|April 22, 2013|
An Atheist's Prayer
When one gazes into the heavens and beholds the wonders of the universe, it seems almost reasonable to have religious ponderings. But it is not reasonable. Astronomy is the enemy of traditional religions in many respects because it answers the question "How did we all get here?" and "Where did everything come from?". In every direction there is a 2 mm microwave background glow that is the remnant light from shortly after the "creation" event -- the Big Bang. We see stars blow up nearly all the way back to the beginning of time, spewing into the void the synthesized elements of which we are composed. Astronomers have modeled the inner workings of stars, using physics and mathematics, to account for the elemental abundances observed on earth. We see stars and planets forming, just as ours did 4.6 billion years ago. We see planets orbiting other stars in habitable zones. There are perhaps 100 billion in our galaxy alone. Astronomy is much more heretical today than it was in Galileo's time. (The church finally admitted they were wrong about Galileo in 1992 -- 350 years posthumously).
Which of these does not belong?
Humans have progressed and dominated earth because of our intelligence and in large measure because of our ability to pass knowledge along to successive generations. Story telling was a wonderful way to make important information memorable, thus preserving more of its integrity. A tragic story of lovers who die from eating a poisonous plant survived many re-tellings compared to "don't eat that one". The better stories gained a life of their own, embellished as time passed. And so we eventually created God, in our own image. We endowed him with things that we desired -- power, wisdom, ever lasting life. We had him grant us dominion over our environment. Soon shamans and priests began the clerical racket as intercessors to the imaginary.
God has never been real, but he has had a powerful influence on our evolution. He has been the goal toward which we strive. Indeed we have conquered our environment, transforming desert into oasis, wasteland into garden, and forests into mansions. We have inter-connected even the remote corners of the planet to communicate around the globe at the speed of light. We have collected all knowledge and made it available instantaneously to anyone anywhere. We've probed the depths of the oceans, the highest mountains, and the distant planets in our solar system. We built a microscope 17 miles long to peer into the heart of the proton, and we've decoded the molecules of life. We've walked on the moon and vanquished polio, small pox, and tooth decay. We've yet to extend human life beyond its natural limit, but can it not be just a matter of time? If we were to appear to our ancestors with the magic of our technology, they would certainly see us a gods. We have become gods, we are becoming gods, we will become gods. We will continue and we will travel among the stars. This is our destiny, foretold in our own stories about the divine.
The heavens are full of myths, stories, and divinations. Orion, Jupiter, Pegasus, Venus, Mars, Andromeda, Draco, Cassiopeia all named for gods, monsters, and heroes. If we gaze at the stars and see a non-existant spirit world, then we are simply giving in to an ancient impulse that has driven us from the savannahs and forests of Africa to stand on the moon and peer back to the beginning of time through fantastically complex eyes fashioned from rare minerals. But humanity must reject gods and superstitions if we are to survive this age when our planet is in peril. We cannot blame gods for thunder and lightning, nor global warming or melting ice caps. It was not god's will that decimated raptor populations and it was was not an act of god that saved the majestic bald eagle from extinction. We have drastically over-populated the planet and our demand for resources is quickly outstripping supply. Like characters on the Big Bang theory, factions argue over the details of fictional super beings and actually fly airplanes into sky scrapers or bomb the Boston Marathon to prove their imaginary god's superiority.
If an atheist might be granted one prayer, then "Let us reason together".