Size Does Matter

This is a follow up comment to my post about Scipio’s Dream and Carl Sagan’s “How Tiny is the Earth” speech.

What I do not understand is the purpose of the size-is-impressive argument in the mouths of agnostics and atheists.

I am, and all human beings should be who have the minimal scintilla of poetry in their souls, impressed by roaring oceans whose dim and far horizon forms the margin of the world, or appalled at the emptiness of sandy deserts, the majesty of mountains, or, for that matter, the size of elephant’s noses and the necks of giraffes. I would insert a joke about the mammary glands of Dolly Parton, but this would both betray my age and my lack of good taste, so I will not. But I do think the Grand Canyon is grand, and the view of Mount Rushmore. Like any small boy, I am properly impressed with a tall tree.

Unlike non-science fiction fans and non-astronomers, I am also impressed and even appalled at the size of the universe.

I may even be more impressed than the average sciffy fan, because I tend to set my space operas in non-warpdrive universes, so that it actually takes my heroine, for example, 33900 years earth-relative time to sail to the globular cluster Messier 3 in Canes Venatici at 99.99 percent of lightspeed. And that is not even Andromeda, the galaxy nearest to us, which is more on the order of two and half million years at the same speed, or as far in the future as the earliest Paleolithic is from our past. That says nothing about the distance to the Great Attractor in Virgo, the Void of Bootes, or other large scale phenomena which, in my latest book, I have decided are either weapons or war damage of various superhuman civilizations. — my point here is that I try to emphasize the unimaginable magnitude of what are ironically called “local” locations in space, both interstellar and intergalactic.

But, as a Christian, I believe God to be infinite. Infinite means infinite, not fifteen billion years old or fifteen billion lightyears in diameter. The universe in my imagination is never going to seem large enough to make the claims of any truly universal religion seems small.

The river god Asopus may be tiny compared to the universe, because that river turns out to be so microscopic compared with the rivers of the Milky Way and Eridanus, and likewise an angel who was just the guardian of the Milky Way and nothing more is the least pinpoint of the vast Uranian realm of the heavens.

But I can imagine the maker of heavens to be any size I please, for the same reason I can imagine Shakespeare to be shorter than Ajax but taller than Puck, since astronomers have convinced me to imagine the whole sidereal universe to be born from a seed smaller than the diameter of an atom during a time short than three seconds.

In sum, Mr Sagan cannot make me so impressed with creation as to render me unimpressed with the creator, or to make me feel, as Huck Finn does, that there are too many stars to have been made.

As an argument, it is not an argument at all, merely an emotional appeal: the idea is that so vast a thing as the universe could not be made by an even vaster thing who would appear in the form of a burning bush to Moses and concern Himself with real estate arrangements on a speck of waterfront property between Africa and Asia Minor.

But even as an emotional appeal, the argument does not engage my emotions. If the universe were only as big as the World of Tiers from Phillip Jose Farmer, say about the diameter of a solar system, would the idea that it was a created artifact be easier or harder to conceive? (And keep in mind before you answer that the Worlds in Farmer were indeed artificially created, including our own, which turns out to be just a planetarium and all extrastellar objects illusions.)

On the other hand, Scipio’s Dream does engage my emotions to jar me out of the smallness of worldly concerns. Carl Sagan’s comments, albeit with less depth than Scipios (because, as an atheist, he can give no objective reason for ascribing a non-arbitrary and rational meaning like humility to the contemplation of an irrational and arbitrary cosmos) likewise have the same emotional appeal: it puts the smallness of even the greatest human ambitions in shocking cosmic context. We are mites living on a mote.

Even had Napoleon conquered the Earth, and, with rocketry, the Moon also, the countless zillions of Emperors and Empresses from Mercury to Pluto the all the planets of all the star systems of the Orion Arm, not to mention those dwelling on ringworlds and Dyson spheres along the other and larger arms of this galaxy and the satellite galaxies of the Magellanic Clouds, who indeed would laugh at his ambition, as their ambitions in turn are laughed at by the Emperors of Trantor, who rule a galaxy which may or may not be smaller than the one ruled by the Emperors of Coriscant. If you see my point.