|Feature Article - January 2008|
|by Do-While Jones|
We don’t write much about astronomy because it is only tangentially related to the theory of evolution—but there is a relationship that shouldn’t be ignored.
Usually we like to write essays that are well-structured, linear arguments that build point upon point up to the compelling, undeniable conclusion. This month, for a change, let’s just ramble on and on, with tongue in cheek, in an apparently pointless discussion that culminates in a surprisingly unexpected conclusion.
The Hollywood writers have been on strike for more than two months, proving that if you thought TV shows could not get any worse, you were wrong. Americans are currently suffering terribly from a lack of good television.
Seriously, there have been other strikes that really have had devastating effects. It has been a long time since the New York City garbage men went on strike; but the effects of that strike have not been forgotten. From time to time there have been trucker strikes that caused bare grocery store shelves. We really suffered from those strikes. But can you imagine how terribly it would affect your life if the astronomers went on strike?
Despite the fact that striking astronomers would not bring our economy to its knees in a matter of days, astronomy has historically been at the foundation of great civilizations, so astronomy must really be important. Aztecs had astronomers. Babylonians had astronomers. Egyptians had astronomers.
Those ancient civilizations needed to know when to plant their crops, and when to expect the Nile River to flood. Astronomers were the ones who knew when the seasons began and ended. But now that everyone knows how to count to 365, do we still need astronomers?
Astronomers are all searching for the answer to one all-important question, “How can I get paid to take pictures with my telescope?” If you ignore the obvious answer (“Point it at Brittany Spears’ bedroom window.”), it becomes a difficult question to answer. You can only sell so many posters of the Crab Nebula.
Therefore, astronomers today have to make money they same way as they have throughout all of recorded history—they have to become priests. In ancient times, astronomers used their knowledge of solar and lunar eclipses as a way to gain power. By being able to predict an eclipse, they could try to convince people that they had power over the sun and moon. Or, they could try to convince people that they were so close to the gods that the gods told them about the eclipses in advance. Maybe all they wanted to do was to prove they were smarter than everybody else because they were the only ones who knew when it would happen. In any case, they used their knowledge of astronomy to get power over the people.
It is really amazing when you stop to think about it. If you listed all the important events in your life, a lunar eclipse probably would not be anywhere near the top of that list. But the ability to predict eclipses gave ancient astronomers power and respect.
Today, astronomers need to make their work somehow relevant to religion to give themselves importance and power. That’s exactly what they have done by “detecting” planets outside our solar system (exoplanets).
I believe there are lots of planets outside our solar system. There are probably more stars with planets around them than there are stars without planets. But I don’t believe we have the technology today to be able to detect them. That’s based on a lifetime of work in the defense industry designing things that detect targets. I know the limits of technology.
The difference between an engineer and an astronomer is that an engineer is in the enviable position of being able to test his instrument in ways that an astronomer cannot. We engineers can put a one-square-meter target at a fixed distance, look at it with our instrument, and see how big our instrument thinks it is. That allows us to determine if our instrument is telling us the truth or not. An astronomer is forced to point his telescope at a star he thinks is a certain size, that he thinks is shining with a certain intensity, that he thinks is a certain distance away, through a certain amount of space that he thinks is empty, to calibrate it. If his assumptions are wrong, the calibration is worthless.
The astronomer makes measurements and draws conclusions based on his assumptions. Nobody can prove his conclusions are incorrect without making different assumptions. “Truth” is determined by who can tell the most convincing story. So here is some advice for all you astronomy students who want to be successful—take as many debate classes as you can. A couple of drama electives would help, too. (No smiley face here. We are deadly serious.)
So, you are an astronomer. You need something more impressive than a close-up picture of the moon to get your funding next year. What do you do? You find a star and study it for a while, looking for something you can use. Maybe it has a periodic change in brightness. If so, you could argue that the star gets darker as its planet passes between us and the star. Maybe the star changes color ever so slightly periodically. That could be due to Doppler shift as the star wobbles because a heavy planet is circling it. You make some assumptions about the mass of the star and its distance, and then calculate the size of a planet necessary to produce the observed effect, and you have discovered a planet!
Okay. You’ve discovered a planet on a star so far away that nobody could ever reach it in a million lifetimes of traveling in a rocket with any practical speed and fuel capacity. Why would anybody care? How can you make it relevant to religion, and therefore make it worth paying for?
There are some people who believe (by faith) that anywhere the environmental conditions permit life, life will spontaneously originate and evolve. They believe that given enough time, simple life will evolve into intelligent life. If that belief is true, then there is no absolute morality, no judgment against that absolute moral standard, and no punishment for failing to live up to that moral standard. Some people will pay dearly for confirmation of their belief.
Since all attempts to find life on planets in our solar system (other than on Earth itself) have failed, those people need to find life on planets outside our solar system. The “discovery” of planets outside the solar system is the first step to finding life on those planets. The next step the astronomers will take is to find evidence that some of those planets have conditions that would permit life to exist. Then there will be some discovery that shows life really does exist on those planets.
The ultimate goal is to actually make contact with intelligent life outside our solar system. They want to do that because they want to ask those alien life-forms some pointed questions. They expect the answers to those questions to be, “Jesus of where? Death on a cross? What are you talking about?”
That’s why they give money to the Planetary Society, and SETI, and the AAAS, and any other group that will lobby NASA and the U.S. Congress to fund the search for extraterrestrial life. Astronomers will publish discoveries that tend to keep the hope of extraterrestrial life alive in order to keep funding alive.
Ironically, although evolutionists desperately want to make contact with advanced, intelligent life from outer space, they adamantly deny reports that we have already been visited by heavenly messengers. They believe more advanced intelligent life forms exist in outer space, but they don’t believe there are angels in heaven.
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