Monday, 1 August 2011

The stars died for you

People brought up in a christian culture are taught from an early age that 'Jesus died for you'.  Omnipotent god apparently couldn't think of a better way to take away your 'sins' than to send himself to earth to be tortured and killed - to exist as a scape goat.  This was after he first introduced the idea of sin in the first two humans that we are supposed to believe he put on earth.

So forget Jesus and the bronze age myth of the scape goat and bring yourself to the scientific age when we are able to understand a lot about creation without invoking the supernatural.  You are fortunate to live in one of the first generations who can hope to understand the mysteries of existence with new insight.  Think for yourself about what did have to have to die in order for you to live.

The amazing fact is that as Carl Sagan said, "The earth and every living thing are made of star-stuff".  The elements that make up our bodies did not exist at the beginning of time, when hydrogen was the only matter around.  The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the carbon who's unique chemical properties give rise the elaborate chemistry of life were forged in stars that lived and died long ago. 

In stars hydrogen atoms are forced together so strongly and at such high temperatures that they fuse together to make helium.  Then the helium fuses with hydrogen and with itself to make progressively heavier elements, lithium, beryllium, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen . . .  Heavier and heavier elements are created, and some of them become more abundant than others due the presence of 'islands of stability' - mathematically magical combinations of neutrons and protons to make the nuclei of stable elements.

This process of nuclear fusion continues through the life of a star, and at the end of that life the star explodes and its dust is scattered.  Given time, the interstellar wreckage of the first brightly burning stars was attracted back together into new stars, re-stocked with the hydrogen that makes them burn so brightly but containing the heavier elements that were the 'ash' of the previous generation.

Since the beginning of the universe there has already been time for several generations of stars, and most of the matter in your body must have existed in two or three suns before it came together to create our current solar system.  As our own local cloud of star dust condensed again most of the matter went into the sun itself, but a small proportion was moving at the right speed to resist the gravitational pull of our star and instead it coalesced into a rotating disk of dust, gradually forming the planets that we know today.

How the chemistry of the primordial soup turned into the chemistry of life is still a mystery to us.  Maybe science will understand the mechanism sooner or later, but already there are solid ideas about it.  The fact that these ideas are derided by creationists does not mean that they are not true.  The only 'evidences' that the creationists can offer are the 'argument from ignorance' and the idea of irreducible complexity.  Just because they personally can't believe that the universe came to be as it is today due to strict adherence to physical laws does not lend any support to the way they invoke a supernatural creator instead.

We are in fact the first generation of humans to know for certain that our solar system is not a unique accident, and indeed can now be quite sure that it was not created just for us by a creator god.  We can at last recognise that is in fact a circular argument to invoke such a being as a creator because it is the only way that you can explain the complexity of life .  Such a creator would have to be more complex than his creation.  If so, how was the creator created?  It is no use claiming that he was 'always there' for all time, because we now know that time itself wasn't there before the beginning of the universe as we know it.

What does that mean?  How could there be 'no time' before the beginning of time?  Well - think of it this way.  You have no problem with the notion that there is nothing to the north of the north pole do you?  So why is time any different?
Time itself began at the big bang.

However you consider it, we are only able to consider these exciting ideas because the stars died.  It is not that they 'died for you' like Jesus (didn't).  They were indifferent to you and me.  But if they had not died, we would not be living.

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