Life’s Ultimate Question: Does God Exist?
he discovery was stunning. For10 days astronomers had care-fully trained the Hubble SpaceTelescope on a tiny patch of skythat appeared no larger than a grain of sandheld at arm’s length. Focusing on a spotnear the Big Dipper where the viewwouldn’t be obstructed by nearby planetsor stars,the scientists used the giant orbit-ing telescope’s instruments to methodi-cally gather 342 exposures,averaging15 to 40 minutes long. They patientlyrecorded miniscule points of light fourbillion times fainter than detectable withthe human eye.They hoped to ﬁnd answers to funda-mental questions about the universe. Howvast is it? How far might we be able to seein our search for galaxies billions of light-years from our own? Could they ﬁnd cluesto the origin of the universe and our ownMilky Way galaxy?The astronomers were awestruck whenthe hundreds of images were combinedand the fruits of their labors were revealed.Before them was an astounding image.The tiny speck of sky scrutinized in suchcareful detail by man’s most powerful tele-scope contained a kaleidoscope of hun-dreds upon hundreds of galaxies of variousshapes,sizes and colors. Looking througha “tube”of sky roughly the diameter of ahuman hair,they counted
no fewer than1,500 galaxies.
Exploring the detectable limits of timeand space,they concluded that the faintestgalaxies they had recorded were more than
light years away. Some of thebrighter ones were quite close,only 2.5billion light years distant.Even more astonishing,scientists con-cluded that the universe contains far moregalaxies than we can imagine—at least
and quite possibly far more.How big are those numbers? To putthem in perspective,if you counted galax-ies at the rate of one per second for 24hours,you would take almost
of such counting to reach one billion. Youwould spend more than three centuries toreach 100 billion galaxies,and that is onlythe estimated number of
in theuniverse. The average Milky Way–sizedgalaxy is thought to contain
and untold numbers of planets.Such astounding numbers quicklyoutgrow our limited comprehension andimagination.
Fundamental questions about origins
Who among us has not gazed up intothe nighttime sky and wondered why weare here? What is our place in the universe?What is the purpose of life?At a time of an astounding increaseof knowledge about the universe,philoso-phers,scientists and other thinkers ask these same questions. The assumptionsthey have drawn from traditional scientiﬁcunderstanding and thoughtful reasoninghave been tried and found wanting.British theoretical physicist StephenHawking,author of the best-seller
ABrief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes,
considers some of these vitalquestions:“We ﬁnd ourselves in a bewil-dering world,”he writes. “We want tomake sense of what we see around us andto ask:What is the nature of the universe?What is our place in it and where did it andwe come from?”(1988,p. 171).People have asked questions relating toour existence since the dawn of history. Butrarely have they been so well expressed asby the eminent scientists,historians andphilosophers of our age.Professor Hawking does not claimto have all the answers. But,through hisextraordinary scientiﬁc knowledge andability—especially in the ﬁelds of astro-physics,cosmology and mathematics—he asks the right questions.He is not the only scientist to ponderthese fundamental questions. The late CarlSagan,also a brilliant scientist and best-selling author,wrote in his introduction toProfessor Hawking’s book:“We go aboutour daily lives understanding almost noth-ing of the world. We give little thought tothe machinery that generates the sunlightthat makes life possible,to the gravitythat glues us to an earth that would other-wise send us spinning off into space,or tothe atoms of which we are made and onwhose stability we fundamentally depend”(ibid.,p. ix).Professor Sagan dedicated his life tobringing scientiﬁc thought to the nonscien-tiﬁc public. Notice another of his observa-tions:“Except for children (who don’tknow enough not to ask the importantquestions),few of us spend much timewondering why nature is the way it is;where the cosmos came from,or whetherit was always here ...”(ibid.).Perhaps most of us feel unqualiﬁed toweigh the mysteries of the universe,thatwe would be wasting our time. But that’snot true. This intellectual curiosity comeswith the territory of being human. Youshould ask the questions,and you shouldhave the answers.Professor Hawking emphasized thispoint in the last pages of
ABrief Historyof Time:
“... If we do discover a completetheory [that explains everything],it shouldin time be understandable in broad princi-ple by
not just a few scientists.Then we shall all,philosophers,scientists,and just ordinary people,be able to takepart in the discussion of the question of
why it is that we and the universe exist”
(p. 175,emphasis added).He concludes:“If we ﬁnd the answerto that,it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—
for then we would knowthe mind ofGod”
Asking theCrucial Questions
Why were you born?
Why do you exist? People have asked these questions for cen-turies, but few have found the answers.
Photos: Corbis Digital Stock except far right, NASA. Cover: Photo illustration by Shaun Venish/Corbis Digital Stock