Friday, September 26, 2014

Evidence that the building blocks of life are abundant in the interstellar medium? Yes, but it's not a big deal.

Greetings, mortals!  Earlier today, scientists with the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy announced their finding that isopropyl cyanide, an organic molecule, is abundant in the interstellar medium.  They made this "discovery" by observing the Sagittarius B2 gas cloud with the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) of radio telescopes to analyze the radiospectrometric signatures of the various molecules that make up the gas cloud. 

While researchers have previously detected organic molecules in space, isopropyl cyanide is the first such organic molecule seen that has a branched carbon backbone.  It, unlike any of those previously-observed molecules, is thus more like the amino acids that your sciences (incorrectly) believe form the building blocks of life here on Earth.  Because the amino acids, like isopropyl cyanide, have a branched, carbon-based structure.

What's the significance of this?  Well, if you believe life on Earth arose naturalistically, this finding strongly suggests that other branched carbon molecules -- including, possibly, amino acids themselves -- exist in abundance in space.  That would further support the theory that life arose on Earth without any supernatural intervention because it means those building blocks were likely already present here on Earth and didn't have to form from simpler molecules under the right conditions.

In other words, if branched carbon molecules are abundant in space, they were likely abundant on Earth from its earliest days.  And if that's true, the number of steps humans thought were needed to move from molecules present on Earth to the emergence of life decreases.  It also increases the likelihood that life exists elsewhere in the universe.

Said another way, given the existence of branched carbon organic molecules in space, the number of assumptions in the chemical synthesis-based hypotheses of abiogenesis goes down.  And as scientists are always fond of telling us, the simpler a hypothesis is in relation to competing hypotheses, the more likely it's true.

Does this undermine Creation or Intelligent Design?  No, of course not.  First of all, if you want to blaspheme by calling Creation a hypothesis, it's the simplest hypothesis of all: God did it.  You don't even need to assume anything (apart from the agency of a supernatural being of limitless power and eternal duration whose very existence is at variance with all available evidence, which evidence is consistent only with a naturalistic universe).  QED.

Second, even if branched carbon organic molecules were abundant on Earth from its beginning, no one was around to see those molecules become self-replicating bases for all terrestrial life.  That means abiogenesis can't be proven, which means, of course, abiogenesis must not be true.  And if abiogenesis isn't true, then Creation must be, because it says so in the Bible.  QED again!

If God Created all, why, then, are complex organic molecules present in interstellar space?  Simple.  As I said in my last post, God has been expanding the veil of Heaven to make sure human space exploration doesn't pierce through it.  It's been a big project and something we had to do pretty quickly, so, well, there wasn't a lot of time to clean everything up.

Basically, the organic compounds you're seeing in space are the cast-off materials from Creation.  It's the sawdust on the floor of God's workshop.  That's all.  There's no significance to it at all apart from being further proof that God Created all life on Earth.

So quit getting all excited about this, okay?  Focus on something more important.  Like praying, or figuring out better ways to rationalize the Bible into being literal truth.  The salvation of your immortal soul is, after all, both incompatible with and more important than knowledge.

Thank you for reading, and as always, I welcome your comments below!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

If God Punished Humanity for the Tower of Babel, why not for Space Exploration?

Oh, He's punishing you for it.  And what He's doing is chilling.

But we'll get to that.  First let's discuss what you're doing wrong.  The Book of Genesis is clear on how humanity is supposed to view the cosmos: 

"Flammarion" by Anonymous - Camille Flammarion, L'Atmosphere: Météorologie Populaire (Paris, 1888), pp. 163. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
I, of course, cloaked this truth of Creation in the evidence that you now claim points to a spherical earth, heliocentric solar system, and Big Bang cosmology.  But you were supposed to reject all of that evidence.  You were supposed to accept what the Bible says about the cosmos because what the Bible says about the cosmos is in the Bible.

Obviously you went a different way.

And so here we are, with humanity growing more and more distant from the beliefs God prescribed for you as your scientists re-create the conditions of the Big Bang, achieve greater understanding of your place in the universe, and use space-based telescopes to peer further than ever before into the cosmos.

You're not limiting yourself to terrestrial efforts, either.  You have collaborated despite nationalism to build an orbital station, sent a probe past the heliosphere into interstellar space (maybe), and landed a laser-armed, nuclear-powered science tank on another planet.  Your spaceflight capabilities have advanced to the point that private entities are now able to accomplish feats of engineering once achievable only by governments.

Which brings us back to the Tower of Babel.  Genesis 11:1-9 teaches,
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 
And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 
And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto Heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 
And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. 
So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 
Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

In short, a bunch of dudes got together and, because they had both the ability to collaborate effortlessly and a sufficient supply of slime, were able to begin building a tower that would have pierced Heaven but for the intervention of God.  Because as God said, when humans collaborate fully, nothing within their imaginations remains beyond their grasp.

Seriously.  You guys are figuring out how to propel spaceships with glorified microwave ovens.  You're working on a warp drive, for [blasphemy redacted]'s sake.  Let that sink in.  You are working on a warp drive.

Now, sure, the warp drive stuff is still all theoretical.  But do you think something being theoretical is going to stop you?  Look at your Rosetta spacecraft.  It was launched in 2004.  A week ago, the European Space Agency chose a landing site on comet 67P for the Rosetta's Philae lander.  Let that sink in.  Humans shot a rocket into space ten years ago, successfully maneuvered its payload into stable orbit around a comet this year, and are about to land on that comet another science tank.  And how did you do this?  By combining math, astronomy, physics, chemistry, engineering, and fire.  Holy [blasphemy redacted].

Anyway!  Back to Babel.  Humanity was about to pierce the veil of Heaven.  But if it had done that, the portion of the dark ocean held above the Earth by Heaven would have poured through, drowning everything on Earth.  And that kind of devastation is something only God is allowed to wreak, thank you very much.  Also, secondarily, humanity was proving itself capable of equaling the glory of God, which He really doesn't like.

For those two reasons, God (who, of course, loves you and wants only for you to succeed), robbed you of your ability to collaborate with one another for your shared benefit.  The veil of Heaven and God's majesty were thus preserved.

Except you found workarounds.  Fast forward 4,300 years -- since, of course, the Earth is only 6,000 years old -- and not only have you learned each others'  languages, you're now so capable as scientists and engineers that you can exceed the works of the Babel architects within not just a single language, but within a single nation.

So what was God to do?  Organized religious sects already keep you divided, obviously, but that's no longer sufficient.  Neither is the languages thing.  Even if He pulled that again, you'd just adapt again.  You'd keep expanding your reach to the stars, pierce the veil of Heaven, and drown the Earth.

So He decided to punish you by implementing a public works project second in scope only to Creation.  As humanity has peered and explored deeper into space, God has concomitantly expanded the veil of Heaven to exceed your reach.  That is His horrifying punishment for your continued, arrogant exploration of the cosmos.

Now, you may be saying, "that doesn't seem so bad."  Well, then.  You haven't thought through the implications.

Before they may receive their posthumous reward in Heaven, virtuous souls must first get there.  And as you know, God has made it so nothing in the universe travels faster than the speed of light -- including humans' immortal souls.

The veil of Heaven is now over 13 billion light-years away from the Earth.  Which means that when your faithful loved ones pass away, it takes at least 13 billion years for their souls to reach Heaven.  So your dear departed Grandma?  Yep, you guessed it.  She's presently hurtling through the blackness of space, incorporeal, immortal, and utterly alone, just as she will be for billions and billions of years to come.

Terrible, isn't it?  But necessary -- because God loves you.  He doesn't want you to drown.

...again, I mean.

Thank you for reading, mortals!  As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Monday, September 1, 2014

If I Were an Atheist...

Greetings, mortals!  Christ, in Chapter 5, verse 44 of the Gospel of Matthew, teaches,

But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?  Do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?  Do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Which, of course, I always strive to do.  But it's hard!  Throughout my ministry on Twitter, I have encountered atheists who disbelieve the very existence of God.  Loving them despite their persistent apostasy has been difficult.  So I sought guidance from a moral authority nearly equal to Christ: Atticus Finch.

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

So, to better follow Christ's teachings, I thought I'd try what I believe infidels call a "thought experiment."

If I were an atheist, what would I believe?

Well, first, I'd be human.  Second, I'd have concluded after inquiry and introspection that there's no reliable proof of God -- of any gods.  I'd believe that the available evidence points to nothing supernatural at all.  In addition, I'd maintain that what evidence we do have is consistent only with a naturalistic universe.  And while I wouldn't currently have an explanation for how all known life arose, I would see from what science tells us that the known diversity of life is well-explained by the occurrence of genetic mutations and application of selective pressures over the billions of years the Earth has existed.

Wow, ok.  Wow, I'd have to reject Creationism.  I'd no longer believe that all life was Created by an omnipotent God, in whom lies infinite plenty.  Instead, I, like all but a few biologists, would believe that everything we know about life -- above all the universal condition of constant, brutal competition for scarce resources during finite lives -- supports the theory that life emerged on Earth billions of years ago and evolved from there to its current states.  Moreover, my view would be supported not by a holy text, but by centuries of consistent findings in the fossil record, naturalistic observations, and laboratory experiments.

I'd also be skeptical about my own, personal experiences of God.  After all, neuroscience has demonstrated that my feeling of a personal connection to something greater than myself during prayer and ritual worship is, on a chemical level, indistinguishable from connections with the divine felt by others who believe in a God or gods that I hold to be false.  I, being skeptical, would therefore be inclined to conclude that my personal experience of God was nothing more than the operation of chemical processes in the reward center of my brain.

Based on all of that, I'd reject the supernatural events described in holy texts.  After all, none of them has been observed or repeated.  All of them are explainable by science in a way consistent with a naturalistic universe.  On top of that, if I viewed holy texts skeptically, the contradictions, demonstrable inaccuracies, and immoralities they contain would strongly suggest human authorship, rather than inspiration by an omniscient, omnibenevolent God.

So there's no God. Nothing outside holy texts supports His existence.  In fact, those same holy texts undermine His existence.  Where do I go from there?

Ok, well, if there's no God, the universe wasn't Created for me.  I'm not exalted above all other living creatures.  In fact, I exist by mere chance.  The universe not only doesn't care about my fleeting existence, it, outside of those of its sentient subcomponents who know me, isn't aware of me at all.  

Furthermore, no God loves me above others because I happen to worship Him in the right way with the right words.  My origin and existence are no more remarkable or memorable than that of any other person. Even if my life becomes the stuff of legend on Earth, I will be, at best, forgotten with the collapse of civilization.  Should records of my exploits be discovered and translated by whatever civilization arises after ours, or after that one, or after the next one yet, I'll be forgotten when it collapses.  And no matter what, I'll be forgotten here when the Sun expands and the Earth becomes, like most of the universe, inhospitable to all life.  

Not even the idea that my exploits would be broadcast to the stars is a comfort.  After all, the expansion of the universe will eventually stretch out that signal to the point of unintelligibility.  Even if it were to persist long enough to be received and understood by some extraterrestrial beings, they, too, would eventually come to nothing.

In short, virtually nothing I do matters on a scale meaningful to anything outside my immediate environs and anyone other than those whose lives intersect with mine.  And no matter what I do, no matter how great I am, I will die, decompose, and be forgotten -- just like everyone else.

So life is meaningless.

Well, yeah, obviously.  I'm an atheist for this thought experiment.  But I've still got this pesky will to live.  I can't shake it.  Even though the universe isn't handing me a reason to go on, I seem to need to find one.  In fact, I seem to need to assign meaning and purpose to what I do in order to find what I do rewarding.  I suspect that's evolutionarily advantageous.

It also seems that the biological processes that evolved to help me survive as a member of the current global apex predator species, which initially achieved dominance as an endurant pack animal, make me feel happy when I do things that those biological processes make me feel are meaningful.  And a lot of the things those processes make me feel are meaningful just happen to build connections with the humans around me.  I suspect that that's also evolutionarily advantageous.

So, in other words, even though no God exists to supply my life with meaning, I have inborn in me, independent of anything external or supernatural, the need to live a life of purpose.


Shh, I'm thinking.  So while, to the universe, my life is infinitesimal, I need to live it.  And I need for it to be full of meaning.  And who cares whether those needs arise from biochemical processes?  They are mine, and they are constant and inescapable.

And, holy crap, everyone else needs the same things too.  Because we all evolved the same way.  The biochemical processes that drive me drive everyone else.  And...and none of us is loved by a God above another.  There is no God to do so.  None of us is favored in any way by anything other than chance.  

We are all, therefore, creatures of a common origin and destination.  Nothing else will ever help us, comfort us, or guide us.  There is no other life but that which competes with us for what we need to live.  We are all we have.  That's why we evolved to work -- and have succeeded only by working -- together.

Um, so...

Shh, still thinking.  This means no one is my better.  Not only are we all shaped by mutation and natural selection to need each other, but everyone is driven by the same basic needs as me: water, food, shelter, companionship, competence, and purpose.  When other people behave in ways that increase my access to those things, they enrich my life.  They enrich that part they've touched of the only life I'll ever have.  When they're selfish, they diminish and make difficult part of the only life I'll ever have.

And when I'm selfish -- when I behave in ways that benefit me to others' detriment -- that's what I do to them.  I take a part of a fleeting existence that is equally as precious as mine and I make it worse.  But when I'm generous, thoughtful, and caring, I make it better.

Then, in turn, I'm rewarded!  The biological processes that drive me to be a collaborative member of a collaborative species make me feel good about how I acted.  I get not just the same dopamine-driven satisfaction I once found by saying the right words in the right way at the right time to the right God, but the knowledge that I've given of myself in a way that improved a life equal in value to my own. isn't meaningless?

It would appear not.  I, an atheist, find my own life's meaning.  And I find it most frequently by acting to enrich the lives of my co-equal human beings.

Wow.  It sounds like thinking that way would take a lot of care and consideration.

Oh, yeah, it sounds like a ton of work.  Thank God I'm not an atheist!

Thank you for reading, mortals, and as always, I look forward to your comments and questions.  Take care, and God (who totally does exist) bless.