In the same sense Sagan and Einstein were, I, too, am ‘religious’

In the same sense Sagan and Einstein were, I, too, am ‘religious’ December 4, 2019

I was reminded again the other day of how incomprehensibly vast our universe is (view the awesome embedded video), or the theorized multiverse, in which ours may be just one among perhaps trillions, even quadrillions, of other endless cosmoses.

Or it might be mind-bendingly bigger.

What’s important to me about this fact of our universe’s gigantic-ness, or its relative smallness amid a larger totality in nature, is that, from everything science and common sense have been able to reveal over long millennia, it’s a wholly material place — an awesome realm whose unseen forces all appear to be the result of material forces interacting with each other, not the “unseen mover” posited by supernatural religions.

And science keeps convincingly reaffirming this principle of reality and expanding its reach, as did medieval astronomers Nicholas Copernicus and Galileo Galilea, when they noticed the Bible’s conceptuality of our cosmos and world did not seem to square with basic physics. They found that the Sun did not “travel across the sky,” and Earth was not the center of everything in creation, as scripture inferred. In fact, it was the Earth that moved, orbiting other heavenly bodies.

Reason is still fighting the good fight against such superstitious nonsense in America, as elsewhere. In this country, evangelical zealots keep trying to force religious fantasies into science-class curricula to insinuate in the minds of students that perhaps the Bible is, in fact, correct, and that neither biological evolution nor global warming are defensible “theories,” when, indeed, they are scientifically long-settled facts.

So, when considering our utterly inconsequential lives in the impossibly grand and likely infinite scheme of things, we should remind ourselves that we are hardly the center of our own universe, much less any others.

Nature rolls on here, there and everywhere, in places we cannot even comprehend, much less visit, and we have zero effect on any of it, whereas it affects us greatly — and, more to the point, automatically, impartially, coldly. As far as we can determine, no deity out there personally watches over and guides us, even if some of us believe we sense a connection. It seems we’re on our own, except for the comforts of other human beings and some kindly lower animals.

“In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves,” the late beloved cosmologist Carl Sagan once said. “It is up to us.”

But as we go about our lives, the Earth spins, the Sun relentlessly explodes, galaxies circle each other in a great dance of mutual attraction and repulsion, and, we understand from science that the universe not only is expanding but with greater and greater velocity.

When we think about such infinities, it’s humbling, as we consider our relatively microscopic, barely noticeable existence within total reality. Alien beings, should they exist, would likely have a nearly impossible time trying to locate us within in our own massive galaxy, much less in the whole of reality.

Still, many of us pray to a being who purportedly, consciously, directs everything within this totality, and personally keeps track of each of us in the process. But there’s no convincing evidence of this, and answers to prayers are far from guaranteed and always dubious, despite billions of people in the world ardently believing. These apparent delusions seem hard-wired into our DNA.

In the meantime, the rings of Saturn snow ice onto the surface of that giant planet, a black hole more massive than a galaxy sucks in worlds of cosmic debris, and a tiny man-made American space vehicle is speeding away from our solar system, riding physics into a deep, dark wilderness of unknowable space. It’s nature doing its thing independently.

I recommend you watch the embedded video to feel the awe due the tremendous power and scope of natural reality. By the way, nearly 6 million people have already viewed it, so it must be good.

For scientists, this overwhelming respect for the cosmos (or a larger reality) feels religious. Both Sagan and Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan, and many others, said so.

“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty — it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude,” Eistein once said. “In this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.”

And, in that sense, so am I.


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