Look at the brown band in this picture. Scan down until you see a little pale blue dot. Got it? That’s earth, and this was a picture taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 at distance of 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers) from earth. The picture was taken at the request of Carl Sagan, and here’s what Mr. Sagan had to say about the image in a speech:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.“
Reading Sagan’s words, I find myself agreeing and disagreeing at the same time. Seeing our world from such a distance certainly makes us seem quite insignificant in the vast scheme of things. Our conflicts seem all the sillier when put into the perspective of the vastness of space, the infinitesimal tininess of our planet hurtling through that great deep and the unfathomable enormity of time.
"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4 NRSV).
There’s nothing particularly new about the idea that humanity may be less even than an afterthought in the grand scheme of things. Many ancient cultures had creation myths that involved gods at war, beasts slain and the universe and all that’s in it coming forth from the rotting carcass(es). There was nothing special about this world or it inhabitants, according to this view. Into this scenario a powerful counter-narrative was sewn together and spoken.
It began with the universe:
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31 ESV).
And culminated with humanity:
“…then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7 ESV).
Arguments centered around questions of creation and evolution generally miss the point of these passages. They were never meant to be read or understood according to Enlightenment rationalism. The overriding argument of Scripture is that all life matters and this world has real value. Just because a person doesn’t hold a certain status in society doesn’t make her worth less than others, and the simple fact that the earth seems miniscule when compared with the great expanse of the universe doesn’t make our world any less important.
I said above that I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with Sagan’s “pale blue dot” commentary. Think about it. Why do people fight? For stupid reasons? Perhaps. Because they were deceived into fighting? It happens. The fundamental motivator, regardless of whether the cause is truly just or nothing but a massive lie, is a belief that some things matter.
Nationalism, family, pride, wealth, fame, religion, etc can all be reasons people march in wars, but there are also causes that motivate people to march for peace, for understanding and for equality. Are these also meaningless, given that they are sought out on a pale blue dot no bigger than a pixel? I say “no,” and I say it because my faith, based on the words of Judeo-Christian Scripture, tell me so.
You may choose to believe and base your life on the popular narrative in its modern form. That would be the one that says the universe is a confluence of random factors and life is therefore only what you make of it, and not more. Many have believed this story in its countless versions down through the ages. My choice is to embrace the Biblical counter-narrative. This universe exists intentionally and humanity has a purpose.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31 NRSV).
“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:16 NIV).