Second Star to the Right

By Ted Gresham

The Triangulum GalaxyImage by gainesp2003 via Flickr

There's a poster on my bedroom door of the Triangulum Galaxy. I bought it at the VLA Radio Telescope in Socorro, NM. I love that place! Sometimes I pass by the poster, point at a spot, and say, “I want to go there!”

A few years back I was digging around in Hubble photos and discovered the Deep Field Survey. When I read about that picture and understood the magnitude of what it represented the little bit of belief in a creator within me that still existed began to flame out.

The news lately has been carrying new stories about an updated Deep Field called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field:
“Astronomers announced in a series of papers over the fall and in a news conference last week that Hubble had recorded images of the earliest and most distant galaxies ever seen, blurry specks of light that burned brightly only 600 million to 800 million years after the Big Bang.” NYT, 1.12.10

It's not so much the view into history that amazes me, though that is incredible. The most wonderful and somewhat terrifying part of the Hubble Deep Field is how it reveals the unbelievably enormous size of this universe. In contrast we're specks on specks on specks. We're nothing. It was news articles about the Ultra Deep Field that encouraged me to “out” myself as an atheist and seek friendly people of like minds. How, if this entire universe is “created,” could such a creator even notice us, much less “care” and “love” us, or be anything like what theists say the “creator” must be. I just don't buy it. Not any more.

Out there, in the universe I see the face of our ancestors and our human destiny—if we don't destroy ourselves first. We are created but our “creator” is the universe itself, the magnificent glow that lights our sky at night, the penetrating heat and collection of element that makes us who we are. Whatever made us to be human came from the universe and out of the universe.

Few Christians have much of an interest in hard science. There are virtually no fundamentalists or evangelicals in the upper ranks of Astronomy, Geology, Paleontology or similar scientific disciplines. The Christian world view cannot accept what these sciences reveal. My interest in Astronomy was always at odds with the tiny world of my Christian friends. We can have fun with Science Fiction but there was and is no accepting of science fact. I struggled with some of it myself for a long time but science won me over.

Religion is the ultimate Truman Show, a fake world with artificial props, players acting their parts, absolute limits to sky, earth, and society. Science has forever been an enemy of Christianity. This is especially true of any science that could possibly contradict Biblical “truth.” (Of course “truth” is defined by church hierarchy and adjusted over time when it becomes too ridiculous to be believed.) Biology, Geology, Physics and Astronomy all push the boundaries of human understanding. They left religious belief behind many decades ago. I look up and see a universe full of unbelievable complexity that I will never know. Christians look up and merely see the “face of god” thinking some day god will tell them all about it when they get to heaven. It's just a bunch of pretty dots and darkness to them. They may as well be naming the constellations after prophets and assuming the whole thing revolves around the earth. They do not care what exists out there, the meaning of fossil records, the obvious reality of evolutionary processes because it shakes their little box. I speak more of the fundamentalist and absolutest Christian sects than of the more liberal and philosophical denominations. To the fundamentalist (from whence I came) “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

But it doesn't.

I love to fly, especially in small planes. Once I and a friend lifted off in a Cessna 172 just before sunrise on a mission to photograph my home town from the air. Flying at about three thousand feet or so we headed east where the sunrise inflamed a lake creating an indescribable vista. Then we turned west, towards town. I could not begin to photograph town, however, because it was buried in a fluffy fog. The tips of a few tall trees poked out of the massive white blanket. We returned to the airport.

An hour later we took off again. The town was there before us, clear and distinguishable. Religion is like that fog. People live within the comfort of a confined world. The sky above is not visible. It's hidden by a blanket of dogma and doctrine. In time when one rises above it and looks down the skies clear and reality shows what lies beneath. But unlike in the real world the fog never clears for most caught in a religious fog. The cloud is perpetual, invasive, and held over their heads by fear and uncertainty.

Religion is the ultimate Truman Show, a fake world with artificial props, players acting their parts, absolute limits to sky, earth, and society. It's not god sitting up in the control room but a collection of theologians and ministers carefully dictating what to believe. Every time I poked my head above the fluff of Christianity things became more clear. Like Truman in cinema fiction there came a time when I figured out everything was fake and contrived. I weathered the storm purposely created to keep me back and slipped through the “door in the sky.”

Shakespeare through the voice of Hamlet spoke immortal words:
“There's more to heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophies.”

Indeed, there's much more than Christianity or any theist religion will ever admit. I cannot any longer linger on a flat earth. I have to reach higher, much higher.

What to do now? I've moved away from Christianity, through Buddhism to its outer edges and have at last settled into a realistic view of existence. Should I look back and hope a few Christians will follow? Should I check my wake, see if it's rattling a few boxes and adjust my speed so they're not harmed? Should I impede my own progress out of consideration of what the majority thinks of my “heretical” views?

Doing a little search about science and Christianity I ran across a long article describing theories about the origins of the universe written by a PhD in Philosophy named Dr. Lane Craig. He began his article with this:

From time immemorial men have turned their gaze toward the heavens and wondered. Both cosmology and philosophy trace their roots to the wonder felt by the ancient Greeks as they contemplated the cosmos...

...The question of why the universe exists remains the ultimate mystery. Derek Parfit, a contemporary philosopher, declares that "No question is more sublime than why there is a Universe: why there is anything rather than nothing." (

Craig goes on page after page describing theories. Following them he concludes the Big Bang remains the best theory. Then he slips off the slope and says, “The problem with saying that the Big Bang is an event without a cause is that it entails that the universe came into being uncaused out of nothing, which seems metaphysically absurd.” Because science says there is no cause for the Big Bang or that the cause can't be known Craig calls the theory absurd. There HAS to be a cause or a reason!

Craig draws these conclusions:
We can summarize our argument as follows:
  1. Whatever exists has a reason for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external ground.
  2. Whatever begins to exist is not necessary in its existence.
  3. If the universe has an external ground of its existence, then there exists a Personal Creator of the universe, who, sans the universe, is timeless, spaceless, beginningless, changeless, necessary, uncaused, and enormously powerful.
  4. The universe began to exist.Therefore, the universe is not necessary in its existence.
  5. From (2) and (4) it follows that
  6. Therefore, the universe is not necessary in its existence.
  7. From (1) and (5) it follows further that
  8. Therefore, the universe has an external ground of its existence.
  9. From (3) and (6) we can conclude that
  10. Therefore, there exists a Personal Creator of the universe, who, sans the universe, is timeless, spaceless, beginningless, changeless, necessary, uncaused, and enormously powerful.

Only fellow philosophers can follow the rabbit trail of logic Craig offers. We mere mortals puzzle at complicated reasoning. But having dabbled briefly in logic (a math requirement which I did not do too well in) I can recognize a fallacy when I see one. The fallacy in Craig's conclusions is evident in his first point, that “whatever exists has a reason.” This is the fallacy of theism. Without the belief that there is a reason the purpose of god evaporates.

Philosophy deals with reason and reasons. Science, however, deals in causes. Reason assumes intelligence while cause is random and arbitrary. That is the whole argument of religion summed up in a single sentence, isn't it? From our infancy (we born and reared in a “Christian” home) we are programmed to believe everything has a reason. Thus for our entire lives we look for reasons. We do not look for causes. There is a difference.

A rock falls from the sky (caused by its being in proximity to earth because it was sent towards earth by another planet's gravity because it passed near that planet because it was blasted from a star in a distant system because... on back to the infinitum of universal history.) When the rock strikes earth it throws up a massive cloud, disrupts the surface, creates havoc, and people die. Were we here for eternity we could trace the source of that rock back through time and space but we're not. We can only surmise something caused something that caused something that caused the rock. We can easily see that the rock is the cause of earth disruptions, destruction and damage. We cannot ever know the “original cause” of the rock coming our way. But was there a “reason” for the rock hitting earth?

Did god send that rock? Craig the philosopher says yes. I say no. If god sent the rock then why? And knowing the laws of the universe, velocity, time and space, etc., it's clear that the rock began its trek towards our solar system many millions of years ago. God, then, would have to have planned to whack the earth on such date in 2010 at some point before the origin of our planet. But our planet is only six thousand years old? How can that be? Or perhaps the earth really is as old as geology says but what of Adam and Eve? When philosophers like Craig start mixing theology with cosmology there are always glaring holes. To say god sent the rock to earth is tantamount to saying he thumped it in our direction like a marble on a playground, just for fun maybe.

In the end all Craig manages to say in so many words is, “God made it, I believe it, that settles it.”

But I, again, say it does not settle it. Not for me.

There is within me, the ex-Christian, such an excruciating need to understand “why.” Only reason can answer “why.” Cause has no “why” beyond (a) banged into (b) and caused (c) because (x) hit (a) and we were not there to see what came before. No reason, just cause. I want to know WHY, dammit! But I know there is no “why” to know.

Knowing there really is no “why” seems to belittle us all to a point where we are nothing. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field indeed reveals that we are, in the scope of our universe, less than nothing, smaller and less significant than a speck of dust on an amoeba.

We are nothing. But how did we discover we are nothing? How have we become aware of all that is out there? Did mere evolution, cause that led to cause that led to cause that led to cause, eventually push us to look up into the night sky and see more than dark and light? If this is so there should be a “cause and effect” that made it so and a “cause and effect” we can discover for ourselves. We have not yet made that discovery. We're missing a big piece of the puzzle. Is that piece gone or beyond our grasp in the same way the history of the universe is too far away in space and time for us to understand origins or actually know the Big Bang is valid theory? Evolution, cause that led to cause, explains our biology. It does not so much explain our intellect. It is this nagging thought that keeps so many people clinging to religion and looking there for an answer.

Dawkins and others merely make assumptions based upon the scant information they have. Evolution is the end all for them. But their position seems as tenuous as religionists. The evidence showing how a human could have evolved an intellect, sentience, thirst for knowledge and rise towards the stars in noisy rocket ships does not, as far as I know, exist. Science continues to seek the cause. Religion pushes cause aside and provides reason. So must I go mad, bouncing between Craig's assumption and Dawkins' conclusions? I just might.

But I don't think I will go mad. I fall too close to Dawkins and far enough away from Craig on the scale of belief to keep a little of my sanity. Though it still pains me to say so I do not believe there is a “reason.” There is, however, a cause. That cause will not be found in fables, folk tales or religious fantasies. It's not nearly enough to simply say, “god says it, I believe it....” etc.. Not at all. Craig is correct in when he says it's absurd to believe the Big Bank was an event without a cause. But it's not that the Big Bank was without cause, there was no doubt a cause, just one we specks on specks on specks will never, ever know.

Craig's leap from cause to reason, however, is too far a jump. No, we do not have a “reason.” There is a “cause” however. We are not going to find that cause in metaphysical or religious dogma. We will find it, eventually, if we look hard enough and far enough within ourselves as a species and beyond ourselves into that universe above our heads. If we are to ever progress beyond who we are, then, we have to simply turn our back to those who refuse to follow and move on. I have returned to the question of where to go from here.

Did science itself stop when religion started screaming? No. Why then should I? I'm sorry that those I know, some I love deeply, others I once had fellowship with, remain in their little boxes. I don't mean to deliberately rock their boat but any tiny step I make to reach that universe above me will without any doubt shake them. The only way to keep them from being jostled would be to stay still. I won't. I just won't. The “why” I seek is not for reason but for a cause. The hunger for knowledge that brought us all to the edge of space is stronger within me than the desire for religious comfort. If the majority of humanity is happy banging off the top of their little box like upside-down pogo sticks so be it. My box broke. No more banging for me.

By day my mind reacts and recoils at the religious establishment, the suppressive doctrines and convoluted reasoning such as Craig and many others expound, confusing the less educated and less willing. I am appalled at the wars and hatred and fears and injustice wrought in the name of religion. By night my eyes sparkle with wonder and awe at the sky above my head. I am forever a child of the night, not of darkness but of an open sky with a billion billion points of light that beckon, calling me out there. Forget the day, I say, live for the night. Live for what is before us, above and beyond the speck we call Earth, beyond the blink of time humans have existed, and for the future of humankind.

We cannot look back nor be apologetic. We should not allow our past or those who cling to a theistic religion hold our feet down. They will blame us, they will condemn us, they will call us heretics, sinners and reprobates. So be it. We know, we who have flown above the clouds, that all we are and all we can be is not found in a backward-facing religious dogma but a forward-facing search for real and ultimate truth.

Another dreamer of the night, Isaac Asimov, said, “Humanity has the stars in its future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition.” Religion calls us back. It wants us in the fold, part of the group, conforming to its own established norms. But it's too late for that, at least in my case. Atheist, Buddhist, these are mere labels. Ultimately they are not definitions. I am a visionary with my eyes glued to the sky. I will not look back. I will never go back.

Shakespeare invented the phrase and concept of the Undiscovered Country explored in the Star Trek VI. Whether we're talking life after this, life before this, or merely the life of the human race, we'll not find answers back in space dock. The only place we'll find it, if we find it, is “out there.” Out there, then, is where I'm going....

"Course heading, captain?"

"Second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning."

...The Beginning

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