Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Comets and Morality

There is a whole swarm of comets - about five hundred - that follow roughly the same track, swooping in close over the face of the sun during their journeys to the inner solar system. They're called Kreutz sungrazers. Astronomers have deduced that all the sungrazers came from a single original comet that was seen from Earth in A.D. 1106, as recorded in several manuscripts. That comet broke up, and now we see its daughter fragments. In the Newtonian purity of space we can follow the tracks back until they converge into the original comet's path.

Only the hardest-core YEC (Young Earth Creationist) would dispute the math that goes into showing this - though I'm sure there are some who deny physics altogether, and it's worth pointing out to YECs that all of us would have been on thin ice in the twelfth century arguing for the impermanence of any celestial objects. That said, what would a YEC say to a comet track traced back to twenty thousand years ago, well before the infamous date of 4004 BC? Answering "it can't be traced back" even to the very possibility doesn't count. Even though none of us expect the Mississippi to start flowing upstream five minutes from now, and if it did we couldn't immediately explain why, we can still talk about how we would solve the problem of its flowing upstream if it did. Refusing even to entertain a possibiliy as coherent is a common defense of a made-up mind: I once asked a Nepali how they felt about their king's alleged looting of the country's treasury. They told me it can't be true because he wouldn't do it. I asked how they knew this. They said because he is good. I asked how they knew that. They said because he was the king, and the king is good, so he couldn't do that. If a YEC answers "it just can't", then ask them to explain how they're different from this over-patriotic Nepali. After all, Darwin was willing to entertain what it would mean for his theory if we observed the sudden appearance in the fossil record of complex organs: he said his "absolutely fall apart", in his own words. Yet we haven't found this.

All this is interesting. But more importantly: what do Kreutz sungrazers matter to how we live our lives?

Absolutely nothing!

What, exactly, is the connection between believing the universe is six thousand years old or at least that there was a deliberate plan to it all, and our behavior?

We must directly challenge the supposed connection between the two traditional sectors of the religion business: morality and cosmogony. Cosmogony is a fancy name for your story about how the world got to be the way it is. Many accounts have been given, but only one of them is supported by evidence. On the other hand, I've met YECs in person, and while I get frustrated with their top-down thinking, they were always nice enough people. I even think they would say the same of me. See? No connection.

If there is a connection between morality and cosmogony, how could the two things possibly be related? Why does study after study (like Marc Hauser's) show no connection? Why do the religious so desperately insist that believing we came from goo will immediately degrade our sense of right and wrong? Are creationist Christians willing to tell evolution-believing Christians that they're somehow immoral, even though those Christians' behavior appears exactly the same? Some are. Most are not. Up to them to resolve this problem - and up to you to bring it to their attention.

As usual, this may not convert many people, but it will make some think, and for the rest it will force into broad daylight their argument of "It's right because my parents and this book say it's was right, and you have to agree or shut up or I'll be offended."

No comments: