It’s popular on social media, notably Twitter and Facebook, to post videos that show how infinitesimally small the earth is when compared to objects inside our universe. They then draw some conclusion of, “See how insignificant we are?” or “So when your problems seem overwhelming, just look at how big the universe is and realize how small your problems are.” Such messages, I guess, are suppose to be inspiring, but ultimately they’re quite nihilistic. It’s like one of those Lisa Frank paintings with nihilistic messages:
It looks kind, cuddly, and just pukes sentimentality, but the message is pretty dark. And that’s how these videos on the universe are; yes, we’re small, we’re tiny compared to other physical objects in the universe, but does that really mean our problems are insignificant? Just say, “Cry into the night sky, but understand that your sound goes into a void that will not answer back and will not hear you.” It’s atheistic existentialism without the acknowledgement of angst or absurdity, it’s optimistic nihilism, which is to say it’s neither optimistic nor nihilist, but just a logical contradiction.
How non sequitur is it to say, “But the universe is vast and large and we are insignificant” when someone comes to you with a problem? More importantly, why would the size of the earth play into our significance? While the magnitude of a problem experiences some subjectivity – to a three year old, dropping an ice cream cone is an act of supreme evil – it doesn’t mean our problems or even our lives are insignificant. We can’t look at the crisis in the Middle East, the number of orphans, widows, and rampant genocide, we can’t look at the rapes, the theft, the wanton loss of life and go, “Yeah, but VY Canis Majoris is 5,000 light years from earth and dwarfs our own sun! So really, how big can our problems be?” That response is properly received as cold and callous, and that’s because it is, because human lives are significant regardless of their size.
See, while VY Canis Majoris might dwarf our sun, or while the whole of North America might look like a smudge when compared to the size of Jupiter, human lives dwarf absolutely everything else in this universe, including the universe itself. We are the kings and queens of creation, placed as stewards over all that we observe, even if what we observe is bigger than ourselves. Much to the chagrin of atheists or the non-religious, though evolved we are still made in the image of God. And since God is infinite, within that image there is infinity, and infinity shall always remain greater than the finite. And the universe, no matter how vast it is, is still finite. The problems we face, the evil we cause, the good we enjoy, the love we create, and every aspect of our existential lives are not insignificant or small just because the universe is large; these elements echo in eternity and will surpass even the universe itself.
And for those who aren’t religious or are atheists and prefer not to believe that we are in God’s image, I can respect that, but I can’t respect the devaluation of human life. For even the atheist existentialists would embrace the absurdity of treating human life with dignity because, after all, it’s the only intelligent form of life of which we know As small as we are, our intelligence makes us of far greater value than some distant star of mass quantities.
So yes, in terms of physical limitations humans are insignificant. We’re nothing compared to other animals on this planet, if we’re only looking to physicality. But if we’re looking to more, if we’re looking to the intangible, immaterial aspect of our existence (for love, knowledge, and the like cannot be measured and though immaterial, are a vital part of our existence and are what makes us human), then nothing in the observable universe comes close to our own significance.