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Superstition

Entry 744, on 2008-04-15 at 18:12:20 (Rating 4, News)

What is more meaningful: a real appreciation of the scientific facts concerning the Universe we live in, or a superstitious interpretation of natural events involving the intervention of a god or other supernatural entity? If you have followed this blog in the past you will know that my answer is the former. I have never seen anything in any superstitious belief (including Christianity) which compares to the reality of what science has discovered over the last 200 years (and to a lesser extent before that).

What leads me to write the philosophical point above? According to a BBC news report "A halo around the sun startled people in Ethiopia during Sunday's local elections, with many seeing it as a miracle or a sign from God." The thing about signs from God is that they always seem to be phenomena which are easily explained in natural terms. Why doesn't god use something truly spectacular that we have never seen before and can't explain? Also, why does he use phenomena which are so open to interpretation? I mean, does a halo tell you who to vote for, or whether the election is rigged, or what?

What these people should have done was log on to the Internet (there's plenty of computers and high speed Internet in Ethiopia, isn't there?) and done some research on the fascinating array of atmospheric phenomena that science has uncovered. Halos are just one example. There are also cloud shadows, crepuscular rays, anticrepuscular rays, circumscribed halos, circumzenithal arcs, coronas, the green flash, glories, opposition effects, Parry arcs, rainbow spokes, rainbows, sun pillars, sun dogs, urban light pillars and Venus halos, just to name a few.

As an amateur astronomer I have seen some of these, and they can be very spectacular. Some of the optical processes responsible for creating them can be quite involved and interesting, maybe even more intriguing than "god did it". There's some nice pictures and explanations of these phenomena at Wikipedia, and the site listed at the end of this post is also very interesting.

So when I hear religious people saying they pity me because I have never experienced the glory of God I usually think that they are the ones missing out because they only have a pale imitation of the true glory of the Universe. Science has discovered stuff that make their primitive beliefs look truly pathetic.

One of my favourite facts comes from astronomy (because I'm an amateur astronomer and astronomy is just naturally the study of the most grand phenomena in nature). I have mentioned this in a previous blog, but its worth repeating here...

The Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys took a photo of deep space with a total exposure of over 11 days. In that photo are thousands of galaxies, each of which is composed of hundreds of billions of stars. Imagine an area of the sky the size of a dot at normal reading distance. Inside that area the HST can detect 3,000 galaxies! Imagine the number of stars inside a single dot and the number in the sky as a whole. And those are just the ones we can see! It sure makes the Genesis creation myth look a bit sad, doesn't it!

And think about going down to your local beach and picking up a handful of sand. How many grains are in the handful? How many on the beach? How many on every beach on the planet? There's a lot, right? But there are lot more stars in the Universe than grains of sand on every beach on Earth! The real Universe is so amazing that no myth can hope to compete.

And a star isn't a trivial thing. Our Sun is a dwarf star and it is 330,000 times the mass of the Earth. Every second the Sun uses up millions of tonnes of fuel but in the almost 5 billion years it has been "burning" it has used less than 1% of its total fuel. Multiply this star by a ten thousand billion trillion and you start getting an idea of the true awesome size of the Universe.

I think understanding and admiring the Universe this way is far more glorious than praising, and attributing natural events, to a petty small minded moron god like the Christians (and all other religions I know of) believe exists! Oh, and I almost forgot. Some theories suggest their could be about 100 million trillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion Universes. And that's a lot!

A discussion of atmospheric optics and other phenomena is available here.

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Comment 2 (1419) by OJB on 2008-04-16 at 14:28:41: (view earlier comments)

Ah now you are indulging in the ultimate refuge of the believer in superstition. You're insinuating that because science doesn't know everything that other beliefs (which also don't know everything) are equally good. Do I need to point out how false this is? Science knows a lot but there's heaps more to learn. But at least its not based on false premises and misleading starting assumptions.

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Comment 3 (1421) by SBFL on 2008-04-17 at 22:43:09:

Hehe OJB. No, not at all. I just meant what I said. There was no ulterior motive involved!! Talk about paranoid!!
"Science knows a lot but there's heaps more to learn. - and I have consistently said this.

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Comment 4 (1427) by OJB on 2008-04-18 at 13:25:03:

OK, excuse me for being suspicious. This is a line of "reasoning" the believers often use. Do you see my point that real science is far more magnificent than myths though?

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Comment 5 (1434) by SBFL on 2008-04-23 at 00:18:30:

No. I don't. Please enlighten me to this "magnificence"...Really, I have never before heard an atheist refer to their belief system as 'magnificent'...

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Comment 6 (1438) by OJB on 2008-04-23 at 14:05:33:

Its more what reality reveals to us. We don't have a belief system unless lack of a belief system is a belief system, but that doesn't make a lot of sense.

As an example of the magnificence of reality compare the scale and grandeur of the scientific view of the Universe against that of various superstitions. The Universe and life get created in 6 days, there's the Earth and a few stars; or the Earth stands on 4 elephants which stand on a turtle (or something like that); against a 14 billion year old Universe with more stars than grains of sand on Earth.

And don't give me that rubbish that the scientific view is what religion accepts. OK, some religions do accept it but only because they were dragged kicking and screaming into a state of semi-reality. And the Catholic church might accept evolution now but its certainly done its best to stifle science in the past (and still does).

And this ludicrous idea that god wants us to follow some silly, arbitrary rules, and worship him. If there was a god (there almost certainly isn't) I can't see any way he would act that way. Even religion's concept of god is childish and silly!

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