The Incredibly Tiny Christian Universe
Commentary by Jim Walker
Originated: 04 Dec. 2007
The Biblical universe measured against the Andromeda galaxy
Incredible as it may seem, many Christians today believe that a god created the universe approximately 6000 years ago. That means that everything in it, planets, stars, moons, comets, and even light itself, must have originated at the time (or after) the Great Creation. Consider that no energy or matter in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light. If you take the speed-of-light back in time 6000 years to the point of the alleged Creation, you get a spherical radius of only around 6000 light-years. This means that a 12,000 diameter light-year bubble represents everything that could possibly happen or exist within the time range of Christian chronology. Consider that the entire Christian universe cannot measure larger than a single average galaxy in the known universe! The miniscule Christian universe would sit as a tiny dwarf within a single galaxy such as the Andromeda galaxy (shown above). Astronomers estimate that hundreds of billions of galaxies exist in the universe. Each of these galaxies could contain hundreds of Christian-sized universes!
And even here I have presented an extremely generous sized Christian universe. In actuality, Dark Aged Christendom held on to only one world. Not a world but the world; not an earth but the Earth. Remember that the Church long held to the belief that the stars revolved around the Earth, the only world they knew. Not until long after Galileo did we demote the earth to just one world among trillions. Once you have our earth orbiting around the sun, it no longer holds a special place in the universe, and we now know our sun exists as a sun, just one among trillions of other suns.
It proves difficult to describe the extraordinary immense size of the known universe, but take a look at the video called "Soaring thru our Universe" and you should get a good idea of just how large a place we live in. At a scale of 1025 meters, every point represents a galaxy!
Hubble Deep Space Field photo. Every point represents a galaxy!
The Hubble Deep Field image above covers only a speck of the sky, yet this very small sample represents the typical distribution of galaxies in the universe. One could not even see a Christian-universe sized object in this photo!
"This vast number of worlds, the enormous scale of the universe, in my view, has been taken into account, even superficially, in virtually no religion, and especially no Western religions."
--Carl Sagan (The Varieties of Scientific Experience)
Compare the known universe with the miniscule Biblical universe. Where did the notion of such a tiny Christian universe come from? The Bible of course, a book written by ignorant pre-scientific error-prone men (mostly unknown) who believed in a supernatural world.
The first person to calculate the precise age of the universe came from the Archbishop James Ussher, the Anglican Primate of Ireland. Note, 'Primate' here indicates the ecclesiastical title for a leader among bishops, not the biological classification for apes, although, indeed, even bishops (including all humans) fall under the zoological designation of primates.
In 1650, Ussher published the Annales veteris testamenti a prima mundi origine deducti (The Annals of the Old Testament, Deduced from the First Origin of the World). Ussher 'calculated' the exact moment of Creation at 4004 BCE, at noon on October 23. How about that for precision? It would have occurred at exactly 6,000 B.C. if not for the inventor of the B.C.- A.D. dating system, Dionysius Exiguus, who made an error in setting the birth date of Jesus. Herod died in 4 B.C. and if Herod still ruled at the birth of Jesus, then Jesus' birth must have occurred around 4 BCE.
Many people today refer to those who believe in Ussher's chronology as Young Earth Creationists as compared to the science of modern geology, paleontology and astronomy that dates the earth at around 4.6 billion years and current observations put the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years, (not to mention that the multi-universe theories push the age much further, or possibly even infinitely long).
Of course not all Christians represent Young Earth Creationists. On the contrary, the vast majority of Christians accept the modern day scientific age of the earth and the universe. Only a few of them believe in Ussher's version and even fewer believe in an already-formed-universe. However, this still does not let Christians off the hook because in another sense, the Christian world-view has shrunk to an incredibly small size.
The Increasingly Shrinking Christian beliefs of old world Christianity
During the time of bishop Ussher, virtually all Christians believed in young earth creationism. Of course they did not call it that back then and, no doubt, they thought that 6000 years represented a long period of time. However, few Christians today (except for a few very powerful politically motivated Christians who try to get schools to teach Intelligent Design (a euphemism for Creationism), believe in a young universe.
The very fact that most Christians no longer believe in the Biblical age of the universe provides an example of how the world view of this religious belief system has shrunk incredibly over the centuries. Not only do most Christians not believe in a Young Earth, they no longer believe in a flat earth, that the sun revolves around the earth, that Pi equals 3, that men used to live for hundreds of years, that donkeys and serpents can talk, or that unicorns actually exist. All of these myths represent Biblical ideas no longer believed by the majority of Christians today. It gets worse.
Not only do most Christians not believe in the unscientific views held by the Bible but more and more Christians no longer believe in the miracle stories, including walking on water, turning water into wine, or even the idea of Transubstantiation, including the turning of wine into the flesh and blood of Jesus (eaten by "cannibalistic" Christians during the Eucharist). Even most Catholics do not buy the idea of Transubstantiation even though they go through the Eucharist ritual. Christians have begun to take the miracle stories as just that: story telling and metaphorical ideas to get the 'essential' message of Jesus across.
Few Christians today realize that Christendom, only a few hundreds of years ago, would not recognize the Christianity of the 21st century. Thanks to science and rational thinking most Christians reject the old world Christian view. In spite of this, unfortunately, superstition still rules their minds. Christianity today has become so fractured that there exists hundreds of denominations, some of which own beliefs that differ so dramatically from each other that the only the words "Christian" and "Jesus" share any commonality between them.
A. C. Grayling put it succinctly: "Nowadays, by contrast, Christianity specialises in soft-focus mood music; its threats of hell, its demand for poverty and chastity, its doctrine that only the few will be saved and the many damned, have been shed, replaced by strummed guitars and saccharine smiles. It has reinvented itself so often, and with such breath-taking hypocrisy, in the interests of retaining its hold on the gullible, that a medieval monk who woke today, like Woody Allen in Sleeper, would not be able to recognize the faith that bears the same name as his own."
For example, Joel Osteen represents a pastor of the largest mega-church in America. Although its members consider themselves Christian, Osteen's church shows no cross or image of Jesus, anywhere. Instead, Osteen preaches a cherry-picked brand of Christianity where he focuses on positive thinking rather than sin. This New-Age kind of Christianity has virtually nothing in common with Old-World Christianity, except carefully picked Bible verses that conform only to Osteen's happy-clappy vision but leave out the hell-and-brimstone verses. Various denominations of watered-down Christianity continue to grow throughout the world that has little to do with traditional Christianity, nor do they agree with their contemporary new-age churches. It gets worse still.
Although the following probably does not represent a majority of Christians, incredibly as it may seem, some Christians no longer believe in a divine Jesus. They think of Jesus as a historical figure who taught moral lessons, a kind of philosopher or teacher rather than a god-man. Yes they still believe in a god, but not Jesus as god, yet they still consider themselves Christian. Martin Luther King Jr. represents, perhaps, the most famous American Christian who did not believe in a divine Jesus.
"Lucy thinks Rock is to die for. Desi thinks Rock is to die for. Lucy is thinking of Rock Hudson. Desi is thinking of Rock music. They don't really agree on anything. I submit that many people's idea of god is more different than Rock Hudson and Rock music."
As Daniel Dennett observed, most religious people have a belief in a belief-in-god rather than actually believing in god. Moreover, their vision of god and Jesus varies dramatically from one person to another.
Today we have Christians who believe in a UFO-Christ connection, Christians who believe that Jesus never died on a cross but lived, got married, and had children, Christians who believe in a Devil Jesus, Rapture-Christians who's eschatology requires them to believe the world will end soon, and indeed, wish it to come soon, Christians who believe in Jesus, meek-and-mild, and feel willing to sacrifice their hard earned money by giving everything to the Church, Christians who believe themselves as Christ or God, Christians who believe that Jesus only came for peace and love (contrary to the Bible), Christians who believe in a manly war-like Jesus (as did Nazis and many right-wing Christians today), Christians who believe in a miracle worker Jesus who can heal through prayer alone. On and on it goes, everyone's version varies dramatically from the other.
For the dozen years that I have run this website, I have yet to see two Christians who hold the same set of Christian beliefs. I have even known a Christian couple who, after many years of marriage, discovered the different hermeneutics of their partner, and could not live with each other anymore because of their differing beliefs. Perhaps this gives part of the reason why conservative Christians have a much higher divorce rate than atheists and agnostics (according to a 1999 Barna Research Group study).
And if you think the forms of Christianity that excises so much Christology seems radical, consider the Atheists for Jesus movement. I kid you not!
The shrinking world of Christianity
In 1996, another poll by the Barna Research Group (made up mostly of evangelicals) found that 83% of Americans identified themselves as Christian, and fewer than 20% of non-Christians held an unfavorable view of Christianity. But between 2004 and 2007, a similar Barna poll found that 38% of non-Christians had a bad impression of Christianity. Much of this downtrend has occurred because of right-wing-Christians thrust toward increased judgmental ideas, hypocrisy, anti-homosexuality, and its involvement in politics.
In "Why The Gods Are Not Winning," Gregory Paul and Phil Zukerman showed that since 1900, Christians have made up about a third of the global population but has edged downwards ever since. (Among the major religions, only Islam has shown growth). In Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, Christianity has withered dramatically. In Scandinavia, France, and Japan, disbelievers make up the majority. As Paul and Zukerman observed, "Disbelief now rivals the great faiths in numbers and influence. Never before has religion faced such enormous levels of disbelief, or faced a hazard as powerful as that posed by modernity. How is organized religion going to regain the true, choice-based initiative when only one of them is growing, and it is doing so with reproductive activity rather than by convincing the masses to join in, when no major faith is proving able to grow as they break out of their ancestral lands via mass conversion, and when securely prosperous democracies appear immune to mass devotion? The religious industry simply lacks a reliable stratagem for defeating disbelief in the 21st century."
The History of Christianity questioned
If you think that the tiny physical universe of Christianity, the diluted denominations, and the overall downtrend of Christian believers poses a serious challenge for the future of Christianity, things get even more vanishing small for Christianity.
The Christian church has had such a hold on the minds of western counties for a millennia or two, that few people questioned the claimed historical evidence for a Jesus of Nazareth. Old world Biblical scholars and apologists have always had a contained bias for a historical Jesus that to even question of the existence of their alleged founder would have put them at risk of life or reputation.
Not any longer! Ever since the Age of Enlightenment, doubters slowly began to question the methods used by Biblical scholars. One of the first doubters, Thomas Paine (a doubting Thomas we should honor), in his infamous book, Age of Reason, wrote, "When the Church mythologists established their system, they collected all the writings they could find and managed them as they pleased. It is a matter altogether of uncertainty to us whether such of the writings as now appear under the name of the Old and New Testaments are in the same state in which those collectors say they found them, or whether they added, altered, abridged or dressed them up."
Today, more and more Biblical scholars question the validity of the methods used by Christian apologists. Not only do scholars such as Robert M. Price, Randel McCraw Helms, Earl Doherty, and many others, question the old methods used by apologists but they question the very idea that a Jesus in history existed at all.
Robert M. Price's excellent book, "The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man," gives one example of just how dramatically different today's Biblical scholars view the claimed historical evidence.
In my own examination of the claimed evidence presented by Christians for a historical Jesus, I found nothing at all to establish a historicity of this alleged man. Nothing. (see, Did a historical Jesus exist?)
Does a diminished Christianity make us safer?
So not only does the Biblical physical universe represent an incredibly tiny place compared to the actual universe, so too has the universe of traditional, supernatural, and moral beliefs of Christians today shrunk to an incredibly small size compared to old world Christology. Even more dramatically, due to an honest appraisement of the history of Christianity using modern historical methods, we have no evidence that a historical Jesus existed in the first place.
The world of Christendom exists entirely in the believing minds of human beings and supported by institutions (churches) to ensure the Faith. Nowhere outside the brains of humans do we find the ghosts and spirits of Christianity. This not only coincides with other religions but any Christian will recognize that no one today believes in the Gods of Greek mythology, or any other foreign god of the ancients. When a civilization dies, so do their gods, and this holds for the future of Christianity as well (although, let us hope that we can save our civilization without Christianity).
Religious belief stifles and hides the universe of ideas open to humans. I submit that the possibilities of moral, scientific, political, and artistic universes without religion correlates with the scale of the physical universe in comparison with its tiny Creationist version. The actual universe not only represents a far larger and grander world than Christendom, but the moral and scientific possibilities far exceed the unbearably limited moral and supernatural world of Christianity. And yet the problem of religion, in general, still haunts the future of human civilization.
If Paul and Zukerman has it right about Christianity shrinking and diluting, what has diluted it does not necessarily lessen the danger of religion nor prevent it from evolving. For the diluted elements may very well evolve the religion to an even more dangerous set of beliefs.
And even if a believer has a faith based on a meek-and-mild Jesus, how can he or she compare their religious vision with others who have an entirely different, more dangerous version, but still use the same religious phrases as they do?
A shrinking Christian population does not necessarily help us. It only takes a few influential Christians, in the right time and place, to convince a voting public through fear mongering and the power of politics. When religious people vote for politicians who frame their political stand on the abstractions of "God" or "Jesus", we can get the very kind of war politics as we have seen when American Christians naively voted for George W. Bush. Right-wing Christian politicians use the very same religious words as do liberal Christians but to the secular population, they couch their rhetoric in secular terms. It only takes a single Christian politician to demolish a free secular government.
Not only does Christianity need to continue to shrink, but all forms of supernatural beliefs, including any belief not supported by evidence and this includes all forms of non-religious beliefs. Question anyone who seems to posses a nimbus. Beware of politicians who hold religious beliefs! Even the most "credentialed" educated secular person can slip in a known falsehood to fool the public. Educating the public (especially to the young) about the dangers of belief and how to think and reason might very well save us. Learn how to spot the impostors and charlatans, and especially those who honestly fool themselves into thinking they possess something supernaturally special. How else but through education can we inoculate ourselves from superstitious folly and from preachers and politicians who want us to believe they fall under special guidance from a sky-god? Only then might we begin to see just how large and wonderful a universe (or universes) we actually inhabit.
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