Thursday, June 02, 2005

Religion and the size of the universe

This is an interesting attempt to show how little significance the existence of mankind has on the universe. Just like many others, the author of this text concludes that organized religions have misled people in believing that they have a special relationship with a "creator" or an "omniscient" god. The awareness of our relative size compared with the size of the universe shows that we are not at the center of this universe, we are only a "grain of sand on the beach".
By the way, I'm not sure he's got the right data for the age of the universe...


"How old are you?
You probably think you've been around a while, that your 20/30/40/50 years on this planet is quite a long time, that you've seen a lot of changes?
On our time-scale, you're probably quite right.
On the time-scale of this planet, in geological time, you might as well have never existed.
I think one of the reasons that many people turn to religion is the human mind cannot easily comprehend the vast scales of time and space in the universe. To us, two-thousand years (since the birth of one J.Christ) is a huge amount of time. Look at what we've done since then - discovered America and Australia (although the Indians and Aborignes might dispute that claim); discovered how to refine crude oil, allowing us to build cars, planes, spacecraft; we've been to the moon and the bottom of the sea. What accomplishments!
The universe is estimated to be about 15 - 20 thousand million years old. This planet has existed for about four thousand million years. The last two thousand years are approximately 0.00001% of the planet's age.
Mount Everest, the highest point on the planet, is composed of marine limestone. It used to be under the sea, but slowly, millimetre by millimetre, it has been pushed upwards (and continues to do so, as India collides with Asia). You might think a year is a long time, but can you even begin to comprehend the lifespan of Everest?
Our planet is one tiny insignificant rock orbitting one average, ordinary star in the outskirts of the Milky Way, itself just one ordinary galaxy among billions. When you look up into the night sky on a clear night, you can hardly see any stars at all. If you could see all of them, if our eyes were better and there was less dirt in the universe, the sky would be completely white. There would not be the smallest gap between the stars that you see. (in theory, anyway, see the footnote for more details).
For every star that you can see, there are thousands of galaxies, each containing thousands of millions of stars.
The Milky Way itself is an insignificant speck. Our solar system is an insignificant speck within that. The image at the top of this page is from the NASA archives. It was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, and the area of sky that is represents is approximately 1/30th the apparent diameter of the full moon. As you can see for yourself, it is packed with galaxies. Galaxies, not stars.
People think that we are somehow blessed or special, so of course the Creator Of The Universe must have set aside this little corner of the universe just for us.
Religion used to teach that the Earth was the centre of the universe, the single most important place that God created.
Now, we know better. If the Earth was destroyed tomorrow, the universe would neither miss us nor mourn our passing. Would you notice one grain of sand missing from the beach?
We think we are special, and that supremely powerful beings look after us.We are not special, we are simply the result of a (probably very common) chemical accident billions of years ago, in a place where the conditions are right for life to flourish.
The same thing probably happens all over the universe, and in many places there will be life. Some will be more advanced than us, others less advanced.
In many places, the conditions will not be right for life. There are probably entire galaxies or clusters of galaxies where life will never arise, because the conditions there are too extreme. Galaxies with supermassive black holes, areas of stellar genesis (such as the Orion Nebula), maybe regions close to quasars may never produce life due to intense radiation or gravitational disturbances.
We are certainly lucky, yes, but special? No.
(Gosh, that all got a bit heavy, didn't it?)"

More on the size of the universe:

a man/woman is 1.7 meters high on average (6.5 feets)
1,000 times bigger is a city-park (1 km wide)
1,000 times bigger is the size of France
1,000 times bigger is much more than the distance from the Earth to the moon.
1,000 times bigger is the distance from the Sun to Jupiter
1,000 times bigger is the distance from the Sun to a faraway comet.
1,000 times bigger is much more than the distance to the closest star.
1,000 times bigger is the size of our galaxy
1,000 times bigger is much more than the distance to the Virgo cluster of galaxies
1,000 times bigger is slightly less than the size of the universe.

The universe is thought to be 156,000,000,000 Light-Years wide.
That's about 1,475,760,000,000,000,000,000,000 km

More on time and human history:

If Jesus Christ was born 1 second ago,
Then the first hominids (early humans) appeared 35 minutes ago.
The universe was born about 2 months and half ago.

The universe is about 13,700,000,000 years old



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