I don’t go to church. Who needs fantasy when reality is so much more compelling? When it comes to conveying the mystery and majesty of the cosmos, the fanciful tales found in holy books pale in comparison to findings of modern science.
For example, I’ve read a lot about emptiness in Buddhist writings. Nothingness comes in for a lot of mention also—not only in Buddhism, but in the mystic teachings of every religion (“nada, nada, nada,” says St. John of the Cross).
Yet this eleven-mile wide web page really hit home to me how little of something, and how much of nothing, the world is made of. This page shows the scale of a hydrogen proton and it’s surrounding electron.
At first I dragged the Firefox scrollie thing all the way across to the electron, not having read the entire accompanying narrative. It’s more impressive, though, to do as suggested and start clicking your way one screen at a time. I didn’t have the patience to travel eleven miles a foot or so at a click. That would be a worshipful thing to do, however.
There’s a lot more inspiring science in this Daily Kos “Friday Science” post, where I learned about the hydrogen atom web page. I already knew that there are about 100 billion stars in an average galaxy like ours, and there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe.
You want humility and ego loss? Ponder 100 billion times 100 billion. That’s how many stars there are in the universe. And you’re one person on one planet orbiting one of those stars. You share Earth with six billion other human souls and countless other sentient beings.
We’re nothing. Yet also, everything. Because whatever the universe is composed of, we are too. It’s a mystery what most of that “whatever” is. Here’s a pie chart that shows how much of the universe is made of ordinary matter and energy: just 5%.
Yes, scientists figure that 70% of the universe is composed of dark energy and 25% of dark matter. “Dark” means that they can’t perceive it, yet know that it is there. A lot like God, aside from the “know that it is there” part. You want mystery? Embrace science.
Religious images and icons leave me cold. Photographs of deep space—now those get me fired up to better understand the creator of It All.
Here’s a slick and quick slide-show overview of what science knows and doesn’t know about dark matter/energy. The Cosmic Variance blog is another good entry point to cutting edge science expressed in (mostly) easy to understand terms.
I enjoyed the “Church-going” post. Scientist Sean writes about giving his spiel on cosmology and atheism to a church group that talks about religion and science. Here’s an excerpt that reverberated with me:
There are several ways that thinking like a scientist could have led us to believe in God (or the supernatural more generally). The most obvious would be if God just kept showing up in our world and performing miracles; a sensible scientific approach in that case would be to search for the “laws of nature” that were in effect when God wasn’t around, and treat his manifestations as outside that box.
More subtly, we might look for evidence of design in nature, or we might look for impassable “gaps” in our understanding (like the beginning of the universe, or the origin of life and/or consciousness) that only God could bridge. I’m perfectly happy to contemplate that such things could be part of a logically possible world;
I just strongly believe that, in the actual world in which we find ourselves, there are no such fingerprints of design or unbridgeable gaps, and hence no scientific reason to appeal to the supernatural. We don’t understand everything in nature, but there’s absolutely no reason to think that it’s not understandable (even the beginning of the universe etc.) in terms of purely mechanical laws.
So God, as an hypothesis, is discarded along with geocentrism and phlogiston and the Steady State universe and whatnot. Sadly, it’s taking a little while for the discarding to actually sink in, but I suspect it’s just a matter of (perhaps a very long) time.