Thursday, August 20, 2009

Nicholas Kristof On The Origin of Stars

Apologies again for my lack of posting lately. However, I wanted to respond to this column (registration required) by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times.

While I agree with the overall point of the column, about revitalizing oneself by getting back to nature, the following item from his list of ten tips made me roll my eyes:

4. Skip a tent. To keep off rain, carry an ultralight tarp that you tie between two trees and stake to the ground, like a pup tent. But if there’s no rain, sleep under the stars. God made stars so that humans could fall asleep admiring them. (Emphasis mine)

Kristof's remark manifests the egocentrism that one finds in much of religious expression. The stars in the sky are not the product of a process that began billions of years ago, if one takes Kristof literally, but rather they are just part of some grand cosmic tapestry weaved by God specifically for our viewing pleasure. This is an echo from Genesis 1:16-17, wherein the stars are described as being set in the sky to provide us with light in the sky during the night. As I wrote in another post on this blog, if there are intelligent beings living on a planet circling one of those stars in our night sky, they would probably be amused to learn that the sun that provides them with heat and light exists primarily for our aesthetic benefit.

I ran across this same kind of thinking in a letter to the editor in an issue of National Geographic last year. In responding to an article from an earlier issue about the loss of dark skies to manmade light, the letter writer saw fit to remind readers that after all, God created the night for us. Silly me, I thought we had darkness because the Earth rotates on its axis, which means that half of the planet's surface at any given moment is facing away from the light of the sun.

In fairness to Kristof though, his remark could be taken as some form of poetic license. But it does reflect an all too common mode of thought by religious believers that anything beautiful or beneficial in nature is somehow proof that there is a God who cares about us. In the comments to one of my earlier posts, a Christian commenter mentioned reading about how Jupiter's gravitational pull sucks in a lot of meteors that might otherwise have impacted on Earth, thereby sparing us destruction. Wasn't this proof of intelligent design? My response was two-fold. First, why would a loving god need to introduce into the universe planet killing asteroids at all? Alternatively, God could have programmed such asteroids to miss the Earth anyway. Second, in a vast universe filled with billions of galaxies each filled with billions of stars of their own, shouldn't we expect to find some solar systems where gas giants like Jupiter play the part of some kind of celestial vacuum cleaner? To me, at least, there is no need for an egocentrical explanation that it is all there simply because of us.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I'm Back

But I haven't had the time yet to write about it. Suffice it to say that I had a really great time. Hopefully by this weekend I will be able to share my experiences with all of you.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Taking The Plunge - Part 2

Last February, I wrote a post titled Taking The Plunge, wherein I described my plans to go on a scuba diving trip to Belize. Well, in a few hours from now, I will be on the plane headed for Belize City, and a few hours after touching down there, I will be on board the Sundancer II for five and a half days of intensive diving.

I'm both excited and nervous. I'm excited about the prospect of seeing so many amazing places and things underneath the surface of the Caribbean. I'm nervous for a number of reasons. First, I will be far away from and possibly out of touch with my family. I am not sure if my cell phone will work down there. Secondly, because I have very little diving experience, I can't help but feel a little intimidated being around a lot of divers who have done this many times before and who can don and doff their scuba gear with their eyes closed. At the same time, depending on the personalities of the people I will be living with on the boat, I am sure I can learn a lot from them to improve my own skills and confidence. I expect though that for my first dive or two I will stumble a bit, but I hope to get my bearings after that.

Posting here will likely not resume until Sunday, August 9, the day after I return from Belize. During my time there, I plan to keep a journal where I will write down my observations and experiences (what can I say, I don't have a lap top!) and then convert them into blog posts so that you all can get an informative eyewitness account to give you a feel for what it is like. I hope to have some pictures too, but very few will be underwater. Because of my inexperience, it is better if I focus on working on an improving my dive experiences. I did get a disposable underwater camera from the dive shop that can be taken as deep as sixty feet so I can at least get a few shots, plus I would like to have some pictures of me underwater as well. The bulk of my pictures though will be taken with my digital camera on board the boat and any interesting things that can be seen from land. If I get the chance to snorkel, I am also bringing a dry bag for my digital camera so that I can use it to take some shallow underwater pictures.

Okay, I have rambled enough for now. Best wishes to all of you in my absence, and I hope to have some good stuff for you 10 days from now.