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How Small Can Mankind's Universe Be?

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright March 2007


One of the contentions of those who believe there is a conflict between believing in a Christian god and believing in evolution is that God made the universe specifically to provide a place for mankind to live.

In other words, the universe is here to house mankind.

These same people also believe that something as complex as mankind could not have been produced without an intelligent creator. As a thought experiment, let’s set up some axioms based on these two contentions and see what kind of a universe pops out.

Intelligent Design Axioms

1. The universe we experience was made by an intelligent designer. The fact that this designer is intelligent has many implications. Some of those are recognized by the promoters of the intelligent design concept, others are ignored. In this article, I will be looking at some of the ignored implications, as well as the well-recognized ones. One of the ignored implications is that intelligent design implies good design, and one of the hallmarks of good design is efficiency. In an intelligent design, there should be little waste. There may be provision for uncertainty, which looks like waste if the uncertainty is not taken into account, but in fact, there should be little waste. Paying for insurance is an example of something that looks wasteful if you are not thinking about uncertainties.

If there's a lot of waste in the design, it is indistinguishable from a design created by random processes which is not an intelligent design process.

2. The universe was created to "process" human souls through a mortal experience. The reason for human existence is to give the souls that occupy human bodies a chance to experience human life. That experience will then serve them well in an afterlife. One simple way of thinking about this processing is “Live a good life and you will go to heaven." This human-centric viewpoint is a hallmark of intelligent design thinking. If the universe exists to allow the creation of some alien empire, or for no reason at all, it is not an intelligent design universe as proposed by intelligent design advocates.

Human centrism is an axiom of intelligent design.

3. Humans are different from animals and different from plants. Humans have a different kind of soul. The universe is not designed for other creatures, it is designed specifically for humans. The other creatures are on Earth to support the human experience, just as rock, water, and air are.

4. How many human souls is the universe designed to process? This isn't an axiom, but an important question. If a designer is going to be intelligent about his or her or its design, the size of the task is important. If the Bible is connected to the planning document of this intelligent designer, then the universe was created just prior to recorded human history, and it will end "real soon, now" with the second coming of Jesus and Judgment Day.

In other words, to accomplish its design aims, the universe need only exist for a few thousand years and be big enough to give up to a trillion human souls a mortal experience (process them).

Given these axioms, how big does our universe need to be? That is the subject of this essay.

I will divide the problem into two parts: How big would the universe have to be in size (size in space), and how long would it have to exist (size in time)?

Again, if the design is intelligent, it will be efficient, which means the universe should be as small as possible in both time and space. So, how small a universe can we make that will still sustain human existence as we know it today and as we expect it to change into in the near future?

Size in Space

How big is the universe? Astronomers can now see starlight from galaxies that are 13 billion light-years away. This light is coming past thousands of galaxies to get to us. This means the universe we can see is very big. It is so big that events that happen at the edge of what we can see will never affect humans. If you're an intelligent designer, and the goal of the universe is specifically to provide a home for humans, all that space that can't affect humans is wasted.

So, how small can the universe get and still produce humans who can sustain modern civilization and technology?


In answering this question, one of the first issues that must be faced is “Can the universe have an 'outside'?" Can we have a tangible wall that separates our universe from something else that is not a part of it? This is very much related to the question of “What is our universe in?"

The modern science answer is that our universe doesn't have any sort of wall around it, and it isn't "in" anything in the way we think of that “in” meaning. Whatever it is in, if anything, we have no knowledge of. What we are in, according to modern science, is the three dimensional equivalent of the Earth's surface -- if you walk long enough in a straight line on the Earth, you don't come to a wall, you come back to where you started! At this point, we have no idea how much "walking" it would take to come back to where we started in our universe. We do know that if we tried walking around at the speed of light, we'd arrive back at the starting point billions of years later. The universe of science is really big!!!

For purposes of this discussion, I'm going to presume our universe creator is powerful enough and smart enough to say, “Billions or trillions of light-years across? Tut! Tut! What a waste of space! Not having a wall and an outside is really inefficient! I'm going to put mankind's universe in some kind of container."

So, how small can the container be?

Outside Effects on Earth

When we stand outside on a nice day, we experience wind and sunshine, and perhaps some rain or snow. We stand on the ground, and if we jump, we quickly come back down. All of those effects, except for sunshine, come from Earth's rocks and atmosphere. So, it's important to our experience that there be an Earth below us and an atmosphere around us. Sunshine is very important to our experience, so it's also important that there be a sun.

If a person stands near or in the sea, they also experience tides. Those come from the sun and the moon. So, the sun is important for tides and sunshine, and the moon is important for tides.

If a person stands outside on a starry night, they see the light from galaxies millions of light-years away, but that light is very faint. Moonlight and planet light are also very faint. Other than inspiring mankind's imagination, these lights we see at night don't affect Earth. In the same manner, the tidal effects (the gravity effects) of planets and stars are too small to affect happenings that concern life on Earth.

So, a universe for mankind needs the whole Earth, so that mankind can experience all the earthly processes such as gravity, atmosphere, and soil. One might argue that a flat earth in some kind of giant warehouse would work as well, but a flat earth would need a lot of complex external mechanisms to imitate the effects of gravity and weather. And there would be the wall effect; humans would bump into a wall, something they currently don't do. The universe needs an Earth such as the one we experience every day.

The universe would also need a sun and a moon to produce tides on Earth. And ... that's about it. Starlight could be provided by lamps on the wall. So, a universe efficiently designed for processing ten billion or so human souls at a time would need an Earth, a sun, and a moon. It would not need:

All those extra features are just waste. The universe could be as small as one light year across. This would be big enough to hold the sun at the center, and let the Earth orbit it undisturbed. As a bonus, a one-light-year-across universe would let planets, comets, and asteroids orbit the sun, too.

So, in terms of space usage, the universe we observe that consists of many stars and many galaxies is a trillion times too big to be the work of an intelligent universe designer.

(Singing) That's a hunka, hunka, burning waste!

Size in Time

The size in time issue -- how old the universe is -- is very dependent upon how long the universe has to function.

If the Bible is connected to the intelligent designer's planning document, then the universe started just a bit before mankind's recorded history, and it will end ... soon ... with Judgment Day. In other words, the universe only has to exist for, say, ten thousand years.

Science's best guess at the age of the universe recently got much more accurate. The age is now thought to be 13 billion years old, rather than 10-20 billion years old, which was the best guess ten years ago. Once again, if the universe is billions of years old, but designed specifically to contain a process that is going to last only ten thousand years, that's a whole hunka, hunka, burning waste again.

In sum, an intelligently designed universe would be about one light-year across in size and about ten thousand years old.

Intelligent Designer or Artistic Designer?

It is interesting to note that an intelligent design, or efficient universe as I have constructed it in this essay, is very similar to the universe envisioned by many pre-Copernican wise men. The ancient European, African, Asian, and American astronomers all envisioned the universe as a place big enough to hold Earth, as it was known to them, but not much bigger.

So, if the universe could be as small as one light-year across, but it's really ten billion light-years across, and it could be as young as ten thousand years old, but it's really ten billion years old, where's the intelligence being shown in the design of our universe?

One might argue, “Oh, we just don't understand the criterion of the intelligent designer!"

And that would be a good argument ... except ... one of the axioms of intelligent design is its human-centrism: We know our designer well enough to know that he or she thinks in a human-centric fashion.

If he or she is not being human centric, then all sorts of possibilities open up. If there is more on his or her agenda than providing a place for human souls to experience mortal life, there are several possibilities:

It is also possible that the intelligent designer is trying to fool humans for some reason: The universe is really small and really new, but the designer is employing illusions to make it look big and old.

Once again, the problem with all these answers is that they imply that the universe is not human-centric -- the intelligent designer has some other items on his universe designing agenda, in addition to simply providing a place for human soul processing.

This is the deep problem I see with the intelligent design concept. If there is something else on the agenda in addition to processing souls, that something else could be anything else -- the choices for "something else" are endless. Why couldn't one of the "something else's" be ... evolution?

-- The End --

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