I recently came across this video which is about the newest speculations on how gold first came came to be in our universe. The force proposed for this auspicious birthing is the collision of two neutron stars.
Neutron stars are the remnants of stars massive enough to go supernova, then undergo a gravitational collapse so intense that (simplistically) it crushes the constituent atoms to create a mass largely composed of neutrons; thus the name neutron stars. They are small in size, with a radius of approximately 12 kms, but with a mass 1.4 to 3.2 times greater than our sun. If they emit beams of electromagnetic radiation, rotating neutron stars are known as pulsars. When first detected, it was thought by some that they could be evidence of intelligent life due to their emission regularity, sort of like lighthouses in space. Typically, neutron stars rotate several times a second, with the fastest at over 700 times a second. They are a part of a universe undreamed of by our distant ancestors, a marvelous combination of understanding emerging from both particle physics and astrophysics. Truly, they represent a wonder of the universe and their identification and comprehension is a notable accomplishment of the human intellect.
What Does Religion Have?
What does religion have to compare with this? If you are a literalist believer in any of the three monotheistic religions, this sort of scientific report must be regarded as “not true.” For the literal believer, the question of where gold came from is answered by “God made it.” How satisfying is that? It seems to me like eating a slightly stale hot dog at a barbeque where everyone else is eating prime cuts of steak or swimming in a mud puddle while everyone else is in the Olympic-sized swimming pool.
For the people who actually believe what their holy books say, it must be hard to accept the constant stream of scientific accomplishments that continue to define and describe our universe, from the smallest discovery (like the recent possible sighting of the Higgs boson) to the unimaginably large, such as the Hubble Ultra-deep Field image of more than 10,000 galaxies reaching back in time to more than 13 billion years ago. Amazing.
But if you’re stuck believing in some god that just magically created all of this a couple of thousand years ago, you miss the majesty of all these discoveries. In fact, I am not sure how you can reconcile your worldview with it. Are all these scientists producing these results at the behest of Satan? Or maybe it’s a case of a god testing humans’ faith?
How the Religious Handle Scientific Discovery
For the religious, there appears to be three ways to face the progress of science in our world:
Deny the scientific finding as false because its proponents are corrupt or agents of evil, trying to tempt the devout away from the path of righteousness. In this case, dispute the findings of scientists when they conflict with the teachings in the holy book, and perhaps look to reports from properly religious “scientists” who pronounce discoveries that support your religious beliefs of the natural world.
We see this most evidently in the populist views known as creationism and intelligent design, which try to masquerade as “science.” In this way, the believer may think they believe in science; it’s just not coherent science.
It also means that those who tempt believers away from the “truth” as revealed in the holy books are corrupt or are themselves evil, or the willing agents of evil. This is dangerous, as it appears to give believers an excuse to harm, or at least ostracise scientists by placing them in the same category as human-tempting demons, devils and djinns. At the least, science is a temptation akin to intellectual lust, designed to lure away the unwary faithful (sort of like a negligee clad, blue eyed, busty blonde shiksa for Jewish men—but maybe science isn’t really quite that sexy yet).
Don’t deny that scientists are discovering things that contradict with religion, nor dispute their conclusions, but believe that God put the “false” information there to be discovered by scientists as a test of the true believers’ faith.
The evidence is there, the geology and fossils and galaxies—that is indisputable, but God is testing us to see if we choose our powers of reason over the words written in the holy books.
Now, this interpretation makes God a pretty odd character if you ask me. Really, with all the terrible things we humans have had to deal with that any god in his/her/its holy books didn’t warn us about, like microbial and viral diseases, dangers from radiation and naturally occurring poisons and toxins (like asbestos, tobacco smoke, etc.) plus our having to discover useful things like writing and agriculture, why did we deserve this sort of a trick? I mean, what is the point of telling us that the world is on pillars (Job 9:6) and the firmament is a solid dome separating the waters of the earth from the waters in the sky (Genesis 1:6-8) and there are seven heavens (Koran 71:15 and 65:12)? Why give humans the mental capacity to understand the world if we are supposed to believe in things (like a flat earth) that even to many Greek thinkers thousands of years ago (such as Pythagoras in the 6th century BC) seemed erroneous? If a god wants us to be dumb, why not make us that way? Why give humans the ability to reason if we are supposed to willingly suspend disbelief of stories and explanations that are “proven” to be false?
Seemingly the most popular is to deny or rationalize away the plain meaning of the holy books. Casting aside hundreds of years of consistent interpretation, the modern believer considers the text in the holy books to be selectively allegorical, figurative, temporally symbolic, or to be merely a story to be held in context “with the knowledge that people possessed at the time.”
Mental Gymnastics and What to Do
I am truly amazed by the mental gymnastics some people are willing to undergo to both accept what they know to be true in science and still not jettison their obviously incorrect holy books. Much of what is in these holy books posturing as cosmology are the obvious ignorant (not stupid, just lacking knowledge that we have today) musings of a primitive people, trying to make sense of a world they little understood at the time. No harm in that—every religion is a product of its time, as is all science. In hindsight, science has spurred some amazingly stupid beliefs over the years too, and has lost from time to time, some of its understandings only to regain them later. Some knowledge that was developed by the Classical Greeks (much of which was wrong—sorry Aristotle—but at least it got people thinking in the right direction and promoted an element of critical thinking) had to be relearned by Renaissance Europeans. They had largely forgotten Euclid and Archimedes, but remembered Ecclesiastes and Daniel (now that was a bad exchange). The Greeks around the end of the Bronze Age even lost the art of writing, and had to relearn it.
When faced with scientific advances, we have three responses from the faithful: 1) “it’s more lies”; 2) “they (scientists and those who believe in science) are deceived, and need to be shown the Truth” (as revealed in the holy book); and 3) “it’s all part of (some) god’s beautiful creation” (even if he didn’t tell you truthfully about it in the particular holy book).
So what does this say about these particular monotheistic gods? Scientists are purposefully evil deceivers; or men are stupid for believing in science instead of the holy books; or the holy books are not literally true (but we believe them anyway). Why not accept the preponderance of evidence which is now so easily accessible, and admit that the holy books were written by people with limited knowledge of their world in part to explain things that they didn’t have reasonable answers for at the time?
Religion, an Early Hypothesis
Perhaps religion can be thought of as an early scientific hypothesis. For example, it posed the simple question, “what is above us?” Having thought about it (and lacking a telescope or access to consistently recorded observations) some group of people decided that the best answer was “A solid firmament separating the waters above us from the earth below.” Water is blue and the sky is blue, so it follows that there is water in the sky–it does have a sort of logic to it. And there needs to be some way of keeping it up there, so that it doesn’t fall down here, so you need a firmament. But like any scientific hypothesis, if it’s proven to be wrong, it should be discarded. At first glance, it looks like the sun goes around the earth; we see it move in the sky every day. But once we were able to study it, we discovered that it doesn’t move—we all know that now. It’s time to accept the golden gift of modern science, and to discard the bad speculative “science” of religions so that they may follow in the path of other incorrect sciences.