It's a photograph of the planet Earth, snapped by the Voyager in 1980 on its way out of our solar system (still within a razor's edge, astronomically speaking). Astronomer Carl Sagan famously commented on the ramifications of the perspective this photo brings:
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
I've pondered the significance of our place in the cosmos many times; I even found a prior blog post on the subject. It's entirely true that the scale of our planet to the others in our solar system, and that of our massive sun to the majority of its stellar neighbours, is minuscule. It's also true that the distances between stellar systems make even the superlative sizes of Betelgeuse and Antares seem like specks.
But I take issue with Sagan's belief that humanity has no privileged place in the universe. I don't consider the vastness around us to be a sign that the odds are against God reaching out and encountering us. I rather consider his revelation to be all the more miraculous. Looking at the minute nature of our world compared to the rest of the universe can spawn one of two reactions: we are either very fortunate (i.e.fate thrust upon us with no guiding force) to have had our primordial ancestral soup be in the right place at the right time, or we are very blessed (i.e. a benevolent, involved creator immeasurably beyond our comprehension) to have had our primordial ancestral soup be in the right place at the right time.
I can't imagine going through life thinking that life itself is a giant series of coincidences, like the final destination of a Plinko disc. Far better to grasp the extended hand of God and embrace the infinite mystery of his love.