Why did God use so much space and time?
Regular contributor James Knight has been reflecting on the vastness of creation, and shares his thoughts with us.
A conversation came up the other day, in which I was asked why I thought God decided to spend such an inordinate amount of time and space. Given that the universe is 14 billion years old, and that life has been evolving on this planet for over 4 billion of those years, one might reasonably ask why God chose to create nature over such vast expanses of time and space when He could have wrapped it up a lot sooner.
I think the first thing to note is that, in doing it this way, God has created a universe with lots of information that gets rinsed out in the mathematical wash. In other words, the notable things in the universe - like stars, planets, chemistry, biological life and, ultimately, humans - are highly unrepresentative of the exceeding mathematical profligacy in the rest of the universe.
This seems to be a truth reflected in the natural order of things: there is a plethora of thermonuclear spillage when planets are created; there are dozens of thorns for every rose; there are many more non-beneficial mutations in DNA than beneficial ones; there are millions of sperm that are unsuccessful alongside the one successful one that engenders a fruitful union in fertilisation. Even in the arts, or the economy, or in trade-based competition, or in sport, or in epistemology, the winners are far outnumbered by the losers.
How much truer that is of life in the universe too. To consider just how vast even our galaxy is - if you shrunk our galaxy to the size of the earth, then the solar system we inhabit within that galaxy would be about the size of a bowling ball. And as far as we know, we are the only life in that whole galaxy, maybe even the whole universe (a remarkable fact if it's true, given that there are around 1 billion trillion stars in the observable universe). One thing is abundantly clear: the special things in nature are very, very rare and highly unrepresentative of the rest of the mathematical baggage in it.
The upshot is that there are many patterns in physics that are mirrored in human behaviour too, especially when it comes to power laws, and Pareto distributions. Perhaps the nature of the universe is some kind of symbolic representation of deeper truths related to God's creation story. Perhaps it's a part of the 'all good things to those who wait' philosophy, or a 'big rewards to those who work hard' philosophy, where value comes at a cost, and takes time and effort. All the most impressive designs in human terms require prodigious amounts of planning, foundational work and intricately executed design techniques that factor in the complexity of the whole project, not just individual parts.
Knowing how we emotionally and intellectually engage with reality at a human level, I can conceive of what might be behind the Divine wisdom of a vast, lengthy creation story, in which the banality of the gas, dust, rocks and gravitational and magnetic fields could represent a symbolic demystification of creation as a fait accompli event spanning much shorter execution time.
Perhaps the vastness of creation is God's way of illustrating just how much cosmic magnitude went into the intellectual process - and how comparably meagre our own intellectual prowess really is in trying to fathom such a mind. Intelligence is, after all, the ability to explore avenues of possibility by sifting and selecting - so why should we be surprised if God exhibits this with the creation of the universe, like all artistic geniuses do? Perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything less?
We are told two big things about this creation in terms of God's cosmological masterwork: in Romans 1:20 we are told that "Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." And in Psalm 19, we are told that "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands".
That is perhaps a good conclusion one can draw for why God used such vast amounts of time and space: they are the revelation of the huge mathematical permutations in designing something so complex: a design that has His fingerprints on it in the constitution of the mathematical bias written into nature's fundamental blueprint of a biased random walk. And if you don't understand how amazing a fundamental blueprint of a biased random walk is, you don't understand it at all.
Consequently, a signature from God of that level of mathematical genius is going to require a physical substrate spanning vast stretches of time and space, just as a painter would require a vastly spacious canvas in order play out the exhibition of his artistic genius on a grand, iridescent scale.
Linking those two concepts together: the vastness of space and time, and the highly unrepresentative pockets of order painted onto a giant canvas of disorder - ask yourself this. Don't we feel that bit more special being one in a billion than one in a small group? If Jack says to Jill "I love you more than anyone in our social group" or "I love you more than anyone in our church congregation" we all know that that is not anything like as powerful as saying “I love you more than anyone else in the world”.
The more unrepresentative a love is when it deviates from the mean of weighted experience, the more it is treasured as something amazingly rare, special and wondrous. Perhaps God’s capacious expanse of the skies and His chronologically extensive timeframe for doing His creation is an illustration of just how exorbitantly rare, special and wondrous we are.
Or maybe think of it in terms of the mathematically biased random walk - perhaps as redolent of our two beloveds, Jack and Jill, having no chance of meeting without their mutual friends getting together and making special arrangements for that to happen. Perhaps those two beloveds would have been lost without the intervention of those that loved them. And perhaps when we think of the vastness of the matter in the universe, that those particles would be 'lost' in the interstices of a prohibitively large search space without God’s intervening genius to bring them together with the blueprint of a biased random walk.
The vastness of the universe and the broad timescales could well be an exhibition of the Divine genius (Romans 1) unlocking the vastly complex combination lock that helps gritty 'lost' matter 'become 'found' - like two beloveds finding each other against all the odds. God’s story is, after all, a love story between Creator and creation.
That’s my best conjecture for why God used an enormously complex, spatially vast, chronically extensive canvas to demonstrate His artistic genius: it is the genius of a rare, unique, profoundly beautiful, deliberate love story where that which is lost becomes found, and is embraced by the Creator through the Incarnation, just as when the father embraces his prodigal son on his return from the doldrums.
The grandeur of the universe may well be a simulacrum of the entire gospel story: that the whole creation narrative is based on Christ dying for our salvation - and the mathematical cost of life, represented in the vastly expressive canvas of mathematical and physical nature, may be an illustration of the cost of life in terms of salvation - the price God paid for the creatures He loves. That is to say: our Father God has shown through His Son Jesus that He is willing to bear the greatest costs imaginable (Philippians 2:7, 2 Corinthians 5:21) for the things He loves - and that may be as true of the universal nature of things as it is the individuals He created, and for whom He died.
Image by FelixMittermeier from Pixabay.com
James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).
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