Faith In Outer Space   (2015May03)

Sunday, May 03, 2015                                                       11:40 AM

Freedom of religion is a wonderful thing. It makes it possible for me to abstain from religion without being burnt at the stake or beheaded. That’s a good thing. It makes things better all around, for women, for gays, for children—the judgmental authoritarianism that allows the religious to marginalize women, condemn gays, and abuse children is prevented from becoming part of our legal system. And where such dogma is already infused into society, we have legal recourse to remedy the situation, as with the present argument in the Supreme Court over same-sex marriage.

Those with the notion that religious freedom should allow them to treat others differently, such as denying service to gays, do not understand the difference between religion and law. Belief is a mental phenomenon, not a physical one—where belief informs action, however, things get stickier. You can choose to live your own life as a believer, but imposing those beliefs on others is not ‘freedom’, it is its opposite—ingenuous piety notwithstanding.

Having gone from a civilization wherein religion was a given, to a civilization where religion is optional, we have achieved personal freedom. Those of us entirely without religion are tempted to view this as progress, with the inherent suggestion that religion is obsolete and will, one day, fade away. But believers see religious freedom as an accommodation to the variety of religions rather than as a step away from religion in general.

There’s a difference. We can be proud that human beings are the ‘only race’, the reason that God created the universe—or we can have the pride of a young race that is joining the galactic community by reaching the stars. If the former, we are encouraged to stay in our cradle, this fragile planet with limited resources and time. If the later, we know that we must leave this planet, colonize the solar system and perhaps beyond—or just wait to die out when the planet does. We can condescend to the stay-at-homes by justifying space exploration through its useful by-products, the science and the tech—but the real reason is just that we have to leave.

I can imagine some protest at that statement but be assured that I’m speaking in general terms. We don’t all have to leave—you, personally, don’t have to leave—I’m not expecting to get the opportunity to leave Earth within my lifetime. But eventually some of us have gotta go. Enough people have to populate the solar system to ensure the survival of the race beyond the Earth’s expiration date, whenever that may be.

The end of the Earth may not be coming soon, but it’s coming. We know that now—we know that Earth was once uninhabitable, that it will be again—we know that Earth floats amongst a sea of extinction-level-sized asteroids and meteors, any one of which could ‘hit the jackpot’ at any time. And beyond all the cosmological constraints, we also have to face the fact that our use of planetary resources may reach a tipping point long before any of these lesser probabilities manifest themselves.

We need to start getting our raw materials from further away, someplace where we’re not trying to breathe and drink water and grow food. And the human race could also use a little elbow room—one planet for seven billion people requires a lot of natural resources and a lot of real estate. Our solar system is begging to be colonized and developed. And our planet is begging for a break.

Does religion get in the way of this? Well, religion is authoritarian—it wants to be in charge. And those in charge are uncomfortable with change. Space exploration certainly qualifies as change. You do the math.

However, some changes might benefit us. Earth’s population may not benefit directly—even with the ability to emigrate to space, population growth on the surface wouldn’t change significantly. Overpopulation will eventually bleed this planet dry. But at the same time, a colonized solar system would see population growth as a good thing—and restless young people on Earth would have a frontier to turn to. If we’re going to overpopulate ourselves to death, it seems a small thing to allow some of that excess population to take a stab at perpetuating the species outside of our gravity-well. Think of it as back-up.


“The Explosion of the Spanish Flagship during the Battle of Gibraltar”  by Cornelis Claesz. van Wieringen, c. 1621    (Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum website)


XperDunn plays Piano on Aug. 12th, 2013 Improv - Stardust Is Missing

XperDunn plays Piano on Aug. 12th, 2013
Improv – Stardust Is Missing




XperDunn plays Piano on Aug. 12th, 2013 Improv - Message From Nosovobirsk

XperDunn plays Piano on Aug. 12th, 2013
Improv – Message From Nosovobirsk

Thoughts on Blizzards


Blizzard! Fine with me. Sorry about anyone getting blackouts or road-stranded, but I’m a well-seasoned stayer-inner and I have no plans or meetings that can’t be delayed until better weather. One cannot fully appreciate ones home without some outside conditions one would hate to be stuck in. Snow and high wind may be deadly, but they’re very pretty from behind a cozy window. This is the essence of human existence—a dry cave, a roaring fire, both warding off the cold and dark. In our case, it’s insulation and an oil-burning furnace, but it’s all the same thing—Mother Nature is a bitch out in the open—but she’s merely scenic from behind the warmth and shelter of a human dwelling.

Our larder is stocked, our tub is full of water, we’re as ready as we can be for a black-out, or a forced migration. The wind has battered we New Yorkers twice already this season—we’ve been ‘pre-disastered’, as John Irving’s “Garp” would put it. Better still, we’re not only in good stead, probability-wise—we also have a lot of very recent maintenance on the utility circuits to help us through a rough time. Mother Nature can still kick our ass, but she’ll have to use some elbow grease!

I’ve got a new medication that quells my ever-worsening tremors—it makes me kinda punchy, but it is such a pleasure to have the use of my hands back. I’m thinking of recording some Brahms in the near future. This respite can’t last forever—I’ve got to make hay etc.

Claire has several days of school-closing to bask in—she still has studying to do, but no travel, no classes, no working part-time for the Dept. Head. Snow is weird, man—it gives you a day off, but it doesn’t let you visit anyone.

Music can never be expressed in words alone. Light can never be expressed in paint alone. Even love’s expression leaves off at the limit of an embrace. Artists must always face the futility of their efforts, trying to do what cannot be done—and in the end it is the effort, not the achievement, which resonates with an audience. Art begins as an ache, a compulsion to fully share our thoughts and feelings—and the harder we try, the more beautiful our failures. But to be an artist is to put success permanently out of reach—otherwise, someone would have done it right already, and we’d be finished with art.

It is strange to think that science is the same—it seems more rigid, more absolute, but it is just as ephemeral as art, just as impossible of completion. Our answers always create many more questions, we discover physical ‘laws’ only to discover their exceptions, we quest among the four dimensions of our experience for explanations of a universe with dimensions more than twice that number. We use perspective, in art, to transform a flat two-dimensional canvas into an illusion of three-dimensional space. In science, we strain our brains to encompass the truth of a universe that (most theorists agree) exists in an estimated eleven dimensions. What those remaining seven dimensions have, as their ‘length’ or ‘width’ or ‘timespan’ characteristic, we may never know.

And even when we get answers, they can be incomprehensible. The number one-billion is such an answer. We can name it, we can do math with it, but we can’t really comprehend it. We can break it down—we can try to get to know it—it’s one-thousand million, it’s ten to the power of nine, it’s too many to count out loud. From a practical perspective, even one-thousand is too many to count aloud—thinking of one-hundred as ten tens is just about the limit of human cognizance. Every culture has its cut-off point with numbers—the older societies would stop at ten or twelve and count anything more as ‘a lotta’. We snobbish sophisticates have one, too—we call it Infinity. If any count exceeds a googolplex (an incomprehensible amount, itself) we don’t bother with further measurement, we just say ‘infinity’.

Or take that ‘quantum’ theory—particles and energies become interchangeable, and both become uncertainties—our universe becomes a mass of ‘probabilities’—how sad for the scientists, to discover that the final answer to the universe is ‘maybe’. Then there’s string theory, or chaos theory, or Mandelbrot equations—sharp-minded scholars study for years, not to actually understand, but just to gain a better appreciation of what we don’t understand!

So when someone tells you science is cold and machine-like, don’t you believe it. If there is anyone on this planet that has the best appreciation of the mind of God or the purpose of existence—it is a theoretical physicist, not a preacher. The awesome complexity, the mind-numbing vastness, the mystery of the human race, the deadly power of the energies that stream through infinity, beyond our little ‘Goldilocks’-planet cradle—the nature of life is far better represented by science research than by enforced ignorance and faith in magic.

You don’t have to worry that the ‘charm and magic’ of your life will be dulled by trading religion for theoretical physics—they are equally humbling, equally inspiring, and equally arcane. (In truth, I’d give the edge to science—it goes way past the childish fears and transference of the great god, HooDoo.) If science has a drawback, it is the infinitesimally remote part that we humans play in the universe. So, there is a choice to be made there—some people, I’m sure, would be more comfortable with human-centric belief systems. It’s a matter of dedication to the observable truth.

I see science as something which cannot be ignored. I see religion as something that holds us back from admitting what’s as plain as the nose on ones face. The church rose up against witches—in the process, they destroyed pharmacological lore that had taken hundreds of generations to accrue. The church rose up against astronomers—in the process, they persecuted the most intelligent scientists of their time. The churches of the Southern States once quoted Scripture to justify their desire to keep human slaves. The church fought against equality of human rights between the sexes—in the process, they kept a boot on the throat of womanhood for centuries—and this fight, and others, still plague us here in the 21st century.

The trouble with all this is that the church never fought applied science when it was uninvolved with scripture—light-bulbs, telephones, cars, radios—the churches were all Jake with this stuff. But the Amish show us that religion and technology are not comfortable sharing a couch together—we can live in a magic world or a science world. The modern major faiths are trying to maintain the magic of a world that has been photographed from heaven, seen people with artificial hearts in their chests, and rolled beneath the window of a seat on the Concorde at twice the speed of sound. Our science is our magic—we don’t need the magic of primitive cultures anymore. We have answered some questions that older civilizations assumed were unanswerable—we have done what was once thought un-doable.

We can’t cling to the faiths of the ignorant past and progress in our scientific study at the same time. The Jihads of the Islamic and the Papal Bulls of the Catholic are but two of the most obvious points of friction between common sense and the charm of religion. The faiths we have can come from ideas and beliefs. We all have faith, but some faiths are friendlier than others—our faith in each other is a positive good. Other faiths held by more pious people can only be described as nonsensical. But, good or bad, a person’s faith cannot be changed by force—nor should it be.

That is the importance of religious freedom. Two groups of people—each side sure that the others are mad as hatters. We can only live together in peace if we all allow a little leeway for each other.