In January, two astronomers announced that, following the recent demotion of Pluto as the ninth planet, they may have discovered a replacement for it in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune’s orbit. If they are right, according to their calculations the “new” planet’s orbit would take it as close as 20 billion miles to the sun and as far away as 100 billion miles. The facts are impressive until one compares them with those relating to the galaxy MACSO647 JD, photographed by the Hubble space telescope, estimated at 13.3 billion light years from earth, which means it was formed 420 million years after the Big Bang. Or those concerning the Pillars of Creation, columns of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula 7,000 light years from earth, that were destroyed a millennium ago. These phenomena, which strain the human imagination perhaps more even than we realize, are nevertheless apprehensible by the senses with the aid of advanced technology. But beyond these observable marvels lie invisible phenomena whose existence physicists so far only suspect and can describe only in terms of particle theory, string theory, quantum gravity, and quantum physics. According to one source, string theory suggests to physicists the existence of many possible universes arranged in a vast “landscape,” unimaginable to most people and probably even—except in the most theoretical way—to the physicists themselves. Such astronomical numbers, such astounding concepts, such elaborate theories are bandied daily by the “scientific community” and by the popular press, both entirely comfortable in treating the merely mind-boggling matter-of-factly and the highly theoretical, and almost unimaginable, as serious possibilities to which it is worth dedicating a career (and tens or scores of millions of dollars in other people’s money).
It’s an interesting question how many astronomers and particle physicists are atheists, or at least agnostics. Certainly, it is hard to imagine adherents of what is called the New Atheism among them, given that much of modern physics requires a degree of faith in the possibility of the Unseen and the Unprovable that such people as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins do not possess. Incredible is a word so overused and abused in modern speech as to have lost its original effect, but certainly it seems incredible that a positivistically minded society like our own could swallow the camels of postmodern science while straining at theological gnats. If science has indeed reached the point where its progress in explaining the natural world appears to have extended as far as the outer boundary of the supernatural, then what really is incredible is that people who accept without a murmur of protest the concept of an infinite physical (and therefore “natural”) universe, or universes, arranged as infinite “landscapes,” should gag at the notion of a supernatural universe created and guided by an omnipotent Being—and not gag at it only, but rant against so much as the possibility of such a thing. Apparently, when it comes to belief, where there is a will there’s a way—and where not, not