Contemplating the Cosmos: Standing on the Shoreline

cosmos            I stand outside and look at the stars with wonder, noting the great complexity of systems and the great emptiness within the cosmos that I have read about. To think that I look with wonder at the same universe that is observed by great thinkers like the late Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking. Yet I do come to a different conclusion regarding the universe, not that I claim their observations to be wrong, but instead recognize that mere observation is subject to interpretation and many have interpreted certain observed phenomena differently than these thinkers.

In his opening paragraph, Sagan refers to the cosmos as the “greatest of mysteries”[1] He then goes on to say that:

“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise.”[2]

In the introduction, I established my own preconceptions and biases concerning my own interpretation of the Cosmos. In this paragraph, Sagan admits his preconceptions and the preconceptions of many who have agreed with his interpretation of the universe. First of all, by his admission of the universe as the greatest of mysteries, it seems as though Sagan began this work in a state of belief that the cosmos are the end-all of existence. To him, it seems that nature is all we can hope for and that the universe “seen as a well-ordered whole”[3] is all that can be discovered. To Sagan, there seems to be no underlying metaphysic that guides the universe from without, and certainly no creator who exists unbounded by the universe.

Secondly, Sagan admits, after declaring that the cosmos is the greatest of mysteries, that simple attributes of the cosmos (i.e. its size and age) are beyond ordinary human understanding. This simply infers that Sagan himself believes that human understanding is not able to grasp even the age and size of the cosmos. Indeed, the cosmos must be a great mystery, but I am perplexed as to how Sagan can claim it as the “greatest of mysteries”. For, even his declaration that the cosmos are beyond human understanding requires that if there were something of greater mystery than the cosmos, it too would be beyond human understanding (even plausibly undiscoverable by human intuition). It is entirely possible, then, according to Sagan’s own preconceptions that there is a thing that exists that is of greater mystery than the cosmos and that is either undiscoverable or has not been discovered by men. Still he refers to the universe as the greatest of mysteries. This seems to be a flaw throughout Sagan’s work and indeed within the philosophies of many naturalist observers of the universe.

A word of preconceptions and worldview

In his book, ultimate proof of creation, Jason Lisle points out a very important aspect of human tendency to interpret evidence in favor of his worldview by illustrating a very brief conversation between the naturalist and the creationist:

“’For this origins debate, I will be using DNA, fossils, and rock layers to support my position,’ said the evolutionist.

‘That’s odd,’ said the creationist. ‘That’s exactly what I was going to use to support my position!’”[4]

This tendency is a curious one. It seems that people on both sides of the argument are just as amazed with the cosmos and just as persuaded by the evidence. The problem lies in the interpretation of such evidence. While I look at the universe and recognize the greatness of a creator, those like Sagan look at the universe and recognize only the greatness of the universe and the greatness of mankind for being able to discover the universe, which according to Sagan is itself beyond human understanding.

People seem to interpret evidence according to the worldview held and not one person seems capable of putting aside his biases or preconceptions in the interest of discovering truth. Indeed, if any one person did put his preconceptions aside, I am convinced that he would not rationalize or assign meaning to certain evidences at all. He would simply observe the universe and make no conclusion, especially concerning origins.

With it being the case, however, that all people develop conclusions according to the evidence at hand (at least all people of whom I am aware), I suspect that all people operate by certain biases and preconceptions and do so interpret natural phenomena according to a worldview. In this worldview, all people do, necessarily, practice faith in those preconceptions. The creationists has faith that there is an ultimate, authoritative and intelligent designer of the cosmos. The naturalist has faith that the natural universe is all there is. Scientifically, there is no way to prove either worldview. It surprises me that so many are persuaded either way on the basis of scientific thought.

If, indeed, even the naturalist admits to the inability of human understanding to grasp the cosmos, is it not then more rational and reasonable for one to believe that a greater mystery might so exist as indiscoverable by the human mind? If the cosmos, being part of a natural order, are beyond understanding how can the naturalist possibly know that there is nothing even beyond those cosmos? Even by his own philosophy, he cannot, and must therefore believe that it is possible that something exists that is greater than the cosmos.

As part of his consideration, Sagan sites skepticism as a requirement to the gaining of naturalistic knowledge concerning the universe. This will be important later, so keep this in mind.

From our local shores

Considering all of this, I look up and I see the giant gaseous entities that we call stars. There must be billions, or even trillions upon trillions in the universe and they must be massive. I am amazed that we can observe so many from so far away. If the universe did so begin at a certain singularity, it is no surprise that I might see the light from the stars that are so far away. For, as far as I have read, nothing can surpass the speed of light.

I could imagine worlds of alien life, but I know fully well that no other intelligent life has been discovered in the universe besides mankind. If it has, it has been hidden from me. For now, it seems that we are alone. I should not be surprised that with the unlikely (and indeed statistically impossible) development of life, that this planet may be the only planet which is inhabited by any complex form of life whatsoever. Indeed, it is a statistical miracle that life even exists on this planet.[5]

I do observe the great galaxies, each consisting of stars in the billions and worlds in the trillions. I can imagine great solar systems and binary star systems and clusters of the massive galaxies in which they exist. I can observe, from these shores, the diversity of planets in our own solar system and our home star that we call the sun. These cosmos are indeed a great wonder, and I can imagine that the source of these cosmos is also indeed a great wonder and a greater mystery.

As I look down at the soil beneath my feet, I remember that Earth is one planet out of the vast array and is itself a miracle; “a place of blue nitrogen skies, oceans of liquid water, cool forests and soft meadows, a world positively rippling with life.”[6]

[1] Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. Ballantine Books Trade Paperbacks, 2013. ed. New York: Ballantine, 2013. 1.

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] “Cosmos.” Cosmos: Definition of Cosmos in Oxford Dictionary (American English) (US). Accessed January 5, 2015.

[4] Lisle, Jason. The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins Debate. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009. 17.

[5] Refer to:

“John R. Rankin: Mathematical Physics.” In In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, edited by John Ashton, 118-122. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2000.

[6] Sagan, 6-7.

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