Monday, January 12, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 17

If the Bible is mistaken in telling us where we came from, how can we trust it to tell us where we're going?
~Justin Brown

This is not directly related to this week's quote, but I just found out about the History Channel series "The Universe", and I've been watching the first season. It illustrates perfectly what I mean when I say that the reality of the universe is far more awe-inspiring and magnificent than any mythological creation story. Our very existence is fascinating not because we are unique, but because we endure. Earth has been pounded by asteroids and comets, flooded by radiation, and is destined to one day be burned away to nothing by its own sun. And yet, as soon as there were conditions even remotely suitable for life, there was life. Life finds a way to replicate itself, obtain nutrients, and maintain its systems even in the harshest and most unforgiving environments, some with no sunlight, some with toxic chemicals, some extremely frigid, and some exceedingly hot. When an object pounded into Earth and killed nearly all living species, those that were left did not give up and die - rather, they went on to repopulate the entire planet with the body forms we recognize today, such as tetrapods, arachnids, and insects. We are a powerful astronomical phenomenon away from ceasing to exist at all times, and yet life still strives on.

My point is, life isn't unique. It almost certainly exists, or at the very least once existed, elsewhere in our solar system. The inspiring thing about life is that it keeps showing up. Conditions do have to be within certain parameters, but they're much wider than we once believed, and life is far from being a miraculous occurrence. It turns out that us being in a very narrow "habitable zone" in our orbit around the sun is just one favourable circumstance that made life turn out the way it has on our planet, but it is not necessary for life to develop. Scientists believe microbial life once existed on Mars (and possibly still does, underground), and that Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, also has the right conditions for life. Mars may be close to us, but Europa certainly isn't anywhere near the so-called "habitable zone".

The series so far makes me feel a little bit insignificant and vulnerable, and that's scary. In a way, I can see why religion might make that feeling go away for some people, but I feel it's more honest to admit we're only a blip in history, a tiny spec on the arse of the universe. That doesn't make us unimportant, because life is always important, even if it isn't unique, but it does give us a sense of perspective. Specifically, we aren't special little favourites of some divine power. We don't have "dominion" over the rest of the life in the universe. We aren't separate from it; we're part of it. And we're as vulnerable as anything else to things beyond our control.

We should remember that, rather than spending our time hiding under the covers with books we already know to be fiction, hoping desperately that we're more "special" than everything else.

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