Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The sacred depths of nature

NASA has released the latest and deepest look into space ever, revealing galaxies as they were 13.2 billion years ago, only 500 million years after the big bang. You will remember the Hubble Deep Field and the Ultra Deep Field. This new compilation of all the previous data is called the XDF, the Extreme Deep Field.

Do this. Go to the Hubble XDF web site, download the highest resolution version and fill your screen with it. And while you're there, look at the little video showing the tiny part of the sky imaged by the XDF. I see only one star of our own galaxy in the image, the object with diffraction spikes.

Now do this. Go outside at night and hold two crossed sewing pins at arm's length again the dome of night. The intersection of those pins covers the area of the XDF. Presumably, the view in any other direction would be similar -- except where our own galaxy gets in the way.

Hundreds of billion of potentially visible galaxies, each galaxy (we are seeing only the brightest) with hundreds of billions of stars, every star potentially with planets. Any religion that doesn't accommodate these incredible revelations can hardly be qualified as adequate.

Which reminds me of something I found while cleaning out the archives last week: A 1996 letter from Kent Hovind, the founder of Creation Science Evangelism and (formerly) one of nation's busiest and most celebrated opponents of evolutionary science. I won't say anything about Mr. Hovind; he has his problems and I wish him well. But I will quote from his letter, which is not untypical of missives I received from Christian creationists while I was writing for the Boston Globe.

"Satan has used your pride to blind you to the obvious," he writes. Hovind claims a "personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe," and suggests that "if you [meaning me] continue to refuse and respect Him you will face Him as your judge when you die."

I never took any of this stuff seriously. To each his own, I say, even if the sentiments don't sound very Christian. But it does strike me as astonishing that anyone can look at the XDF, for example, understand what one is looking at, and still claim a "personal relationship" with the Creator. For myself, I don't suppose that Mr. Hovind's Satan, with a possibly infinite number of galaxies to attend to, has time or motive to worry about my views on evolution.