When I was young, I thought I knew pretty much everything. Not in a cocky way, and not because I was young. In fact if you had asked me I would have told you there was a lot to discover. A lot about god, that is. Other than this mysterious, unknowable being whom I did not feel very familiar with, the world was limited in my imagination. I pictured a 10,000 year history for the earth, and a god who had created everything just as we saw it today. I thought 10,000 years was quite a long time, but now I have begun to think about billions, and I am staggered by the wonder of it all.
You see, I have yet to educate myself on history beyond the confines of Christendom, and I have yet to educate myself about nature and the universe. My only study of origins or the universe up to this point had been mainly aimed at combatting Evolution as the source of all that is evil in our modern age. In fact, for my senior year of high school, I decided I wanted to read only anti-Evolution books (including three or four by the horrifically racist Henry M. Morris). Let me clarify: up until that point, all of my textbooks had been explicitly Creationist. However, I had become convinced that Evolution was utterly evil and false, and I wanted to spend my senior year reading books proving that premise. My mom happily agreed. (Incidentally, this ill-chosen cause led directly to my rejection from the Honors program at my Christian college, because I wrote my essay on why Theistic Evolution is a theological impossibility. I didn’t know my audience at all; one of the most progressive professors at the school was head of the Honors program and he declined my application – as well he should have, being given only a horrible thesis packed with false evidence and poor logic with which to judge me.)
Now that I am open to taking science on its own claims, rather than trying to force some kind of agenda and fearing everything that might poke holes in that agenda, I find myself loose in a dizzying, mind-blowing, infinite universe of possibility.
I feel so tiny, thinking about how vast all of time and space is around me. In an almost mystical sort of narrative, I realize that I’m a conglomeration of atoms only temporarily formed into this conscious form. The matter that makes me up will exist forever, but I am only in this form as myself for a short time. When people say we are part of everything, it is literally true.
For a moment it was a shock to my system to realize that I have no guarantee that my consciousness in any meaningful way will exist any longer than my body does. I was used to imagining myself continuing on as myself, getting to witness the rest of history. I want to know everything and I want to see how this human race plays out and it does not seem, somehow, quite fair that we must play this game and yet don’t get to see how it ends. But why worry about whether or not my consciousness will continue after my body dies? As long as I am this particular manifestation of the universe (it sounds very Eastern mystic I know, but it’s literally true), I may as well be the best possible me I can be. Let the rest worry about itself. I am grateful for the opportunity to be human right now.
I also started to realize the full impact of the concept of lightyears. Because of lightyears, and because we don’t see things until the light from them hits our eyeballs, it is literally true that we, perceiving stars or other space objects, are looking into the past. That used to be less amazing to me because I believed god created “the appearance of age” when he created the universe 10,000 years ago (that’s just a sample of the mental gymnastics young-earth Creationists go through to justify their ideas). That is, god made a star’s light reach our eyeballs as though the star were billions of years old, when in fact, those stars were only a few thousand years old. But now I try to wrap my head around the fact that we literally get to look at the ancient history of the universe.
This universe is so vast and mind-boggling, dwarfing even the awesome history of Earth. And I feel that if the universe is inhabited by space-travelers, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy might in fact be a very accurate summation of our own planet: “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy…” So what if that’s true? My friends, DON’T PANIC. Start bending your mind and imagining all the wonders the universe has to hold.