Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Everyone needs a hobby

When I'm not ranting about narrow mindedness and willful ignorance (which I don't do as much as many people would think I do), I like to build and use telescopes. Tonight, I looked at Jupiter (pictured), Mars and Venus. It helps me realize what an amazing world we live on.

Now theists often use this as a jumping off point for talking about how this planet was made for us. But I see it the other way around. This unimaginably vast universe will, somewhere, have stars (or several) that are the right age and temperature so they don't fry their planets with radiation or explode and destroy their planets. Of the billions of planets orbiting hospitable stars, some of those planets will be at the correct distance to allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces. Organic chemistry takes over and life arises on at least one of them. For those of you who might think that the building blocks of life are simply too complex to arise on their own, please note that adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine have all been detected elsewhere in the universe. These are the four rungs of the DNA ladder. Yes, the stuff of life is out there.

In a universe as huge as this one, life is more or less inevitable. We know because we're here to witness it. A series of fortunate events spun this intricate web of life and we're simply a small thread. Any slight variation in the past and we might have never been. Maybe there would be another sentient form of life on this planet or perhaps sentient life might have never arisen.

The carbon in my cells, the iron in my blood and the calcium in my bones all formed inside the cores of stars eons ago. Those stars started as simple hydrogen but through the process of nuclear fusion, they built heavier and heavier atoms. When they died, those stars spilled those atoms into the cosmos. Clouds of these atoms coalesced, condensed and formed new stars and planets. One of those planets was Earth. Life arose on this planet. That life evolved into different forms over the millennia. Some of those forms went extinct. Those most capable of reproducing through some advantage (speed, stealth, agility, camouflage, etc.) gave birth to offspring that carried those same genetic traits for survival. Some of them took to the trees and developed stereoscopic vision. They were intelligent, fast and agile. Eventually, their descendants left the trees and started to walk upright, an advantage when trying to avoid predators. This freed their front limbs and they started making tools, Food became more plentiful which provided the fuel for bigger brains. They spanned the globe, developing language, art and culture. Finally, one of those cousins to the apes sat and wrote this blog.

I look to the stars and see my very distant cousins. I know that they're made of the same things I am. I know that eventually I'll die and, long after, this planet will die. The atoms that make up the Earth (and me) will return to the universe to form new stars and planets.

How wondrous, elegant and grand. Religions made up by humans pale next to this.