A God Too Small

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To my everlasting shame, I must admit to succumbing to link bait this weekend. The truly despicable aspect of the whole charade is that I knew immediately that it was link bait, but chose to take the “I want to see how stupid this is” route to rationalization.

But the thing about link bait is that it doesn’t matter if you are truly curious or trying to be ironic; the point of link bait is to get you to click the link, and I sadly did not resist.

That mea culpa aside, the piece of link bait in question was a Buzzfeed list entitled 26 Pictures Will Make You Reevaluate Your Entire Existence. The post itself consisted of a series of pictures showing the scale of the universe, from the size of the earth in comparison to other planets and our sun, to the size of the Solar System in relation to the Milky Way and the Milky Way in comparison to the known universe.

Interesting pics, to be sure, but nothing groundbreaking here. Needless to say, I didn’t suddenly find myself reevaluating my existence. I did, however, begin to reevaluate why such a claim would be made over pictures that we all saw in 5th grade science class. In fact, I’m pretty sure when I was younger I owned the book from which many of these pictures came.

At any rate, the most fascinating aspect of any Buzzfeed post has to be the comments, which usually contain a vast vomiting of ignorance and internet rage mixed with the occasional smattering of erudition (ok, very occasional). It also follows a pretty predictable path, especially when certain topics or introduced.

I’m not sure how the comments at Buzzfeed work, but the first one that shows up is this:

How can you not believe in a God after reading this…?

A fairly benign question, but on Buzzfeed one sure to ensure that the comments descend into their inevitable inanity. To be sure, Buzzfeed comments are hardly known for their nuance and insight, but I have found that they do tend to reflect very common misunderstandings, which makes them an excellent foil for this post.

One of the first replies is this:

Easily. What reason would a God have for creating all this vast, unused (for lack of a better term) space? This is called science.

Firstly, it is deliciously ironic that someone who presumably believes the universe to have no reason for being is using such a criterion as an argument. Secondly, ‘science’ does not actually consider the vastness of space ‘unused,’ since 1. it’s not, being full of forces, particles and such 2. the concept of something being ‘unused’ is not something that ‘science’ can determine one way or another, since ‘use’ is a feature that can only be perceived external to matter and causes. But +1 for doubling down on the irony in the name of science!

Another is similar:

What? How could you possibly believe in a god after seeing any of this? There is no need for a god in the creation of the universe. The universe gets on and creates things just fine without one.

Ah yes, because the universe just ‘creates’ things. It’s science.

I always said we would be fools to think we are the only ones in the universe, and arrogant as well. No one is saying that aliens have visited us, just there is too much out there to think there is no other intelligent or primitive life beyond our galaxy.

More science in action?

All that fun aside, some of the comments turned to a slightly (very slightly) more interesting question: why would God- if he exists- care about a tiny speck of a planet like ours? One commenter thusly:

I always wondered how and why people still believe in a god in 2014 and reading through this post it hit me: God will tell you you’re special, unique and have a purpose – whereas science will tell you how tiny, vulnerable and destructible you really are. Humans do not wish to hear the latter, regardless of how true it is.

Another: 

God creates 100billion+ galaxies each will 100billion+ stars but only cares about one species on one planet? Christians are pretty arrogant to think that.

And then we finally get down to the real reason for the question:

How can you possibly believe God cares about your sex life after seeing this post?

How indeed?

A common thread in the questions here is a line of fallacious reasoning that I like to call the “God Too Small” fallacy. The rationale goes like this:

1. The universe is vast and filled with immense complexity

2. Humans are an infinitesimally small part of that immense complexity

3. Ergo, God has no reason to care about humanity or what they do individually or collectively

A corollary of #3 (albeit non sequitur) is

4. God must not exist

Now, on some level #1 and #2 are true, since the universe is indeed vast and humans are comparatively minute. #2 can be misleading, though, in that it only assigns value to a particular thing in reference to its comparative size (in this case, spatial and temporal extension). However, one might reasonably question whether such criteria is capable of exhausting the relative value of any particular thing, or even beginning to hint at a definitional worth?

After all, all that science is capable of doing is measuring things in relation to the tools it has at its disposal. It can tell us how big (to one extent or another) the universe is, and how big a particular thing is in relation to the universe, but that measurement alone tells us very little about the objects in question. Science simply does not have the competency to tell us the worth or value of one thing over another, since such a concept is something perceived by a mind.

Now, for us humans with limited intellects we can can be easily overcome by vastness and presume that the measurements of one thing in comparison to another tells us the comparative value or importance of those things. But this is fallacious reasoning, since the tools of measurement don’t have the capacity to make that kind of judgment.

The way we fall into the God Too Small fallacy is by imagining that God’s intellect is big, yes, even immense, but still ultimately limited in its scope and capacity. For example, the reasons we often assign importance to one thing over another is that 1. We are only capable of limited intellection 2. We can only focus our intellectual powers on a few things at a time.

Thus, since we have such limited intellectual abilities we have to prioritize one thing over another, or even one aspect of something over another aspect of the same thing.

The problem is that when we come to God we create a human intellect writ large, who is perhaps capable of vastly greater intellectual feats but still forced to focus on one thing over another. As such, since there are massive black holes that suck up unsuspecting stars and beauty beyond comprehension in the vast universe, why would God care about some tiny humans on a tiny rock in a tiny Solar System in a relatively tiny galaxy?

However, the God of classical theism not only knows about those tiny humans on that tiny, rock, but also about every star and every galaxy and even every particle in that supposedly unused ocean of space.

According to the classical conception of God, his intellect is not only big, and not only really really big, but is actually infinite. God’s “attention” is not limited like ours to one or two objects at most; rather, the entire sum of all being and existence is before him in perfect clarity.

The reason for this is actually not even because God’s intellect is infinite, for God does not know the universe as we do. For us the knowledge of thing comes through discursive reasoning, since we stand ‘outside’ the object of our knowledge. We have to perceive its features to know its essence.

But God is not one object amongst all the objects of the universe,e and thus does not stand outside of them as we do the objects of our knowledge. Rather, since God is the source of all being and even being itself, anything that exists only does so by virtue of participation in his being to one extent or another. 

In this way, the question of why God would care about humans and their sex lives is a rather silly question, since the classical conception of God goes even further and makes a rather astonishingly claim: not only does God care about humanity, but he cares about every single particle in every single galaxy. In fact, if he didn’t care about them they wouldn’t exist at all. You can dive down into however many levels of subatomic particles there may be and God will care about them because he created them and sustains their existence.

For God to care about humans or their sex lives does not constitute a fixation, since all of creation is always before him. His ‘attention’ is not diverted by one thing or another or piqued by sizes or events. God extends no effort nor expends any time in ‘seeing’ one thing or ‘doing’ another, since God is eternal. Even the Incarnation, as important as it is for humanity, is not a special act of the divine nature qua the divine nature since the divine nature is always act.

Seen in this way, the God Too Small fallacy is essentially just a modern repackaging of the ancient pagan error in their conception of the divine, a man writ large who is subject to perhaps not as many limitations, but subject to some still.

It’s been a good thousand years or so since the death throes of paganism, but it always seems to rear its head again. Perhaps that’s the ultimate link bait.

  

2 comments

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  • Great post, Jason. I particularly resonated with this thought: “Science simply does not have the competency to tell us the worth or value of one thing over another, since such a concept is something perceived by a mind.”

    Science’s core is rooted in observation and the recording of observed occurrences, any attachment of meaning beyond that is philosophical.

    Oh… and a confession: I also clicked on said link bait. Space pictures will get me every time. 😉

    • Paul- thanks! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      Your statement about how the attachment of meaning beyond observation in science is philosophy and not science is spot on, and an insight that far too many miss.

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Jason Watson

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