Is the Universe Full of “Wasted” Space?

Why did God make the universe so big? Why so much extra space if it’s just us? This is a question that both skeptics and believers have often asked, including myself. After all, why does there need to be a universe with some fifty billion trillion stars, which comprise merely one percent of the total mass?

Stephen Hawking raised this question years ago in his book A Brief History of Time. He suggested the vast size of our universe seems a waste. And Carl Sagan famously said, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” Sagan suggested its size is good reason to believe there are other life forms in the universe.

Universe Wasted Space

Whether or not life exists in other parts of the universe, it turns out that the size of the universe is carefully calibrated and necessary for life’s existence on planet Earth. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross explains this phenomenon in his recent book Improbable Planet. He writes:

However, ongoing research has given us good reasons—all relevant to life’s existence—for the massiveness of the cosmos. We need it for essential construction materials.

The initial mass density of matter’s building blocks—protons and neutrons (called baryons. collectively)—critically impacted what happened the first few minutes of the universe’s existence. That’s when hydrogen, the lightest element, fused into the next heavier elements, helium and lithium. The amount of helium and lithium produced at the time then determined how much planet-and life-building material (the elements essential for life) could be produced later on within the nuclear furnace of stars.

If the universe contained a slightly lower mass density of protons and neutrons, then nuclear fusion in stellar furnaces would have yielded no elements as heavy as carbon or heavier; if a slightly greater mass density, then stars burning would have yielded only elements as heavy as iron or heavier. Either way, the universe would have lacked the elements most critical for our planet and its life—carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and more. For life to be possible, the universe must be no more or less massive than it is.[1]

Simply put, given the laws of physics in our universe, we need a universe as massive as it is for the construction of the materials that make life possible on our planet. If the universe were much smaller or bigger, we would not exist.

It turns out the universe is not full of wasted space. In fact, if the universe were not this massive, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and the rest of us could never even have been here to reflect upon it. Thank God we live in such a big universe.

Sean McDowell, a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

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[1] Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 24.

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1 reply
  1. Ben says:

    Sean McDowell,

    I do not understand your argument in the blog post. You cite Hugh Ross in claiming that, in fact, the universe is not full of wasted space. However, the argument you give does not support the claim you and Ross make. In particular, just because the mass *density* of the universe is (allegedly) precisely what it needs to be, that does not mean that the massiveness of the universe is precisely what it needs to be. And moreover, massiveness and spaciousness are not the same thing anyway, so your conclusion seems irrelevant to the charge of wasted space.

    In other words, you seem to be arguing against there being wasted *mass* in the universe, not wasted space. And even your argument against wasted mass is invalid.

    (Also, it would be nice to know what other scientists think about this, instead of just one scientist who has made it his mission in life to defend creationism. Is Ross’s central premise about mass density even true? Not that it matters much since the argument is neither valid nor on-topic.)

    Presumably, an omnipotent God could have created a universe which contains nothing but our solar system, with a boundary which absorbs and delivers mass and energy consistent to the boundary it actually has with a spacious universe. Such a universe would behave in this region exactly as it does, supporting life on earth as we know it.

    Better yet, I see no reason God could not have designed a different universe with even less spaciousness and a simpler boundary, which nevertheless supports life. As God is omnipotent and perfectly intelligent, this seems eminently plausible, even though we are not ourselves intelligent enough to design it or powerful enough build it.


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