We Are Stardust

Doesn’t it sound romantic? But it’s not a figure of speech, it is literally true that we are made of the same stuff as stars—and planets, and everything else in the universe.

It is for that reason that we are immortal, not the reason heard in Sunday school. Science, not religion, tells us that nothing can be destroyed. It can only change form, and that form includes the stuff that is us.

I know I am part of the ongoing parade of life on Earth—which I find thrilling and amazing, a constant privilege—and that the temporary shape I occupy will only change form when I die. I will remain an immortal part of the immense universe, as do we all. 

We are made of the same stuff as stars.

Astronomy has taught us many things, starting tens of thousands of years ago. Virtually every society on the planet recognized the turn of seasons as signaled by the equinoxes and solstices. Spiritually significant edifices everywhere were oriented to the rising sun on the vernal equinox, which was when great celebrations were held. But their timing everywhere depended on the naked eye, assisted by instruments that helped measure the cardinal directions and angles and directions to heavenly bodies.

Galileo improved on a Dutch invention to construct the first telescope for the skies some 400 years ago, and our world changed forever. Galileo saw that Jupiter had moons, and they orbited about the planet. He also saw that Mercury and Venus revolved about the sun, and realized that all the planets did, including ours. But this realization was too much for the priests, who had decided that everything in the universe centered around themselves, and Galileo was punished for presenting the truth. The proven facts were denied by the Church for several centuries, even as some people deny the indisputable findings of science today.

I was blessed to witness
the most important
astronomical discovery
of all time.

New discoveries about the heavens have been virtually nonstop since Galileo, and over that time they have increased exponentially in frequency. But there is one discovery that is the most amazing astronomical discovery of all time, and I feel fortunate to have been alive when it happened. This is how it came about. 

There is a speck of sky near the Big Dipper the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length in which nothing had ever been seen. Nothing. It was completely dark. In 1995 the Hubble space telescope was trained on this empty spot—1/24,000,000 of the sky—for many hours of exposure over ten days, to see if anything at all could be detected. Hubble found not just a little something, but produced the most astonishing photograph ever taken. This is it.

GOODS South Field

What Hubble saw was 3,000 points of light in this empty space. Every tiny dot is not a star, but an entire galaxy equivalent to our own Milky Way. Each galaxy has perhaps a billion stars, each star probably with planets and their moons, tens of billions of them. And that’s just in this dark speck of space in which nothing at all had ever been seen.

Nobody expected this. Suddenly we realize: if there are hundreds of billions of stars in this tiny, tiny speck of sky, then there are just as many in every part of the sky, in every direction. Multiply the hundreds of billions of stars you see above by 24-million to encompass the whole sky, and you know that the universe is vastly more immense than we had thought.

The universe is vastly
more immense
than we had thought.

In June 2014, NASA released a composite photo from multi-spectra Hubble images taken over several years using the new Ultra Deep Field technology, but in a different speck of sky. It shows 10,000 galaxies in far greater detail. It gets ever more astonishing, but it was the shot from 1995 that shook our world and took our breath away.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

Far from making me feel teeny and insignificant, which we all are anyway, even compared to our own little blue planet, it gives me chills to realize that I am part of this universe, immensely more majestic than we ever imagined. And I am made of the same eternal stardust.

The Abrahamic religions offer many important values to us. They offer community, and understanding of our common humanity. They teach us how to live a moral life, and to care for the lives of others, how to love.

But they are all based on revelations that came to a handful of people, almost entirely men, whose writings reflected the starkly limited understanding of the natural world of a few thousand years ago. Further, their writings are full of contradictions, and many express abhorrent prejudices and stunted understand of their world. Many are violent, warlike, and mysogynistic in the extreme. And yet, strict followers of all three of these contradictory and repellant viewpoints are claimed by millions to be the literal word of the perfect God.

Because of religious self-contradictions
and scientifically impossible beliefs,
I can embrace no theocracy.

All of them have these repugnant claims, to say nothing of a concept of God that is itself naive. All of them claim to be the literal and perfect word of God, which very obviously they cannot be because they are self-contradictory, let alone that science shows us that so much of what they claim is impossible.

Worse, the race of humans seems to be incapable of taking the best parts of these religions, which are virtually the same for all of them, and building lives and societies based on them. If we did, wars and personal violence would be nearly nonexistent, and nobody would suffer great poverty or injustice.

How do these religions decide which of their abhorrent teachings should be followed, which not? It’s apparently not OK to kill the neighbor who mows his lawn on Sunday, although the Bible says it is. But some people who say the Bible (or the Koran or the Torah) must be obeyed to the exact word do kill for such idiotic reasons.

We visualize God as a barefoot white guy with a long white beard and a long robe who flies through the sky to mete out justice, yet this person is supposed to have created the majestic universe—the one that’s many billions of times greater than the Hubble’s 1995 photograph—keeping track of every particle and person in it. But the religious don’t adapt their understanding to what we now know. They still claim God is a barefoot white guy with a long white beard and a long robe who flies through the sky. Their beliefs are so stunted they are unable to grasp that we live on a small part of a tiny planet, in a mid-sized galaxy of a billion stars, among billions of galaxies, in a universe that is 13.8 billion years old. Yet they tell us we must live our lives according to their antiquated books and their repulsive and impossible ideals.

We are all residents of this tiny planet in the wings of the Milky Way. How can we not see that we are all the same, and that we should care for each other, each for everyone? But we do not, and we have been forever busy destroying the heavenly lives we could all live. There is plenty of wealth, enough that no one should suffer from want, with more than enough remaining to reward those who work hard to invest in our common future. Instead, record inequality and poverty shows no signs of abating, and we race a downhill track to vast wealth in the hands of a few. And only now, after several decades of active denial of the increasingly obvious facts, are we barely beginning to correct the bad habits that are destroying our life support system, something that is probably already too late to stop.

We cannot allow our lives
to be determined
by mental dwarves
who believe in impossibilities.

The trouble is that the political reins have been seized by people who harbor inoperable beliefs and ethics from a few thousand years ago, and they are doing their best to force them on the rest of us, all the time ignoring or actively denying the social and environmental disaster that is destroying our world. Or they believe that the purpose of the global culture is to make them very, very rich.

They insist that this is a Christian country (it absolutely is not), and that each and every one of their false and contradictory beliefs must be adhered to by the polity, including you and me. They want to prevent our children from learning about the real world, the world of science, and instead impose their imaginary religious world on the entire nation, if not the world. In this they are barely different from koranic schools, which devote themselves to memorizing the Koran and absorbing all of the contradictions contained there too as absolute truth.

All these people are a real danger to the modern world, and must not prevail.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Ironically, these so-called Christians cite the old testament as the gospel (ie., incontrovertible) truth. The old testament is in fact a collection of Jewish stories, all of which Christ himself grew up with. Most Jewish authorities recognize that these stories were not (and never were meant) to be taken literally.

    The new testament is the Christian part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. And it says nothing about how long the earth has existed, or how long it took God to create it. So, creationism is a belief adhered to by religious zealots who mistakenly think they are citing Christian teachings as Gospel truths, when in fact they are citing Jewish stories, and none of the Gospels themselves (which have nothing to say about creationism, AND which were written as a rebuke to the teachings of the times that were based on those Old Testament stories).

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