Friday, April 27, 2007

Lunar Ravings

Last night, feeling bored, but resisting the urge to go to bed, I switched over to one of the digital religious channels - as you do! I like looking at these channels for a bit of light relief - being an atheist myself I find the rantings and ravings of the preachers rather comical. However, what really caught my attention last night was a science documentary, filmed in a "Horizon" type style, about the universe. Now being very interested in cosmology and that sort of thing, I felt compelled to watch. That's why I was half asleep at work today - I stayed up too late, but then I'm always doing that! I digress. The thrust of the film was that the conditions and environment of the earth and its place in the universe are ideal for humanity to study the universe and discover the laws of nature. Being a channel of religious intent, the argument was of course leading to the conclusion that the universe as we find it is no accident, but was designed that way by you know who.
So what was it that you know who got up to in his creative workshop then? Well, for one thing, he made the Moon at just the right size and distance from the earth so that when there is a total eclipse, it covers all the Sun's disk, and no more. This allows us to see the Sun's corona or atmosphere. This in turn has allowed astronomers to study the corona and gain insight into the composition and dynamics of the Sun, and the stars in general. Also, the moon produces tidal cycles which have a big impact upon the natural history of the planet. Add to this, that light from stars travelling close to the Sun's rim enabled physicists during a total eclipse in 1919 to validate Einstein's theory that light is bent in gravitational fields. Of course, all this can only be because you know who made it so! What the program didn't mention was that this is only a temporary arrangement because the Moon is actually gradually receding from the earth. This is because of tidal forces causing a transfer of energy from the earth to the Moon, with the added effect that the earth is gradually slowing down on its axis - the days are getting longer! It was also mentioned that because we have a clear atmosphere - its not full of haze due to dense clouds of carbon dioxide etc, we are able to study the night sky which would otherwise be invisible to us. Apparently, clear atmospheres are very rare. However, what the programme failed to mention is that it is life itself, which helps to keep a clear atmosphere, with plants dependent upon all the carbon dioxide, and then giving out oxygen which us and other animals need to breathe. Mars has a clear atmosphere, albeit very thin compared to ours, but this was not mentioned. The program went on to talk about our position in the galaxy, being about half way out from the centre, in the comparative void between spiral arms. This gives us a very good view of the galactic plane which would otherwise be hidden from us - again advantageous for the study of the cosmos. Also, if we were situated at the centre of the galaxy, the earth would be bathed in such intense radiation that life could never have arisen, or we might even get sucked into a black hole - there may be one at the centre of every spiral galaxy. If we were near the periphery of the galaxy, there would not be the variety of minerals necessary for the formation of planets like ours, much less life itself, and of course, a not very good view of the galaxy. OK, fine. One thought does however spring to mind and it is this: there are billions of galaxies and billions of billions of chances of finding planets like our own. I do not find it at all surprising that the universe seems to have been engineered for our benefit, and that is because life on earth, and anywhere else it might exist in the universe, comes about, and adapts itself by Darwinian natural selection, to fit exactly into the environment in which it finds itself. We are products of the environment; the universe does not exist because of us, but rather the reverse. There is therefore no need for you know who. Also, the programme went on to state that if the laws of physics were only an itsy witsy bit different to what they are, then the universe could not exist as we find it, and therefore life would not exist. So what? The universe is the way it is. If it wasn't we wouldn't be here - and the point is??? You might as well say that it is a miracle that a footprint in the mud exactly matches the shape of the base of the foot that made it! Not really a miracle, but in a round about way, that's why the conditions in the universe seem so ideal for our survival.

Getting back to the Moon: according to Carl Sagan in his book "The Tragedy of the Moon", its a big shame that our nearest planetary neighbour Venus doesn't have a moon. You see, if you know who had really planned it to enhance our understanding of the universe as the programme purports, he would have given Venus a moon. We would then have seen in ancient times that celestial bodies do actually orbit one another. It would also have been clear that not everything orbits about the earth. The geocentric view of the universe was pretty well fundamental in medieval Christianity, and the Church, following the Christian way, tortured and murdered people who dared to suggest otherwise. Who knows how many people would not have perished had you know who had given Venus a moon. The other upshot of this, is that our understanding of the universe would have been much accelerated and scientific and technological progress may have put our present day travellings out amongst the stars, instead of where we are today, scratching to reach the boundaries of the Solar System. If you know who had really wanted to help us along in our scientific endeavours, he really could have done a better job!

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