The Disappearing God

April 13, 2011

This blog is accompanied by an image of the Crab Nebula. The creation of the Crab Nebula corresponds to the bright SN 1054 supernova that was recorded by Chinese and Arab astronomers in 1054 CE. This nebula is about 7,000 light years away. No religion would have ever told you that.

There have probably been around 20 or 30 supernovas within 40 light-years of us during the past 5 billion years. Several of those supernovas supplied their elemental remnants to the cloud of dust that congealed to form our solar system. Elements heavier that iron, such as gold and uranium, are formed from the intense heat of a supernova explosion. You are made from such explosions. No religion would ever tell you that either.

In rough estimates, there are 7*10^27 atoms in a 50-pound human body, ninety-nine percent of which are oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon.  A typical adult has about 2 x 10^19 gold atoms in their body =  20,000,000,000,000,000,000. That's 20 million trillion gold atoms. All of these gold atoms are older than the solar system – many of them are at least 10 billion years old, created from long-ago supernova when the Milky Way galaxy was young. In another sense, your body is entirely made of things as old as the entire universe, since the protons, neutrons, and electrons that make up your entire body came into existence a few minutes after the Big Bang. What you are is as old as the universe, about 13.7 billion years old.

Furthermore, your elemental parts will survive to be reincarnated into innumerable more life forms until the Sun and the Earth die a cold death a few billion years from now. But that won’t be the end for your atoms. Nearby supernova will shock and stir the dusty remnants of the solar system and new solar systems will form around this neighborhood 10 or 15 billion years from now. If life is as easy as biologists are coming to think, some of your atoms will make up the bodies of newborn life-forms living on the new planets of those future solar systems. Indeed, this recycling and re-birth has probably already happened to make you. Many of your atoms may have been part of alien organisms that lived on some long-ago destroyed planet from a much earlier solar system billions and billions of years ago.

Religion tells you that what you see around you must have been the intentional design of a god. Its so easy to explain things with a god! Its so hard to understand how the world and the universe came about by blind natural processes. Yes, its hard to understand how nature works, and its hard to understand why our universe has precisely the laws that it does. But saying “God did it” only enjoys the illusion of an explanation. Science has been able to keep on explaining more and more of nature without any need to resort to a divine power, and it is reasonable to expect scientific success to continue. Anyone who claims that they know where science must stop in frustration and go no further is making a foolish claim. History is full of religious believers who all seemed to know that God’s hand must have done something that science hadn’t explained yet. But betting against science in the long run is a foolish bet. As far as we can positively tell, it is endless nature out there to explore.

It is religion, and not atheism, that is claiming extraordinary knowledge about God beyond the actual capacities of any human being. Religion always expects God to start where science happens to stop. But that God has been retreating for two thousand years from the mountain tops and from the stars and retreating right out of the natural universe as science has marched forward. Why should an all-mighty God have to retreat before science? Doesn’t that show you how religion actually doesn’t have any positive knowledge of its own to provide to make the world more understandable? Science is showing us how to best survive and flourish on the planet that we emerged from. Religion by itself would have never led us up into the stars. And into the stars we will go, if we survive long enough.

But our journey won’t be easy, no thanks to God. Doesn’t the way that 99.99999999% of the universe is absolutely inhospitable to any kind of life show you that it wasn’t made for anybody? It is easy to imagine how a universe could have been more intelligently designed, with less wasted space and energy and more hospitality for life. This universe looks about what you’d expect from a haphazard natural process that flung matter and energy everywhere and forces all that stuff to obey blind uncaring laws. Our bodies look that way now, just the product of uncaring natural processes, and so does our planet, and the solar system and all the galaxies. Thanks to science, the whole universe we inhabit is starting to look that way too, as just one universe among innumerable universes endlessly and blindly created by basic physical laws.

Anything that once looked like good evidence for God as we gazed around in our dark ignorance has disappeared in the light of knowledge. And God has disappeared from our sight too.