Am I Significant in the Universe, or Just an Accident?
by Mike Poole
Less than two metres tall and only lasting about 70 years — can we matter in a universe that is so big and so old, so dark and so cold?
Christians and others have argued both for and against our exclusivity in space. ‘Surely,’ say some, ‘God would not have put all His animals and plants on one planet, leaving all others empty.’ Other people regard life-as-we-know-it as unique.
Some who are unsympathetic to Christianity claim that if Earth is the only planet of its kind, life must have been an unlikely cosmic accident and can’t have been divinely planned. Others, equally unsympathetic, maintain that if there are other inhabited planets, Earth cannot be special or have been visited by God in the Incarnation (heads I win; tails you lose!).
But the fact remains that many people feel insignificant when looking up on a clear night. The psalmist, awed by what he saw, said, ‘When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars … what is man?’ (Psalm 8:3–4). He could have counted about 1,500 stars with his naked eye.
We now know that our home galaxy, the Milky Way, contains about 100 billion stars. And there are another 100 billion galaxies each of 100 billion stars! The numbers are impossible to imagine. The old Wembley Stadium could hold 100,000 people, but it is difficult to picture a million Wembleys – and that is only the number of stars in one galaxy. What about the other 99,999,999,999 galaxies?
The Goldilocks Effect
But some 30 years ago it was realised that if the constants of nature, like the gravitational pull, were minutely different, life as we know it could not have arisen. Like the story of Goldilocks in which Baby Bear’s porridge, chair and bed, were ‘just right’, so with these constants.
The existence of these ‘cosmic coincidences’ has been dubbed the Goldilocks Effect, although its more formal name is the Anthropic Cosmological Principle. To estimate just how small the differences in the constants would have to be for life not to have arisen requires a look at how, according to current thinking, we were created…
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