To See The Stars, To Know One’s Mind
August 26, 2012

I’m normally a pessimist regarding global warming, the depredations of the human race, and the big issues. And with justification, I think. Civilization is coming to an end because we screwed with the laws of physics and as a species we continue to demonstrate that we simply don’t understand the laws of physics and that they apply to us. So, civilization is over. Mass extinction is underway. Our intent, as a species, is to hasten it.

But this morning, while the sky was still dark, I went out on the porch and looked up. A bright planet to the east, I think Venus, sat like a jewel among the stars. So many stars, yet only a small fraction of what I could see if the lights of the town and the neighborhood were off. Even so. So many. So bright. So far. It was wondrous to look at them, to realize what they were, to understand how they got there, how they came to be, how they work. And equally wondrous to know that there is so much we don’t know about them, and how much we can learn.

That’s a feeling the religionists cannot have. To them their god made the stars and planets. Not for them the understanding of the subatomic processes that keep the stars glowing for billions of years. Not for them the incredible processes of a nova, a supernova, a stellar collapse. God did it. Religion, religious belief, god: those stunt the mind, weaken the intellect, narrow mental and emotional horizons, undermine the human species, and now, hasten life toward extinction.

Perhaps that is pessimistic, to think, to believe that most of life in this biosphere will soon disappear. On the other hand I’m not afraid of it, no more than I am afraid of my own death. Because I am an atheist the religionists tell me I will burn in eternal torment once I die, while they will go to some place of eternal bliss, such place usually described as one of the most inconceivably boring, dull, terrible places imaginable, where one’s whole being must spend eternity worshipping some hugely narcissistic being. I’ve always said that given the choice I’d take the torment because the really interesting people and interesting ideas would be found there. Religious people tend to be boring even in this life: apparently their idea of bliss is eternal boredom and enslavement to a narcissistic being, and their idea of hell is a ferment of ideas and questioning and seeking after facts and evidence and truths. They have much to fear, and much to torment themselves with.

I have none of that. I think it sad that we are so incompetent as a species that we are willing to destroy life on earth in order to satisfy the whims and stupidities and fears of our weakest minds, but I know that the laws of physics will operate no matter what we do. By understanding and following them, we might save the biosphere. Unfortunately, and in large part due to religious ignorance, willful ignorance it must be said, and human stupidity and greed and selfishness, we choose to ignore physics. Nonetheless I take comfort in the fact that the laws of physics do work, that they aren’t subject to the caprice of invisible beings, and that we can understand them. That knowledge gives me a sense of optimism, a sense that though we will extinguish most life, including our own, in time life will rise again on the planet, and it is to be hoped that it will be devoid of the flawed intelligence evolution gave us, intelligence that cursed the world.

As for the theists and the rest of the superstitious crowd, frankly I do hope they get to their heaven of eternal worship. I can think of no greater curse to call down on them while I drink my morning coffee and gaze at the stars.