Materialists often argue that the size of the universe is evidence that God does not exist. As we shall see, this is a very weak argument.
The argument from the size of the universe usually goes something like this: The superstitious ancients who dreamt up the idea of God thought we lived in a cozy little universe. We now know the universe is unimaginably vast and mostly empty. God, if he exists, would not have created a vast, mostly empty, universe. Therefore, God does not exist.
Let’s examine these premises. First, the materialist’s assertion that the ancients did not understand that we live in a vast universe is wrong is nothing more than a modern conceit. Over 3,000 years ago the Psalmist wrote:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
The Psalmist knew that in comparison to the cosmos man is small and insignificant. Not only was the Psalmist not alone among the ancients, by the second century AD, his intuition was common knowledge among educated people. In chapter 5 of book I of the Almagest (ca. 150), Ptolemy wrote:
The earth, in relation to the distance of the fixed stars, has no appreciable size and must be treated as a mathematical point.
Having dispensed with the conceit that often moves the argument, let us move to the argument proper. If we were to cast the argument in the form of a syllogism it would look like this:
Major Premise: If God exists, he would not have created an unimaginably vast, mostly empty, universe.
Minor Premise: The universe we observe is unimaginably vast and mostly empty.
Conclusion: Therefore, God does not exist.
The conclusion follows from the premises. But is the argument sound, i.e., are we confident the premises are true?
One could quibble with the minor premise on the ground that the word “vast” is relative. A destroyer is vast compared to a dinghy, but it is small compared to an aircraft carrier. So is the destroyer vast or small? It depends on whether you are comparing it to a dinghy or a carrier. But the universe cannot be compared to something else. It is unique and it is large. Is it? Let’s grant the multiverse position for the sake of argument. If that position is true, our universe is not vast compared to the multiverse; indeed it is almost infinitely tiny. Anyone who has seen the closing credits of the movie Men in Black (see here starting at 0:30) will have an idea of the force of this observation.
But let’s not get caught up in unresolvable disputes over relative size. Let’s grant the minor premise even if it is somewhat shaky. What about the major premise? In this premise the materialist asserts that if God exists he would not have created such a big universe. And how, exactly, does the materialist know what size of a universe God would create if he existed?
There does not appear to be any good materialist answer to that question. All I have ever gotten has been variations on the following assertion: To me it looks awfully big and wasteful to have been created by a reasonable God.
At bottom the argument is either an argument from personal incredulity, an aesthetic argument, or an argument from ignorance.
Personal incredulity. “I personally do not believe a reasonable God would have made such a big universe.” The answer to this, of course, is so what? The fact that you find an assertion implausible does nothing to establish that it is false. That requires evidence, of which this argument is singularly lacking.
Aesthetics. “I fell that a reasonable God would not have wasted so much space.” This argument boils down to a visceral aesthetic impulse. Needless to say, a visceral aesthetic impulse says nothing about the actual facts of the matter. Maybe God is not reasonable as you define reasonableness. Maybe he was extravagant. Maybe he had reasons to create so large that you don’t know about. At the end of the day, the condition of your viscera says nothing about the actual facts of the matter.
Argument from ignorance. “There is no good reason for God to have made the universe so vast.” Correction. There is no good reason that you know about that God made the universe so vast.
As we have discussed in this pages before, many atheists assert there is “no evidence” for God having created the universe. This assertion borders on idiotic. There are any number of good lines of evidence that would lead to a conclusion that God created the universe, and just because an atheist does not find any of those lines of evidence (or all of them cumulatively) personally convincing, does not mean they don’t exist. If we are going to talk about lack of evidence, let’s focus on the “the universe is just too big” argument. There is absolutely no evidence backing the argument up. Nevertheless, many atheists find the argument compelling. That should tell you something.