The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why I Don't Believe - The Great Chain Part 3

Understand that something on the order of 70% of the Universe is not matter in any way shape or form.  The vast majority of the Universe is not even made of the same stuff that we are.  Recognize that the kind of stuff that comprises our bodies and our world is only a tiny, infintesimal fraction of what the Universe is made of.  Does it naturally follow that God, sovereign over the Great All, is necessarily interested Matter?  Of course not.  Matter may well be an unwanted byproduct in some indescribably enormous cosmic construction project.

Level 2 - Dark Matter Versus Everything Else

But let us assume that God is in fact interested in matter.  That God's purpose in creating the Universe actually involves matter.  As God is the author of the ENTIRE Universe, it is prudent to understand how matter is organized in the Universe. Approximately 83.3 percent of the matter in the Universe is a substance known as Dark Matter. Dark matter only appears to interact with Ordinary Matter in one way – through gravity. In other words, Dark Matter could be pouring through you right this moment and you would be completely unaware of it.  We simply cannot and do not associate with Dark Matter in any meaningful way. Dark Matter only interacts with matter at all in the aggregate and on monumentally huge scales of existence.

This is important because Dark Matter through its predominance and its gravitational attraction forms the single largest object in the entire Universe – The Cosmic Dark Matter Web. This web is basically a massive gravitational structure of nodes and filaments that contains within it virtually all of the ordinary matter in the Universe. A vast gravitational scaffold holding the entirety of creation.

We can actually see the structure of the Cosmic Dark Matter Web through a process called Gravitational Lensing.  We can see the way in which gas and dust and galaxy clusters swirl endlessly within it.  A computer simulation of a small portion of this structure can be seen below.

This Web is unimaginably vast.  It extends as far as we are capable of seeing. Within this Web, is everything that the human eye has ever seen. Every galaxy, every supernova, every star, everything. Every object we have ever known swirls endlessly within this massive celestial scaffolding that we can neither see nor feel. Indeed, we can only 'see' its presence based on the way it causes the objects we CAN see to move and the way it causes light to bend.

Within this colossal web, lies all of the other matter in the Universe.  The remaining 16.7% of the matter in the Universe, everything made of atoms, all of the gas, dust, galaxies, stars and planets, constitute only a small fraction.  Endlessly swirling within the scaffold's gravity like sparkling specks in a snow globe.  And all that matter, all of those atoms, everything made of the same stuff that we are is less than 5% of the Universe.

The scale of this immense structure is truly awe inspiring.  It contains literally hundreds of billions if not trillions of galaxies. Each galaxy containing hundreds of billions if not trillions of individual stars, most of which host swarms of planets, comets and asteroids, just like our own humble star.  The complexity is staggeringly beautiful.  Elegant beyond anything the human mind or hand could ever achieve.  The product of billions of years of cosmic evolution.  The Cosmic Dark Matter Web is a wonder in and of itself and the Atheist is free to marvel in attempting to understand its enormity.  The Atheist can understand it free of any theological concerns regarding its age, its immensity, or what its innumerable galaxies portends for the significance of our species in comparison to the Sovereign of the Great All.  The Atheist is free to smile at our cosmic insignificance and allow the immensity of the Great All to set the mind free.

The Religious, in contrast, must contend with this immensity and explain how and why we, out of the entire Universe, are special to God.  Why we have captured his rapt attention.  Why our galaxy, our star, our planet, our species have captured his attention and caused him to intervene on our behalf.  While the Atheist can look at the stars and bask in our irrelevance, the Religious cannot do so.  The Religious must explain how and why our small, short lived, transitory, narcissistic species is important, despite the fact that every shred of evidence in the Universe howls that we are insignificant.

Even if one were to assume that God is interested in matter over dark energy, does it necessarily follow that God is interested in our kind of matter? That God is interested in atoms? Is it not equally plausible that such a being is far more interested in the immense celestial scaffolding that spans the breadth of the Universe? Is it not equally possible that God is interested in Dark Matter? The being that created the Big Bang is sovereign over the entirety of the Universe, after all. If that being is interested in Gravitational effects, is interested the collection of gas or matter or some other unknowable purpose, it is entirely plausible that God is far more interested in Dark Matter than our ordinary matter.

Level 3 - Our Galaxy Versus Every Other Galaxy

And even if one assumes that God is interested in ordinary matter, does it necessarily follow that God would have any particular attachment or interest in our portion of the Universe, to our Cluster of Galaxies, to our Galactic Family, to our own Milky Way?  Of course not.

Within the Web, is all of the ordinary matter in the Universe.  Enormous concentrations of matter connected by filaments of gas and dust billions of light years long. These enormous concentrations of matter contain the majority of the free hydrogen and helium gas in the Universe as well as the majority of the galactic structures within the Universe. Over time these enormous concentrations of matter evolved into Supercluster Complexes, which coalesced to form vast walls of galaxies that can span billions of light years across. These Complexes are so vast that they appear to be clouds of innumerable galaxies. These clouds are in turn composed of Galactic Superclusters which span hundreds of millions of light years across.

The following image was taken by the Hubble Telescope.  Taken over 10 days, this image is of a patch of empty sky about the size of a dime... located 75 feet away.  Within that random tiny patch of empty sky, Hubble imaged over 1500 individual galaxies, like the Milky Way, each containing countless billions or trillions of stars.  All within a patch of seemingly empty sky easily covered by your thumb.  The wonder and majesty of that simple fact is breathtaking.

Each Galactic Supercluster contains tens of thousands to millions of galaxies. Estimates place the number of individual galaxies in the visible Universe at somewhere around 200,000,000,000.  To put some perspective on how enormous 200,000,000,000 actually is, recognize that the odds of correctly selecting all five balls and the powerball in the Powerball Lottery is 1 in 195,249,054. This means that if you randomly selected a single galaxy out of all of the galaxies in the observable Universe, you would be more than a THOUSAND TIMES MORE LIKELY TO WIN POWERBALL than you would be to select the Milky Way Galaxy.

Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is located within the Virgo Supercluster.  As Superclusters contain tens of thousands to millions of galaxies, these titanic collections of galaxies are divided into Clusters of Galaxies.  These Clusters tend to orbit one another, and these Clusters are in turn divided into Groups of dozens of galaxies. Our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, is a member of what is called the Local Group.  A small collection of about thirty galaxies containing our sister Galaxy, the Andromeda as well as a few smaller galaxies that are in the process of colliding with, and being consumed by, our own Milky Way Galaxy.

The groups within these Superclusters act like families of galaxies, slowly orbiting the common center of mass. Within the group itself, the constituent galaxies endless orbit one another around the group's common center of mass, occasionally merging with another galaxy. Indeed, our own Galaxy is in the process of merging with two smaller galaxies right this moment, slowly tearing them apart and incorporating their stars, black holes, gas and dust into itself.

In order to believe that God, out of all the Universe, is interested in our Galaxy, one not only has to assume that God is interested in matter over energy and prefers ordinary matter over dark matter, but one also has to assume that God has chosen our galaxy out of an endless sea of 200,000,000,000 other galaxies, that he has chosen the Virgo Supercluster, then the Virgo Cluster, then the Local Group and finally the Milky Way.

Does that seem logical?  The Atheist examines the Universe and sees not the hand of the divine, but cosmic evolution.  The Atheist watches and marvels as gravity drives clouds of gas into spinning maelstroms.  Smiles as the gas and dust within those maelstroms collapse into dazzling balls of individual light, endlessly circling within their galaxy.  Gapes as entire galaxies collide and merge.  Is filled with awe and reverence as stars explode, enriching the interstellar medium with the stuff of life - carbon, oxygen, silicon, iron.  The Atheist has no need to believe that our corner of the Universe is somehow special, that our planet, our star, our galaxy is somehow unique.  The Atheist can view the evidence and can approach an understanding of the Universe with humility and reverence.  The Atheist can allow the size and scope and scale of the Universe and the elegant machinations of gravity to wash over them.

The Religious confront that evidence with skepticism and arrogance.  Because to understand our smallness, to understand our cosmic insignificance directly conflicts with their sacred texts.  With their Religious understanding.  And unlike Atheism, Religious Understanding must always be filtered, must always adhere to ancient understandings regardless of whether those understandings can withstand the sea of evidence uncovered as we began to see the true nature of the cosmos.


  1. I find it a bit interesting that you would base your scientific facts on the findings of astro-physicist experts, and yet you base your religious notion on childish notions of God having to have picked our little earth and its solar system, galaxy, local cluster, etc... As if it could not occur to you that if there is a supreme Being, it would not somehow apply to ALL that is, and would be integral to the entire universe, not just one tiny part of it...

    So yes, I don't subscribe to the quaint religious ideas of most religious movements either, but then again those institutions are not exactly expert in these fields either (even if they think they are). At the basis of spiritual and religious movement of worth have always been visionary type figures, mystics, and it is not even mentioned what their world of experience might have touched upon.

    Atheism is as much a belief system as any other, and subscribing to it just means that you have locked out the possibility that there is such a thing as true, direct experience of the universe, not merely by means of the intellect and the senses. Not merely reflective experience but direct experience. So yes, if you subscribe to Atheism you would feel (much like the religious people) that you would need to address the other belief systems as fraudulent or unreal. But you are really functioning on the exact same level as they are, namely from the reflective, belief-based mindset that negates direct, mystical experience of the universe is impossible.

    'Mystical' doesn't mean "whoooooo, it is mysterious....". Mystical at its core means that which touches everything but is untouched by anything. That which stands on its own but from which everything is effected. We have no trouble talking about quantum fields and underlaying levels of energy and reality, but somehow cannot believe it ties into consciousness in any way. But it may very well be that consciousness is not some sort of freak accident of certain life-forms, but is actually fundamental to the universe itself. And that the generation of life-forms able to carry self-consciousness, as well as being inextricably linked to the universal consciousness, is part of the natural unfolding of the universe.

  2. Modern philosophers and consciousness experts have no problem admitting that consciousness itself cannot be measured other than by the unique and complex electro-magnetic brainwave activity (for example as measurable by EEG). Yet if that is the most intimate measure of consciousness, we might want to look at the electro-magnetic activity of the Sun, which shows similar complexity and scope. So if that is the measure, then why is not the Sun itself a candidate for consciousness? It is after all the CENTRAL reason we can even exist, yet we consider it dumb and lifeless, and just a set of chemical reactions. Yet what do you think we look like from afar? Even with all our inventions, we look like a mass of matter generating other forms of matter, it is just because we are stuck on the ego-idea that we think and feel this to be different. Or rather, we feel comfortable dedicating the most noble of human emotion and notions to your own achievements and beings, but do not want to extend these to the grand realities of the Sun, Planets, and the Cosmos at large. They are not smaller than us, they are bigger. Not just in size, but in the very being-ness of which we would so callously strip them.

    We think love a quaintly human thing, that does not exist in the cold cosmos outside of us. But isn't this notion, so valiantly put forth as Atheism, really a highly reactionary mental condition that is actually in greatest part caused by Christianity's woeful history? The arrogance of 'only this, only here' stemming from the Church's constant unwilling acceptance of every new scientific discovery in the time of Galileo (and before and after)? Atheism as belief system is no different in NATURE than the Christian or any other belief system. It also seems to -- at times as tactlessly as the other religions -- seek to invalidate the mystical experience of people from ancient times til now. Religions are always the weak extract and organizational mimicry of the mystical/universal experiences of the individual(s). Without understanding this Atheists often get no further than their other religious brothers.

    And you cannot knock what you yourself also do, and it doesn't matter if you realize it or not. Belief is belief, it is not knowing. Yet you have not given your all to experience the universe and yourself directly and deeply. It is the hardest things you'd ever do, and not for the faint of heart. But the universe and you are greater than an impotent belief system, it can speak to you and you to it, and you can feel its life running through your veins.