Friday, August 2, 2013

The Universe: God's Billboard

In his book, The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel records the words of a skeptic who finds the hiddenness of God an insurmountable barrier to belief:

“So if I want to avoid hell, I presumably have to believe that a snake talked to Eve, that virgin got pregnant from God, that a whale swallowed a prophet, that the Red Sea was parted, and all sorts of other crazy things. Well, if God wants me so bad . . . why does He make believing in Him so . . . impossible? It seems to me that an all-powerful God could do a much better job convincing people of His existence that any evangelist ever does. Just write it in the sky nice and big, “Here’s your proof. Ed. Believe in me or go to hell! Sincerely, the Almighty.”1

If I was sitting across the coffee table from this skeptic I think I would say to Him, “You know Ed, God has already done something like that.” Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” So, it appears that God has already written a message of His existence across the heavens so vividly that none of us are without excuse (Rom. 1:20).

Modern astronomers peering into deep space have revealed some amazing evidence pointing to Divine design in our universe. Recent astronomical studies suggest there are a mind-blowing 300 sextillion stars in the whole universe. Just to be sure, 300 sextillion is a 3 followed by 23 zeros or 3 trillion times 100 billion. To put that inconceivable number into perspective, one scientist suggests that the number of stars in the universe is equal to all the cells in all the seven billion-plus humans on planet Earth.2 Yet the Psalmist says that God “determines the number of the stars and gives to all of them their names (Ps. 147:4).”

Dr. Hugh Ross says that all the stars in the universe serve one supreme purpose:
“As vast and innumerable as all these galaxies and stars may seem, and as tiny and insignificant as they make us feel, this enormity is essential to life’s existence.  In order for the universe to sustain even one life support planet, each one of these stars is a necessity. If the number of stars in the observable universe were any greater or any fewer, life would be impossible.”3  

A staggering thought is that human beings will never even see most of these stars and galaxies through telescopes. There is untold and unseen beauty in our universe that must have been made just for the pleasure of God. What a mark of the extravagance of God’s creative ability.

Did you realize that the moon is the perfect size to contribute to a habitable Earth? The moon’s gravity stabilizes the earth’s tilt on axis at exactly 23.5 degrees. Without this tilt, the earth would undergo damaging temperature variations as the seasons would be thrown off balance. The moon’s gravitational pull also is responsible for the tidal forces of Earth’s oceans. As the moon rotates around the earth it pulls the tides in and out.  Without this interplay of gravity, the oceans would fail to predictably come in and out daily. Without the tides, the oceans would be a stagnant body of water.4 When was the last time you thanked God for making the moon at just the right size?

If that wasn’t enough, Earth just happens to be located in right location of our spiral galaxy. The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years across, so if you wanted to see every star just in our galaxy it would take you at least 100,000 years traveling on a rocket ship going the speed of light. The estimated galactic habitable zone ranges between 23,000 to 29,000 light years from the galactic center. Interestingly, our Earth lies exactly in the center of the galactic habitable zone. Earth is about 27,000 light years from the galactic center. In 2008 the Hubble Telescope discovered that lurking in the center of our galaxy is massive black hole. Turns out, that if Earth were too close to the center of the galaxy then harmful radiation emitted from this black hole would make life impossible. Conversely, if our planet was too far out in the periphery, not enough heavy elements like carbon and iron would be available as building blocks for a habitable planet.

Those facts inspired astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez to say, “Not only do we inhabit a location in the Milky Way that’s fortuitously optimal for life, but our location also happens to provide us with the best overall platform for making a diverse range of discoveries for astronomers and cosmologists. Our location away from the galaxy’s center and in the flat plane of the disk provides us with a privileged vantage point for observing both nearby and distant stars. We’re also in excellent position to detect the cosmic background radiation, which is critically important because it helped us realize our universe had a beginning in the Big Bang.”5       

So it appears as if God has placed us in the exact location of our universe which makes it most optimal for discovering His handiwork. Moreover, I think this message was driven home in July 2013 when NASA released new photos taken from the Cassini spacecraft. As Cassini orbited the far-side of Saturn it snapped an image of Earth—nearly 898.5 million miles away—as a faintly glimmering dot. There was our blue orb in a sea of black, dwarfed by the rings of the Saturn in the foreground.6      

Images like that highlight the awesome power of God. Not only does he sustain creation by the power of His word (Heb. 1:3), but He once visited that tiny mote of dust as man. Jesus, the creator of the cosmos (John 1:3), humbled Himself to the form of a creature and limited himself to breathing and bleeding (Phil 2:5-8). As the old preachers said, “He died on a cross of wood, but created the hill upon which it stood.”

Look into the cosmos and you will see God’s memo to humanity that He exists. Look at the Cross and you will see a letter written in red declaring how much He loves us.
  
1Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 140.

2 Seth Borenstein, “Number Of Stars In The Universe Could Be 300 Sextillion, Triple The Amount Scientists Previously Thought: Study,” Associated Press (December 1, 2010) <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/01/number-of-stars-in-universe_n_790563.html>

3 Hugh Ross, “Journey Toward Creation,” The John Ankerberg Show (2010), <http://www.ankerberg.com/wiki/index.php/What_the_Universe's_Most_Massive_Star_Reveals_about_God>

4Ken Croswell, Magnificent Mars, (New York, NY: Free Press, 2003), 88.

5Guillermo Gonzales quoted by Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 187.

6 Deborah Netburn, “Earth, As Seen from 900 Million Miles Away,” The Los Angeles Times, 22 July 2013, <http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-earth-cassini-photos-20130722,0,1800495.story>

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