Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bad Stars

Once upon a time, astronomers hypothesized that most planetary systems looked a lot like the one that we live in - star in the center, "small" rocky planets in closer orbits and larger gas giants in farther orbits. But, as Robert Krulwich points out, that's not what the current data are beginning to show, according to researchers.

"We are now beginning to understand that nature seems to overwhelmingly prefer [planetary] systems that have multiple planets with orbits of less than 100 days," says Steve Vogt, astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
As I read through the article and the case was being made that our own solar system wasn't the run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen everyday sort of place that we once presumed it was, a thought came to me. "I wonder," I said to myself, how long it will take for the comments section to degenerate into an argument (or simply outright trolling session) about the existence of God."

Not very long, it turned out. Near the top of the comment threads I found:
Contemporary cosmologists are very uncomfortable with the notion that our planet or our solar system is unique because it hints at God."Art Aficionado"
And it started to go downhill from there.

I don't know the origin of The Great Scientific Atheism Conspiracy, but it seems to have become one the enduring facets of the Culture Wars. For a religious belief system that dominates civic and political thought in the United States, Christianity, especially the more conservative strains that put forward the Bible as a literal world history or understand that morality should be encoded into law, seems to be almost hypersensitive to the idea that there are people who are not invested in sharing their faith. And, as a result, it perceives enemies everywhere.

But what strikes me as most interesting about the many arguments that people have about faith in the United States is the apparently constant quest to obviate it. There is a constant quest for a concrete piece of data that will definitively prove the existence of the Judeo-Christian-Moslem God. And I find myself curious - do followers of Shinto or Seikhs or neo-Pagans believe that somewhere in the world lies the proof that their convictions are right - not just for them, but for everyone? Do they have the same concept of a piece of physical evidence that objectively demonstrates their moral correctness? Similarly do they understand the divine as something that is invested in people's faith, while at the same time remaining cryptic and inaccessible to those who don't already believe?

The march of Judaism, Christianity and Islam around the globe has resulted in the destruction or assimilation of countless other religions and practices. Did these, when they came to believe that they faced persecution and elimination, turn to the idea of a definitive proof that would not only stop the newcomers in their tracks, but leave them with no recourse other than conversion?

The attempts to deduce the nature of divinity from the heavens is an age-old one. Mankind has always sought for gods among the stars. But the nature of modern American politics makes the search for God in the findings of modern cosmology into something different - and something darker. Rather than seeking to share the hope, love and joy that they find in their faith, the goal seems to be impose their own strictures, rules and boundaries on those around them. Hardly a worthwhile reason to scour the cosmos.

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