It’s a recurrent experience that never fails to perplex me: Random people will seek my advice on questions of religion. Rather than posing queries about how the cosmos works, they want me to enlighten them on why.
Bottom line: We were so ordinary as to be thoroughly invisible — as would be any other worlds, together with their flora and fauna.
So while it may be disappointing, I have to confess to people who ask for my insights on the meaning of it all that astronomy doesn’t provide any clearly useful data on matters of sin and souls.
But it does offer some humbling insight into the scale of the problem. It is said that God has infinite abilities to observe, monitor, and influence. An appreciation for the breathtaking banality of our circumstances suggests just how audacious this idea is.
I can’t recall ever seeing Seth Shostak weigh in on religion before, and of course this seems like almost a non-weigh in.
It reminds me of an article I was reading in the late 90s on dark matter and the recently discovered dark energy. (I think it was in Time Magazine, but I’m not sure.) It was an article that summarized known cosmology at that point, and I remembered how inconsequential our society and history felt in relation to that deep time and cosmological enormity.
I had known about the scale of the size and age of the cosmos decades earlier, but for some reason it had never really connected with me viscerally until that moment. I thought about God and the faith I was raised in, and the way it had usually been presented suddenly seemed small and parochial in relation to what I had just read.
I was still nominally a believer at the time, and actually for years afterward, but looking back it seems like a milestone event. Of course, many believers have had that same feeling and had it strengthen their faith. To a large degree, I can understand why. Maybe if my life history and circumstances had been different it might have for me, but it actually pushed me in the other direction.