Thursday, June 20, 2013

Changing perspective

There are times when religion makes sense.

I don't mean "comfort when mourning" or the like. I mean there are times in our development that religion makes sense. When we've grown past the point of just subsistence living and have the time to wonder where we are, what we're doing, but haven't started gathering knowledge about the world - or a way to vet that knowledge. It gives us answers when we want them.

When your knowledge of the world - and the universe - is small, it's easy to imagine god or gods as they're described. The Greek gods lived on Mount Olympus. They were kings and queens, with humanity down below able to be watched.

The Hebrew gods - later god? Well, the Earth was flat, supported on pillars. Egypt was somewhere south, Babylon and Assyria East-ish,  Greece and Rome northward. The firmament was a dome (with windows that could be opened for the flood,) stars were little lights... or angels, or beings (which can come down to Earth and fight.) The sun and moon were fixed there... and it gave a platform for god to watch and pick one small group of people of all the little groups of people.

It actually makes cosmological sense in this regard for some being to like one group over another, and for humanity to be a special creation.

Of course, these people knew nothing of native Americans. Of Indonesians. Of Australia existing. Of the very existence of half the world. They had a small world, and it was simple to imagine being watched, of God being "close by."

Now take the world we know - in fact, take the universe we know. Just consider what we describe as the universe itself, large beyond easy human comprehension. It's hard for people to grasp distances within the solar system - with the distance (max) to pluto over fourty nine and a half *billion* miles.  Even if you considered the solar system "the universe," Earth and all its divisions disappear before you get to the edge of it. But mankind is still potentially special, there.

But as  you expand to look at the galaxy... then the local group... and all the planets that can be extrapolated just from the few (hundred) we've found, it gets harder and harder to hold that kind of view.

I mean, when we look at an area of sky this big - and I do mean the patch labelled "XDF" for Hubble's eXtreme Deep Field:

And we see this:

... with over five *thousand* galaxies in just that little patch...

It's hard to think of the creator of "the universe," when you get a feeling of just how big "the universe" really is with just that picture, having any real interest in who members of one species on one planet on one star in one galaxy sleep with, or deciding one subgroup of that species are better than the others (whether we're talking gender, race or nationality - or religion.)

Seeing things like this, it's easy to understand the hostility of religion to science - and yes, it does tend to be hostile. More people understanding things like this make it much, much harder to believe, if you think logically or critically, of the things *in* religion.

I do believe religion will evolve, once a critical mass of people get there. And will do it again when (not if) we discover extraterrestrial life - and then intelligent life. Assuming we don't kill ourselves off first. And that "god" will evolve, as well, into a more nebulous "feeling of something there," for those that still choose to believe - just because the universe in all its size, glory, and danger, is awesome to comprehend, and some people will want to assign "something" to it - in some ways as a buffer for the absolute, mind-blowing grandeur of it all.

But when they get there, a few hundred years perhaps from now, they'll look back at the beliefs so many held now and realize just how tight to the cradle those beliefs tried to hold us.

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