06-17-15 8:23  •  Tara Millionaira

Tara: You are always demanding "evidence" and "proof." You don't understand. Faith means that we do not need to see to believe.

Congratualtions, Tara! I have just made you a millionaire. I just deposited one million dollars into a bank account just for you! Isn't that cool?

Now, I didn't want you to have to pay taxes on it, so I didn't put your name on it. I don't want anyone to know about this but us, so I'm not going to give you the account number or even tell you what bank it is in. But it is all yours, trust me.

Of course, I don't want you to be stuck with early withdrawal penalties, so you won't be able to draw the money out and use it for anything just yet. But trust me, you are a millionaire, right now. Really. And someday, I promise, you will find out what bank it is and you will be able to have all of it, plus interest!

In fact, if you are really, really nice to me, I will see that you get ten dollars of it right away. I don't want to risk it getting stolen, so I'm not going to mail it to you. But keep your eyes open. If you see a ten dollar bill on the street, that's the one. If a clerk "accidentally" hands you a ten in change instead of a one, you will know it is because I was there and I arranged for you to get your ten dollars this way.

Now, don't try to find out what bank your million dollars is in. If I discover that you were trying to investigate it instead of trusting me, I'm going to take back that million dollars, plus I'm going to take all of the money in your bank account too - or worse. It's not important to verify this. If you want to count yourself a millionaire, you just have to trust me.

Don't let doubt enter your mind. Just because there is no way to check or confirm this, doesn't mean I didn't do it. In fact, there is absolutely no way you can prove that I didn't. See how convenient that is?

Because when it comes to money, it's not important that you can actually see it or touch it or spend it. What's important is the great comfort and meaning it will bring to your life to know that the money is there. What's important is just knowing that I love you enough to give this million dollars to you, and that it will be there for you...someday. Really.

06-17-15 8:23  •  Dog Sacrifice Afterlife

Marian: You atheists are very clever. But I want you to think, really think, about this for a minute. Don't just dismiss it.

What if I AM right [about Christ-only salvation]?? What's going to happen to you??

For some reason people who invoke Pascal's Wager seem to have a pretty limited idea of the possible options.

I mean, what if the ancient Greeks were right? What's going to happen to you?? Do you want to spend all eternity languishing on the wrong side of the River Styx, unable to cross into the afterlife because you were not buried with coins to pay the Ferryman?

What if the Dabu people of the Amazon basin are right? What's going to happen to you?? Unless you managed to slay your first prey animal before the age of fourteen, your soul will never be able to reach the Land of the Ancestors.

What if the Egyptians were right? What's going to happen to you?? Unless you are properly mummified, and buried with the appropriate statuary and funeral rites, and your tomb is regularly provided with food and drink, you will not live again in the Fields of Yalu and accompany the Sun on its daily ride.

What if the Aztecs were right? What's going to happen to you?? Unless your dog is sacrificed upon your death, you're screwed, because only hound and master together are able to cross the Ninefold Stream to enter the eternal house of the dead, Chicomemictlan.

What if the Tibetan Book of the Dead is right? What's going to happen to you?? Unless you arrange to have a shaman perform the proper death rites for you after you are gone, your soul will have no guide, and will become ensnared by false demons.

And, what if the Mormons are right? What's going to happen to you?? You might make it to the Terrestrial Kingdom, but unless you and your husband were married in a Mormon temple, your marriage was not sealed for eternity, so your husband will not take his rightful place as a God in the Celestial Kingdom to rule an entire universe of his own.

Obviously there are a great many options besides the standard Christian ones, including the obvious - that what happens, if anything, is simply unknown. It could be nothing like anything described here. It could be the same for everyone. Who knows?

In any case, I don't see any reason to be more worried about the "Jesus or Burn" afterlife than the "Sacrifice My Dog" afterlife. Neither one seems like anything to get too worked up about.

06-14-15 8:23  •  Crack Ho Morality

DietCoke: I saw this episode of COPS one time. It was a female cop arresting a woman she had encountered many times before. The woman had just gotten out of jail and was found with a crack rock in her back pocket. She was prostituting herself.

The cop was so insensitive! She kept saying, you just got out of jail, how can you do this? But, what the hell else is she supposed to do? "Get a job?" In what country? With a record and probably no education or skills?

The segment ended with the cop saying, "They never learn a lesson." I was screaming at the TV, she could "learn" until the cows come home but it won't change her reality. She probably whores and sells to survive.

Little Nell: Anyone can turn their life around! It's not that hard. You sit down and evaluate your life. You're *here*, and you really want to be *there*. OK - what do you need to do to get from *here* to *there*? And you lay down a plan. Draw a road map if you have to.

How do you make everyone do it?

Little Nell:Why would I want to "make" anyone do anything?

If there is no way to make people do the path you recommend, then you have to accept that many people cannot or will not do it.

So the question is, what of them? Is the path we currently have in place for those people - rotating back and forth between crack ho and prison - good enough?

Little Nell: The path that "we" currently have in place is not a path of "our" choosing.

It is the path provided by our society. They are choosing to walk it, but our culture built the path by constructing social policy which dictates these options and not others.

Little Nell: If they want to rotate back and forth between crack ho and prison, that's their decision.

This creates a lot of social problems and is a huge waste of resources. That path is damaging a lot of people besides just those who make that decision.

The answer is to provide better paths, and better, easier exit ramps for people on those paths.


No one should have to be a crack ho if they don't want to. There should be food and shelter and even a medical fix available to an addict with no money so that they do not have to sell anything. There should be public education available and public rehab and public medicine so that they learn everything they need to know and have everything they need to get on a better path.

Furthermore, if somebody wants to be a crack ho, and no amount of assistance can turn them from that path, then, yes, we should let them do that if it is their choice.

But we don't let them. That's the problem. Being a crack ho is illegal. It should not be.

Little Nell: Wait, so it is the system's fault that she became a crackhead/prostitute, got caught being one, went to jail for it then stayed one?

It is the system's fault that huge numbers of people live in the kind of abject poverty that leads to escapism. It is the system's fault that the only legal option for a human who wants to catch a buzz is the horrific choice of alcohol, and anyone who wishes to pursue any other option - even weed, in most places - is thrust into a criminal underworld where unregulated black market substances have no check.

It is the system's fault for making zero distinction between safe recreational substance choices and unsafe ones.

It is the system's fault for requiring criminal punishment as the main outcome for people who develop problems with drugs (except alcohol of course.) It is the system's fault for taking a medical and social problem and artificially conflating it into a criminal problem as well. It is the system's fault that private matters of personal choice like substance use, and when and why people have sex, have been turned into an excuse to harm people.

In other words, it is our fault for having a system which is so screwed up that people get stuck.

If we wanted a system in which more people were able to avoid this fate, we should be providing good paths out. We should make it easy for people to climb out of poverty. We should make a variety of legal choices available for recreational substances and we should educate everyone about the real risks. We should treat people with medical and social problems with medical and social solutions. We should stop penning non-violent people up with violent crazies, teaching them to thrive in criminal culture, and burdening them with a criminal record which will seriously hinder their every attempt at betterment.

Our system created this path to jail. However it's not preventing crack hoism. It serves only to create a downward spiral which is extremely difficult to get out of. We could do better.

Little Nell: So by your logic, if you screw up badly enough, often enough, you get a free pass to just be a worthless fuckup for life and nobody should question it?

Is sending people to jail the best way to question it?

Little Nell: When your child intentionally does something wrong .. do you not punish them?

If they are adults, using their own bodies in ways that are their own choices, why should I punish them? What could I possibly hope to accomplish?

Little Nell:When you do the crime you do the time. It's that simple.

Making only certain drugs and certain consenting sex into crimes is a purely a matter of choice. We don't have to do it this way. The way we are choosing to do it makes it a lot more complicated.

Leeta: First of all, there is no one in this country living in abject poverty in comparison to poverty around the world. We have soup kitchens, homeless shelters, programs out the wazoo to help people.

And yet, people still choose escapism. Go figure.

Leeta: Secondly, the "system" that is holding these people back is also navigated by the rest of us.

Statistically, it is far more successfully navigated by those with social privelige.

Leeta: How many more social programs do we need?

The social programs we have are seriously under-resourced. We don't have adult public education, public rehab or public healthcare. Every step to obtain the "help" we offer is a bearucratic nightmare of forms and means testing designed to weed people out. We need programs that are easy to use and available to everyone.

Leeta: If they aren't going to walk into that door themselves to accept help then what are we supposed to do besides lock them up for forced care?

Let them be crack hos. Lock them up when they harm others - not before. Leave the door open.

Leeta: There are lots and lots and lots of opportunities for people they just decide not to take them.

"Lots and lots and lots" is quite an exaggeration. We spend way more money and effort killing people in the middle east than we do helping our own people right here. We could be doing a lot more, starting by making it easy to use social programs instead of difficult.

But even if we were doing everything we could to help, and some few people are still choosing to be crack hos, at that point we should butt out. It's their wasted life. Locking them up in jail does not help them. It only causes more harm. So why should we bother?

06-11-15 9:01  •  Is Evolution Bullcrap?

(This is a reposting of a conversation which occurred in 2009.)

Texas Gal: Evolution is such bullcrap! I don't know how anyone could believe it.

How do you figure? I mean, it is the cornerstone of biology. The theory may not be perfect, but how could it be bullcrap?

Texas Gal: I don't believe some massive rock somewhere exploded and became the universe as we know it.

Do you think this is what evolution states? Because seriously, it doesn't. Evolution does not address the origin of the universe or anything that occurred before life. It is an explanation of living systems only.

Bells: I think it's great that we all have different ideas about where we came from. If we all believed the same thing then this world would be boring.

Do you think we should let some people believe that 2+2=5 just because it would be more interesting that way? Or should we mark that one wrong on the test?

Bells: People think evolution is true because they believe in it so strongly...

But why would they? Just because Darwin said so? No other reason?

Bells: Darwin got bitter and angry towards God and then he made up his own God or whatever and came up with this Theory.

But why does anyone else go along with it? Particularly, why would scientists, who need loads of evidence before they accept anything, go along with it, if it was just one guy's bitter theory?

Cellist: I actually believe in evolution. I mean, 150 years ago they rode around in horse and buggies, women only wore dresses, were less important then men. There was no tv, computers, internet ect. We as humans have to evolve. Even to fit into our surroundings.

Um, that is really cultural and technological development and it is a different mechanism than biological evolution.

However there are lots of examples of human biological evolution, of humans changing their physiology to fit into their environments. For example, people who live where it is very hot and sunny developed very dark skin as protection. People who moved northward developed much lighter skin to allow them to produce vitamin D from sunlight with much less sun.

Also, people in very cold climates tended to develop shorter, more husky bodies, with shorter limbs and digits, to conserve heat energy. People who live at very high elevations developed much larger lung capacity to be able to get enough oxygen.

These kinds of adaptations occur whenever species are separated into different environments. Eventually, the morphology is so differentiated that the groups no longer really resemble each other at all. Given millions of years of time and change, they can no longer even breed together and you have two species where there was one.

Jonvi: ...and of course, you exclude from the discussion the existing and still potentially valid alternate theories, including the ones based on the concept of Intelligent Design.

What does Intelligent Design explain?

Jonvi: I firmly believe that there are huge gaps in the evolution theory.

What are the gaps in the theory?

Jonvi: I believe evolution should be taught as a theory, and that students should also be offered the suggestion of intelligent design.

There is no scientific evidence of Intelligent Design.

Jonvi: Life is far too complicated to have spontaneously occurred without a designer.

How could the designer have spontaneously occurred?

Jonvi: We now know that even the simplest life form is so fundamentally complex that it's spontaneous emergence is, for any practical considerations, a virtual mathematical impossibility.

How do you figure?

Jonvi:Don't be a lazy debater, Raver. There is a plethora of information out there.

It's your point. You brought it up. Yet, you cannot be bothered to explain it. You are expecting "the plethora" to do the work of explaining and defending it for you. That doesn't make me the lazy one.

As it happens, I am already familiar with "the plethora." Right now I am talking to you. However if you are not able to discuss this yourself in your own words I have no reason to think that you actually understand it.

Jonvi: It's completely improbable that life just happened. People have done the math to calculate the odds of any life randomly occurring, the odds of it occurring here, the odds against a planet having such a spectacular view of the universe as ours does that encourages our exploration, etc.

Have you calculated the odds of the existence of an unanteceded intelligent designer? Are they better?

Texas Gal: If you say the universe was just was there then why can't you say that God was just there?

The difference is, the universe can be shown to exist. There is no question that it is actually here.

Posting a god on top of it doesn't explain anything. It just adds another unexplainable step.

Bells: Saying God is in control just explains the how and why everything got to where it is.

Okay, then how?

Bells: I just believe that God MADE it happen that way...


Cellist: Magic of course!

Of course. But how could a non-physical unanteceded sentient intelligent designer who can do magic come about? How could it arrange matter?

Cellist: Thats what i find very interesting. The ridiculous and flawed logic of the masses.

Every time I hear someone say that God created living systems, I have to wonder just what He has against rabbits. Why would He have made it so those poor bunnies have to eat their own droppings?

It's true. The organ in the rabbit which does most of the digesting is positioned in the digestive tract after the organ which does most of the nutritional absorption. The only way the rabbits can get the nutrition from what they eat is to eat it again after it's been all the way through once.

When it comes to biological systems, there are so many that are so far from being perfect that I don't see how anyone can think there is evidence that they were deliberately designed.

Bells: Yeah, yeah, where did God come from? Well where did the STUFF come from? WHO THE HELL KNOWS! It's the same thing.

The two questions are not equivalent.

We have the stuff. We have no choice but to wonder where it comes from.

We don't have the God and for all we know it's just an idea, nothing more. We are not forced to contemplate the origin of "God." We don't have to posit a God at all. Why wonder where something came from that is not known to actually be anywhere?

Bells: I'm not completely sure why someone cant believe in both the origins of life being GUIDED by God to be what it is but by the methods the "evolutionists" believe.

Why bother?

The point of the evolutionary explanation is that life is acted on only by natural forces. It can have come to be what it is without the guidance of a magical overseer. So why posit one?

Jonvi: It is either all an accident or something that is in some way a product of some kind of intention.

How did the being with "intention" come about? By accident?

Jonvi: The designer is assumed to exist outside of the system - much like a programmer exists outside his program...

The programmer came from somewhere.

Jonvi: For me the point of the theory of Intelligent Design is not the contemplation of the nature of the designer...

How convenient.

Jonvi: If chaos is the rule and everything that has emerged, including what appear to be laws, are only accidents, that must be the potential.


Jonvi: Laws become nothing but series of accidents that may change at any moment with the next accident. They are not trustworthy.


Jonvi: Our thinking of them as laws is nothing but illusion. They, therefore, can't be depended upon or known.


Jonvi: Truth is nothing but chaos and we can truly know nothing else. Our science is nothing but folly.


If that is the reality, if that is the result we are led to by our best investigation, if that is the conclusion that the evidence points to, then that's how it is. Our job is not to whine about how that makes no sense, how that seems too chaotic, how much nicer it would be if things followed laws. If they don't, they just don't, and all of your whining and wishful thinking is not going to change it. Our job is not to pretend the universe is anything other than it is. If our investigation reveals only underlying chaos at the heart of reality, then that's what we get. If that is the truth, our only job is to accept it.

Jonvi: Ultimately the discussion of Intelligent Design comes down to whether or not you believe the system in which we live was established with some kind of intent - in other words with some actual rules governing its existence - or whether you believe it is all just chaos subject to change at any moment in any way.

It is what it is. We don't get to pick. We can only observe and discern to the best of our ability.

However, intent vs. chaos is a false dichotomy. There appear to be, if not ironclad laws, at least rules of thumb we can utilize. That much is working, for the moment. There does not, however, appear to be a designer. There is no evidence of a designer. There is no evidence of design.

Jonvi: It is, however, somewhat pointless in terms of science since the designer/s would be, by definition, outside of the system and our science is so far only able to study what is within the system.

Then why in the world would you suggest dragging this made up thing about which nothing can be known into SCIENCE class?

Jonvi: Science, itself, is based on the theory of Intelligent Design.

No it isn't. That is absurd. Science is based on drawing conclusions from observation. It is not based on getting the conclusion first - a designer! oh boy! - and then backfilling the justification.

Jonvi: The existence of a law demands some superior force imposing that law...

Ridiculous. A force is not equivalent to a sentient being. A physical law is not a rule. A physical law is a description of how things seem to work.

Objects in the earth's gravity well seem to fall at 32'/sec²-drag. That is a description of what happens. It doesn't imply somebody made it be that way, it states only that it is that way, as far as we can tell. Nothing more.

Jonvi: Someday I may throw a rock and it will float instead of fall.

When that actually happens, then we'll worry about it. For now it doesn't seem to be a problem.

Jonvi:The fact that there do appear to be laws that govern the very complex system in which we live is the best evidence that some intelligence designed this system.

No it isn't. It is evidence that there appears to be regularity. That's all.

Jonvi: It is as inconceivable that such a system could spontaneously appear out of chaos or nothingness as that a poem could spontaneously appear on a blank sheet of paper...

Yet you have no trouble conceiving of an unanteceded all-powerful poet from another dimension.

Well, just because you personally can't conceive of it doesn't mean no one can conceive of it. And it doesn't mean the facts point anywhere else. Your personal limits of conception don't rule the universe.

Jonvi:It not only goes against reason and logic but it is also completely lacking in any supporting evidence.

The universe is here. What more evidence do you want?

Jonvi: If you insist on suppressing freedom of thought and exploration so necessary to science by restricting the discussion to only one side of this issue, the side supporting Intelligent Design is by far the most plausible explanation as well as the most supportive of science in general.

Scientists don't seem to think so. I'd say it's their call. "Intelligent Design" is not accepted as science by scientists.

You are the one who said that understanding a designer was "pointless in terms of science." As far as I know, no one minds discussing it in comparitive theology class. However if it is pointless in terms of science it doesn't belong in the science classroom.

Jonvi: I see only harm come from rejecting plausible albeit unproved theories in favor of supporting conflicting, equally unproved theories.

Your contention that evolution is not supported by any evidence is just nutty.

There are massive amounts of evidence supporting evolution. It is the cornerstone, the underlying principle of biology. As an explanation it appears to fit every single discovery that has been made, from fossils to genetics to cladistics to ecology to zoology to anthropology.

From Wiki:

Evolutionary biologists document the fact that evolution occurs, and also develop and test theories that explain its causes. The study of evolutionary biology began in the mid-nineteenth century, when studies of the fossil record and the diversity of living organisms convinced most scientists that species changed over time.[5][6] However, the mechanism driving these changes remained unclear until the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, detailing the theory of evolution by natural selection.[7] Darwin's work soon led to overwhelming acceptance of evolution among scientists.[8][9][10][11] In the 1930s, Darwinian natural selection was combined with Mendelian inheritance to form the modern evolutionary synthesis,[12] which connected the units of evolution (genes) and the mechanism of evolution (natural selection). This powerful explanatory and predictive theory directs research by constantly raising new questions, and it has become the central organizing principle of modern biology, providing a unifying explanation for the diversity of life on Earth.[9][10][13]


Scientists are all about the evidence. Evolution would not be "the central organizing principle of modern biology" if it was just some dude's unsupported flight of fancy.

Jonvi: You seem content to accept that chaos may be the reality and seek no further.

Again, your comprehension fails you.

I said, IF that was shown to be the case, then we would have no choice but to accept it. Reality is what it is. However I don't think it is at all likely to be the case.

Reality appears to have regularities that can be measured. When that appearance changes, then I will deal with the implications of the change, in a fashion dictated by what the change happens to be.

Jonvi: Perhaps, but there is something in the human mind that, I believe, will always ultimately reject that possibility.

Whatever the truth is, it will be rejected only by those human minds that don't care about being wrong. People who are concerned with accuracy will go where the evidence leads, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them.

Jonvi: To do so would be to give up all attempts to know anything and to submit to a despair that would be unendurable.

Boo hoo.

Jonvi:The problem is not with the basic theory of evolution but with Darwin's theory that all life evolved from the same, original, "simple" living organism.

Okay, what do you think happened? How does what you think differ from the sequence of events as currently described by science?

Jonvi: To try to claim that this theory addresses, much less "disproves" the theory of Intelligent Design is ludicrous.

Evolution doesn't "disprove" Intelligent Design and I never said it did.

But that doesn't make Intelligent Design a legitimate scientific theory. There is no evidence of Intelligent Design. There is no evidence of an Intelligent Designer. The theory falls flat on the weight of its own emptiness.

Jonvi:It is treated as if it is an unquestionable element of a belief and any doubting of it is a matter of "heresy."

Uh-huh. What piece of evidence is there which contradicts the current understanding?

Jonvi: I am making the point that the theory of Intelligent Design underpins the believe that the "laws" (in the common-language sense, - also "rules" or "principles") that govern this system that is our world are consistent.

It is not necessary to "underpin beliefs" about the principles that govern the universe, because we do not need to "believe" anything about them. What is known can be shown.

Jonvi:The theory of Intelligent Design says that these laws are intentional, designed to some purpose and set in motion by some sort of intelligence.

There is no evidence of this.

Jonvi:If they are not intended then they are accidental which means they are subject to change at any moment as other "accidents" occur.

This is a false dichotomy. There is no reason why the properties of matter and energy have to be "designed" to be consistent. They simply are what they are.

In fact, suggesting that physical laws were "chosen" makes them more arbitrary, not less. Considering them the naturally occuring properties of matter would be expecting them to be this way and stay this way because this is how things are. Saying that "a Designer" made them be this way suggests that that they could be different, or He could have made them be different, or that they could become different some day at His whim. They are subject to change at any moment as He sees fit.

Jonvi: Correct me if I'm wrong...

Happy to. Here's how:

Jonvi: ...but it seems as if you want to assert that we do, in fact, exist in a system that is consistent with the one described by the theory of Intelligent Design...

Wrong on two counts.

1) I am willing to assert that we live in a system where there seem to be discernable regularities. However I do not agree that regularity must be a product of intent.

2) The fact that there is no evidence of Intelligent Design makes the system decidedly inconsistent with the "theory of Intelligent Design."

Jonvi:...but you insist on denying the possibility of any designer.

Still completely wrong. I have never denied any possibility of anything. I have stated that there is no evidence of intelligent design. That is a far cry from saying it isn't possible. I am saying it isn't scientific.

Jonvi: Do you offer any alternative to how this system occurred without a designer...

As far as I can tell, how this system occurred is completely unknown. "I don't know" does not equal "Intelligent Design is a valid scientific theory."

Jonvi: In order for any law to be consistent it must be intended.

This is like saying a river must have intention, because otherwise, how could it ever find its way to the ocean? But the fact is, water just rolls downhill because of gravity. It is acted upon by a force. There is no intent required. It just does what it does.

Jonvi: In order for any law to be consistent it must be intended.

This is like saying a river must have intention, because otherwise, how could it ever find its way to the ocean? But the fact is, water just rolls downhill because of gravity. It is acted upon by a force. There is no intent required. It just does what it does.

Jonvi: If there is no quality of intent about it then it is, by default, accidental.

And yet, the river finds its way to sea.

Jonvi: Such laws can only exist if they are not accidental but, rather, intended.

Continually rephrasing this sentence is not making it any truer. What we call "laws" are not statutes. Laws are just an description of what happens. And, they may yet change, or be not at all what we currently think they are. That doesn't mean they are not useful now for what we are using them for.

Jonvi: It might also be that the designing intelligence added those life-forms either at that time or else at the origin of our system but set to emerge at that time.

How? How could an intelligence create a living system, whole, from scratch? How could it know what would work? How could it contrive to manipulate the molecules and assemble them?

If intention is so necessary, how could an intelligent being with these abilities have arisen? By accident? By the intent of another being? Then, how did that being arise without intent?

Jonvi: Well, Raver, I hope your list of transitional fossils is only the tiniest fraction of a partial list because compared to the abundant fossil evidence that Darwin expected to find in support of his theory it is nothing.

It is not nothing. It is evidence of evolution between species. Your claim that there is no evidence of evolution between species, therefore what scientists understand as evolution didn't actually happen, is crap.

Jonvi: Science functions on the belief that there are true laws, however, that govern our system.

Science could function without that. It functions on the observation of what seems to be consistent and predictive. So far, scientists have discovered plenty of guidelines which can be used to make predictions. They use what they have observed all the time - to provide energy, to steer spacecraft, to cure disease, to predict the weather, to grow better crops, to build machines.

Jonvi: If you agree that in a system without laws the only thing that can be known is that nothing can be known, then what would be the point of pursuing any knowledge within such a system?

To provide energy. To steer spacecraft. To cure disease. To grow better crops. To predict the weather. To build machines.

Jonvi: In order to pursue knowledge don't you need to begin with the assumption that knowledge is possible - or else why would you begin?

To see what happens.

Jonvi: Will you agree that if all the apparent consistencies we have so far defined prove not to be truly consistent...

That hasn't happened. Why worry about it? We'll deal with it when and if - and that's a pretty big if - it actually happens.

Jonvi: ...then we will have to admit that we so far know nothing?

We know a few things. Some diseases get cured. A space capsule took men to the moon and brought them back. We invented cars and computers and atom bombs and magnetic resonance imaging machines. Those achievements cannot be cancelled by anything.

Jonvi: How can any machine - by definition a system of elements that interact according to set principles - exist if there are no set principles and can be no set principles?

No one is claiming that there are no set principles and there can be no set principles. There appear to be consistent principles.

You are the one making the claim that there can be no set principles without them having been set by "an intelligence." However there is no evidence that principles have to be set by someone in order to exist.

The principles appear to be the natural properties of matter and energy. Your continued assertions that if they weren't set by someone, they couldn't be consistent, are just ridiculous, since they do appear to be consistent and they don't appear to have been set by someone.

Jonvi: If a law is accidental, how can it be dependably consistent?

By appearing to be the same every time we measure it.

Jonvi: This will, of course, mean that nothing can be known.

This has got to be the biggest load of crap I have ever heard, and where you got the idea that this piece of tripe is significant in any way is beyond me.

Obviously we don't have to worry about what would happen if "nothing can be known." Some things can be known for the moment, and for the moment that is plenty good enough to get the job done.

Jonvi: How can this function as an adequate starting hypothesis for the search for knowledge?

The only thing you need to begin a search for knowledge is the will to start searching.

Jonvi: As I explained in an earlier post, I am using "law" to mean a consistent, dependable rule or principle that governs the interaction of elements in our system.

Well, there's your problem. Laws are not "rules" that "govern" matter. They are human descriptions of our observations of what occurs. Outside of human existence there are no "laws." There is just stuff that happens.

Jonvi: If a law occurs by accident then it can be upset by another accident.

Prove it.

Jonvi: I protest the attitude I've encountered all to often that if a legitimate, well-educated, well-respected scientist brings valid reason or evidence to raise a doubt about Darwin's theory of the Origin of Species then that, alone, is somehow proof that this scientist must be a fool.

What evidence has been brought forward?

Jonvi: "Prove it"? You can't prove anything exists.

I exist.

Jonvi: Can you prove it?

I am. That's the proof.

Do you doubt it?

Jonvi: Of course I can doubt that you exist.

I didn't say, "Can you?" I said, "Do you?"

Jonvi: "I exist" doesn't prove that "I" exists.

The act of saying is the proof. How do you figure I could be making the statement if I don't exist?

Jonvi: Just because laws seem to exist doesn't mean they really do.

Maybe they don't. Who cares? We figured out enough to get men to the moon and back. Things seemed to hold together and we seem to have understood it at least well enough to do that. That's good enough for now.

Jonvi: Isn't the belief that some kind of knowledge is possibly attainable a required element in the "will" to start searching?

Not at all. My almost-two-year-old doesn't have any beliefs and he doesn't have a clue about "knowledge" or the "possibly attainable." But let me open a drawer and climbs all over me trying to get a peek inside. He has the will to start searching just by his very nature.

Jonvi: If you disagree with my definition of "law" then what word do you wish to use to express the concept of dependable, consistent rules that direct the interaction of elements within our system?

There are no "rules" which "direct" the interaction of elements. There is only our description of what appears to happen, and without us there isn't even that.

Jonvi: It seems to be self-evident. An "accidental consistent law" is an obvious oxymoron.

First of all, you can't prove a statement about physical reality like "If a law occurs by accident then it can be upset by another accident" by talking about it. Statements about physical reality must be shown to correspond to actual physical reality. You would have to demonstrate it by showing a "law that occured by accident" and showing that "another accident" upset it. Do you have physical evidence that this is actually what happens in physical reality?

Secondly, and more importantly, a "law" is not something which "occurs." A law is our description of what occurs. The "law" is us talking about what happens. What actually happens is what occurs.

Jonvi: Something that is, by definition, non-consistent cannot also be consistent.

Maybe things aren't consistent. They seem to be but who knows?

However, your jump from there to "we can't know anything and we would never bother to try" is just ridiculous. Obviously humans know things and try to know things. That is an undeniable fact.

But you can't turn it around and conclude that our desire to know and our attempts to know prove consistency. Our desire to know and our attempts to know could reveal inconsistency and we would still want to know.

Quantum physics is a case in point. Einstien refused to believe that any physical event could be predicted only by probabilities instead of precise calculation. His statement "God does not play dice with the universe" arose from that misunderstanding. He died never really "getting" quantum mechanics.

But the "inconsistency" didn't stop others from looking down that path and finding out what could be found out about it.

Jonvi:If nothing is consistent - if there is not even a consistent pattern or rule that governs change, then what can you know except that nothing is consistent, everything is random, everything is chaos?

Why on earth are you so worried about this? It doesn't appear to be the case.

And your silly insistence that humanity would ever give up on searching for knowledge for any reason is just insane. Humans are genetically programmed to be curious and there is nothing we could learn that would stamp out the human drive to seek knowledge.

06-10-15 10:01  •  Descartes and Intelligent Design

Cellist: First of all Descartes tackled this one already and ultimately i agree with part of his musings that all I *can* know is that I exist.

Actually Descarte was a nice enough fella but a bit long-winded. My version is:

I am.

That's plenty.

Jonvi: How do I know? You may not, actually, be thinking anything.

To prove my existence to myself, as Descartes did, I don't have to think, "I think therefore." Thinking "I am" is an undeniable act of thinking. However if you have convinced yourself that Descartes was thinking but I'm not, I really am not going to try to argue it with you.

I had to rework my above statement about Descartes several times this afternoon before it said what I was trying to say. In the process, I had the opportunity to consider the matter, and I came to see what I think is the fundamental incompatibility of the approaches we are using in the Intelligent Design discussion.

Descartes was a Rationalist. He was attempting to make a "logical proof" for his existence. That's real sweet, but when it comes to existential questions, reason is not enough. You can't conclusively prove existence with logic. You can logic it up like crazy, but if, at the end of the day, you don't have the thing you are claiming exists, or physical evidence of it, you have not proved existence. Existence cannot be proved. It can only be demonstrated.

The approach I took to Descartes' question was, rather, that of an Empiricist. I don't need "rational proof" that I exist. I exist. It is manifestly obvious. I'm here. I am. That's not logic - that is a simple observation.

Descartes' reasoning was impeccable, but his statement was true because it contained within it the empirical, existential observation, I am. To demonstrate one's own existence, nothing more is needed.

It seems to me that Jonvi is using a rationalist approach to demonstrate the logic of an Intelligent Designer. How could there not be a designer if laws are consistent? It would make no logical sense! Just look at the mathematical improbability!

Well, the problem is that the question is not a rational one, but an existential one. Does, or did, an Intelligent Designer exist?

Again, you can logic it up all day, about laws and intent vs. accident and mathematical probabilities, but those are all human constructs, nothing more. The existential question will never be answered with logic. The only thing that can demonstrate - not "prove," but show - an Intelligent Designer is the Designer Himself. Or, physical evidence that there was a Designer.

The whole "humans would have no basis to begin the search for knowledge" thing is a case in point. It doesn't matter what you conclude "logically" about what humans "would" do. The unassailable fact remains that humans do search for knowledge. It can be demonstrated that humans search for knowledge and that knowledge has been acquired in this search. You can't logic that away. The facts render the logic utterly moot.

I am perfectly willing to consider an Intelligent Designer as an empirical endeavor. Show me this designer, or some tangible evidence of this designer, and then maybe we'll have something to go on.

Until there is some empirical evidence, however, it's just talk. And talk is not Him.

06-10-15 9:01  •  Child Worship

Lora: What is with this new generation and their child worship? Parents today don't control their kids at all.

I saw this kid at the Walmart. He was screaming, crying and kicking! I blame his mother.

When I am perfect, I will expect everyone else to be. Until then, I would hope people would view my imperfections with compassion, and try to do the same with theirs.

Children especially.

Lora: Compassion is one thing--but isn't common sense, politeness and an awareness of your surroundings also important?

Sure. But, nobody's perfectly polite or perfectly aware, and sometimes things happen. I try not to let the non-pefection of people or situations irritate me. If I did, I would spend a lot of time annoyed. Instead, I try to have compassion. We've all been there with our non-perfect parenting showing, or our non-perfect discretion, or our non-perfect children.

It's not worth getting upset about.

Lora: So, you just assume then that your child is not perfect, and let them act however they want in public?

My children are angels in public, 99.9% of the time. Nobody is an angel 100%.

Lora: I am speaking of bad behavior in public. Why do people let their kids act like this?

Everyone I see in public is a stranger to me. I have no way to know if their child's behavior is typical, or if it is that .01% of the time when even the most angelic kid loses it. I don't assume the parent is "letting" anything. I try to remember the times when things weren't going how I wanted, despite my best efforts. If it's appropriate, I might offer a smile or say, "I know how it is when these things happen." If it's not, I mind my own business, and do not let it bother me.

06-08-15 9:01  •  Agnosticism - Wishy-Washy?

Apples: We give our kids direction in nearly every aspects of their lives. But Agnosticism seems like a total lack of direction.

Children are an empty slate. They need guidance. By choosing to not guide your children one way or the other, seems contrary to the task of parenting. Thoughts?

NoBeliefs: I just try to tell them the truth.

Apples: The problem is, when we're dealing with something that can't be proven (such as faith), truth is subjective.

If a claim can't be proven (or shown, or demonstrated, or verified, or confirmed, or checked, etc.) then the truth is that you do not know.

Standing firmly for the truth is not wishy-washy.

Apples: This is about the information shared and how it is perceived by the child.

Truth is about the information shared and the information being accurate. The child will perceive honesty and accuracy.

Apples: You have to step back from that ego you're always talking about...

When did I ever say anything about "ego"? You seem to have me confused with somebody else.

Apples: ...in order to understand my question.

I understand the question just fine. Agnosticism is not a "total lack of direction." It is guidance firmly in the direction of truth, honesty, accuracy, and integrity. It is not contrary to the task of parenting. It is better than being dishonest.

NoBeliefs: See, I think, Apples, that you are the one that isn't getting it. The information shared is this: NOBODY KNOWS. You don't know either. You think you know, but you don't. When my kid asks me what happens to us after death, my answer is: Nobody knows.

I agree, and I don't know what answer could represent better parenting than that.

06-05-15 9:01  •  Jesus vs. Enlightenment

Dorrie: I think that the teachings of Christ can stand on their own. I don't think that you should have to be 100% sold on everything in the Bible, or in the New Testament, to be a Christian, and you don't have to believe in God or in the deity of Christ to follow his teachings. Jesus was a great man. That much we do know.

I think the focus on Jesus is unfortunate. It makes it seem like he is the only person in history who ever became enlightened, or that you have to be a magical being to understand compassion and non-violence. This makes it seem like enlightenment is not within reach of an ordinary human being. That's a shame.

Dorrie: Unfortunately, we humans are really fascinated with mysticism and the explicable bores us after a while. If not for the miracles, JC might have been relegated to the status of prophet, as he is in Islam, or forgotten altogether.

2500 years and the Buddha is still going strong, with very little in the way of miraculous attributed to him.

But, his message was about enlightenment, and the message tells you exactly how to do it yourself. That is what it is for. Perhaps that is why it works. :-)

Whatever Jesus' message may have been, the main message of Christianity is not how to attain enlightenment....it is how to attain salvation. Jesus had a message of love, but he is worshipped for his divinity and his magical promise of a good afterlife.

It is hard to imagine that this is what an enlightened person would have wanted.

Dorrie: The enlightened state that the Buddha says is possible to attain is very mysterious.

I'm kind of surprised to hear you say that. I mean, have you actually looked into it? It seems extremely straightforward to me. The Buddha (or at least, someone) laid out exactly what it is and how to achieve it in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. It is a simple methodology and there isn't anything magical about it.

Enlightenment is transcending suffering through deliberate practice of compassion, focused attention, and non-attachment. The people I know who apply this practice are wise, kind and happy, seemingly as a direct result. I'm not really seeing what the big mystery is.

Perhaps it is because of all the statues. The Buddha is not considered a prophet, but some Buddhists revere him personally and worship his statues, also as if he was the only person who ever thought of anything.

If that is the case, the focus on "the Buddha" is just as unfortunate as the focus on "Jesus." It makes it seem like the goal is magical and beyond the reach or ken of an ordinary person. If that is how it seems, this too is a great shame.

My whole message, if I could be said to have one, is that enlightenment is not mysterious, and it is not the sole purview of gurus and monks. As far as I can tell, enlightenment is fun, easy, and available to every single person who wishes to attain it.

From what I can tell by your writing, you seem to have a great deal of enlightenment already. So perhaps it isn't as mysterious as you think.

Dorrie: Enlightenment seems very mysterious to me.

I think it's a shame if it has been portrayed to you that way. It's not really. It just means, managing your experience by what you focus your attention on. You probably do a lot of this already. The Eight-fold Path is just a codified system for applying it as a practice, and it's not the only one.

Dorrie: Transcendence of pain, desire and suffering and attainment of Nirvana is the goal that any person has before her.

As far as I know, it is not possible - or necessary - to transcend pain or desire. It is fairly easy to transcend suffering, or at least alleviate it to a great degree, once you know the tricks. Then, pain and desire become much less of a problem.

"Nirvana" literally means "blowing out" - it is a metaphor for blowing out the flames of thought. It basically means, "Stop thinking." Being able to stop thinking at will is a very powerful tool for alleviating suffering, and a useful skill for anyone to learn. It's not really hard.

Dorrie: Sure, the path there is pretty clear-cut, but once you get there, you get to occupy some kind of new level of existence that other people haven't attained.

I wouldn't characterize it that way. I mean, a PhD is a new level of, not existence, but of understanding, which some people have attained and some haven't. But it's not that big of a separation, and certainly not out of reach for the average human. It just means you have learned something.

Dorrie: ...but it's all about controlling behavior by promising a reward that is either nearly impossible to attain due to human nature or impossible to verify because it comes when we're dead.

This is not that. Enlightenment is easy.

Dorrie: Buddhism has the benefit of making each person much more of a leader of himself; to my mind, that makes it a much more enlightened religion than most from the start.

You don't have to think of it as a religion, or even as Buddhism. As I said, the Jesuses and Buddhas of the world aren't the only ones who figured out how to do it. For example, the ancient Greek Epicurus also figured it out, and his philosophy is not considered a religion. His word for "Nirvana" was "Ataraxia" but it seems to be the same kind of thing. Obviously, you don't need Buddhism, or religion, for enlightenment. All it takes is learning the trick of how to do it.

Dorrie: I truly envy those who can "stop thinking." My brain never stops churning. I can occasionally ignore it but I can't make it stop.

This is how I would describe it. Suppose you were awake in bed late at night. Your brain could be churning away, producing worry and fret, agonizing over various unmet expectations, etc. But, what if, nearby, there was a sudden, very loud noise?

The thoughts would be cut off in mid-suffering. All senses would be highly alert, thinking nothing, only listening, to see if anything can be heard to identify or categorize the level of threat.

If nothing further happened, after a few seconds you would go back to thinking in words, probably about what the noise could have been. If the source is easy to identify, you might relax, and even go back to fretting after a bit. But, for a few seconds, you were not worried about your worries or weighed down by your cares. And when you were not thinking of them, they were gone.

The trick is to stop thinking and listen, at will. Even if it is only for a few seconds. Cutting off what you were thinking about allows you to choose something else. Being able to choose what you are thinking about is a great skill for a busy brain. You don't have to think the thoughts that cause suffering. You can think something else.

Dorrie: Very good advice, Raver.

Thanks, I'm glad it makes sense. :-)

Dorrie: I'd still love *blank* someday, though.

It just takes practice. Focus on the sound of the traffic for a few seconds. When you realize you are thinking again, deliberately go back to focusing on the traffic. Repeat. Eventually the seconds can be extended. That's meditation. Ho hum.

6-04-15 6:04  •   The Cosmic Story

The following is a summary of the presentation given by Carolyn Porco at the 2006 Beyond Belief conference.  The theme of the conference was, "If not God, then what?"  Carolyn, the chief researcher in charge of studying Saturn, was asked to share some of what she experiences staring eternity and immensity in the face every day, and how it informs her human need for meaning.

The Cosmic Story

Jules Verne said, "Reality provides us with facts so romantic, that imagination itself could add nothing to them."

This is the Hubble Deep Field, one of the deepest images ever constructed of our universe, and it is peering, not only 13 billion light years into space, but also 13 billion years back in time. These are the structures that were formed a mere 800 million years after the big bang.  There are no local stars in this image, so everything we are seeing here is a galaxy. 

The galaxies are gravitationally entwined in a vast ballet which is transpiring in time scales of hundreds of millions of years.

This is known as the Sombrero Galaxy, 28 million light years from earth.

This is a barred galaxy.

This is a whirlpool galaxy.  The reddish areas are star-forming regions.  Matter and gasses from space pass into these regions and as they rotate they are compressed, and pop out on the other side as blue stars.

This is two galaxies merging.

So, it is obvious, just from looking out into the universe, that there is a vast uncountable number of galaxies, of which ours is only one.

Closer to home, this is a star-forming region inside our own galaxy, located in the Orion Nebula.

So everywhere we look in the universe, creation is taking place, through the intricate dance of elemental particles.   This is what happens when bits of stuff, so tiny that we are galactic in comparison, coalesce and merge and dance together.

Everywhere we look, we find exactly the same processes in motion that we see going on here around us.  There is nothing extraordinary about this particular place where we happen to be.

This is a red dwarf star, and with the star itself masked out you can see that this star also has a disc.  This is about the size of our solar system.   Debris discs around stars are common.

Here is an early Hubble image, and the tiny dot in the callout is a planet.  This was the first time we were actually able to see a planet in orbit around another sun besides our own.

So, beginning with Copernicus, and continuing through our own human efforts of restless pursuit of  truth, we have learned that there is nothing central about our place in the cosmos.   The universe is happening all around us and is operating on its own, with no apparent need of guidance.

This removes one of the pillars holding up the idea that there must be a god in charge.

But, what about life?   Isn't there something so unique and special about life, that "God" must have done it?

This is why the study of our own solar system has focused especially on the search for life, or "habitable zones" with conditions where life could arise - specifically long-lived liquid water environments that have simple organic materials in them, and excess warmth.

Which brings us to Saturn.

This is a picture of Saturn taken looking directly at the plane of the rings.  Since they are, proportionately, thinner than a razor blade, when directly aligned with the plane of the rings they seem to disappear.

We know that the processes which go on in Saturn's rings are very similar to the processes which go on in the spiral galaxies, and in the debris discs we find around other stars.

The tiny bump on the ring at the far right is Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus.

Here's a closer look.  It is a very unusual moon, unlike all the other icy satellites around Saturn.  It has very few craters, and that means that the surface is young.   Clearly it has had a very complex geological history.

Currently, the attention on Enceladus is focused on the southern polar region, characterized by these blue fractures which completely encircle the pole.   This is a color-enhanced view.  Eceladus is completely white, because it is water ice, except for these cracks, where we find simple organic materials.   The team also found that the warmest place on Enceladus is the south pole, and the heat is concentrated along the fractures.

As if that wasn't enough, close pass-bys have discovered that issuing forth from these fractures are jets of fine icy particles extending kilometers above the surface.

These plumes may be geysers that are issuing forth from subterranean chambers of liquid water close to the surface.

If that is the case, then, we have liquid water, we have simple organic materials, we have excess warmth.  It may be an environment that is suitable for living organisms.  Because of the geysers, it may be possible to use an orbital probe in a future mission to Enceladus to analyze the plumes for organic and living material.    These recent discoveries have made it seem more likely than ever that non-earthbound life can exist.

If, then, it is found that there is life in this place, it will mean that Genesis has occurred not once, but twice, just in this solar system.   And because the conditions we observe here in our solar system are not unique, but are common throughout the cosmos, it is possible to see that life my have arisen independently a staggering number of times in the 13.6 billion year history of the universe, arising as part of natural processes which require no intelligence.

This removes another pillar under the need for a creator God.

So what about, now (Caryolyn goes on to say) this issue of Death.

The God concept brings with it a guarantee of immortality, and that is why people find it so attractive.  People are afraid of death.   And the approach to death that we take in our culture is a colossal failure.   We don't talk about it, we don't teach people how to anticipate it, how to feel about it...and people are afraid to die.

Is there anything in the cosmic story, as told here, that can comfort people who wish to live forever?

People, as they are constituted now, are not going to live forever.  That is just the simple truth of it.  But, there may be another way to look at death and immortality that can be taught.   It may be possible to learn to regard death as a natural event, part of the natural order, and perhaps even as a wondrous state.  It is a transition that takes place against and within the beautiful pageantry and majesty of The Cosmic Story we see around us in the universe.

That is something that can be taught to be a comforting thought.  And, after all, we know exactly what it is like to be dead.  It is exactly like the state we inhabited before we were born. And there is nothing in that to be afraid of.

And, we can offer hope - of sorts - for an everlasting existence.  Our mortal bodies, of course, will perish, but the collection of individual pieces of matter and particles within us, we have learned, are ancient.  After we die, they will go on, and go back into the cosmos.  In one form or another, whether they live on as matter, or get converted to energy, they will last forever.  It may be that we can, and we should, teach people to find comfort in that thought, the way children are taught to find comfort in the God concept.  

In a discussion of the "emotional dividends" of religion, we may be able to see this as an emotional dividend of the science story.   We can find comfort knowing that someday, everyone who has ever lived on this planet will adorn the heavens, looking very much like the nebulae that are created when a sun-like star sheds its outer layers.

So, perhaps one day, we will all look like this:

An event like this will happen to our sun a few billion years from now.   All life on the earth will perish, and all of the molecules that were us will be caught up in the stellar explosion, so we may end up as an amazing jewel of the night sky, like this.  Or like this:

It is actually an enchanting and intriguing notion, that in examining these nebula throughout the universe, we may be looking at the elements - the carbon, the oxygen, the nitrogen and hydrogen - that once were recycled through the organisms of an extraterrestrial civilization that lived on a planet that orbited the star.   That may be our destiny one day too.

So, perhaps we can replace the God concept - the idea that God is the explanation for all things natural - and in fact we have already done this to a great degree.  It's just a matter of developing a socially appealing way to get the word out to everyone.

Which brings us to religion, and whether anything having to do with scientific inquiry - whether it's the practice of science or the fruits of science - could ever offer the social embrace that religious organizations do.  

It's intriguing to consider that many people in religious groups may not really believe everything as preached, but they remain part of the organization nonetheless.   It may be that people are attracted to religion because we are social animals, and we like to belong to groups.   The reasons for religious fellowship are primarily social, and people might actually be on the fence, or wondering, about the specifics of the various teachings.

So here's a possibly crazy idea - perhaps a "dangerous idea" - to bring the findings of science and the story of the universe science has to tell, we should let the success of the religious formula guide us.  We could discuss adopting the things that religions do well.  We could replace the social organizations of religions with something else.

Religions do so many good things...like accumulating billions of dollars to aid the victims of Katrina, for example.  So, why do the organizations that do this have to be religious?

And, we can teach our children from a very young age the story of the universe, in all its incredible richness and beauty.  It is already so much more glorious and awesome, and even comforting, than anything offered by any scripture or "god" concept.  

We may not be able to sway the adults from these ideas, but we can influence the next generation in the gradual illumination of the mind.

And, finally, we can celebrate!  We have a great many reasons for jubilation.  That we actually can know what we know is so empowering and uplifting.  It's a beautiful thing, and it's worth celebrating.  How about instituting a national holiday to celebrate all the knowledge that humankind has accumulated about the universe, evolution and so on.  We could have a holiday called The Day of Great Awakening.

We have already had many moments that deserve such recognition and celebration.

This picture, taken on December 29, 1968, was the first time we ever saw earth as a whole planet from space.  It was taken by the astronauts of Apollo 8, and had an enormous impact on society, and understanding our place in the cosmos and our planetary home.

Then, of course, this is the "Pale Blue Dot" photo, taken when the Voyager 1 spacecraft was far above the plane of the solar system out beyond the orbit of Neptune, about which Carl Sagan spoke so eloquently:

"It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known. "

More recently, the trajectory of Cassini [the Saturn probe Carolyn is in charge of] carried it deep into the planet's shadow.  From there, shielded from direct sunlight, they were able to point the cameras back in the direction of the sun.  Because of the unique vantage point, Cassini's cameras captured views never before seen by humans - a total eclipse of the sun from the other side of Saturn.

This view, for example, shows Saturn's fifth ring, which is usually invisible:

This ring was actually formed from the plumes being ejected into space from Enceladus. It is a wild thought indeed to think that if there are microbes present, they are being shot out into space and frozen in these tiny particles, and are orbiting Saturn in this ring.

As if this spectable weren't dazzling enough, we can spot, across a billion miles of interplanetary space, our own planet Earth, nestled in the arms of Saturn.

That is our home.   

It may be a long time before we see anything this moving again.   But, it seems like there is nothing that has a greater power to alter and correct our perception of ourselves, and our place in the cosmos, than the sight of our own tiny little world from across the depths of space.  In the end, this ever-widening view of earth, against the immensity of space, is perhaps the greatest legacy of all our interplanetary travels, and of all our scientific inquiry.

*   *   *   *  

If you would like to see Carolyn give this presentation herself, you can check out the video:

Beyond Belief - If not God, then what?

Please jump ahead in the video straight to 1:23:10 when Carolyn begins her presentation.

Read more in the Archives.