Post Author: Bill Pratt
That is the popular view among materialists (those who deny the existence of anything but the material world). They beg us look at the sheer immensity of the universe and then look at the tininess of the human race in contrast. The idea that man is special, that man holds a privileged seat in the cosmos is simply ridiculous, they claim.
The arch-materialist Carl Sagan (as quoted from The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World by William Dembski) had these thoughts on the matter:
Because of the reflection of sunlight . . . the earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world. But it’s just an accident of geometry and optics. . . . Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.
Does the size of the universe relative to man render him insignificant? Maybe if you’re a materialist, but not if you’re a Christian. Scripture declares that God has created man in his image, that man indeed has a special seat of honor in the universe. Theologically, Christians recognize that the materialist argument fails. Scientifically, works like The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery demonstrate that the earth is unique in its ability to support advanced life and to enable scientific discovery.
As Dembski points out, G. K. Chesterton wrote one of the most memorable responses to the materialist claim of man’s insignificance in his classic work Orthodoxy. Here is Chesterton speaking of the materialist Herbert Spencer:
He popularized this contemptible notion that the size of the solar system ought to over-awe the spiritual dogma of man. Why should a man surrender his dignity to the solar system any more than to a whale? If mere size proves that man is not the image of God, then a whale may be the image of God. . . . It is quite futile to argue that man is small compared to the cosmos; for man was always small compared to the nearest tree.
What the size of the universe tells us is how awesome God is, not how insignificant man is, for man has always been spatially smaller than what surrounds him (e.g., whales and trees). As Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”