Astronomy Illiterate?
Posted: 04 October 2009 03:15 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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Do you think that part of the reason why so many people believe in a God is that they just are not savvy when it comes to astronomy? It seems that the majority of people are woefully deficient when it comes to understanding the cosmos. If they really understood how big… how really ENORMOUS the universe is, and how many stars, planets, and other objects there are, perhaps they would find it more difficult to posit that a being could have been the prime cause of it all.

I think that most people have the “Star Trek” mentality in regards to the universe. In other words, they have this notion (due in large part to TV) that it is, if not easy, then certainly “feasible” to zip across the cosmos from planet to planet and star to star (assuming a technology only slightly more advanced than our space shuttle). They are not familiar with the numbers, distances, timescales, forces, sizes, and physics that govern our universe. In fact, they don’t give cosmology much thought at all. They live in the confines of the here and now. To them, a picture taken by Hubble is, well… just a picture. They fail to see the story that the picture tells. The story that light has travelled for millions or billions of years before being captured by Hubble’s lens. That it would literally take thousands, or millions, of earths to fill up the volume of most stars. That we are just a Gamma Ray Burst away from extinction. To them, the universe is merely “big.” To them it’s a “quaint” universe. It’s static. It’s traversable. It’s benign. And it’s here for us.

I realize that some may take the very points I have made as even more proof that there is a God. But… do they REALLY understand the cosmology involved? I can say that from my own personal experience the religious faithful that I interact with do not have even a 5th grade understanding of astronomy. That’s not to say they are not savvy (or even exceptional) in other areas. But they certainly do not grasp (or are not aware of) the concepts I have made. And I often wonder if their religious views would be changed if they had a better understanding of Astronomy.

Ron

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Posted: 05 October 2009 01:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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MrRon - 04 October 2009 07:15 PM

Do you think that part of the reason why so many people believe in a God is that they just are not savvy when it comes to astronomy?

Ron

I think the overall scientific illiteracy in many cultures (and I’m most familiar with the USA) is a big part of it, but not the primary part of it.

First, theism is a mind virus—it’s implanted in people very often by the time they are a few hours out of the womb.  Even naming them is often called “Christening”.  then, this mind-virus is re-enforced day in and day out with prayers and rituals that firmly establish cognizant dissonance in them as they grow older.

On the one hand (using the fundy as an example), the fundy has no problem using all the benefits of science to, for example, post a religious rant on the internet… about how science is wrong for showing an old Earth and universe, and evolution, as the method to create a varied life system.

It takes a special talent to live one’s life so disconnected, and generally I think most people accomplish this by simply ignoring the details of their religious lives except when confronted with it.  They never bother to think about god, and they certainly don’t bother to investigate the details of their religious beliefs and merely pull god out of its closet when they feel the need (some do it every weekend, week in and week out.  Others, only when death looms in one form or another).

The real culprit is a lack of critical analysis skills.  If we could infect children with the mind virus of critical analysis, we’d have a more more scientifically literate, and far less superstitious, population.

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Posted: 05 October 2009 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Keep The Reason - 05 October 2009 05:08 AM

The real culprit is a lack of critical analysis skills.  If we could infect children with the mind virus of critical analysis, we’d have a more more scientifically literate, and far less superstitious, population.


I’m not so sure it’s the lack of critical thinking skills, but rather the lack of application, and usually the strategic or selective lack of application. Some very brilliant and otherwise analytical minds are infected by the virus, they just don’ think too good regarding matters of their religious faith.

Genuine skepticism/intellectual integrity is what I suspect you’re talking about, actually—the equitable and evenhanded application of critical reasoning. No sacred cows. No pet theories. No shifting standards of inquiry or epistemology in order to accommodate favored ideas, or to reject those that are less appealing. That’s the key as far as I can tell, and not all atheists pass muster, not even all conscientious and thoroughly considered atheists (I suspect a non-genuine skeptic from the latter category would probably be pretty unusual, but those who didn’t actively consider and choose their atheism would probably show less deviation of analytical consistency from believers than would conscientious and thoroughly considered atheists—possibly much less).

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Posted: 08 October 2009 07:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Do you think that part of the reason why so many people believe in a God is that they just are not savvy when it comes to astronomy? It seems that the majority of people are woefully deficient when it comes to understanding the cosmos. If they really understood how big… how really ENORMOUS the universe is, and how many stars, planets, and other objects there are, perhaps they would find it more difficult to posit that a being could have been the prime cause of it all.

I think that most people have the “Star Trek” mentality in regards to the universe. In other words, they have this notion (due in large part to TV) that it is, if not easy, then certainly “feasible” to zip across the cosmos from planet to planet and star to star (assuming a technology only slightly more advanced than our space shuttle). They are not familiar with the numbers, distances, timescales, forces, sizes, and physics that govern our universe. In fact, they don’t give cosmology much thought at all. They live in the confines of the here and now. To them, a picture taken by Hubble is, well… just a picture. They fail to see the story that the picture tells. The story that light has travelled for millions or billions of years before being captured by Hubble’s lens. That it would literally take thousands, or millions, of earths to fill up the volume of most stars. That we are just a Gamma Ray Burst away from extinction. To them, the universe is merely “big.” To them it’s a “quaint” universe. It’s static. It’s traversable. It’s benign. And it’s here for us.

I realize that some may take the very points I have made as even more proof that there is a God. But… do they REALLY understand the cosmology involved? I can say that from my own personal experience the religious faithful that I interact with do not have even a 5th grade understanding of astronomy. That’s not to say they are not savvy (or even exceptional) in other areas. But they certainly do not grasp (or are not aware of) the concepts I have made. And I often wonder if their religious views would be changed if they had a better understanding of Astronomy.

Ron

What’s up all?  Haven’t been here in awhile, thought I’d stop by. 

Good post, Mr. Ron.  While I don’t agree with the overall thrust of your argument, I understand what you are saying and why you are saying it.  The truth is that a majority of “believers”, just the same as a majority of “non-believers” are fairly ignorant of modern studies in astronomy and cosmology.  I know I am.  And there’s a easy explanation for that:  Most people are not cosmologists or astronomers.

As SkepticX pointed out, the problem is really not in the critical thinking.  He used the term “application”, I would probably use the terms “presupposition” or “assumption”.  I’m curious as to what cosmological or astronomical evidence or observation you are referring to that should alter belief in a Creator.  As you mentioned, believers will often cite the exact same data as compelling evidence for an ordered universe created by an omnipotent being.  The difference is not in the science, its in the perspective, the assumptions or the “application”.  The unbelieving scientist is wowed by the Hubble images and the sheer size and expanse of the universe, but unable to see it as a demonstration of the power and sheer greatness of God.  The believing scientist sees the same images and understands the same data, and is moved to glorify the Creator of it all.  Both recognize the smallness, or insignificance of Earth and the even smaller universal significance of the individual.

So what exactly about their religious belief should change?

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Posted: 09 October 2009 10:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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By the way, there’s a pretty good hour long documentary called “Privileged Planet” I picked up that expands on the fine tuning argument, with an emphasis on cosmology and astronomy, not evolution.  The central thesis is that the Earth is not only fine tuned to support life, but that the particular features, placement, size, position in the solar system, position in the galaxy, etc. etc. are such that it is an ideal place for scientific discovery. 

Most here would just dismiss it as ID nonsense, but keep in mind that ID uses the same science, just applies the evidence towards different conclusions. 

If this is any incentive, John Rhys-Davies does the narration…

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Posted: 09 October 2009 04:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Clay, I don’t have much time so this will be short -

I don’t know any cosmologists or astrologists that are deeply religious or even religious at all.  The point being, we can recreate the universe without any need for anyone’s god to be in the picture.  I think most religious people, and I may be wrong here, get hung on on the “why”.  Why does the universe exist, for example.  It’s a really important question, but I think it’s the wrong question.  The existence of the universe only proves that the universe, does in fact, exist. 

As far as Earth being a privileged planet - there’s no denying it’s the only planetary body known to harbor life forms.  But, most people don’t even comprehend the shear size of the galaxy let alone the universe.  A moderate guess would put roughly 1,000,000,000 (that’s billion) earth like planets within the Milky Way system alone. 

We’ve already shown here on Earth, life will find a way if it’s possible.  Bacteria will live in previously-thought unlivable conditions deep at the bottoms of the ocean with insane pressure and temperatures.  It’s my assumption however, more favorable living conditions are required to develop intelligent life forms, such as mammals, reptiles, etc.  Even if only .04% of those planets have Earth-like conditions in its atmosphere, that leaves us with 400,000 potential planets that harbor intelligent life forms.  Say, again, only .02% of them ever develop human like intelligence.  That still leaves 800 civilizations in our galaxy alone. 

Although, I highly doubt we receive any SETI signals within our lifetime, there is a very good chance of finding simple life forms such as bacteria on planetary bodies within our own solar system.  It’s my guess we may even find fossilized bacteria outside of Earth within the next 15 years.  I’m really curious how it’s going to play out on the world religions.

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Posted: 09 October 2009 05:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Cody B - 09 October 2009 08:38 PM

I’m really curious how it’s going to play out on the world religions.

Clay has already given you the answer - god is omnipresent.  The further out science goes and the more answers it gives religion will always answer, “God did it.”  It’s a difficult argument to counter if you have less than an eighth grade education, but science’s problem is that it admits it cannot possibly know everything, so religion, by claiming everything, wins.

This is nothing new in human affairs.  An example from history is the the Boer War (1899-1902).  The British took the Cape Town colony from the Dutch when they were weak under Napolean.  About 20 years later the Cape Town colonists didn’t want to be under British rule so they left and went inland and established their own republics out of reach of the British.  The British didn’t care since there was nothing of interest inland anyway and the Boers were just farmers.  Then a Boer farmer blew it by plowing his field and - clunk - hit a huge gold nugget.  As word got out the British claimed the Boer republics as part of their southern African territory and sent troops to secure the gold for themselves.

Religion didn’t care about the universe beyond the surface of the planet until astronomy published its findings.

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Posted: 10 October 2009 06:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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clayforHim648 - 09 October 2009 02:38 PM

... but keep in mind that ID uses the same science, just applies the evidence towards different conclusions. 


Hi Clay. Hmmm… this to me seems very “unscientific.” Science does not (should not) “apply evidence towards a conclusion.” The evidence IS the conclusion! Where there is contradicting, or insufficient evidence, then no conclusion can be (should be) drawn.

To the thrust of my original post, I’ll add that it just seems to me that most people (in general) just don’t realize how hostile and foreboding the universe is. Cosmic collisions, supernovae, black holes, gamma rays, cosmic rays, temperature extremes, Earths’s 5 major mass extinctions, etc., all go largely unnoticed\un-thought about by the average person in the street. And per the “fine-tuning” argument, it seems that if the universe is fine-tuned for anything, it would be for the events I have mentioned, not necessarily for human life. Hey, maybe the universe is fine-tuned for beetles! There are upwards of 250,000 different species of beetles, they greatly outnumber the curent 7 billion human population, and they have existed approximately 250 times longer than homo-sapiens! The universe is essentially a “Beetle factory”!

Our sliver of existence (.01% of the 13 billion year old universe) is bookended (if you assume we go the way of 99% of all other species) by vast, unimaginable stretches of “meaningless” time and violent cosmic activities. Most of us view our narrow cosmic existence out of context and therefore attach much more meaning and importance to it. Viewed in light of the larger, more hostile universe, humans are less significant, and the God argument loses steam, in my opinion.

Ron

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Posted: 10 October 2009 02:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Cody:

The amount of religious, or deeply religious, cosmologists and astronomers (I don’t think you meant ‘astrologists’, pseudoscientists) doesn’t really say much to this discussion – ones you know or don’t know. 

I personally think that we should all get “hung” on the why.  The majority of the world goes about their daily activities thinking about very little outside the everyday minutiae, as Ron already noted.  But the why questions, in my opinion, are not just important, they are absolutely vital.  And I would argue that the why questions are not only what makes religious people, but what also makes scientists.  The myth that scientists are all impartial observers is quickly dispelled by asking a scientist, lets say a cosmologist for example, what motivated him to become one in the first place.  “Well, I just want to collect data so people can know more about space”…well, maybe that’s true in part, but a scientist, like many others, has expectations about what he’ll find, he has hopes, curiosities, an exploratory spirit.  Space is the last frontier.  The 19th century farmers and entrepreneurs didn’t go west just to see if it was there, or even what it looked like.  They went to find gold, fertile land, a future. 

And that was my point from my previous post.  We all come to our observations with a priori assumptions, presuppositions…which affect our interpretation of what we see, how we internalize the data.  Anyone who says otherwise just isn’t being honest.  Scientific discovery provides a different emotion, a different impact on the pure naturalist than it does the religious wonderer. 

Ron:

Hi Clay. Hmmm… this to me seems very “unscientific.” Science does not (should not) “apply evidence towards a conclusion.” The evidence IS the conclusion! Where there is contradicting, or insufficient evidence, then no conclusion can be (should be) drawn.

Sorry that came out wrong.  I meant to say that people/scientists process evidence based on presuppositions. 

To the thrust of my original post, I’ll add that it just seems to me that most people (in general) just don’t realize how hostile and foreboding the universe is. Cosmic collisions, supernovae, black holes, gamma rays, cosmic rays, temperature extremes, Earths’s 5 major mass extinctions, etc., all go largely unnoticed\un-thought about by the average person in the street. And per the “fine-tuning” argument, it seems that if the universe is fine-tuned for anything, it would be for the events I have mentioned, not necessarily for human life.

Which certainly makes me wonder how we got here in the first place… 

Our sliver of existence (.01% of the 13 billion year old universe) is bookended (if you assume we go the way of 99% of all other species) by vast, unimaginable stretches of “meaningless” time and violent cosmic activities.

Certainly you’re entitled to your opinion, but I think your conclusion is not logically drawn from the premise.  Assuming the world is 13 billion years old (no doubt this estimate will probably change a hundred times or more in the next millennium or so), this speaks nothing to the presence of an eternal, triune God.  As small as .01% of 13 billion is, how much smaller is 13 billion to an eternity.   

Most of us view our narrow cosmic existence out of context and therefore attach much more meaning and importance to it.

I think this statement, while honest-sounding, carries an exceptional amount of pretentious weight behind it.  What you’re saying is that you’ve somehow unlocked the mysteries of the world, indeed the universe, and know exactly where men stand in the great cosmic perspective of things.  That’s rather bold don’t you think?  This is what I mean by a priori assumptions.  Your naturalist backbone leads you to say that man is just one speck of dust in the grand scheme of the universe.  And from the physical evidence, I agree with you.  But is that all there is to existence?  What exactly should we do with this information?  Remember, claiming an all-powerful Creator is not the same as claiming that I’m all powerful.  God’s revealed will in Scripture is a call to humility and worship, in light of who God is, not who we are.  So I think mankind’s tendency is to think too much of himself: his ability to discover, his discoveries, even the discoveries he hasn’t made yet.  And even with all the knowledge about how small we really are in a vast universe, we’re still as selfish and prideful as ever.

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Posted: 11 October 2009 06:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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clayforHim648 - 10 October 2009 06:19 PM

... What you’re saying is that you’ve somehow unlocked the mysteries of the world, indeed the universe, and know exactly where men stand in the great cosmic perspective of things.  That’s rather bold don’t you think?

Not exactly. What I’m saying is that given what we know about the cosmos, humans certainly appear to be insignificant.

Bold is believing that you know how the universe was created and what happens to us after we die, as the “faithful” do. THAT, my friend, is bold.

Ron
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Posted: 11 October 2009 06:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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clayforHim648 - 10 October 2009 06:19 PM

Your naturalist backbone leads you to say that man is just one speck of dust in the grand scheme of the universe.  And from the physical evidence, I agree with you.  But is that all there is to existence?

Perhaps that IS all there is to existence. One’s desire that it not be so should not weigh against it’s possibility.

Ron

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Posted: 11 October 2009 11:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Clay,

I absolutely agree Science and Religion stem from a single source.  We’re curious creatures.  At some point we looked up and became aware of ourselves in this universe.  I would argue Science has its roots in religion, if we never asked ‘why’ to anything, we wouldn’t have science or religion today.  However, my point on why does the universe exists may be an invalid question.  Time didn’t exist before the universe, so I guess that’s the point I’m trying to hit home - it’s a question we cannot ask and most likely will not have an answer to.  I’m not satisfied with putting a god in that gap, because, from a scientific point, it creates more questions and the hypothesis itself has not stood up.

If I understand your point correctly in a nutshell, it’s this: Science is just taking another perspective on the data given, interpreting it different than religion.  If that’s the case, my counterpoint would be: are the religious willing to change their viewpoint if new data would be in conflict with their original view point.  I think many scientists would (of course after long debates) but I’m not so sure I could say the some of a priest.

Also, sorry for the errors, I wasn’t kidding about having very little time to post that last one!

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Posted: 12 October 2009 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Astronomy. Yeah. Oh and Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Palentology, Paleoanthropology….oh you get the idea.

If Astronomy were the only thing believers were deficient in, one book by Carl Sagan would have them all turning into Thomas Paine. grin

I would be ecstatic if the vast majority of Monotheists would just study and understand evolution enough to accept it, let alone Astronomy and the vastness of the universe. Most can’t even get past that ‘we came from monkeys’ thing yet.

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