Billions and Billions (New York: Random House).
Sagan, Carl (1985), Contact (New York: Simon and Schuster).
Sagan, Carl (1980), Cosmos (New York: Random House).
Sagan, Carl, ed. (1973), “Introduction,” Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence [CETI] (MIT Press).
Thompson, Bert (2001), In Defense of the Bible’s Inspiration (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press), second edition.
Warren, Thomas B. (1972), Have Atheists Proved There Is No God (Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press).