The Apple Of God's Eye

June 1, 2009

Could The Universe Contain An "Uncountable" Number Of Stars?

From time immemorial, man has been fascinated by the beautiful, and awesome spectacle of the stars of heaven. Many centuries before the birth of Jesus, David observed that “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork” (Psa. 19:1).

Even today, the seeming myriads of stars and nebulae continue to be a breathtaking and inspiring panoply. Yet at any given time, despite one’s initial impression, the actual number of stars distinguished by the naked eye is less than 3000. This means that you could easily count them all in less than an hour!

By contrast, the Bible states in Jeremiah 33:22 that “the host of heaven CANNOT BE NUMBERED.” During the thousands. of years before Galileo’s invention of the telescope, such a statement was considered to be either false or at least a gross exaggeration. The stars uncountable? The universe, they said, was too small to contain that many stars!

However, astronomers have estimated that there are billions of billions of stars in the visible universe. More specifically, astronomers estimate that their number is equal to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or one sextillion. Is this an “uncountable” number?

To find out, let’s suppose that every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth were employed in an “all-out” effort to count the stars. Every, person is given a giant telescope, capable of “seeing” all the stars in the direction it is pointed. Each telescope is limited to a certain part of the sky so that no star will be counted twice. Further, the sun is darkened so that the stars can be seen even during “daylight” hours. When the signal is given, everyone on earth begins counting — quickly — each person recording one new star every second. They work diligently hour after hour with no periods of rest. How long would it take to “count” the stars of heaven? A day? A week? A month?

No, it would take everyone on earth — over 8 thousand years to count the stars in the visible universe. But 8000 years is longer than man has been on the earth! So the term “uncountable” is indeed a very appropriate description of the number of stars, in the observable universe.

But is the number of stars literally “uncountable” in the sense of there being “infinitely many”? Some have assumed that if the term “cannot be numbered” is taken literally, then the Bible must be unscientific. They reason that astronomy knows only of an estimated sextillion stars — and that is a finite number and, hence, countable.

Ironically, the assumption that there is only a finite number of stars is often based on the Biblical statements that “God tells the number of the stars and calls them all by their names”. (Psa. 147:4) and “God brings out their host by number” (Isa. 40:26). These scriptures supposedly “prove” the universe is finite, for “even GOD could not give names to an INFINITE number of stars.” Actually, the fact is, that ALL objects in an infinite set may STILL have a “name.” For example, all the natural numbers (1, 2, 3, 4 ..) have a “name,” even though they comprise an infinity. Furthermore, the infinite mind of God would surely be capable of assigning names to an infinite number of stars. Thus, the Scriptures do not claim that the universe can only have a finite number of stars.

Moreover, astronomers readily admit that they cannot determine if there are “infinitely many” stars, because man is limited to observing the visible universe. Note that the size of the visible universe is NOT determined by how large a telescope man can build. Rather, it is determined — according to most astronomers — by a fascinating property of the universe itself! No matter where in the heavens astronomers look, they find the stars and galaxies “retreating” from us. The farther away these celestial objects are, the faster they appear to be traveling.

Now light reaching us from a receding object “looks” redder (lower frequency) just as the pitch of a train whistle drops in frequency as the train passes us by. Scientists know that at a certain velocity (near that of light itself, i.e., 186,000 miles per second) this “red shift” will be so great that man cannot detect any light coming from the object — not with his eyes, not with any known instrument — even using the largest telescopes available.

In other words, there are certain absolute limits beyond which physical man cannot go — and one of these is the boundary of the limit of detection of the visible universe. What is on the “other side” of this boundary? What lies beyond the limits of man’s perception? Man as a physical being does not know.

Yet there is a Great Plan by which man can know the size and scope the vast, unfathomable expanses of the universe — a plan instituted by the very Being who created the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1:1), who designed the lights of the firmament to divide day and night and to serve as signs for seasons, days and years (Gen. 1:14), who calls the stars by their names (Psalms 147:4), and whose understanding is infinite (Psalms 147:5; Isa 40:28).

No, the universe is not “too small” to contain an “uncountable” number of stars. In fact, even if the universe were much “smaller,” it would still be humanly impossible to count or number all the stars. And considering the possibility that the universe may be infinite, what better description could one give than that there is, as the Bible states, an innumerable number of stars?

Source: Tomorrow’s World, October 1971

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