Saturday, September 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

The moral experience and the numinous experience are so far from being the same that they may exist for quite long periods without establishing a mutual contact. In many forms of Paganism the worship of the gods and the ethical discussions of the philosophers have very little to do with each other. The third stage in religious development arises when men identify them -- when the Numinous Power of which they feel awe is made the guardian of the morality to which they feel obligation. Once again, this may seem to you very "natural." What can be more natural than for a savage haunted at once by awe and by guilt to think that the power which awes him is also the authority which condemns his guilt? And it is, indeed, natural to humanity. But it is not in the least obvious. The actual behaviour of that universe which the Numinous haunts bears no resemblance to the behaviour which morality demands of us. The one seems wasteful, ruthless, and unjust; the other enjoins upon us the opposite qualities. Nor can the identification of the two be explained as a wish fulfilment, for it fulfils no one's wishes. We desire nothing less than to see that Law whose naked authority is already unsupportable armed with the incalculable claims of the Numinous. Of all the jumps that humanity takes in its religious history this is certainly the most surprising. It is not unnatural that many sections of the human race refused it; non-moral religion, and non-religious morality, existed and still exist. Perhaps only a single people, as a people, took the new step with perfect decision -- I mean the Jews: but great individuals in all times and places have taken it also, and only those who take it are safe from the obscenities and barbarities of unmoralised worship or the cold, sad self-righteousness of sheer moralism. Judged by its fruits, this step is a step towards increased health. And though logic does not compel us to take it, it is very hard to resist -- even on Paganism and Pantheism morality is always breaking in, and even Stoicism finds itself willy-nilly bowing the knee to God. Once more, it may be madness -- a madness congenital to man and oddly fortunate in its results -- or it may be revelation. And if revelation, then it is most really and truly in Abraham that all peoples shall be blessed, for it was the Jews who fully and unambiguously identified the awful Presence haunting black mountain-tops and thunderclouds with "the righteous Lord" who "loveth righteousness."

C.S. Lewis
The Problem of Pain

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Adieu Cassini

At about 5 o'clock tomorrow morning, the Cassini spacecraft will plunge into Saturn nearly 20 years after it was launched from Earth and over 13 years after it began orbiting Saturn. It's been the source of an incredible amount of information. Cassini allowed scientists to discover seven new moons of Saturn for example.

I started writing the Religion Blog for OregonLive about the time Cassini entered Saturn's orbit, but as it didn't have much relevance for religion, I couldn't justify blogging about it. However, several months later, Cassini released the Huygens probe to fall towards Saturn's largest moon Titan, hopefully parachuting down while taking pictures, and hopefully landing softly and taking more pictures. All of these hopefullys paid off. Since Titan is one of the potential sites that scientists have speculated might have some form of life, I wrote a blogpost about the origin of life and what the potential discovery of extra-terrestrial life might mean for Christianity.

Below is my original blogpost. The updates are from that post, not something I'm adding on now.

**********

Friday, January 14, 2005
A Caveat on the Origin of Life
In just a couple of hours from the time of this writing (late Thursday night), at 1:05 a.m. Pacific time, the Huygens Probe will plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. It will then deploy a parachute and take measurements and pictures as it descends, and possibly after it lands if everything goes just right. It will probably be able to function for no more than 30 minutes, and the radio signals it transmits to the Cassini spacecraft will then take a couple of hours to reach Earth.

I am really jazzed about this. It's going to send pictures from within Titan's atmosphere, and possibly from the surface itself. Of course, part of the reason they sent this thing is because Titan's atmosphere is too opaque to see through, so any given picture will probably just be a greyish blur. But it will be a greyish blur from Titan!

I've commented before about how Titan is a primary site-of-interest for origins-of-life research because it meets one of several dozen necessary prerequisites for life to exist (high nitrogen content). I wrote about the religious implications of origin-of-life research last May. But I need to point something out that I haven't before: there is no a priori reason to assume that God created life supernaturally. The Bible constantly refers to God bringing about certain effects through the natural laws he set up. For example, most movies about Moses parting the Red Sea depict it supernaturally: he holds up his staff or strikes it to the ground and the water flees away. But the Bible gives a different picture.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

So it seems to me that if God parted the waters by means of a strong wind, he may very well have created the first forms of life by means of natural processes as well. In fact, in Genesis 1 God states "Let the land produce" various forms of life, not once, but twice. This description strikes me as being consistent with God using the elements of nature to bring about an effect (although it certainly doesn't demand such an interpretation). So again, if it is discovered tomorrow that life can come into existence by natural processes, it really wouldn't hurt my faith at all -- anymore than if some scientists came out with a study showing that, under certain conditions, a strong east wind could temporarily blow back the water of the Red Sea.

Of course, if science demonstrated that natural processes are insufficient to account for the origin of life, then other-than-natural processes are pretty much the only alternative. And this seems to be the actual state of affairs.

Update (11:30 a.m.): The Huygens Probe made a soft landing and continued transmitting data! Woo hoo!

Update (11:40 a.m.): Space.com has live coverage.

Update (8:30 p.m.): First pictures!

From 16.2 km up we see what looks like streams leading to an ocean (of methane probably):


From the surface:


Sam Jaffe points out "We have seen the face of Titan and it looks...kind of like Santa Fe."

Monday, September 11, 2017

There is evil in this world

A few years ago I put up a post showing all the videos of the planes hijacked on September 11, 2001 hitting the World Trade Center, the security cameras that show the little there is to see of the plane hitting the Pentagon, and a video of the immediate aftermath of the fourth plane that was crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. This year I'm putting up compilations of the aftermath of the World Trade Center plane hits: the people who fell from the buildings, and the collapse of the two towers. I make no attempt to be exhaustive as I did before. As I said in the earlier post, if you want to leave a comment spewing some conspiracy theory, find another website. My purpose is to show that there is real evil in the world and our response to it must be to destroy it, not to accommodate it. I'm not showing these videos for us to rubberneck at them in order to satisfy some morbid sense of curiosity: as you watch, bear in mind that you are watching real human beings -- mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters -- dying. Obviously, these videos are graphic and very disturbing.

Here are videos about the people who fell. We don't know if they actually chose to jump or if they fell by accident in their struggle to get to the windows for breathable air. Obviously there is a strong content warning.





A compilation of the collapse of the South Tower, 9:59 am:



A compilation of the collapse of the North Tower, 10:28 am:



One thing I'm not including here are the phone calls by people on board the planes and especially of people inside the towers. I'm not including them because the ones I've heard are just too devastating. I may be going too far already by showing the videos of the people who fell, but the phone calls are too much for me to listen to.

Friday, September 8, 2017

No!

Jerry Pournelle has died. I always hoped to meet him. Here's his website. The universe seems like a smaller place now.