Wednesday, January 09, 2013

At the center

One popular atheist meme says the Copernican Revolution demoted our place in the universe. Because we can no longer occupy the center of the physical universe, that’s a psychological comedown. We cease to have the significance which the Bible attaches to us.

The logic of this argument is far from clear. For instance, a mother may “center” her life on her growing children. She arranges her schedule to meet their needs. To be available for them.

That doesn’t mean her children must occupy a physically central place in her life. Does she love her children any less when they are 20 miles away from home? Indeed, physical distance, physical separation, can enhance the sense of love and longing. You wish they were closer.

It’s true that a sense of vast time and space can make us feel small and insignificant. However, our littleness supplies the backdrop for God’s special love:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples (Deut 7:7).

To take a human illustration, there are 7 billion people in the world. But that doesn’t make your friends and family less special to you. If anything, that makes them more special to you. In a world full of strangers, it’s all the more important to have a few people you can call your own. That you’re a part of. That you “belong” to.

Compare that to lonely people who feel lost, forgotten, abandoned.

Same thing with our place in time. So many generations have come and gone before us. So many will succeed us after we’re gone.

That can certainly make you feel insignificant. Replaceable.

But the fleeting nature of our mortal existence makes God all the more important to us. Only he can preserve us. Only he can reunite us:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations (Ps 90:1).

We are special if we are special to God. It is not our place in time and space that makes us significant, but God’s involvement in human history. God making us. God redeeming us. God becoming one of us. God restoring us.

Likewise, if parents have ten kids, they can love each child as much as if they had only one child. For each child is different, yet each child is theirs. They love each child for his individuality, as well as what he means to them–as their own child.


  1. "Jesus Christ is the Center and Circumference of the Bible!" Martin Luther

    It would only be a demontion, to an atheist since he starts with autonomous man and works outward. The shear enormity of our universe should create in us a true humility as the Psalmist says:

    Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
    If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
    If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
    even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
    If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
    even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you. (Ps 139:7-12).

    Only a rebel would supress what he knows to be true and exchange it for a mythology of Time X Chance => order!

    "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

    This does not surprise the Believer since "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." (Hebrews 11:3)

    Finally, the early Church was not ashamed to counter the Classic Mythologies with a clear statement to the contrary!

    "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth..."

    In the Lamb

  2. Great post. Thanks, Steve. :-)

  3. C.S. Lewis once remarked to the effect that it was only in the modern atheist's own mind that the littleness of man in a vast world/universe had suddenly become (in the age of rationalism) a "reason" to doubt God's existence.

    As a true master of vast swathes of ancient literature, Lewis--unlike most atheists--was in a position to actually know what ancients thought about the world/universe, and man's place in it.

    Moreover, the minds of the biblical authors are quite radical (with respect to other ancient cultures/authors) in rejecting an anthropocentric understanding of creation.

    E.g., Ps.8:3-4, "When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; What is man that you are mindful of him? And the son of man that you visit him?"

    Job 7:17-18, "What is man, that you should exalt him, that you should set your heart on him, that you should visit him every morning, and test him every moment?"

    Ps.144:3-4, "Jehovah, what is man that you take knowledge of him? Or the son of man that you are mindful of him? Man is like a breath; his days like a passing shadow."

    Atheism's removal of man's subordinate status in a universe with no known superior, is the apotheosis of liberation, the elimination of every conceivable restraint on Man: the apex of naturalistic evolution in an amoral and indifferent cosmos.

  4. Plus this claim is just wrong historically.
    "You know by astronomical computation that the whole circumference of the earth is no more than a pinpoint when contrasted to the space of the heavens; in fact, if the two are compared, the earth may be considered to have no size at all."
    From Boethius (480-524 A.D.), Consolation of Philosophy, II.7
    This work was one of the staples of education even up to Copernicus' own day. Other points from Boethius:
    -the earth is farthest from heaven
    -the earth is the only place where perfect divine order is not followed
    -the earth is the only place where love does not rule all things

    More about this sort of thing can be found in Chapter V of C.S. Lewis' book The Discarded Image. The problem is that atheists or scientists who make this claim simply assume that "the center of the universe" is a value-term, not a simply cosmographical one. But, in fact, that cosmographical location conveyed an opposite value, a negative one, for the medieval mind.