It’s a simple concept, really.
My thought experiment began with the Fermi Paradox, when a scientist at a fancy restaurant asked the room, Where is everybody?
He was thinking along the scale of billions of years and billions of cubic miles of space spanning the vastly undiscovered universe. If the universe is billions of years old, the amount of time the human race has been extant is half of a blink of that time period. Let me explain the Paradox with a metaphor of my own making:
Imagine all the time the universe has been around is condensed into one hour. About a fraction of a second before the hour ended (59:59.8), humanity popped into existence. This fraction of a second is the entirety of our collective history, cultures, longings, et al.
Now suppose, says Fermi, that there have been other species like us in the past ‘hour.’ Compound this with the fact that there are millions of stars in the universe, so other earthlike planets could exist, and therefore host life like our planet. The probability that we would overlap with them — that our piece of a second would overlap with their slice of a second — is so slim, it makes sense that we haven’t found sentient life out there.
This leaves room for a few possibilities: They exist and in their minutes of the hour (compared to our .2 seconds), they have become so far advanced than us and have found us. They either weren’t interested in earth, or they are watching us and avoiding detection via Dyson Spheres or something similar; something beyond our present comprehension. They may even be post-biological beings. Essentially, if there were advanced species out there with millions of years to develop, they would have found us already (Recall that humans have been exploring space for less than 100 puny years. What type of space exploration technology will we have in a million years?).
So, given the unspeakable vastness of the universe (space) and the incomprehensible length of time in billions of years (time), the better chance is that there is no other life in the universe. If it was there, it would have found us by now. That’s the Fermi Paradox in a nutshell.
Thinking about this in conjunction with my Christian faith causes a few little alarm bells to ring. For reference, I’m a Christian, but don’t espouse all the traditional views of the Young Earth crowd or a literal reading of all of the Old Testament. This change in my thinking is a recent one too, as I’ve learned to un-read the Bible through an American/scientific lens and re-read it closer to how the original audiences would. But that’s for a different article.
Pragmatically, when I think through the bigness of space and time, and especially focus on the fact that no other planet has cultivated life the way earth has, it continually brings me back to God. I mean, as brilliant as our scientists are, we cannot create life from non-life. The theories always postulate that Given billions of years, life would burst forth… yet the Fermi Paradox pokes holes in this.
Other deep future thought experiments, as well as real experiments, like Nuclear Semiotics (How do we communicate with people 10,000 years in the future?) serve to remind us what a brief amount of time humans have been on the earth. 10,000 years is far longer than we even have recorded history of humans being on earth.
Now, taking historical, philosophical, and scientific factors into account, let’s look at two things:
First, the timing of Christ is uncannily eerie if he was not God and did not know exactly when to enter into human history. Rodney Stark, in The Rise of Christianity, outlines many of the factors in the pre-Constantinian era which led to its success. For example, Christ came when the infrastructure of the Roman empire was at its zenith, but the approval of the emperors would soon wane, causing the empire to fall within a few centuries. Sociology has proven that transitional periods are when the largest number of people convert to Christianity, and the Roman roads allowed the message of Christ to spread far faster than at any other time in history. That, as well as plagues in the empire and a handful of other historical factors (Jewish wars, destruction of the temple, Hellenization across Europe and Asia) reveal a timing that is not only uncanny but impossible.
No human gets to choose when they are born, much less what events will happen after their death. In the vastness of time, the precision of Christ’s appearance must be more than mere chance. Almost as if he chose when to enter into our world…
Second, I return to a verse from the Bible which has been a favorite for years, Ecclesiastes 3:11 —
God has made all things beautiful in their time, he has also set eternity on the hearts of men.
It may be easy for some of us, especially those of us raised in Christian homes to glaze over the word ‘eternity’ without giving it a second thought. Yet when we take time to think about how long time really is, we realize that our minds begin to cave in at about 10,000 years. That’s not even a tenth of a million, far less a billion, years. And a billion doesn’t even come close to eternity.
If we can remove our scientific caps for a moment and don our human caps, how true is that verse? Haven’t we had longings and emotions which seem bottomless and far deeper than mere instinct?
A friend of mine recently became a Christian after years of being an atheist. She said there simply has to be more than being born and dying and that’s the end. In a way, the overwhelming grandness of eternity proves to me that there is more to this world than what we can see and prove.
Perhaps this is not a scientific or rational argument, but an emotional one. Compare the slow passing of time to the vastness of eternity and realize there must be something carrying these atoms along through time and space.
Think of how slowly an oak tree grows but how quickly you get old.
Consider how badly you longed for that one person to come along, or perhaps how deeply you were cut when you lost them.
This eternity planted inside our hearts is more than just ancient wisdom literature — it is experienced fact. When I consider the Deep Future and Past, everything works out too perfectly to be chance. We did not find ourselves here by accident in light of everything. After all, the only thing I’ve ever witnessed which comes close to matching the immensity of the Deep Sciences is my own heart;
the beauty of new life and the depths of grief;
the way liberated people dance;
the rage in my vision when I lose my temper;
and the soft excitement of a first kiss.
If we believe Christ is the ground of our being; the source of our existence, it’s not hard to imagine Him entering into our reality and demolishing our expectations. These arguments may not convince the more scientific-minded of you, but it’s all overwhelming me enough to stay in the embrace of an invisible God a little longer. He’s an invisible God who became visible for our sake, when the time was exactly right (Galatians 4:4).
Thinking big thoughts re-orients my mind to appropriately ‘see’ God in His proper context:
That person who existed before eternity, and continues after it ends.
That thing which is bigger than all things.
The one able to place eternity on the hearts of humans.
Thank you Ethan! Most of the important information about our universe comes to us by revelation from God and not from science. We are invited to know God personally and intimately. He then shows us who were are and gives each of us a guided tour of His house. The tangible world is thought to have four dimensions but Jesus rules over a vast unseen kingdom having perhaps 10 or even 20 dimensions. Jesus is the secret door into this reality. Apart from Him we know nothing. Science deals with shadows.