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Knowledge and Science

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Knowledge and science

Science and Christianity are not compatible

The facts of life

 

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Knowledge and Science

We start our lives without any concrete facts or knowledge. We must learn about everything in the world we find around us.

To gain a proper understanding of your life, you need to look critically at the influences around you, especially those that are asking you to have ‘faith’ in them. Living in the start of the 21st century, we live at a time with many stories within our cultures about who we are, about how we should be living our lives, and about the nature of the world around us. There are many religions that each have their stories of what we are and the nature of the world we live in. There are many stories from governments, leaders, powerful people, and companies that tell us a wide range of things. The start of the 21st century is a remarkable time however, because it is a time when we can be sure of the fundamental knowledge behind all of these things. We can be sure about where we live (living in a thin, fragile biosphere on a planet orbiting the sun, a star), the basic history of life on our planet, of how life began, and many more important aspects. We have gained that certainty of fundamental knowledge through science.

Science is a collective banner that covers many studies of the world and ourselves, trying to determine the true nature of ourselves and the world we find ourselves living in. Science tries to determine how things really happen, by describing the scope of the phenomenon, recording observations, proposing models of understanding, and making the findings available to others for testing, reviewing and evaluating. Science allows us to derive an understanding of the world and ourselves based on a large body of reproducible evidence, rather than just individual personal views or prejudices. Science is a way of gaining proper understanding and genuine knowledge.

We have not always had enough information to be sure of the nature of life on Earth, but we do now have that information (gained by the work of many people over many years of striving to understand the true nature of ourselves and the world we live in), and to refuse to accept that information is both personally irresponsible and extremely anti-social. You only get one life – surely you want to at least understand the truth behind it?

It is important to note that people with scientific approaches, who have tried to work out how the world really works, have usually been violently opposed in their quests by religions. A concern for anyone wanting to present views that oppose religions, is that this is done under the threat of being killed (killed for having views that are harmful to particular religious groups). Most religions have as part of their instructions something along the lines of “any non-believers are infidels and should be killed”. This type of logic has been the cause of a lot of killing over the years. Typically, religions use fear and guilt as their main drivers; fear of an almighty god, fear of living a life without meaning or worth, fear of being shunned by mainstream society, fear of going against an authority representing ‘god’, and a huge guilt trip that you may not have done everything in accordance with your religion’s rules.

Science however has shown that the world can be understood well without any reference to any ‘supernatural acts’ or any ‘god’ (or ‘gods’). It is science that accurately explains the lengths of day time and night time through the different latitudes, and times of the year. It is science that has come up with accurate measurements for the size of our planet, the size of the sun, the distance of our planet from the sun, and the measurement of time for one orbit for our planet around the sun. It is science that has led to our current understanding of electronics, thermodynamics, biology, diseases, modern agriculture, modern medicine, geology, oceanography, civil engineering, mechanical manufacturing, plastics, internal combustion engines, aviation, navigation, weather predictions, radio communications, computing, space research, and all things considered to be technology. Our current understanding of science covers an enormous range of information and detail.

Having an understanding of the world based on science is extremely valuable. That understanding however has largely come about through the efforts of many other people. I think it is important to have also spent time observing and recording the world first hand, and to evaluate/correlate the ideas that science presents with those that you have observed.

It is interesting to note that many of the people who are responsible for the understanding that science currently gives us, are virtually unknown. One excellent source that tells some of the stories of the important discoveries of science, is the book “Cosmos”, by Carl Sagan (Sagan, C. Cosmos. Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).

Throughout my writing here, I want to refer to ‘science’ rather than ‘scientists’ as the holder of this large body of knowledge. Within the regions of science that are on the edges of our understanding, there are often groups of scientists who hold a range of differing views. This is an important part of the development of gaining true knowledge – having views that challenge, so that further investigations take place.

However, there is a lot of scientific knowledge that has been well established, thoroughly tested and can be acknowledged as facts. They do not sit on the edges of our understanding. They sit deep within a large body and wide range of cross-referenced scientific research. For example, the scientific models we have for predicting the positions of the planets, stars, sun and the moon are very accurate, and can predict lunar and solar eclipses down to the second (as well as the locations where those events can be observed).

Some books or articles I have read have suggested that the findings of science are based on assumptions, interpretations and theories tainted by personal prejudices, so should not be taken as seriously as the words that are written in the bible or other written works of the large religions (these works don’t contain assumptions, interpretations or personal prejudices?). I can see what those people are trying to say, in terms of science not always being able to provide ‘immutable facts’, because science tries to determine models of understanding based on observed evidence. Future hypotheses may prove to be more accurate than the current understanding, and science is open to having better models explain the things that are studied, and currently understood. However, this doesn’t mean that the models of understanding we currently have that science has provided should be discounted.

Certainly, this should not mean that the understanding gained from science is less than the understanding gained from reading a so-called ‘holy scripture’. Science is still the source of all of the genuine knowledge of ourselves and the world we live in. It is science that has determined that we live on a generally spherical planet that orbits a star (that we call ‘the sun’). This is something I do consider to be an immutable fact, that provides an incredible perspective on our place in the world. This is something that has not come from the so-called ‘holy scriptures’. It is science that accurately explains the lengths of daytime and night time through the different latitudes, and times of the year. It is science that has come up with accurate measurements for the size of our planet, the size of the sun, the distance of our planet from the sun, and the measurement of time for one orbit for our planet around the sun. As stated earlier, it is science that has led to our current understanding of electronics, thermodynamics, biology, diseases, modern agriculture, modern medicine, geology, oceanography, civil engineering, mechanical manufacturing, plastics, internal combustion engines, aviation, navigation, weather predictions, radio communications, computing, space research, and all things considered to be technology. Our current understanding of science covers an enormous range of information and detail, collected and refined by many members of our species who were consciously trying to determine the true nature of ourselves and the things around us.

How do religions or the co-called ‘holy scriptures’ stand up against this body of understanding called science? They simply can not stand up against science. The ‘holy scriptures’ used as the basis for the three largest monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism are a human construction put together without much understanding of the findings of science. The ‘holy scriptures’ were written to instruct believers on how to live their lives. One mutually exclusive point of difference between the ‘holy scriptures’ and science is that the holy scriptures suggest that there ‘need’ to be supernatural forces out there that can change the way that events occur in the world beyond the mechanical laws of physics. It is important to note that science has not found any evidence of supernatural energy or forces beyond the laws of physics.

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Science and Christianity are not compatible

In fact, Science and any religion that has a god are not compatible. To get an understanding of why this incompatibility occurs, let us look as the special case of one religion called Christianity. The reason for saying that science and Christianity are not compatible comes from the metaphysical beliefs required to accept the basic concepts of science and Christianity respectively.

Science is the study of how the world works, based on testable evidence. In order to study the world and ascertain how things work, scientists generate hypotheses about phenomena, then try to set up reproducible experiments to test their hypotheses, which may lead to new or revised hypotheses, etc. Through this repeated process scientists try to gain a better understanding of what is actually happening in the world. To do this one must believe in a world that behaves in a consistent way. That is, a world that behaves according to mechanical laws of nature, and does not include supernatural forces. For example, if “A” and “B” happen, then “C” will result. Science is always striving to discover the true laws of the world, by compiling reproducible evidence to verify hypotheses about the way the world works.

For the concept of science to have any sort of meaning, one must believe in a consistent world. It is totally illogical to try and ascertain how the world works by setting up reproducible experiments, if you do not believe that the world behaves consistently. Why carry out experiments if you believe that events are operating in an inconsistent situation (or under supernatural forces) anyway?

Christianity, on the other hand, deals with a belief in a world that is acted on by a superior creator (called God), and so must fundamentally believe in an inconsistent world (where supernatural events occur). To illustrate why the Christian faith demands a world that behaves in an inconsistent way, one of the beliefs that Christians have is that one can request favours of one’s superior creator, or be punished for bad behaviour. Things being determined by the superior creator can result in events being directed to occur in a particular way. That is, at the desire of the superior creator, and not just within the bounds of mechanical laws.

The Christian belief is for events that can occur from a supernatural level of existence. It is apparently in a Christian’s best interests to adhere to a certain code of conduct, to draw favour from their god. Christians seem to believe that if one does not adhere to their code of conduct and worship, then life’s events may be affected against them. Prayer and worship are required for maintaining a fortunate path through life. One can make appeals to their God for favours. Therefore, Christians fundamentally believe in an inconsistent world. One may be punished at any time. A scientist who has not been behaving appropriately may be given ‘false’ results to their experiments perhaps?

If Christians say they believe in a consistent world, then what is the point of their praying and worshipping, if not to affect a favoured outcome, or at least a changed outcome? What of the messages from their divine scriptures? If no change is possible by worship and prayer, then why practice those things?

Taking all of this into account, I am yet to come across any Christian who can show me even one genuine instance of being able to have a physical light switch on for them at night (in a directly comparable way to an electric light that science has provided), by just praying to their god. Why can’t an average Christian request such a simple favour from their superior creator? Surely that would not be too much to ask of a superior power?

From the discoveries and work of scientists, we have the use of things like electricity, motor cars, computers, piped water, medicines, etc. Through science, we have an excellent understanding of the planet we live on, the planet’s position in our solar system, and the relationship of our solar system to the greater world of which it is but a tiny part. Science has also provided us with a good understanding of our planet’s physical history, and the history of the development of life on this planet.

Science says, when you switch on a light, an electrical circuit is made as a direct result of the switch action that allows electrical energy to flow through a coil of wire to glow brightly and produce light. Science has provided the understanding to make such a device work very reliably. When I switch a light on, I trust the science behind it so much, that I do not even need to be aware of how it works. And it is something that I might do hundreds of times every week. I do not need to abide by a supernatural connection to allow the switch to work. That would seem very silly.

So at their fundamental levels of belief, science and Christianity (and any religion that believes in an inconsistent world – that is, all religions) are mutually exclusive. They are incompatible. You can not truly believe in both science and Christianity – you can not believe in a world that is both consistent and inconsistent – because it is then inconsistent!

If you genuinely believe in a religion such as Christianity, Islam or Judaism, then you should be very sceptical of the understandings and use of science. Science is incompatible with your religion, because both are based on mutually exclusive premises. It is interesting however, to see how much science is used by these religions in the construction of their churches, and in the technology used for some presentations of sermons by ‘priests’ (in the form of microphones, lighting, amplifiers, speakers, musical instruments, computer presentations, etc.). I wonder just how many people could actually cope without the many benefits of science?

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The Facts of Life

I remember hearing the term “the facts of life” being used to refer to instructions on sex and reproduction, when I was a boy. Certainly, sex and reproduction do contain some very important facts of life, but I think a true understanding of life requires more facts than those behind sex and reproduction.

I am thinking about the facts of life as answering important questions about life, such as:

What am I?

Where am I?

What are people?

Is there a god?

What are my beliefs?

How did I get here?

Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?

Why is sex so important?

How should I live?

Am I the centre of the world?

What is the world?

Where did the world come from?

How do I fit into the world? Where is my place in the world?

What are we made of? What is the world made of?

What does it mean to be alive?

How long will I live?

Is there an existence after death? What will it be like when I die?

What are my true rights?

What things are worthwhile, and what things are not worthwhile?

How do I know when something I do is beneficial? (Or harmful?)

Is there a way of living in harmony with others?

I want to work through all of these questions, and present some of the known important facts that relate to these questions. The facts as I am going to present have been derived through many special studies of the world and ourselves, under a banner called ‘Science’. Science allows us to derive an understanding of the world and ourselves based on reproducible evidence, rather than just individual personal views or prejudices.

Let us start with some of life’s important questions:

What am I?

I am a thing called a human being. A human being is a living organism. I started life a long time ago. I was born and I grew through my childhood to reach my adulthood.

As a human being, am I a divine creature living in a privileged position under the watchful gaze of a benevolent god? Many people seem to think they are. Is this true? Is this important?

Let us consider some facts. These facts start as ‘foundation facts’, that underpin other facts of life.

Fact #1: I am a living organism. Some things I have come across, such as rocks and pieces of paper, are not living organisms. Some things I have come across, such as birds, trees and people, are living organisms. Some living organisms have the ability to move. Some living organisms can create their own ‘food substances’ from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide, through a process called oxygenic photosynthesis. Most living organisms have the ability to react to different situations they encounter. Some living organisms have the ability to think, and to imagine. I am a living organism that has the ability to move and think, and imagine. All living organisms are extremely complex collections of organised structures. As we gain an understanding of our lives, we may become aware that there are many amazing living organisms living around us, all trying to survive and thrive.

Fact #2: I will live for some time and then I will die. All individual living organisms will eventually die. What does it really mean to be alive? What does it mean to be dead? What makes a living organism so different to a non-living thing like a rock or a pool of water? Living organisms tend to be organised collections of miniature machines (cells) that operate in ordered ways. Living organisms tend to be entities with predefined structures. Living organisms have internal processes for converting materials that have been entered, into compounds used for growing or sustaining the living organism.

An important part of every living organism is reproduction of the next generation of living organisms.

Fact #3: I am an extremely complex living organism, made from trillions of cells. Carl Sagan, a scientist and author, in the book “Cosmos”, reports that the human body is made up of around a hundred trillion cells (Ref: Sagan, 1985. p.21. A hundred trillion can be expressed as 1014 or 100,000,000,000,000). This is an enormous number of individual cells, that are all interconnected, needing to be maintained, and that are all controlled in very specific ways.

Individual cells are also very complex ‘machines’ made from many parts. An excerpt from the Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD): “A living cell is a marvel of detailed and complex architecture. Seen through a microscope there is an appearance of almost frenetic activity. On a deeper level it is known that molecules are being synthesised at an enormous rate. Almost any enzyme catalyses the synthesis of more than 100 other molecules per second. The information content of a simple cell has been estimated as around 1012 bits, comparable to about a hundred million pages of the Encyclopædia Britannica.” (Ref: “life.” from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.)

These descriptions are only quite brief and only look at a typical human body in terms of its cellular structure, but hopefully one can appreciate from just these brief descriptions that every person is an amazingly complex living organism. These descriptions come from a scientific understanding of the human body, obtained from thousands of years of study of our world, and questioning, and analysis.

Fact#4: Throughout the course of my life, my body has changed size and structure, while continuing to live. I started life as a baby and grew through childhood to adulthood. There have been many changes that have occurred in my body, changes that occurred gradually, but changes that are remarkably complex and quite dramatic. Throughout all of these changes, I have continued to live. I can’t stop living, go through some changes and then have life start again. Everything has to develop as I continue to live - remarkable really!

Fact #5: I am an animal. Science has attempted to classify all known living things into groups according to various properties and basic life processes. The vast majority of known living things can be classed as being a plant, an animal, a fungus, an algae, or a bacterium. Animals are generally differentiated from the other groups by their ability to produce spontaneous movements as a reaction to stimuli. In a complex sub-classification, I can be classed as a “mammal”, and have the species name of ‘homo sapien’ (Zimmer, 2005, p. 149).

I share a similar anatomy with all other mammals.

Fact#6: Algae and plants use oxygenic photosynthesis. The incredible process called oxygenic photosynthesis is the ability of algae and plants to manufacture essential molecules and carbohydrates (foods) from the combination of carbon dioxide gas and water, under exposure to sunlight. From scientific research, if appears that even though oxygenic photosynthesis is used by every plant, there is only one method of oxygenic photosynthesis that has ever been developed throughout the evolution of life on this planet. All plants and algae use the same method of oxygenic photosynthesis.

Fact #7: We live on a planet that orbits the sun. Science has evidence of the fact that we live on a basically ‘spherical’ planet (actually a slightly ‘squashed’ sphere - Ref: “Earth.” from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.), that orbits around the sun in an elliptical orbit (a slightly squashed circular path), once a year (approximately 365.25 days) (Sagan, 1985, p. 5, p. 48, p. 67). Our elliptical orbit has the sun at one of the ellipse’s 2 focal points. The point at which our planet is closest to the sun (called the perihelion) occurs in the first week of January each year. This point can be calculated quite accurately, because of the mathematical modelling we have been able to deduce from carefully and objectively observing the way the world works. Science’s understanding of our planet being basically a large sphere, orbiting the sun came about as a result of the work of many curious and insightful individuals wanting to determine the true nature of our world, carrying out careful observations and proposing explanations that may account for the phenomena experienced. When the Earth’s shadow is cast over the Moon during a lunar eclipse, the shadow always shows as being part of a circle. This indicates that the Earth is round like a ball. We have now seen photographs of the Earth taken from out in space that show it to be basically spherical, like a ball. The explanations have been open for testing by others, for many years. Relationships and formulae derived have been made available to others for testing and refining.

The long and inspiring story of determining the true nature of Earth’s orbit around the sun is well described in the book “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan (Ref: Sagan, 1985, Chapter 3). This amazing story involves many individuals who performed sustained disciplined observations, recordings and calculations over long periods of time, usually amid a hostile environment that was created by various religious views, and powerful religious leaders.

Fact#8: Our planet is one of several planets that orbit the sun. Science has evidence of several planets that orbit the sun, along with our planet. Five other planets were observed at night and recorded by primitive people without the aid of a telescope and were originally considered to be ‘wandering stars’, because although they looked like stars, their positions, relative the vast majority of stars that seemed to have ‘fixed relative’ positions, changed over time (Sagan, 1985, p. 35). We can now observe all of the planets that orbit the sun using telescopes. Various space probes have been sent to several of these planets, for collecting closer views, and a range of information to determine their structure, surface temperatures, atmosphere, etc. Science has determined that all of the current planets orbit about the sun in close to circular paths around the sun, in concentric rings of differing radii that are all generally orbiting on a single plane that passes through the centre of the sun. Our planet is the third planet from the sun of nine that orbits the sun.

This knowledge gives us an understanding about our place in the solar system – that we are not at the centre of the solar system.

Fact#9: All living organisms on our planet are related, through the common use of DNA. All living things are virtually made of the same ‘stuff’ (Sagan, 1985, pp. 21, 24). Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) is the master molecule of all life on Earth. It’s function is to hold hereditary information, and to reproduce exact copies of itself.

Something interesting to consider is that all current life on this planet, whether it is an animal, or a plant, or a fungus, or a bacteria, has its own unique ‘line of continuous life’ extending back to the first structure of first life. All living organisms are reproduced by their previous generation, whether they are human, or grass, or a butterfly, or a bacterium. Every currently living organism will have a common ancestor with every other living organism, somewhere back along its long line of continuous life. All life on this planet uses the same building blocks of amino acids, and uses DNA. Every living organism on our planet is related!

It is amazing to consider the long ‘line of continuous life’ that each one of us has! Our brains don’t cope well with comprehending such extraordinary numbers of generations, but to me, I find that concept extremely uplifting and inspiring; to think of my life sitting on the end of an enormous line of continuous life, going back billions of years to the very first molecule of life. In a way, what a responsibility! In another way, I know that life is so well established on this planet that even if we (humans) don’t manage the planet well and we make it unsuitable for ourselves to survive in, that life will continue (even if it may be only in the form of things such as bacteria for a long time).

Fact #10: Every cell in your body has a copy of your DNA. Amazingly, every one of the 100 trillion cells in your body has a copy of your unique DNA (Sagan, 1985, p. 25). We do have remarkably complex bodies, that we take largely for granted.

Fact#11: Diseases are largely the result of cellular level attacks from other organisms. These other organisms, each trying to continue their own lives, may be introduced through airborne carriers, or though the food we eat, or through the water we drink, or through contact with other organisms. In fact, our bodies are under constant attack from other organisms, and for the most part, our bodies have ‘bio-mechanisms’ that are able to keep these attacks under control. Occasionally though, through various reasons, our bodies are not able to maintain control on these attacks, and we experience a build up of effects from an attack that is not able to be contained.

Fact#12: There is a symbiotic relationship between plants and animals on our planet, where plants create complex compounds through oxygenic photosynthesis (from sunlight, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and water), that act as food for the plants and give off oxygen into the atmosphere. Ultimately, all animals rely on the oxygen in the seas and atmosphere and the food from plants. Animals, as by-products, then give off carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and other waste products that are useful for plants (Sagan, 1985. p. 24). These processes over the 4 billion years of life on our planet have resulted in dramatic changes to the atmosphere that surrounds our planet. When life first started on our planet, there was only a very small amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. Plants over billions of years of oxygenic photosynthesis have provided virtually all of the oxygen in our atmosphere. The nitrogen in our atmosphere has also been released from the life processes over the billions of years (Sagan, 1985, p. 22).

Fact#13: All currently living organisms on our planet have evolved from ancestoral organisms. The process of evolution is a fact. The process of evolution is the reason for why just about all living organisms have changed in structure and nature. All living organisms were reproduced by their previous generation, whether they are human, or grass, or a butterfly, or a bacterium. Every currently living organism will have a common ancestor with every other living organism, somewhere back along its long line of continuous life. All life on this planet uses the same building blocks of amino acids, and uses DNA. Every living organism on our planet is related.

Fact#14: All people on this planet are homo sapiens. People from around this planet may look slightly or vastly different, but we are all the one species (Zimmer, 2005, p. 149). Some of us have hazel-coloured eye pupils, some of us have dark coloured skin, some of us have highly curly hair, some of us have higher-pitched voices, and some of us are males and some of us are females – but we are all the one species.

It appears to me that humans, being highly complex organisms with intellect and a long history of life development, have emotional reactions based on deeply (and often primitive) animalistic feelings (such as a desire to be loved, to be physically comfortable, to feel satisfied from hunger and thirst, curiosity, an aversion to anything unfamiliar), and we also have emotional reactions based on intellect and reason (understanding of cause and effect, logic, etc.). Many of our social interactions are based on balances of these two types of emotional reactions.

My feeling is that if we want to mature as a society, we need to be genuinely using more of the reactions based on intellect and reason rather than the more primitive animalistic emotional reactions. We are animals however, with many requirements for continued survival, so this must be a genuine balance between the two general types of emotional reactions.

Fact#15: Science has discovered that our species and in fact all life on our planet developed over the course of about 4 billion years (Sagan, 1985. p.20). Science has determined that our species developed in Africa from a common primate ancestor to humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas (Attenborough, 1986, p 293; Sagan, 1985, p. 23; Zimmer, 2005, p. 30). Our species migrated to the other continents in several waves that can be traced through the evidence of our genes.

Fact #16: I am an animal that was born through ‘normal reproduction’ from 2 parents. I was cared for and raised by my parents. My parents were each born through reproduction from their parents. Their parents were each born through reproduction from their parents, etc., going back to the first homo sapiens, going back through the evolutionary development of animals and living creatures on our planet, back to the very first living molecule on our planet.

Fact #17: Being an animal, I have certain requirements for continued survival. I need to regularly breathe air. Science has found that we need to constantly breathe so that we can add oxygen from the atmosphere into our blood streams and expel waste carbon dioxide from our blood streams back out into the atmosphere. This is necessary because of the processes that occur in my body for cell maintenance and allowing muscle movement. I need to regularly (but not constantly) drink water and eat food to stay alive. If I stop breathing for long enough, I will die. If I stop my intake of water for more than a few days, I will die. My body needs regular intakes of water. I need to regularly eat, so that my body can use the food’s molecular components to build complex compounds for sustaining the life processes required by my body. My body needs to be kept within a narrow range of temperature to survive. Even though my body has the ability to create its own heat and cool itself if it gets too hot, these processes only allow for a certain range of our ability to heat and cool our bodies. We have found it convenient to wear or shed artificial outer surface layers (clothing) to help maintain our body temperature. We have found it useful to live in shelters that protect us from the extremes of temperature and extremes of weather changes.

Now I can truthfully answer the question: what am I? I am a complex living organism, that can be classified as an animal, and sub-classified as a mammal of the homo sapien species (all of these terms are arbitrary terms, contrived by groups of scientists who are trying to come up with helpful ways of classifying all living organisms). I live on a planet in an interconnected biology of many living organisms, all orbiting the sun.

Fact #18: The Sun is a star. The bright thing in the sky that we call the sun is actually a star, a ball of extremely hot dense gas that is basically a huge nuclear fusion reactor (Ref: Sagan, 1985, p.185). In fact, when we look out into a clear night sky at stars, the starlight we see is all coming from very distant nuclear fusion reactions. Nuclear fusion is a process where simpler elements are combined to produce heavier elements. These types of conversions can only occur in the huge pressures and temperatures at the centre of stars. The process results in huge thermo-nuclear explosions, similar in character but much greater than the types of atomic bomb explosions produced by people on Earth. Science has been able to determine that the sun is basically “converting about 400 million tons (4 x 1014 grams) of hydrogen into helium every second” by nuclear fusion (Ref: Sagan, 1985, p. 185). Science has also determined that the sun has been consistently doing this for the past 5 billion years (Ref: Sagan, 1985, p. 185). These enormous numbers are simply amazing to consider!

Fact #19: The periods of night time and day light that we experience are the result of living on a planet that spins about a central axis approximately once every 24 hours. Our planet spins about a central axis at a rate of approximately once every 24 hours (Ref: “day.” from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD). This spinning produces the day and night times as well as sunrises and sunsets, as we are systematically exposed and then hidden from the sun’s bright light. We can observe distant stars at night (when shielded from the direct light of our close sun) rising in the east and setting in the west – the same pattern for the sun, the moon, the other planets, etc., all because our planet is spinning once every 24 hours, from west to east.

Science has also found that this spinning has occurred for the extent that our planet has been in its current form. There may be a little slowing down of the spinning over the billions of years that the planet has been in its current form, due to tidal friction, and other more subtle cosmic influences (Ref: “time.” from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.).

Fact #20: Our planet’s spinning axis is tilted at approximately 23 degrees to the perpendicular to the plane of our planet’s orbit about the sun, and this tilting is one of the main reasons for seasonal weather variations experienced in different locations about the planet.

The tilting of our planet’s axis means that at certain times of the year, an area of the planet will get more direct sunlight, and have generally warmer weather. It also means that at other times of the year, that same section of our planet will receive less direct sunlight, and will be generally cooler. These seasonal changes increase with the latitude of the section of our planet you consider. These seasonal changes are not very obvious for sections of our planet located near the equator (an arbitary line around the circumference of the planet, exactly halfway between the two planetary poles – the two points about which the planet spins), but these seasonal changes are extreme for the regions around the two planetary poles.

Fact #21: Our planet is part of a solar system that is part of a galaxy, that is one of billions of galaxies in the known universe.

We live on a planet that is one of several planets that orbit the more massive sun. We call this structure of a star being orbited by planets, comets, asteroids and other bodies a solar system. Science has proven that our planet is part of a solar system. The sun is the centre of our solar system. Science has also found that our solar system is a tiny, tiny part of a huge galaxy, which itself is just one of countless other galaxies in the universe (Sagan, 1985, p. 3).

Fact#22: When an object is released from a point above the surface of the Earth, it will accelerate towards the centre of the Earth. If you are holding an apple, and then let it go, it will accelerate towards the centre of the Earth. This is due to a weak (but constant) force between bodies of mass called gravity.

This is the force that keeps us pressed against the surface of the Earth. We would otherwise float away from the surface of the planet. The force of gravity of your body against the Earth can be measured by weighing yourself on a set of scales. Your weight is a measure of your body’s gravitational force.

When one starts looking at massive bodies, such as that of the Earth and the sun, the forces of gravity are quite substantial. This is the force that keeps the Earth orbiting about the much larger sun – The orbit is a result of the Earth continually ‘falling’ towards the centre of the sun, but the falling being balanced by the body trying to move in a straight line. The resulting path is a near circular (actually an elliptical) orbit.

Fact #23: We are not at the centre of the universe. We are not at the centre of our solar system, or of the Galaxy we live in.

We live on a planet that orbits about the much more massive sun, that orbits the centre of the milky way (our galaxy) out near the distant edge of the galaxy, the Milky Way being just one of billions of galaxies in the known universe. This is one of the remarkable but factual images of our world that science has provided. To read this image of our home in the universe, it just says that we live in a ‘corner’ of the universe that isn’t particularly special or typical.

Fact #24: All Life on this planet is largely restricted to what is called the biosphere: The biosphere consists of the seas, a thin layer of crust that follows the surface of the continents, and the atmosphere surrounding our planet (but mainly a thin layer of the densest atmosphere lying close to the surface of our planet).

Fact #25: The resources on our planet are finite. Our planet is a collection of materials that is finite. The one thing that we are constantly getting from outside our planet is radiation from the sun. This radiation provides the daylight and warmth through the weather we experience. It provides plants with the ability to produce their foods and other complex substances necessary to sustain their lives. All plants would die without the regular processes of oxygenic photosynthesis from sunlight.

We require a diverse living collection of plants and animals to maintain a healthy biosphere on the planet, for healthy food supplies, to maintain healthy levels of oxygen and clean air in our atmosphere, to maintain the clean water required for continued life, and to maintain enough resources to produce clothes and living shelters. The resources on our planet are finite. This suggests that we require some control on our population levels. Population levels will depend on how well all life on our planet is maintained. If we don’t maintain biodiversity and the fine balances of life on our planet, then the planet won’t be able to support as large a level of human population, all with their own requirements.

So, to summarise: I am an animal, and a part of all life on this planet. All life on our planet is related, and exists in the planet’s biosphere. Our planet orbits the sun, a star, in an outer arm of our galaxy – our galaxy being one of billions of galaxies distributed throughout an enormous universe which is mostly empty space. Our planet spins on its axis once every 24-hours to give us periods of night and day.

As a human being, am I a divine creature living in a privileged position under the watchful gaze of a god? Here, I am referring to the commonly understood notion of a God as being an omni-present creator of the universe that has an interest in watching over his/her/its ‘flock’ of people living on this planet, with the ability to change the events and outcomes of the lives of some people (of his/her/its choosing). To answer that, we need more facts.

Fact #26: There is no evidence for a god. Why should such a concept be entertained? The actions of the world can be largely understood (with reference to the main facts of life) without any reference to a god. Why should a concept such as a ‘god’ be introduced into our understanding of the world? Where is the evidence for such an entity? Why don’t we just say that there are any number of magical figures such as fairies and demons that control our destiny? Why not propose that there is a magic teapot that exists in another dimension that controls all of our destinies?

Does it really matter if there is a god or not? Well yes, it makes a huge difference to the way that people will go about their lives. If someone genuinely believes in a god, then they will feel that this god has the power to make any necessary changes to maintain our living environment, etc., and could be rather apathetic about taking any action in managing their environment as it changes as a result of human activities. If you don’t believe in a god, and see yourself living in a temporary situation, but feeling a responsibility towards the things you do and cause by living on this planet, you are much more likely to get involved in managing your environment, because you will know that there is nothing out there that will step in to make the necessary changes. So yes, believing in a god and not believing in a god are 2 very opposite viewpoints on life itself, and result in very different attitudes to how someone goes about their living.

A much more dangerous view involves the concept of life after death. People who somehow believe in a life after death are less likely to value their current life or the lives of others.

Fact #27: Any religion’s holy scriptures should contain most of the facts of life presented here. So far, I have tried to present the most basic facts of life. However, as far as I can determine, the facts of the Earth being a planet, spinning about its axis once every 24 hours to give us night time and day time, and being one of several planets orbiting the Sun are not in any of the main religions’ holy scriptures, even though this understanding provides a crucial perspective on the world we live in, and on our place in the world.

It is interesting to note that most religions oppose the findings of science, and oppose the quest for knowledge.

Fact #28: Just because many people say that something exists doesn’t prove that it exists. Many religions have millions of believers or followers. Yet they all have their differences that make their religion the only one that is the ‘truth’. How can they all be the truth? They can’t all be the truth.

Fact #29: If there is a god, then the actions of the god will generally be seen as supernatural events. There are many religions, with various features and concepts, but let’s focus on a generalised religious person for now. The religious person becomes primarily concerned for events that can occur at a ‘supernatural level’ of existence. It is apparently in a religious person’s best interests to adhere to a certain code of conduct, to draw favour from their God. Religious people seem to believe that if one doesn’t adhere to their code of conduct and worship, then life’s events will be affected against them. Prayer and worship are required for maintaining a fortunate path through life. One can make appeals to their God for favours. Therefore, religious people fundamentally believe in a world where supernatural events take place. One may be punished at any time. A scientist who doesn't adhere to required religious practices may be given ‘false’ results to their experiments perhaps?

If a religious person says they believe in a world without supernatural events, then what is the point of their praying and worshipping, if not to affect a favoured outcome, or at least a changed outcome? What of the messages from their divine scriptures? If no supernatural change is possible by worship and prayer, then why practice those things? So let’s be clear about this feature of religious worship – religious people believe in a supernatural realm.

However, I am yet to come across anyone who can show me even one genuine instance of being able to have a physical light shine for them (in a directly comparable way to an electric light) at night, by just praying to their God. Why can’t an average Christian request such a simple favour? Surely that wouldn’t be too much to ask of a superior power?

Fact #30: There is evidence that there is no god as a grand designer. Fossil evidence, evolutionary evidence, biological development (eye, ligaments - Dawkins)

Fact #31: If there is a god, then your life is basically only for that god’s entertainment.

Fact #32: There is no ‘God’. Here, I am referring to the commonly understood notion of a God as being an omni-present creator of the universe that has an interest in watching over his/her/its ‘flock’ of people living on this planet, with the ability to change the events and outcomes of the lives of some people (of his/her/its choosing).

I know that this particular statement is a very sensitive and important aspect to just about every person who has ever lived. Even now, the number of people who consider themselves either Christian, or Muslum, or Jewish, or Buddhist, or Calvinist, or Confucianist, or Hindu, or Jainist, or Shintō, or Sikh, or Taoist, or Zoroastrian, or of any other popular religion (and there are many), constitutes the vast majority of people. If I’m saying that there is no ‘God’, how could all these people be incorrect about something so crucial to people’s understanding of life? According to the Encylopedia Britannica, “Religion is commonly regarded as consisting of a person’s relation to God or to gods or spirits.” (“religion” from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.). But why are there so many different religions? Should we just accept that the majority of people will know what’s correct, and so we only need to look at what the vast majority of people believe, and accept that as the truth?

Firstly, what you believe should be what you believe – not just what somebody else believes. You can’t fake true belief. Your true beliefs will underpin everything you do. Also, you need to be honest enough with yourself to be able to challenge your held beliefs with the evidence you encounter as you go through life. Sometimes, the underlying premises you may have held will be challenged to the core, and all of life may seem very confusing. Sometimes, your underlying premises are going to be incorrect.

We start our lives without a concrete set of facts to base our lives on. We are each influenced to a very large degree by the things our parents or guardians tell us. Throughout our childhood we might formulate some sense of the world as a combination of what we have been told, with reflecting on what we encounter.

To thoroughly prove the fact that there is no god would take a lot of writing, and to be honest, still wouldn’t convince anyone who says they are a believer. They would always find some ‘technicality’ that they couldn’t accept, largely because they are ‘believers’, and have forfeited their ability to challenge their held beliefs.

From my understanding of the world through science, and challenging my underlying premises with facts observed from life, such as seeing innocent children dying from incurable cancers at an early age (for no good moralistic reason), and knowing that all around the planet, thousands of children die from starvation every day, I am sure that there is no benevolent omni-present ‘god’ overseeing the events of the lives of humans on our planet.

All religions deal with beliefs in a world that is acted on by a superior master (called ‘god’, or superior masters called ‘gods’), and so must fundamentally believe in a world where supernatural events regularly occur. For example, one of the beliefs that Christians have is that one can request favours of their superior master, or be punished for inappropriate behaviour. The superior master has the power to create anything they want and can direct particular outcomes for individuals that are at the desire of the superior master, and not just within the bounds of physical laws.

There are many religions, with various features and concepts, but let’s focus on just one for now. The Christian belief becomes primarily concerned for events that can occur at a ‘supernatural level’ of existence. It is apparently in a Christian’s best interests to adhere to a certain code of conduct, to draw favour from their god. Christians seem to believe that if one doesn’t adhere to their code of conduct and worship, then life’s events will be affected against them. Prayer and worship are required for maintaining a fortunate path through life. One can make appeals to their god for favours. Therefore, Christians fundamentally believe in a world where supernatural events take place. One may be punished at any time. A naughty scientist may be given ‘false’ results to their experiments perhaps?

If Christians say they believe in a world without supernatural events, then what is the point of their praying and worshipping, if not to affect a favoured outcome, or at least a changed outcome? What of the messages from their divine scriptures? If no supernatural change is possible by worship and prayer, then why practice those things? So let’s be clear about this feature of Christian worship – Christianity believes in a supernatural realm. In fact most religions, if not all, believe in a supernatural realm.

However, I am yet to come across anyone who can show me even one genuine instance of being able to have a physical light shine for them (in a directly comparable way to an electric light) at night, by just praying to their god. Why can’t an average Christian request such a simple favour? Surely that wouldn’t be too much to ask of a superior power?

Once I freed myself from the tyranny of the idea of ‘god’, so many other aspects of life became clearer. Truth lies everywhere, not just wrapped up in the written ‘scriptures’ of some ‘holy book’. One just needs to be open to the truth. I also realised how important it is for society that the majority of people know and understand that there is no ‘god’. So many important aspects of how people live are affected by such beliefs. I believe that people’s true beliefs underscore everything they do. I don’t think that our society can progress much further until we mature enough in our understanding of life to move on from the primitive notion of ‘god’, and develop models of sustained living that don’t rely on beliefs in fairy-tales.

Even while trying to write out my previous definition of ‘god’, I am aware of how ridiculous the notion of a ‘god’ is, when one seriously considers the previous facts presented. This notion feels like something from a different world – and it is – from a primitive, naive view of the world reflecting people’s insecurities and a child-like desire for a more powerful and responsible ‘parent figure’ that provides a safe sense of meaning in life! It is a view that doesn’t fit a proper understanding of our world being part a huge universe of stars and galaxies and other planets.

The only ‘god’ that has any real meaning is a collection of physical laws called ‘the laws of nature’. The laws of nature are behind everything that has happened, behind everything that happens, and will be behind everything that will happen. When a wave approaches a beach and crashes, it is the laws of nature that determine where every drop of water ends up. Unfortunately for those who want to believe in a god with humans as its main focus and interest, the laws of nature are not the least bit influenced by the social antics or desires of human beings.

Science however, uses its understanding of the laws of nature to bring technological developments to human civilisation – things like the internal combustion engine for moving cars, weapons such as guns and bombs, aircraft for safe air transport, nuclear energy plants, solar energy electric panels, pesticides, fertilisers, computers, wireless communications systems, rockets for space exploration, vaccines against some diseases, pills that clear headaches and other soreness, etc.

Now let us get back to my original list of questions about life (I will need to continue working on the answers to the questions in this list):

What am I? (answered)

Where am I?

What are people?

Is there a god? (answered)

What are my beliefs?

How did I get here?

Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?

Why is sex so important?

How should I live?

Am I the centre of the world?

What is the world?

Where did the world come from?

How do I fit into the world?

What are we made of? What is the world made of?

What does it mean to be alive?

How long will I live?

Is there an existence after death? What will it be like when I die?

What are my true rights?

What things are worthwhile, and what things are not worthwhile?

How do I know when something I do is beneficial? (Or harmful?)

Is there a way of living in harmony with others?

References:

Sagan, C. Cosmos. Ballantine Books, New York, 1985.

Zimmer, C. Where Did We Come From? ABC Books, Sydney. 2005.

Attenborough, D. Life on Earth. Fontana/Collins BBC, Glasgow, 1986.

Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.

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