Saturday, August 29, 2009

Weekend Update - Night Launch

(Stock image from the Internet)

Yesterday evening Rebekah and I stayed up late (Nowadays, 11:59 meets every definition of "late" for us!) so we could watch the latest Space Shuttle night launch. We were not disappointed.

It was a clear night for Florida. Meaning there were absolutely no clouds and the humidity was a paltry 82%.

Consequently we were able to watch ignition and the initial launch sequence on television, and then walk outside to witness 490,850 pounds of thrust emerge over the horizon from our vantage point on the 7th green. Spectacular. Awesome. A few minutes later - at around 12:10 - the low extended rumble of the sonic boom reached our side of the state.

We watched the various stages drop off as the space-craft made it's way "up" and east as it accelerated to a speed of around 28,000 miles per hour. "Up", of course, is a relative term.

I looked into the night sky for several minutes, overwhelmed with the beauty and the depth and the sheer vastness of it all, and I couldn't help but think about a great conversation I enjoyed with a scientist at a recent wedding.

He was a young man in his late twenties, with a PhD in some multi-disciplinary field related to brain science. His work involved, he told me, exploring how an organism such as the human brain could develop self-awareness - "Given the fact that God does not exist".

We enjoyed a broad-ranging conversation. At one point I asked him why he had categorically ruled out the idea of a creator.

"We know so much now," he said. "And the more we can explain rationally, the less we need supernatural of mythological explanations."

He paused, and shook his head knowingly. "The god idea is rooted in ignorance, fear, and superstition. We don't need that outmoded construct any more."

It was one of those wedding receptions where everything is delayed by at least an hour, so we had a good amount of time to chat. He was brilliant, involved in fascinating research, engaging, and a lot of fun to talk with. So I delved a little deeper.

"I'm interested in the 'We know enough now to rule out God' postulate," I said. "Do you remember what the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin said when he came back from space? He said 'I didn't see God...' Well today we have the Hubble Telescope and it's revealing huge new slices of the universe."

"It's answering a lot of questions," he said. "A lot of stuff religion likes to attribute to God."

"Here's the thing," I said. "The cosmos is like a three-dimensional pie. The further out you go the more there is - it's more than an exponential progression. For every ten questions the Hubble helps us to answer it opens up about a thousand new questions we hadn't even considered. So here's my question: Do we know more, or do we know less?"

"What's your point?" he asked.

"My point is that maybe God isn't sitting on a star waiting for some astronaut to take a picture so someone can say 'I'm right and you're wrong.' Maybe God isn't even in the answers. Maybe God is in the questions we haven't even thought to ask yet, the experiences we don't yet have the capacity to imagine, or the yearnings of a soul we have only partially begun to understand? I know my experience of God is often surprising and seldom easy to explain."

We talked some more, and when I went home I realized that he could have talked circles round me with his intellect. But he wasn't interested in proving an argument... he was actually much more interested in discovering truth.

There is a lot of freedom resident in the honest interest in truth. God, I believe, talks to each one of us in the language we understand. But the question remains, are we interested in listening? Or is our primary concern simply in being right?

Love and blessings - DEREK

No comments: