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Thread: Astronomy Illiterate?

  1. #1 Astronomy Illiterate? 
    Ron
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    Do you think that part of the reason why so many people believe in a God is that they just are not savvy when it comes to astronomy? It seems that the majority of people are woefully deficient when it comes to understanding the cosmos. If they really understood how big... how really ENORMOUS the universe is, and how many stars, planets, and other objects there are, perhaps they would find it more difficult to posit that a being could have been the prime cause of it all.

    I think that most people have the "Star Trek" mentality in regards to the universe. In other words, they have this notion (due in large part to TV) that it is, if not easy, then certainly "feasible" to zip across the cosmos from planet to planet and star to star (assuming a technology only slightly more advanced than our space shuttle). They are not familiar with the numbers, distances, timescales, forces, sizes, and physics that govern our universe. In fact, they don't give cosmology much thought at all. They live in the confines of the here and now. To them, a picture taken by Hubble is, well... just a picture. They fail to see the story that the picture tells. The story that light has travelled for millions or billions of years before being captured by Hubble's lens. That it would literally take thousands, or millions, of earths to fill up the volume of most stars. That we are just a Gamma Ray Burst away from extinction. To them, the universe is merely "big." To them it's a "quaint" universe. It's static. It's traversable. It's benign. And it's here for us.

    I realize that some may take the very points I have made as even more proof that there is a God. But... do they REALLY understand the cosmology involved? I can say that from my own personal experience the religious faithful that I interact with do not have even a 5th grade understanding of astronomy. That's not to say they are not savvy (or even exceptional) in other areas. But they certainly do not grasp (or are not aware of) the concepts I have made. And I often wonder if their religious views would be changed if they had a better understanding of Astronomy.

    Ron


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  3. #2  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Interesting point, but I think a heightened awareness of the immensity of the universe would only serve to confirm their belief that there must be a creator.


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    I would think that people who are biblical literalist are probably ignorant about a lot more than cosmology.

    When it comes to other types of religious people, I think it has less to do with ignorance and more to do with life experience and psychology.
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  5. #4  
    Ron
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    To most people, the universe is the sun, the earth, the moon and the stars. Objects that they can see when they look up at the sky. To them, it's just "scenery." They have no knowledge of stars and galaxies beyond our senses. Of forces unseen. Of chaos, birth and violent destruction. Of man's extremely recent appearance on the the cosmological stage. If they understood, they may wonder why a creator would manufacture celestial events so removed from us in time and space. What purpose is served by the creation and subsequent death of a star 10 million years ago and on the other side of the universe? How many millions of these sorts of events occured (and will occur) that we will simply never know about? It all makes sense in a naturalistic view of the universe. Less so in a universe that was created by a being with us as the focal point. Why does God enact events that have no impact on us whatsoever, and furthermore, cannot even be known about? I think that these are questions that can only be asked by the astronomically savvy. And they raise serious doubts about a God. Just my 2 cents.

    Ron
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    To be truly religious in the conventional sense - believing in a creator of the universe who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent - requires a suspension of disbelief known as an Act of Faith. I call it gullibility.

    Frequently, but not always, this is accompanied by an ignorance of good science. There are, however, people who have gone through university, and obtained a Ph.D. in biology, with the intent from the start, to use their new skills to cast doubt on the Biological Principle of evolution. This shows the robustness of religious faith. A person who truly believes in their faith will not be swayed by mere science.

    I had an argument not long ago with a person who believes the Earth is only 6,000 years old. It was not even an argument about evolution. I described in some detail the scientific evidence showing that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and it made not a dent on that person's belief. Having faith is like a suit of armour. It deflects science and good sense, and retains the fallaceous beliefs within.

    I have often thought that there is little difference between the personal quality that permits strong religious faith, and that quality that lets a person be convinced by a charismatic charlaton into investing their life savings in a scam.

    Indeed, several founders of major religions were clear cut swindlers. Joseph Smith who founded Mormonism, and L. Ron. Hubbard who founded Scientology were both excellent con artists with the gift of the gab, and both managed to convince their followers to give them lots of money. Of the two, Hubbard did better, ending his life sailing round the world on a luxury yacht, rolling in $$$$. Joseph Smith came to a sticky end, lynched by a mob of his victims.
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  7. #6  
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    The Big Bang universe, further capped by c and quanta, is quaint. It's cosy and tailored to humanity, compared to an infinite & constant universe. My feel for it tells me it is infinite and constant in all dimensions, yet our best understnding tells me it's only five times older than life on Earth. That science says the universe is much larger than religions imagine, is no qualitative difference.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  8. #7  
    Ron
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    I had an argument not long ago with a person who believes the Earth is only 6,000 years old. It was not even an argument about evolution. I described in some detail the scientific evidence showing that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and it made not a dent on that person's belief. Having faith is like a suit of armour. It deflects science and good sense, and retains the fallaceous beliefs within.
    Indeed. And I wonder how knowledgeable that person was when it comes to astronomy. My guess is not very. Anyway, I too recently had a discussion with a "believer" myself. She was emphatic that nothing, and I mean absolutely NOTHING, would change her belief in a God! It's sad that someone could be so committed to something that even evidence to the contrary would be denied! Such is the power of brainwashing at an early age.


    Ron
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  9. #8 Re: Astronomy Illiterate? 
    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ron
    Do you think that part of the reason why so many people believe in a God is that they just are not savvy when it comes to astronomy?
    It could certainly play a role, but there is a lot of research right now showing that we are genetically predisposed toward belief. It is essentially an emergent property of the mechanisms our brains have evolved to solve very specific challenges.

    Some of these mechanisms are things like the ability to mentally rehearse interactions with "unseen others." We can imagine what another person might do if they were around, even though they are not present. We also have the ability to understand their thoughts.

    On top of that, we tend to purpose causes to things at a young age. You ask a child, "What is the purpose of that bird?" and they will respond "Its purpose is to sing!" Or, if you ask them, "What is the purpose of that rock?" they will respond, "It's for sitting on!" Things like that. We as children are naturally inclined to assign purpose to things even when no such purpose exists.

    Essentially, when you take all of these different mechanisms which evolved on their own, and you put them together, you see the emergent property of our tendency toward belief.

    There's a lot of really cool research into the evolution of our predisposition toward religion and our tendency toward belief in deities. For example, check out the work of Andy Thompson.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iMmvu9eMrg
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    Science erodes the influence of various mythologies. As the mythology is removed from religion so decreases the overlying legitimacy of beliefs. No, Jesus did not rise from the dead, no gold at the end of the rainbow, and oak trees don't have spirits.

    Once the mythologies erode then the values they have rooted don't necessarily diminish but start to drift. People cast off irrational beliefs like that in Jesus, angels, devils, etc. but retain small 'c' christian values. Morality remains pan-society regardless of beliefs.

    Knowledge of all science chips away at mythology. I don't think it needs to be 'the big stuff' like cosmology. It is much more subtle. The 'stuff' around us in daily lives begin to have rational explanations....the stars, the Sun, seasons, sunsets, seeds sprouting, sickness and a thousand other things that no longer need a mythology to explain.

    In the 21st century belief in a god has been reduced to many peple as a question of 'how it all started' or a residual throw-away statement such as 'there must something' and then they return to a daily life more and more devoid of mythlology. Science doesn't need a god but lots of people still do... but less than last year but more than will need one next year.
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  11. #10 Re: Astronomy Illiterate? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ron
    If they really understood how big... how really ENORMOUS the universe is, and how many stars, planets, and other objects there are, perhaps they would find it more difficult to posit that a being could have been the prime cause of it all.
    So you think that the universe is too big to be created by an omnipotent being? That doesn't even make sense, Ron.

    The big bang theory was developed by a Catholic priest named Lemaitre, and many people in the church were quite happy with what they viewed as its consistency with the Biblical creation story.

    There is a crackpot who posts on the Astronomy subforum, or used to, I haven't seen him lately, who thinks that the big bang is being foisted upon us by the church. He believes in the steady state theory.

    I can say that from my own personal experience the religious faithful that I interact with do not have even a 5th grade understanding of astronomy.
    Your limited personal experience hardly provides evidence for your half baked theory.
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  12. #11  
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    Harold

    What you say has a significant amount of merit. However, there are still a large number of strongly religious people who object to the Big Bang theory. I suspect their main objection is to the time scales involved. Nearly 14 billion years does not tally with anything written in the bible, so they get upset about it.
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  13. #12 Re: Astronomy Illiterate? 
    Ron
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    Quote Originally Posted by Ron
    If they really understood how big... how really ENORMOUS the universe is, and how many stars, planets, and other objects there are, perhaps they would find it more difficult to posit that a being could have been the prime cause of it all.
    So you think that the universe is too big to be created by an omnipotent being? That doesn't even make sense, Ron.

    The big bang theory was developed by a Catholic priest named Lemaitre, and many people in the church were quite happy with what they viewed as its consistency with the Biblical creation story.

    There is a crackpot who posts on the Astronomy subforum, or used to, I haven't seen him lately, who thinks that the big bang is being foisted upon us by the church. He believes in the steady state theory.

    I can say that from my own personal experience the religious faithful that I interact with do not have even a 5th grade understanding of astronomy.
    Your limited personal experience hardly provides evidence for your half baked theory.
    No. I was pointing out that the faithful seem to have less knowledge of astronomy than atheists do. Actually, studies reveal that a majority of astronomers\scientists are atheists (however the majority percentage varies depending on the particular study). So there does seem to be a correlation.

    Yes, we know about Lemaitre. And it's easy to see why the average churchgoer might be wooed by the theory. But how many astrophysicists are there that believe in a 6,000 year old earth? I suspect not many.

    And how exactly would you have any knowledge whatsoever of my personal experiences?

    Ron
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  14. #13 Re: Astronomy Illiterate? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ron
    No. I was pointing out that the faithful seem to have less knowledge of astronomy than atheists do. Actually, studies reveal that a majority of astronomers\scientists are atheists (however the majority percentage varies depending on the particular study). So there does seem to be a correlation.
    Congratulations. You are one of the enlightened ones.
    And how exactly would you have any knowledge whatsoever of my personal experiences?

    Ron
    The point is, your personal experience, or anyone else's, is necessarily limited. I discount that as evidence.
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  15. #14  
    Ron
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    Congratulations. You are one of the enlightened ones.
    Indeed. :-)

    The point is, your personal experience, or anyone else's, is necessarily limited. I discount that as evidence.
    My personal experiences are not yours to discount. Besides, I'm not trying to "prove" anything here. I'm merely pointing out my observations and opinions.

    Ron
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  16. #15  
    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ron
    The point is, your personal experience, or anyone else's, is necessarily limited. I discount that as evidence.
    My personal experiences are not yours to discount. Besides, I'm not trying to "prove" anything here. I'm merely pointing out my observations and opinions.
    The challenge with this, Ron, is that your anecdotal experiences... besides being rather subjective and biased... do not form a representative sample of the population. Ergo, forming conclusions based on that limited and and biased dataset would be unhelpful.

    While I agree with the general tenor of your thread (that more educated tends to mean less religious, especially in fields like biology and astronomy), Harold is quite right that you are drawing these conclusions based on non-repeatable/non-representative (anecdotal) perceptions.
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    "more educated tends to mean less religious, especially in fields like biology and astronomy" is not in line with your next statement: "based on non-repeatable/non-representative (anecdotal) perceptions"

    It's entirely repeatable and hardly anecdotal. There are studies proving this. It was long ago when I read the one I am thinking of, yet I also know the numbers have been confirmed alot of times.

    I have no doubts about the statement : "more educated tends to mean less religious, especially in fields like biology and astronomy"
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    An aside: (not trying to hijack your thread)

    I once heard a fascinating talk about 'sizes'...the physicist was poking fun at Carl Sagans 'billions and billions' and showing how the 'WOW' factor means nothing in science.

    Is the universe enormous? The reverse question can also be asked....why is it so young and small? A human may be enormous compared to a grain of sand but is down right puny compared to the size of the earth.

    The number of stars is estimated at 10 to the 21st power. That seems a lot but but is only one millionth the size of a universe (if it existed) with 10 to the 27th number of stars. Why isn't the universe a quintillion times bigger or a quintillion times a quintillion times bigger. A universe 13 billion years old has barely got out the door....so the size of universe is almost a speck on a mote compared to its potential size. Do we call the seed of a redwood tree 'enormous'? The universe is like that redwood seed. A speck in size next to it's potential.

    Then again the universe can't be compared to anything else. It's can't be smaller of bigger or younger or older than it is.
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  19. #18  
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    Quote Originally Posted by C_Sensei
    "more educated tends to mean less religious, especially in fields like biology and astronomy" is not in line with your next statement: "based on non-repeatable/non-representative (anecdotal) perceptions"
    I'm not sure I follow your criticism, C_Sensei. I stated that I agreed with the general tenor of the thread, it's just that Ron is basing this on nothing more than his own anecdotal experiences.

    If he wishes to share actual empirical evidence in support of his assertions, then so be it. However, he has yet to do that, hence Harold's criticisms are valid and appropriate.


    Quote Originally Posted by C_Sensei
    It's entirely repeatable and hardly anecdotal.
    I agree with you that it's possible to support such a claim. However, such support has not yet been offered, and hence remains FIRMLY in the realm of his own anecdotal and non-representative experiences (at least within the context of this thread).

    In essence, he's forming conclusions based on a population bias, since his population is limited solely to the people he's met.


    Quote Originally Posted by C_Sensei
    There are studies proving this. It was long ago when I read the one I am thinking of, yet I also know the numbers have been confirmed alot of times.
    I, too, am well aware of the inverse relationship between education and religious belief. However, that is tangential to his actual claim. He specifically references astronomy, not education level.


    Quote Originally Posted by C_Sensei
    I have no doubts about the statement : "more educated tends to mean less religious, especially in fields like biology and astronomy"
    Nor do I.
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  20. #19  
    Ron
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Quote Originally Posted by Ron
    The point is, your personal experience, or anyone else's, is necessarily limited. I discount that as evidence.
    My personal experiences are not yours to discount. Besides, I'm not trying to "prove" anything here. I'm merely pointing out my observations and opinions.
    The challenge with this, Ron, is that your anecdotal experiences... besides being rather subjective and biased... do not form a representative sample of the population. Ergo, forming conclusions based on that limited and and biased dataset would be unhelpful.

    While I agree with the general tenor of your thread (that more educated tends to mean less religious, especially in fields like biology and astronomy), Harold is quite right that you are drawing these conclusions based on non-repeatable/non-representative (anecdotal) perceptions.

    Anecdotal - yes, of course. Subjective and biased - no. It is simply what I have observed over a long period of time. Nothing more and nothing less.

    Thanks.

    Ron
    :-)
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    As I already said, I agree with that. It's that I don't think this is anecdotal at all asI recall reading (probably MORE than one) study on this very question.

    The problem in this forum is that all of us are too lazy to go out and do the trenchwork finding the sources to back up this statement. I know it is not only out on the internet; it's also hiding somewhere out the back, in a plastic container, in my notes, as a journal assigned reading reference or else a copied handout from a journal! - Only I haven't cracked open those notes for over ten years now!


    And this being a science forum - one of us should really go out and get the figures to backup the statement! This is why I say it isn't anecdotal - the figures exist to prove it. What do we call that situation then? Proof apathetically pending?
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