The universe is too big, says Nickolas Everitt. And why has much time passed since the beginning of the universe until humans came onto the scene? It’s just so… “inapt,” unfitting, given what theists take God to be, unlike even the Genesis account. (Part 2, Ch. 1) Shouldn’t the universe be much closer to the “human scale”?
So far this is the funniest atheistic argument I’ve ever encountered. But I plead guilty to harboring such thoughts myself: before becoming Christian in a letter to a friend I asked: What about the dinosaurs? For what possible reason did these preposterous lizards exist?
There are some possibilities. For example, the universe must to a considerable extent be autonomous, self-sufficient, and “work.” Perhaps only a large universe like ours could satisfy these requirements, and a Genesis universe could not.
Case in point: in the very next paper in this book, Victor Stenger discusses a number of “anthropic coincidences,” writing in particular that “billions of years were needed for stars to assemble these heavier elements out of neutrons and protons… the formation of chemical complexity is only possible in a universe of great age — or at least in a universe with other parameters close to values they have in this one.” (129)
Perhaps there is alien life on numerous planets, and the purpose of vast cosmic distances is to separate and therefore to protect us from each other.
In a thousand years, perhaps we’ll have advanced to such an extent as to go to the stars and conquer the galaxy. The scale of the universe may match the ambitions of men, after all.
Perhaps the scale of the universe is to remind us of the truth of the prayer: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end.” Though the universe is finite, and heaven, paradise, and human lives themselves are everlasting and infinite, nevertheless, the size of the universe shows forth the generosity and magnificence of God.
… if the history of life on earth is represented by a year, humans have appeared only in the final few seconds of the year.
Why the delay, given that theism must think that humans are the most valuable species created so far?
Who or what has gained, and how, from the colossal delay? (119)
First, no one lost in the “delay.” God is eternal, and for Him any delay is irrelevant. Since humans did not exist until recently, they did not suffer, such as from being forced to endure pain or unsatisfied desires for a long time. Even if there is pre-existence of the soul, time may well flow differently in heaven than it does on earth, and even the souls waiting to incarnate as humans may not have been inconvenienced.
Second, the enormous span of time during which life has “evolved” + been intelligently designed through subtle means was God’s doing “quality assurance” over His creatures. He was testing the lifeforms. We are the survivors of billions of years of struggle for existence by our ancestors, including non-human ones. We have fought nobly and earned our place in the scheme of things. It would have been folly for God to release weak, unfit, buggy, un-battle-hardened humans into this hostile world of ours.
God could have created rational creatures already fully formed, and did — they are called angels. Creation of humans required a more roundabout process. The main reason for this is the unique metaphysical evil of the human nature — a fundamental corruption hinted at indeed by Genesis not present in any other living thing.
Everitt goes on: regarding theists who lived before the development of modern cosmology, “why did it never cross their minds that given these initial assumptions, God might create a universe billions of times bigger and older than their contemporary cosmologists were contemplating?” (120) But there is an obvious answer: reason, unassisted by sophisticated math and instruments, told them nothing about how the universe “should” be, whether big or small; but they had the Bible which expressed an apparent opinion on the issue. The Bible (plus perhaps the Ptolemaic model) was their only source of cosmological data. For example, if the Bible had pushed the Big Bang instead, then that’s what the early theists would have believed. They accepted a mostly literal interpretation of it, because they had nothing better. As soon as something better did come along, the people including theists adjusted their understanding.
Nor did these early theists try to prove the existence of God from their (incorrect) cosmology. St. Thomas’ Five Ways, for example, do not depend on his geocentrism at all.
Therefore, the “ex post” justifications of scale such as above are hardly “arbitrary” or ad hoc. It is surely unfair for Everitt to pose a challenge to the theist to justify the ways of God to him and then complain when the theist does just that!
Upon deeper reflection, Everitt’s insistence that the Genesis universe is a priori more plausible than the Big Bang universe given existence of God (i.e., that P(Big Bang | Theism) < 0.5 < P(Genesis | Theism)) seems singularly nonobvious. Hence the Bayesian inference that P(Theism | Big Bang) < P(Theism) does not go through.
In short, showing that this is the best possible world is an exceedingly non-trivial task. The argument from scale then is at the most a puzzle. It would be evidence against theism if Everitt could prove that the puzzle is both perverse and unsolvable. But his paper does not do so, and future developments may shed light on things; hence the argument fails.