By L. Alfred James
In the movie Contact Ted Arroway (father of Ellie Arroway) explains why he believes in alien life: “The one thing I know about nature is it hates to waste anything. So I guess I’d say if it is just us, an awful lot of space is going to waste.”
The atheist physicist Victor Stenger put it this way: “If God created the universe as a special place for humanity, he seems to have wasted an awfully large amount of space where humanity will never make an appearance.”1 The idea here is that alien life is the only way to justify the existence of such a huge universe. Since humans have never been anywhere but Earth, why would God/nature produce so many other stars and planets? What is the point?
This is probably the most common argument I’ve ever heard for the existence of alien life. According to this line of thought, even if you believe in God, it just doesn’t make sense for the universe to be so big unless life exists on other planets.
But how good of an argument is this?
Not very. Notice that this argument assumes that alien life is the only good reason for the universe being the size that it is. That is a huge claim to make. It is also very easy to prove wrong. There are many reasons for why the universe must be as big as it is. But to prove this argument wrong I only need to give one. However, for good measure, I will give three.
First, scientists have discovered that the size of the universe is a result of how long it takes stars to manufacture the heavy elements that are essential to life as we know it. Here is how William Lane Craig explains it:
These stellar spaces are necessary in order for the stars to cook up the heavy elements which are necessary for the existence of life on Earth; and in order to be that old the universe would have to expand 15 billion years. So the size of the universe is related to the age of the stars, which is related to the furnaces necessary to make the elements requisite for intelligent life.2
Since the universe is constantly expanding during the “cooking” process, and the cooking process is so long, the universe has had a lot of time to expand. Therefore, it is no surprise that it would be 15 billion light years across, with a lot of empty space between stars and between galaxies.
God Is An Artist
The universe is amazingly fine-tuned. This has been recognized by the greatest minds in physics and astronomy. So God is obviously a brilliant engineer. But he is also a passionate artist. And artists do lavish things as they create beauty.3
For instance, consider Arno Coenen’s Horn of Plenty in Rotterdam. It is a painting that covers more than 36,000 square feet.4 The streetlights, trees, cars and even some other buildings are dwarfed by this massive piece of artwork.
Or consider some of the artwork from the Flower Festival of Noto in Sicily. It blankets streets in their entirety:
Likewise, the Danish artist Marco Evaristti painted an entire iceberg red. With a little googling you can see it from several different angles. It took 780 gallons of red paint, and a team of twenty people!
As you can see, human artists relish any opportunity to use tons of resources to express their aesthetic drives. Is it not likely that God also enjoyed creating his universe? Doesn’t the Bible say he is a creator and that rejoiced to make his creation? Over and over again Genesis tells us that God saw what he created and said, “It is good!” Moreover, if God is as powerful and majestic as the Bible describes, would we not expect him to create a universe that is vast beyond comprehension? If we believe in the God of the Bible, a gigantic universe is exactly what we would expect to find.
The Vastness of the Universe Declares the Glory of God
The enormity of the cosmos performs an important function. The Bible says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known” (Psalm 19:1-2). Thus, there is an important theological reason for the vastness of the heavens. If the universe is made to declare the glory of God, it really needs to be huge. It has a big job to do!
The size of the universe does not at all militate against the Christian worldview. Nor does it mean that “an awful lot of space is going to waste” unless alien life exists on other planets. The universe is big because it has been expanding while heavy elements (which are necessary for life) are created inside of stars, because God is an artist with limitless resources, and because the heavens were made to declare the glory of God.
1. Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2007), 156.
2. Does God Exist? The Craig-Pigliucci Debate. See https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/debates/does-god-exist-the-craig-pigliucci-debate/
3. See https://www.historicalbiblesociety.org/four-powerful-evidences-of-design/
4. See https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wnp5pm/in-rotterdam-is-zojuist-het-grootste-kunstwerk-ter-wereld-afgerond