11 November 2008

Looking out into the universe

Last night I was looking at a video of images taken from the Hubble telescope. The images were taken while the telescope was looking into an 'empty' area of sky. They showed vast numbers of galaxies that had previously been unknown. The commentary talked about how large the universe is (47 billion light years) and the likelihood that in amongst the unthinkably large number of galaxies and stars there must surely be other planets like ours with creatures like us.

Whether or not that's so, I'm always struck by the strangeness of the idea that God would bother with a planet our size and creatures so disappearingly small when he's got the whole universe in front of him, so to speak. It seems almost bizarre. As the psalm writer said, what is man (ie human beings) that you are mindful of him? And the psalmist's concept of the 'universe' was probably no more than a few thousand kilometres in diameter.

But then, although we are tiny, insignificant in a physical sense, we are creatures capable of building a telescope that can see to the edge of the universe and do the maths to calculate its size. That's pretty awesome. It's like a nest of ants constructing a detailed map of Australia. I'm not sure that the concept of intelligent life, life with enough insight to realise of the size of the universe in which it exists, is as obvious and predictable as the commentary suggested.

We may be insignificant in comparison to the size of the universe, and undoubtedly 'sinful beyond measure', but we've been made with amazing abilities and intelligence. In that sense we're something more than our physical existence could ever suggest, something more than just bits of organic matter with an infinitesimal life-span. The sadness is that we squander so much of our abilities and intelligence in trying to upstage and destroy each other.

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