Macro and micro.

There is an amazing image at APOD today, a representation of the “Observable Universe”.

There is something simultaneously elevating and visceral about this image, forward looking and yet primitive.

I have a sense that the cosmos is so large because God, who uses material things to bring us to transforming mystery, wanted us to have some way to think about His being omnipotent and eternal. Technology develops, because our minds are a little less than the angels, Therefore, in the miraculous image of Our Lady on the tilma, and in the Shroud of Turin, we keep discovering smaller and smaller wonders. Macro and micro.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. anthtan says:

    It resembles an eye.

  2. Fulco One Eye says:

    I find it disturbing that the Sun is at the geometric center. That makes no sense.

  3. Mother Seton says:

    anthtan, I logged in to say the same. It looks like the scan of an eye. Absolutely amazing. Deo gratias.

  4. Theodore says:

    I’ve had a few similar thoughts on my mind lately concerning the cosmos:

    Perhaps everything is so vast because this is what it takes for one single planet to sustain life, and likewise (this is from Fr. Ripperger) that God allows us to look out into the depths of space to realize that we need not go anywhere else. No matter how you look at it the Earth truly is a special place – He came here. Nowhere else.

    Quite a fun and interesting subject.

  5. Cornelius says:

    A beautiful depiction, and I applaud the centrality of our solar system – which makes sense to me. The vastness of the universe is just dead matter (as far as we know), utterly insignificant compared to this beautiful gem of a planet that God Himself gave Himself to save.

    I think of Earth, however tiny it is in physical dimensions, as the equivalent of the Angelic star you put on top of a Christmas tree – the tree itself is much larger in size, but the star on top is the crowning glory of all the rest.

  6. DeGaulle says:

    Fulco One Eye, I recently read a very plausible and extremely detailed book by Catholic science writer Robert Sungenis proposing that Geocentrism is in fact correct. He supported it by outlining the evidence, recently accumulated by several satellites, that the cosmic background radiation is centred on the Solar System, as also seems to be the dispersion of known supernovae. The real gist of his case is the nineteenth-century Michelson/Morley experiment, intended to show the speed of the Earth in the aether, but discovering that our planet wasn’t moving at all. This experiment has been repeated hundreds of times, with increasingly more sophisticated and accurate instruments-but with the same result. Sungenis contends that Einstein introduced his Theory of Relativity in order to fudge the issue. Under Einstein’s theory, which Sungenis demonstrates to contain many contradictions, any point in the Universe can purport to be the centre around which everything else rotates, it all being relative. Sungenis might not be right, but for me he certainly shakes some ‘certainties’.

  7. The Masked Chicken says:

    The reason the map is circularly symmetric is that the universe expanded in all directions, more or less uniformly, after the Big Bang. The map is not actually flat. It is more like a two-dimensional projection of a contour map. The sun is not at the center; the earth is, but it is so small that it looks like the sun is at the center.

    As for Sungenis, sigh, I appreciate his early apologetics work, but, in my opinion, he is off the rails with geocentrism. What he is presenting, whether he knows it or not, is, I believe, a bastardized version of the Mach Principle: the inertia of a point is determined by the entire mass of the universe. Basically, one can take the earth, or any other point in the universe and make it the center of inertia of the universe, with mass affecting that point like concentric circles.

    Although there are numerous statement of Mach’s Principle, which was vaguely stated by Mach, nevertheless, one common version is that by the English astrophysicist, Dennis Sciama (it was the topic of his Ph.D thesis):

    Sciama showed that the particular form of the General Theory of Relativity derived by Einstein is the only one consistent with the Mach Principle, a fact that Sungenis, apparently, does not know (in other words, geocentrism, to the extent that it depends on Mach’s Principle – and it sure looks like it does to me – must be consistent with General Relativity, not in opposition, as Sungenis claims). The reason that one can choose any point as the center of the universe is because General Relativity is translationally invariant. So, by the way, is the Mach Principle.

    Sciama is mostly known, today, as the doctoral advisor of Stephen Hawking, Brandon Carter (formulator of the Anthropic Principle in cosmology), Sir Martin Rees, Philip Candelas, John Barrow, and David Deutsch (originator of quantum computing and the many-world interpretation of quantum mechanics).

    I am not a cosmologist, but I became interested in Mach’s Principle after reading a popular treatment of the subject by Sciama in a paperback book I bought, I believe, at a college Friend of the Library book sale. My background is more on the quantum side of things.

    If Sungenis thinks that Einstein is wrong, then how does he explain quantum spin and anti-matter, both of which depend on special relativity. How does he explain gravitational time-dilation or Einstein lensing? I suppose one could use Mach’s Principle to do it, but it would be, essentially equivalent to what General Relativity says in a more concise fashion.

    I, strongly, doubt that Sungenis is qualified to talk about contradictions in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, either Special or General. Does he know what a covariant tensor is? I am sure that Fr. George LaMaitre, the priest who proposed the Big Bang model, does. I am sure that hundreds of theoretical cosmologists do.

    One can define any point as the center of the universe, including the Earth. Anyone who has taken introductory college physics knows that one chooses the simplest frame of reference to solve a problem. It would be really silly to choose an earth-centered frame of reference to model black hole rotation in a far away galaxy. One chooses the simplest computational frame of reference for the job. Sungenis talks a good talk, but has he ever actually derived any of his arguments using math? Has he ever proposed a test that proves his theory over General Relativity? I am sure the astronomical community would sit up and take notice if he had.

    I do not want to denigrate the man. He has made useful contributions in apologetics and I have referenced his works on many occasions, but the difference between his approach and mine is that I have graduate standing in both the arts and sciences. I did my undergraduate work at the university where the Michelson-Morley experiment was done. I have walked the halls of Morley’s chemistry building. One of my physics professors was Einstein’s colleague and one of his biographers. As someone who has done work on historical topics, I appreciate his work in theology, but I am quite scandalized that he would use theology as a cudgel against science. Theology and science are not at odds. Both wish to discover Truth.

    The earth may very well be at the center of the universe (which, by the way, if Big Bang Cosmology is correct, has no center), but if that is the case, science will be lead, inescapably to that conclusion, sooner or later (even if it takes another thousand years). If the Bible does say, as Sungenis proposes, that the earth is the center of the universe, then, hopefully, man will be brought to the point where he must agree, but for now, in fact, it is not necessary that the earth be the center of the universe for God to be its author and choosing the earth as the center would hobble practical calculations of many phenomena in astronomy.

    If Sungenis had anything really useful to say on astrophysics, he would be saying it in peer-reviewed journals, not in popular treatments put out in books by his own vanity press. Yes, scientists can pooh-pooh correct theories – one such theory that comes to mind is the theory of continental drift – but, eventually, the truth will out and the theory will stand the tests thrown at it. Sungenis can’t argue for his theory in a testable way, because it does not, I suspect, belong to the preambles of faith, but has to be taken on faith. In other words, he can quote the Bible, but can he quote a star’s motion?

    Sorry, to go on so long, but Sungenis is creating a conflict that does not, in fact, exist. There are many Christian astronomers. If you ask them if the earth is the center of the universe, most of them would, probably, say, “hmm, okay,” and go on with things. The astronomy, Dr. Pamala Gay, a Christian, found out the hard way that some atheistic scientists can be idiots:

    That God is the center of all things is hardly surprising to any Christian. That one needs to assume that the earth is the center of the universe in order to prove the existence of God is something that none of the 23 or so proofs for the existence of God that I know of has historically ever relied on. It is Sungenis who needs this to be true in order to prove that his interpretation (which he will tell you is the Catholic interpretation) of Scripture is correct. In the case of geocentric, he is mixing theology and science in a way that does not do justice to either.

    The Chicken

  8. OssaSola says:

    We contemplate in order to adore.

  9. DeGaulle says:


    I thank you for taking the trouble for furnishing such a comprehensive and illuminating reply. You’re far more learned in these matters than me and than Sungenis, I would think. It’s just that people like him that are willing to challenge that which is deemed beyond question appeals to the contrarian in me. Perhaps, this is so in my case because of the way that atheistic, Darwinian evolutionism has come to be brought into question so much lately. Some scientists, not all, profess such certainty that it’s no harm to shake ’em up.

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