I am the light of the world

I just had a religious experience. Or, at least as close as I’m going to get to one.

It was over a TV program called “The Sun” — a show so minor, The Science Channel doesn’t even have a web page for it. In it, Dr. Paul Scowen of Arizona State University described the simple process by which our universe went from a soup of positively-charged quanta of energy, each orbited by its own negatively-charged, smaller unit of energy, to you at this very moment reading these words. Stopping to consider that, I was reminded of just how elegant and beautiful the universe is. And it all started with a cloud of atoms.

It will sit there for thousands, and in some cases, millions of years… What you need to do to get the star formation process going is you need to kick it with something. That can be an impact on the cloud from one side by a supernova blast wave — a massive star has gone boom at the end of its life, and that sends out in all directions, very energetic compression waves that hit the gas and compresses it.

The first stars formed out of dense clouds of hydrogen. Then, when they died, their supernovas sent out shockwaves to jumpstart the creation of another generation of stars. It’s a perfectly simple method for increasing complexity in the universe, and it all runs automatically!

And through this process, every atom of every element of everything everywhere on earth was forged in the core of one of these stars. And not even our own star from our own solar system — a star that lived and died before the solar system had even begun to form. One star, perhaps even billions of stars, lived and died in order to give us life.

When you put it all together, you realize how amazing and sublime the universe is.

Stars of the Show

Stars are atom-making machines. They take the simplest building block of matter, hydrogen, and forge it into a variety of new atoms in the construction of the universe. From helium, stars create the heavier elements: carbon, oxygen, silicon, iron, which are then scattered to the solar winds (ha) when the star goes supernova. Through chance and over enough repitions, these elements come together to form rocky planets around the new generation of stars these supernovas helped to create. Then these atoms combine to form molecules, the molecules to form chemicals, the chemicals to form life… and we’re the result!

And just as surely as stars create the universe, they are swallowing it up again as black holes. There’s only speculation of how the universe will end — will it coalesce in a big crunch, will it disappear like dust in the wind? But seeing the clockwork regularity with which the stars have seeded the universe, it seems only fitting as part of some grand design that they also be the custodians, at the end of the day cleaning everything up, gathering together all they’ve created to start the process all over again. What a beautiful, simple system it all is, and what an omniscient creator it took to set it all into place — this is a God I can love.

Only one possible GodNot the god that turns his people against each other; the one that gives his people free will, then imposes rules on them. Not the god who tells his followers to drive his enemies into the sea, not the god who requires circumcisions to win his favor, not the god who filled our planet with a wonderous menagerie of plants and animals then haphazerdly declared some of them offensive, unclean, and sinful.

Between worshipping that god or the sun, I take the sun.

It was there in the beginning, separating us from the darkness and is the reason we have carbon in the mountains and dihydrogen monoxide in the rivers and the lakes. It is quite literally the light of the world. Without the sun, we would never have come into being. I can’t say, however, that the people who worshipped the sun were any more peaceful.

Aztec Sacrifice

By Tim

An animator, video producer, Lego artist, and author—I am moderately skilled at a lot of different things.

4 replies on “I am the light of the world”

Well, those that did worship the sun didn’t worship the “sun” but the “Sun” as in, the sun was just a symbol for a god. So, they weren’t praying to a celestial object, but a god. When someone asked for proof, the high priest just pointed to the sky. “That’s his eye, dude–don’t mess.”

There were people who lived on the British Isles before the Brits did and before the Egyptians were recording what we call their history. These people have no real name because they vanished from history. They worshipped the sun, the moon and the stars–not as gods, but as guides to farming. One can then assume that they had no gods to send them to war or to kill. As such a people, they were likely killed by some other god-fearing nation of people.

I really like Penn Jillette’s definition of atheism and god and all of that stuff. It’s refreshing to know that there are other people who think like me. I’ve been saying that “I like being wrong so I can learn” stuff for years. If only more of us humans thought that way.

Ah well, thanks for linking to the Jillett piece and for posting this at all. 🙂 The universe may seem simple, but there are a lot of mysteries still out there. I’d much rather we drop a trillion bucks on exploring the universe than on killing people who aren’t a threat to us.

Thanks, Pete!

I think the important thing about Jillette’s article is he shows that you can have peace, beauty and contentment in the way the world actually is, without having to dress it up with mysticism.

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