Hubble eXtreme Deep Field – Religion and Science

Deep Field HubbleNASA released another deep field image of the night sky and it makes me ponder the difference between the religious view of an image like this and the scientific view. The picture shows a small section of the night sky, smaller than the size of the moon, and over five thousand galaxies. Each galaxy has potentially billions of stars although they vary greatly in size.

My thinking today is about how a deeply religious person looks at this compared to the way I look at this and all the middle ground in between. When I see this picture, I see such vastness that it confirms my atheism. No one entity could simply create this amount of material at the snap of a finger or wave of a noodly appendage. I like to think of a field of grass and all the geology, biology, chemistry, and other elements involved in it. To engineer such a thing would be a massive undertaking. Then to extend that to an entire planet, solar system, galaxy, and billions of galaxies that make up the universe. This is beyond any one creator no matter how powerful.

I can’t speak for religious thinking with any certainty but having spoken with religious people over the years they would likely take the opposite view. That such magnificence can’t be some coincidence. They would see a guiding hand that imagined, designed, and created this beauty.

I’m not really trying to come to any conclusions today just thinking about things. The way our minds shape our view of the world around us. Two people can look at exactly the same thing and come to very different conclusions. I’m of the opinion that my brain is somehow, certainly not fundamentally, different from a religious person’s brain. We see the world and interact with the world in different ways.

For me it’s not a matter of choosing to believe or not believe in god, it’s that I don’t, and I never will. I’ve been told that someday I’ll “see the light” and become profoundly religious. Honestly, I can’t imagine that ever happening. It requires a faith that my brain doesn’t understand. I see that picture and the thought that one creator entity made it all, every hydrogen atom, every chemical reaction, and I laugh. It’s impossible.

My religious friends might say that people thought flying was impossible but we do it now. It’s a bad argument because we’ve seen birds and insects fly from long before we could, but the concept is relatively sound. Things that seem impossible yesterday are completely possible today.

I just wonder if there is some genetic predisposition to religious thinking. Some gene-code sequence that makes a person more likely to be a faith-based thinker. I have no answers.

When I speak with most of atheist friends we all generally agree that there is something different going on. I’ll give one example and then call it a blog.

There are things in the bible, torah, quran that are ridiculous concepts. Noah’s Arc for example. It’s not physically possible to get that many animals and that much food in such a small space for a year. Anyway, I mentioned to my friend that at some point a religious person has to look at something like this, admit it’s ridiculous, and then say ‘I believe it anyway’. At some level of their thinking they have to do this. My atheist friend replies, “How do they do that?”

I have no answer. I don’t understand how you could look at something that is clearly false and choose to believe it anyway. I do think there are people more in the middle who don’t believe the bible, torah, quran tells literally true stories but they do believe in a higher power, noodly or not.

I find it interesting. What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water

2 thoughts on “Hubble eXtreme Deep Field – Religion and Science

  1. Enjoyed your musings Tom – I often find myself wondering along the same lines – how do people draw belief in a guiding hand from careful observation of the Universe, when the same observations inspire me to question? Considering this question other day as I tried to put some thoughts of my own down on paper, the importance of an understanding of history and statistics crystallised for me.
    How likely is it that you could pick the Lotto numbers for this week’s draw? It’s a trivial calculation, right – a 6 in 40 chance (or thereabouts – depending on the local variant of the numbers game wherever you happen to be based) of that one of your numbers is first out of the barrel, then a 5 in 39 chance of the second number as well, and so on – for an overall probability of about 1 in 26 million. Okay – too easy? So how about the likelihood of picking the lotto numbers every week for the next year? One in about the order of 10 to the power of 381. That’s a number so vanishingly small as to have no meaningful way to even conceptualise it – about as close to a definition of ‘statistically impossible’ as you could hope for. And yet – if you look back at the historical record, there it is – 6 numbers have come up every week, and you can see that record there in black and white. The impossible has become the certain. And that’s the point – it’s irrelevant to ask the question “how likely is it that this particular sequence could have happened?” – because the simple fact of record is that it did. Probability has no relevance to history.
    To my perception, it seems that some people take this idea of the ‘impossibility’ of the universe as a cornerstone of a theistic viewpoint (that the universe could only be so perfectly attuned to the needs of life if it was designed by a creator).
    The obvious fallacy in this idea though is that, like the ‘impossible’ prediction of an entire year’s lotto numbers, it implies that there is an alternative to the historical record. How likely is it that the universe we live in could be so perfectly suited to the evolution and function of biological life without some guiding hand and/or Universal compulsion directing it? That’s not even a valid philosophical construct – because the fact you’re here to ask that question establishes pretty effectively that it is. To ask how the universe could have evolved differently is like the old joke about asking for directions in Ireland/the Countryside/Tasmania/insert-name-of-region-you-wish-to-denigrate-here – the punchline being “Well first of all, I wouldn’t start from here…”

    • Thank you for the comment Dr. Batt,

      You explain the concept of “impossible” quite well. I like the lottery example. The Universe is here, we can’t get around that, even with Matrix or Little Tommy’s Snowglobe arguments. So, it must have come about somehow and support us perfectly (or imperfectly). Always here, created through some massive explosion, created by a higher power, all explanations of a sort.

      If you figure out why I see the Hubble picture and see one thing and my religious friends see another, let me know!


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