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Archive for April 24th, 2014

Infinities

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I ran across this story the other day; it is not new, except to me. Robert Krulwich, a science writer at NPR, was discussing the book Spectrums: Our Mind-boggling Universe from Infinitesimal to Infinity, by David Blatner, and he related a question the author had posed: is the sum total of grains of sand on the planet Earth greater or smaller than the number of stars in the sky? Not, of course, just the stars we can see, which even on a clear night in a dark place ‘only’ number in the thousands. No, he was talking about all the stars that can be perceived with the tools of astronomy.

Either way, the answer seemed obvious to me: there certainly must be more grains of sand on the earth than stars in the universe, right?

Wrong.

A group of researchers at the University of Hawaii very roughly ‘guesstimated’ that  ‘if you assume a grain of sand has an average size and you calculate how many grains are in a teaspoon and then multiply by all the beaches and deserts in the world, the Earth has roughly (and we’re speaking very roughly here)  ….seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains.’

That is certainly a lot of sandbut astronomers estimate that there are 70 thousand million, million, million stars in the observable universe (a 2003 estimate).

That means that there are very many stars for every grain of sand on the planet.

Allow that to sink in for a moment.

And then brace yourself: Dr Blatner then mentions that just ten drops of water contain as many molecules as there are stars in the universe.

This is the sort of thing that first spurred the awe that led to my search for God, this infinity stretching outward and inward, this sense of the incomprehensibility of even the visible universe.

Humans, of course, have always been in awe looking up at the stars, have always felt small in the face of vastness. But one of the wonders of living at this time in history is that infinity is a whole lot bigger than it appeared to the ancients.

Modern cosmology sounds a death knell to rationalism and the pride of man, and I have never understood religious believers who feel threatened by scientific knowledge.

The only thing threatened by modern science, which reveals a complexity and vastness and mystery beyond all human comprehension, is idolatry, the making of comprehensible gods by humans intent on grasping the Infinite.

You can read the article here:http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/09/17/161096233/which-is-greater-the-number-of-sand-grains-on-earth-or-stars-in-the-sky

And this is a link to David Blatner’s website:http://www.spectrums.com/author/

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