Lost in the vastness of space

Lost in the vastness of space

Tonight I co-gave the opening address at the Templeton Foundation supported Q3 conference on Cosmology and Theology. It was perhaps the most nerve wracking talk I’ve ever given. While I am a Christian, I must admit to being terrified of conservative Christians. I’ve just realized I can’t count the number of churches who have made me feel rejected because I spend my days studying our universe. At the same time, I’ve lost count of the number of scientists and skeptics who’ve claimed I can’t possibly be a real scientist or a real skeptic if I believe in God. Over the years, I’ve learned how to speak safely around scientists, and I’ve learned when to speak unsafely, but the Christians – they’ve continued leave me feeling safer listening to sermons on the radio.

But tonight I gave a talk that began with the reading of Bible verses I selected, read from the pulpit in Asbury Seminaries Chapel. My brief talk was meant to contextualize our place as humans in the cosmos. Aiming for just 15 minutes, it is quite short, after after receiving a few requests via twitter, I’m going to post it here.

Please, please, don’t flame. Please.


Introductory Scriptural Readings

”]Hubble Ultra Deep Field [credit: NASA / STScI]

Genesis 1:1-5
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was [a] formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

John 1:1-5
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood[a] it.

Colossians 1: 16-17
16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Romans 1:20
20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.


Main Talk

Good Evening. I have to admit this was perhaps the hardest 1500 words or so I have ever prepared. I am a Christian, and I am a scientist, and most days I find myself dancing a careful dance where I try to avoid verbal bullets from atheist scientists and Christian young earthers. I have learned how to speak safely and when to speak unsafely to scientists, but this is my first time speaking before Theologians. I don’t know how far out of your comfort zone astronomy may take some of you. No matter what ideas you come to this conference with, I’d ask you to open your mind to learn new ideas, and in the breadth and magnificence of this universe which cosmology allows us to understand, find God in what is clearly seen.

Here on the surface of the Earth it is easy to see our universe as small and understood. Each year the seasons tick past in explainable ways, and 400 years after Kepler, the motion of the planets is just something we take for granted. Solar eclipses no longer make people tremble as the Asseryians trembled before the 763BC eclipse of Amos 8:9. Instead eclipses are just a roughly twice a year things that thousands of people turn into vacations.

From the surface of the Earth, it is easy to feel safe, and in control because we have the knowledge to understand the universe.

We have science to explain the supernovae, the comets, the ever twinkle and gleam in the sky.

But we are small, and life is fragile in this vast universe, and there are more things in heaven and earth waiting to be discovered than are dreamt of in our sciences.

Our human minds struggles to grasp at the scale of our universe. Any number over a million is simply large, and in discussing the cosmos, we discuss the billions and billions of galaxies, the billions and billions of stars, and distances so vaste that light has not yet had time to travel from most distant galaxies we see in the north to the most distant galaxies we see in our Southern skies.

”]Saturn with Earth tucked in the Rings (left side, small blue dot) [credit: NASA / Cassini]

Carl Sagan referred to the earth as Pale Blue Dot and in this image taken by the Cassini space probe, we can see the distant Earth in its smallness. Sagan wrote of our world, “Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, … every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Not only do we struggle to grasp at our smallness, but we also struggle to understand our place in time.

Our planet is a transitory thing. Formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago, it will be able to support life for only another 50 million years before the Sun’s slow increase in temperature makes life intolerable on Earth. In roughly 5 billion years our Earth will be destroyed entirely as our Sun bloats into a red giant and either consumes the planet or simply broils it with intense solar winds. We live in the twilight years of our world, and time is ticking.

But our planet is just part of a cycle.

We live on a rocky world orbiting a star that is rich in heavy elements. If you shine sunlight through the most amazing of prisms to make a rainbow, you will be able to single out dark stripes mixed in the light, many of which arise from Iron, Titanium, and other metallic atoms in the sun’s atmosphere.

To get at this richness of atomic diversity, our universe had to be created, and generations of stars had to live and die, all before our own Sun could be born.

When our universe formed, 13.7 billion years ago, it was pure energy – pure light. Within the first fractions of a second, that energy began to solidify into particles. Mass and Energy are just two faces of the same thing, and as the universe cooled, the mass divided from the light. At first there was matter and anti-matter, but through the miracle of asymmetry, for every 1 billion anti-matter particles there was a billion and 1 matter particles. The particles collided – they destroyed one another, and they left behind matter. And that matter, at that moment, and for almost the next 3 minutes, was as hot and as dense as the center of a star and nuclear fusion was able to take place. Protons combined. Neutrons were created. Hydrogen nuclei grew into deuterium, which in turn fused to helium and trace amounts of lithium and beryllium. Our theories tell us the ratios of these reactions, and when we look out at the oldest stars, we find the correct fractions fossilized in the elemental abundances of these ancient stars’ light. This is just one of many lines of evidence proving the big bang.

After the first 3 minutes, nuclear reactions shut off, but the universe was still too hot for neutral atoms to form. Everything was an opaque mash of nuclei and electrons and light, colliding. It stayed too hot, and it stayed opaque for nearly 300,000 years, but then one day it cooled enough that the electrons could bond with the atomic nuclei, and when that happened the light was released. Today we see this escaping light as the cosmic microwave background.

The cosmic microwave background demarks the point beyond which we can never observe. It is like the barrier beyond which your headlamp just can’t reach when scuba diving, or that place in the fog your candle cannot illuminate because it’s just to far away. Our universe, within this shell, is 93 billion light years across, but what we can see is likely no more than a few percent of the whole. But it is all the universe we will ever know.

And after the light separated from the atoms, our universe slowly cooled and expanded some more, but now structures began to form. It was only about 30 million years after the big bang that we believe the first stars lit up the then dark universe. The first stars lit up, the largest of them living and dying in the briefed million or so years. When these first stars died, they rained heavy elements on the gas and dust that was preparing to form future generations.

That stars could form is another miracle of our universe. There is no reason we can identify that the density had to be just right for stars. It could have been denser – and everything could have collapsed straight into black holes. It could have been less dense, and no stars would ever have formed. But it was neither of these things. The universe was just right to support stars, and those stars embedded in the darkness are what allowed life here to exist today.

We live on just one small pale blue dot orbiting a metal rich star. We exist because matter and anti matter were formed in unequal parts. We exist because the universe’s density was just right. We exist, because other stars formed, created heavy elements, and died, distributing the elements back into space to form our world and others.

And most amazingly of all, we live in a universe that is at once something we can learn to understand and something that is beyond our imagining.

Every day we are finding new things that defy our theories and force us to expand our ideas – We now know 26% of the universe is made of dark matter – a material like nothing experienced here on earth – and 70% of the universe is contained in dark energy – something we know so little about all we can really do is say we have a name for this rather large blank are in our scientific understanding. And every day we discover new planets in places we never imaged. New galaxies. New types of objects – all things we would have never imagined in our wildest science fiction.

We have been placed in a wonderful universe that is like a palace we have been allowed to explore. The rooms are many, and we can each find our own corner to ask our own questions concerning this creation.

But living in a universe with an amazing underlying physics that guides its evolution, does not preclude free will, or the occasional needed intervention. While A may lead to B it does necassarily dictate 200 years from now we will have D, E, and F occur. We live in a universe not dictated my certain outcomes, but rather one guided by probabilities, and in each possibility there is a chance for the future to be changed, either through the batting of a butterflys wing, through our own decisions, or through the intervention of a greater power – Our God – even if it is just a small voice in the dark reminding us that even in science we should have faith and believe while we look up and explore this amazing universe we live within.


Please don’t flame. Posting this was hard, but it was something people asked to read.

67 Comments

  1. Saganist
    Mar 10, 2010

    No flames here. Thank you for sharing this. I have a lot of respect for you. Actually, Astronomy Cast was the first podcast I discovered when I was having a crisis of faith of my own, and I appreciate the way you and Fraser help us listeners to ask questions and seek out the answers. Regardless of the answers we each find when it comes to faith, I love asking the questions and I appreciate the spirit of curiosity and wonder you consistently express. Keep it up. You’re an inspiration.

  2. Fellfrosch
    Mar 10, 2010

    This was very nice to read. Thanks for sharing.
    Don’t really understand why one would seriously flame this.

    And thanks for giving us Astrocast! Keep it up!

  3. Bas
    Mar 10, 2010

    You deserve praise for this speach, not a flame. I think you managed to find an excellent balance between science, reality and faith. I’m not a religious person, but when I see all the beautifull things and amazing processes out there beyond our own small world, even I can’t help but sometimes wonder how it all came to be.

    I’m looking forward to the next astronomycast and all the casts that come after it 🙂

  4. Gunga
    Mar 10, 2010

    No flames here either. I appreciate this, and all the other things you contribute to both my faith and my understanding of the cosmos. You go, girl!

  5. smoovel
    Mar 10, 2010

    You don’t have to be an atheist, but at least see through that Jesus/Bible crap, come on. It’s just a religion made up by some dudes 2000 years ago that went viral. Over time its teachings have been increasingly contradicted, so it’s grown increasingly interpreted.

    I think you don’t want “flames” because you’re comfortable in your bubble and don’t want it popped. The idea that your long-held morals and beliefs could all be wrong is understandably scary.

    I’m no atheist–how can we know there is no God?–but I can at least see that it is exceedingly unlikely that any recognizable form of Christianity is valid.

    Your new savior,
    smoovel

  6. smoovel
    Mar 10, 2010

    Maybe Christianity is a symptom of an inability to think for yourself? That would explain the results of this Google Scholar search for Pamela Gay in the last 10 years. 0 substantial research publications:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=Pamela+Gay&as_sdt=1000000&as_ylo=2001&as_vis=0

    Your new savior,
    smoovel

  7. smoovel
    Mar 10, 2010

    Apologies, there was one decent research publication in 2002.

  8. Bob
    Mar 10, 2010

    I always think of Job 38 fits well in this discussion. You are brave for putting yourself out there and an inspiration to thinking individuals who are also believers. Thank you.

  9. smoovel
    Mar 10, 2010

    I always think of comment 29784 fits well in this discussion.

  10. Bill
    Mar 10, 2010

    I don’t consider myself a Christian but I’m also not a small-minded jerk like smoovel. It is truly sad that someone like that kind only be satisfied by attacking someone else’s beliefs. I thin that as the Dalai Lama tells us there are many paths to enlightenment and we must all find our own. Thanks for being brave enough ti share yours.

  11. Timothy
    Mar 10, 2010

    Thank you for sharing this.

    I can only imagine how hard it is to share parts of yourself and belief like that. But i hope you know that for every person who wants to flame there are people who read and appreciate what you are saying and thank you for putting to words ideas and feelings they probably share.

    I grew up in a deeply religious family. At some point I had to split away from it. Much of what I was encountering, similar to the problems you have talking with many christians, was that I could not have a dialogue about religion and science. I have a hard time believing that the two need to remain mutually exclusive for so many people.

    Every time I look up at the stars or read about a new discovery or theory I am dazzled and excited about the science, even as a part of my heart and mind swell trying to take it all in.

    no matter where a person stands with religion or science I find it immensely comforting and humbling to know that at the end of the day, on our small blue dot, and 93 billion light years away, we are all made of stars.

  12. pamela
    Mar 10, 2010

    Dear Smoovel,

    I asked for no flames because there are both Christians and Atheists who crawl the internet looking for people to attack for either not being Christian enough or not being athiest, and they attack these strangers, as you have attacked me. I didn’t force you to read my words, but my commenting on my blog, you force me to read yours. Why can’t you at least make your point with respect and logic rather then name calling and sarcasm?

    If you knew me, you’d know that I’m an astronomy new media researcher . My publications are here: [AER] and here [CAP Journal]

  13. Ben
    Mar 10, 2010

    @Smoovel. Zero substantial research publications? Do some research.

    Pamela, thank you for posting this. It means a lot that you thought to share this with us. I would love to hear it, if it’s available as audio somewhere.

  14. RapidEye
    Mar 10, 2010

    Thanks for posting that, along with the commentary! Its comforting to know that there are others out there in similar situations.

    I have similar difficulties negotiating my professional career (biotech/genetic engineering), hobbies (astronomy), and personal beliefs (non-denominational protestant). It gets even more complicated because I live in the heart of fundamentalism (Carolina Biblebelt).

    You have a gift for communication and this is just another excellent example.

    Thank you again.

  15. Chip
    Mar 10, 2010

    Very well presented! I don’t share your religious beliefs but that’s the beauty of my view on the world, there’s room for me to be wrong. I consider myself an agnostic simply because I don’t believe we’ll ever know for sure if there is or isn’t a God. However, that doesn’t mean we should look for “Him” or ask questions that make us uncomfortable. If we blindly turn away from the things that make us uneasy or that we don’t believe, we may as well return to shivvering in the corner during eclipses and burning people at the stake. We’ll never know everything about the world we live in, just as you pointed out in your speech, but by god we’re going to try and learn what we can, while we can.
    Well spoken, and tastefully so.

  16. Steve
    Mar 10, 2010

    Well written Pamela. We can only look so far back and account for everything with science and experiments. As a scientist myself with a catholic background I regularly have conversations with my dad about things like this. Whenever I talk about the big bang he always asks ‘It all has to start somewhere. How did the energy get there in the first place?’ I have no answer. Each to their own. Its ok to talk about science and religion in context as long as you don’t try to force your views on the person you’re discussing it with. I don’t believe in religion but I have an open mind to it and if it makes other people happy without being detrimental to society that’s ok with me.

    Please ignore narrow minded people like smoovel. Those of us who have heard/seen what you do are very grateful and inspired by it. Astronomycast is the reason I bought my first telescope recently . Its the reason I was blown away when I spotted Jupiter and 3 of its moons in it, why I am now learning my way around the stars in the sky and also the reason why I now know a little bit more about the Universe I live in. Keep up the good work.

  17. Lockwood
    Mar 10, 2010

    Beautifully written. I’m an agnostic, and perfectly comfortable with that: I don’t believe I can know anything meaningful about the nature or existence of God. That said, I’m saddened by people who feel the need to “flame” the beliefs of others. There’s so much we know, so much we don’t. I share the same awe and wonder as others of the sheer beauty and grandeur of the reality in which I somewhat dazedly find myself. Created or sheer chance? I don’t know, and I no longer much care. But essays like this one serve as reminders of just how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to experience it.

  18. Jocelyn
    Mar 10, 2010

    I think that is very nicely written. I do have a suggestion about the science summary – I work on gravitational wave physics, and one of the cool things about it is that the signals in gravitational radiation can reach us from before the CMBR, since gravitational waves propagate through ionized matter. They’d be very weak, but at least in principle it’s possible we could someday know about the even earlier state of the universe. It’s a minor quibble, but something I of course think is a really neat possibility. There’s a nice review here: http://relativity.livingreviews.org/Articles/lrr-2009-2/ in Section 8. Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your story of cosmology.

  19. Kevin McNulty
    Mar 10, 2010

    A great read, I believe in God but not so fond of religion, bit violent these days and missing the point really. Christians need to realise Science is real even the Vatican has an observatory. Apollo crews read from the Bible while 250,000 miles from Earth.
    Scientists who say you cannot be scientific are just as blind as a Christian who refuses to believe in Science and as a result neither can fully learn. Pamela you do not have that problem, good for you continue to be brave.

  20. Tom
    Mar 10, 2010

    Wonderful read.

    I’m a happy atheist who loves learning how people view the universe and why. Thank you for sharing and for all your work. You have, through this and your other writings, enriched my world and my understanding.

    By the way, my seven year old loves astronomy. We listen to Astronomycast all the time on road trips and he loves it.

    Thank you.

  21. Rob Seaman
    Mar 10, 2010

    Thanks – that was lovely!

    My undergrad astronomy degree is from a Catholic university (Villanova). The Vatican Observatory proves that science and religion – cosmology and Genesis – are not incompatible.

    I believe you could quite successfully expand this talk to add all the beautiful astronomical evidence supporting your talking points. People of faith will listen more politely to challenging science talks, than vice versa 🙂

    The world’s great religions differ in their sacred texts. It is only science – our best evidence of the actual physical creation – that all religions do share.

    Can you point me to your reference for the projection that the Earth will become uninhabitable in 50 million years? This would place our civilization at more than 98% of the way through the history of life on Earth, which seems unlikely as a preferred moment in time.

    There are various experiments attempting the direct detection of dark matter on Earth – this isn’t necessarily a mysterious substance “out there”.

  22. Don Smith
    Mar 10, 2010

    Great speech, Pamela! I’m now reading a book, “Why The Universe Is The Way It Is” by Dr. Hugh Ross, an astronomer who knows his science, and Christian author and apologist who also knows Scripture, and he sees no conflict between the two. You might like it, too. It’s at Amazon. Thanks for all you do.

  23. Bob
    Mar 10, 2010

    Pamela,

    I actually had used both Hubble UDF and the nature of protons as being from the initial seconds of creation (and thus essentially eternal) as “bookends” in giving a eulogy at my sister’s funeral this past weekend at a small church in middle Tennessee. I had been able to share both with her in the final months of her life and she rejoiced in them (“Wow !”) –we had had a dialog over the years at the simultaneous “God is so BIG” and “God is so intimate” point-counterpoint rhythm. When you realize that the very cores of the atoms of your body resonate from the time of creation and the enormity (and continuity) of the universe….there is nothing but joy and delight in that. (I play AC # 5 for believers all the time….and they go “Yes !” )

    Thanks so much.

  24. Dan
    Mar 10, 2010

    Thank you *so* much for sharing with us both your talk and your vulnerability around it. I wish there were something I could do personally to protect you from the flamers. People can be *so* cruel, especially hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet. Mean people suck.

  25. Stonez
    Mar 10, 2010

    Pamela, I wish you hadn’t responded to smoovels idiotic post. He was simply trolling and his ad hominem attack was petty in the extreme. All of us who listen to Astronomy Cast, Slacker and read your blog know what a wonderful researcher and writer you are. Your passion for science is evident, and your choice to be a Christian is a moot point. I am a de-facto atheist, and will continue to be a follower of you because although we may not agree on a divine being, we agree that the universe is a wonderful, strange and exciting place. I hope to meet you at Dragon*Con this year.

  26. Frank
    Mar 10, 2010

    Thank you for for sharing this with us. And thank you for giving me the inspiration to learn more

    regarding the title
    Lost in the vastness of space
    just remember you er not alone

  27. Danny
    Mar 10, 2010

    Just like Stonez said. I’m an avid listener of astronomycast and such and while I do disgree with The things you say in the faith/god department, I realy like your love for the cosmos and the way you talk about it all.

    Pamela, did you get any feedback after the speech? Anyone run after you? Tell me about the after show! Did you get any get angry/happy faces? 😀

  28. pamela
    Mar 10, 2010

    Danny asked about the after show – basically every thing I have heard has been complimentary. There have been a few people with strange understandings of the universe, but no one has tried to make a claim I haven’t heard from an engineer in a calc based physics class. Over all, I’ve been very pleased with the consistent message that the earth and universe are old, vast, and that the young earth creationist movement doesn’t have a piece of real evidence to stand on.

  29. Fraser Cain
    Mar 10, 2010

    Well, as the diehard atheist of the team, I’m really glad Pamela was able to make this presentation. Decreasing nonsense is always a good thing.

  30. smoovel
    Mar 10, 2010

    Dear Pamela,

    Thanks for reminding me of the difference between a teaching professor and a research professor. Your contributions to the pedagogy are undoubtedly invaluable, and quite remarkable for someone with a minor appointment at the second campus of a second-tier university. If only more people who couldn’t cut it in real research could be as prolific!

    I will be off now; no more StarStryder.com for me. You may continue espousing views that perpetuate ignorance.

    Yours very truly,
    smoovel

  31. Danny (fluffmachine)
    Mar 11, 2010

    ah!! It’s fraser!

    @ smoovel
    /’Ôø£’\     
    [の。の]     
    \ 〜/       
    〔| ̄|〕   
     _∥ ̄∥_

  32. Danny
    Mar 11, 2010

    -.- that looked better on my iphone.

    *corrected PC friendly version*
    / ̄\
    [„ÅÆ„ÄÇ„ÅÆ]
    \ 〜/
    „Äî|Ôø£|„Äï
    _/Ôø£\_

  33. Bas
    Mar 11, 2010

    How very generous of Smoovel to “allow” you and us to have a different opinion of the how the world around us came to be. To bad though that we will never know who is behind the “Nickelodeonescque” name “Smoovel”. I would have really been interested to learn about his “accomplishments” and contributions in and to this world, but I wager we will not find them anywhere on the internet 😉

    Please Pamela, I know you were affraid of flames, but I really hope this incident will not discourage you from sharing this kind of speaches with us in the future?

  34. Johan Paul Daigle
    Mar 11, 2010

    I wanted to comment on this, not to flame you, but because we are, in passing, friends and to some minor extent colleagues. And also because we disagree about the definition of the term ‘skeptic’ and what it entails, but I have to recognize the work that you do. So, as a representative of the secular skeptics movement, I’m moved to comment.

    First of all, it’s just obviously wrong that you can’t be a scientist and be a Christian. That’s just counterfactual. Newton was a Christian. QED.

    You can be a powerful science advocate and communicator and teacher and be a Christian. Pamela Gay, for example, is a Christian, and also a wonderful science advocate and communicator. QED.

    But a skeptic? I don’t know. Because skepticism, to me, is the application of evidence based thinking to everything you believe. It’s having one standard of evidence for Truth. And I don’t know if that idea, if that philosophical stance, can be compatible with a belief in a personal God of any kind.

    But you know, it isn’t written down anywhere that you have to be a skeptic in order to talk to skeptics or hang out with skeptics. I’m a skeptic, and while I don’t put you in my philosophical camp, I do count you as an ally in the fight against ignorance and an inspiration in my fight against my dissertation.

    I do have a minor quibble/question though. In an article by Victor Stenger on talk.origins, I read that, calculating a variety of values of the constants within 10 orders of magnitude of their actual values, the vast majority of values led to universes with life sustaining cababilities. That is, the stellar lifetime in these universes was in the billions of years needed–presumably–for life to form.

    is Stenger wrong? Or is it indeed not all that miraculous that we have stars at all?

  35. JuniorUK
    Mar 11, 2010

    Hi Pamela,

    Thank you for your effort to make Universe more understandable to people around you.

    Disregarding of its origin Universe doesn’t really care whether someone wants to understand it or not. It just exists. It’s up to us to decide whether we want to know something about it or not.

  36. Shane
    Mar 11, 2010

    Good on you Pamela. You have your beliefs and your faith (and I’m not just referring to religion here). You have a vast amount of knowledge and the drive to understand the unknown. And you enrich us all along the way. In what is often a two-dimensional world of religion versus science you are helping forge a belief in further dimensions where science and religion can co-exist. But ultimately you are who you are, and like the rest of us you are on an amazing journey. Keep your faith and push back those boundaries for all our good, and don’t let others opinions or knowledge base direct you.

  37. Chris
    Mar 12, 2010

    Thanks for the great post! I wonder sometimes why we strive so hard to stereotype ourselves. We’re all people in search of the greater truth and that’s what ultimately matters.

  38. Greg Kail
    Mar 12, 2010

    Thank You…… You have a gift…. The ability to enlighten and educate with heart….. Is truly a reflection of our Higher Power .
    Greg Kail

  39. Evan
    Mar 12, 2010

    Thank you for sharing Paula!

    like some of the other postings, its brave of you to write such a blog on the two most challenging topics in the history of humanity.
    Science vs Religion!

    i am an atheist of sorts, however i was raised in a private christian grade school, and a catholic highschool and have studied religion my entire life, reading the several versions of bibles while referencing various concordences,.

    an irrational inconsiderate extremist psychopath can claim to be of any faith, or of none,

    as we pass through the rapidly expanding information age its clear that there is a difference between believing in old dogmatic tradition, and simply a higher power.

    although i do believe thier was once a man named jesus that walked the earth that had such morals, i think he was then mis-understood, and still is, wether or not he did exist or not doesnt matter either, the fact remains he is a better than average role model. and represents virtues few people are able to maintain, but that many strive for, and in doing so i applaud for i share such values and like many struggle in doing so.

    i believe heaven and hell is here on earth and the day all humans trancend our inherint weakness of jealousy, greed, and control over others, heaven or whatever you choose to call it will realized,

    i think science is headed in the right direction, religion does have remarkable staying power too. maybe these things will one day evolve into the same thing,

    breaking through the simple idea that biblical texts of all sorts are figurative and not literal is the first step into joining them.

    i feel that biblical texts can be beautiflly poetic, and contains many valuable lessons and life examples,through parables and storys showing how even god, sinners and saints all share the strengths and weakness of human condition of cognition and emotion.

    if god is a higher power, higher powers than humanity have existed for awhile; earth, and the sun are just two examles.
    humanitys greatest adversary aside from the volatile universe is ourselves,

    if this debate doesnt kill us before we are able to to control our planet, solar system, eventually the galaxy, and even the universe,
    the truth will be revealed after we all our long dead but,
    i feel that, as a memory species we are all linked, wave particle duality, multiple universes, genetic engineering, . . .

    the internet within 100 years will be implanted in our bodies through nanotechnology and we will have engineered a sixth + sense(s),

    science and a belief in a higher power (god), will one day yeild a clearer picture of what fate our species and probably others will share,

    god may be the collective inner voice of humanity crying through the dimensions,
    after going over all humanity thinks it knows, all i can truthfully say i believe in is life,

    maybe all life across the universe is on a short time scale to save the universe from its cold dark path, and engineer another big bang, ironically the meaning of life, may be life.

    the truth is we really dont know anything, but collectively were working towards something, and people like paula with her beliefs are laying the foundation for a brighter future.

    keep on rockin in the free world paula!
    i love astronomy cast!!!!!

    PS
    as i read the flametory post earlier in the thread the opening scene of Men in Black popped into my head where the bug splats against the winsheild. . .

  40. Al
    Mar 12, 2010

    I enjoyed the post and your podcats very much. But, I must concur with Mr. Daigle with the use of “miracle” as a description of the process. Also, IMHO our current understanding of the physics of the Universe seems to rule out omnipotence, which seems to be a defining quality of a God. And there does not seem to be very good evidence for the existence of Jesus, e.g. no 1st person narratives, no municipal or other records of his existence.

  41. Steve Wendt
    Mar 13, 2010

    Thanks for posting this. Astronomy Cast is my favourite podcast partly because of what it covers but mostly because of the Fraser / Pamela conversations which are quite comic. Seeing this side of Pamela is a bonus. On the combined topic of science and religion, I suggest people should usually try to keep their transceivers set on receive-only mode, for the next few hundred years at least.

  42. Dan
    Mar 13, 2010

    I happened to find myself sitting next to you on the flight from Dallas back to StL. Quite interesting conversation, and quite an interesting blog! I know little about astronomy but I’m a big fan of interesting thoughts. They are found in abundance here (except for everyone’s favorite – smovel).

    “I want to know God’s thoughts. The rest are just. . . details”

  43. Otto
    Mar 14, 2010

    Don’t understand why this smoovel would go after Pamela so viciously. For an anti-Christian, there are far better targets out there with more extreme viewpoints. I suspect the motives for his or her attack go beyond religion.

    As to smoovel’s comments criticizing Pamela’s research: smoovel is likely some elitist who thinks you can only accomplish great things if you are a professor at Harvard, do research in the most traditional branches of a field, and care nothing about teaching. Are Sagan and Feynman less important to science because they valued teaching? He or she claims Pamela can’t think for herself, yet fails to think progressively enough to realize the importance of new media to astronomy.

  44. Otto
    Mar 14, 2010

    By the way, Pamela, your tag cloud for some reason absolutely kills Firefox in both Windows and Linux. Many seconds of frozenness.

  45. michael
    Mar 14, 2010

    Hi Pamela,

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I only recently stumbled across astronomy cast, and I thoroughly enjoy it. And in turn the podcast has led me to your blog – I am still in the process of listening to all of the podcasts from the beginning – not sure what I will do when I have caught up with everybody else. I may have to go to AA and consume Astronomy-cast podcasts in more moderate amounts.

    And to stretch the above metaphor –

    My name is Michael and I believe in a personal relationship with Jesus as my God and saviour and I enjoy trying to understand life the universe and everything through science.

    There I said it; I have stepped out of my own personal closet.

    Keep up the good work, its great to hear what science is achieving and how. Somehow the world, the universe and what it contains is becoming a whole lot more “breath taking”.

    Thankyou
    Michael

  46. Marshall
    Mar 14, 2010

    Pamela,

    Thanks for sharing – I recognize and appreciate how hard it is to put something deeply personal like this on display for all the world.

    I think at their heart, the religious instinct and the scientist’s search for meaning share a common root, in a desire to comprehend and make sense out of this awe-inspiring cosmos. They are very different ways of approaching the world, and it’s sometimes hard to see how to reconcile them. Over time, I’ve drifted slowly away from the faith I was raised in, but I still wrestle with these deep questions of meaning and origins and belief and experiment. Trying to find answers to these mysteries is one of the most profound and human things we do, something that can unite people togetherl if we approach it with humility and wonder and a desire to share and learn rather than divide and knock down. I’m glad to hear you’re out there reaching out to share the cosmos with the Templeton meeting and so many more.

    – Marshall

    P.S. Great meeting you last year at the NSF Postdocs conference. Thanks again!

  47. George
    Mar 14, 2010

    Your speech is elegant and crafted nicely in conveying established objective evidence in such a warm tone. The universe we observe does appear miraculous as we recognize all its aligned complexity necessary to bring for life.

    Perhaps it will be astronomy that will allow a new exegesis of Genesis 1 so that greater concordance is found. Can early protoplanets be described with terms such as “without form” and “void”? AB Aurigae is one hint that this may be so. Can certain accretion disks be illuminated enough to allow a privileged observer to describe them as waters? If so, it will be your work and all other astronomers that will bring resolutions that will add maturity to our interpretations. Galileo saw it that way, and he was proven right.

    How wonderful are the views mankind is only just now getting of the deep majestic vistas so prolific in every direction when for thousands of years it was so dimly viewed and so greatly underestimated. God’s front yard keeps getting more amazing.

    We all have our beliefs. Faith in Christ is still trust in the right place.

    Thanks for sharing

  48. Bruce "Icepick" Press
    Mar 15, 2010

    Pamela,

    I always appreciate your ability to communicate the science and the wonder of astrophysics. Once again, you have shown that you are a wonderful spokesperson for science among a very diverse collection of lay people.

    Nice job! The only part that’s disappointing is that you didn’t tell us how your audience liked it.

    Thank you,
    Bruce

  49. George
    Mar 15, 2010

    Like Bruce, and probably most of the others, I too am interested in the response you received.

    As a Baptist, I only found one word that might be taken by some Christians as a little strong. [YECs will have other issues with it, of course.] It was in the sentence “This is just one of many lines of evidence [b]proving[/b] the big bang.” Did you get any “a theory is just a theory” comments?

  50. Carver Thomason
    Mar 16, 2010

    Pamela,

    I am a huge fan of astronomy cast and have always enjoyed your writings. I am also a strong atheist. I really enjoyed reading this post and I thank you for putting it up. I have always tried not to be hostile towards religion in general, although sometimes it is easy to fall into the stereotype that all religious people are denying science or reality. This post put you on my list of religious scientists who I really respect, alongside people like Kenneth Miller.

    Being an atheist, I have yet to find any reason for believing in a god of any sort. However I find smoovel’s arguments add up to no more than non-sequiters and ad hominem attacks. I didn’t feel like this was a post defending your belief in god, so much as expressing it. That I greatly respect and I think smoovel sadly missed that. Religion is something that interests me greatly. I love discussing it with people not because I want to make them unbelievers, but because they may have the piece of evidence I have been missing. I am passionate for the truth and would love to read more about your thoughts on science and religion.

    I really liked how you conveyed a sense of wonder about the universe in this post. I think that is something you need to never stop sharing. You podcast was my first, and is still one of my absolute favorites. Much of what I know about astronomy comes from you. I now teach astronomy to hundreds of 6th graders, and more of my analogies and facts I draw from your show. You pushed my interest in science, and now I want nothing more than to share my passion with as many more people as will listen.

    No matter what our other beliefs, we should unite as a species under science. Science should unify, not segregate. We should always yield to the new evidence, and never close our minds to new ideas. Anyone reading this blog should know the universe it a wonderful, breathtaking, and awe inspiring place. I should only hope that more people would agree with me on these virtues, even if not on smaller details.

    Thank you again,
    Carver

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