Monday, October 11, 2010

Ten Nerd Notes on God and Space

1. I alluded yesterday to my "No gods, no masters" comment on last week's panel (for the book Proud to Be Right, in which I have an essay, as you'll see on C-SPAN2, I'm told -- and in the meantime, don't forget THIS COMING THURSDAY'S 8PM "TODD SEAVEY VS. THE WORLD" MAN-VS.-AUDIENCE THROWDOWN AT LOLITA BAR). 

Ironically, I first heard the "No gods, no masters" slogan (which originated with Margaret Sanger and was picked up by punks) from Sam Goldman, punk turned blogger at the religious conservative magazine First Things (where the co-panelist with whom I sparred most last week was once a summer intern, for all the good it did her moral development). 

2. And that makes two or three times last week that my life crossed paths with First Things because Brian Finnerty -- who gave me a tour of the New York headquarters of Opus Dei a couple months ago and argued with me about the "cosmological anthropic principle," the idea that the universe is implausibly fine-tuned for the development of life -- told me last week that he'd mentioned our argument to an editor at First Things, who in turn suggested another staffer there write about the anthropic principle, yielding this post on the First Things website.  I work in mysterious, indirect ways. 

(I will just say briefly that, like Richard Dawkins, I take the view that any system that permitted replicating entities of some kind might eventually look as glorious as what we think of as life.  Some sort of strategizing will tend to confer a competitive advantage upon some replicators, so someday you might well see something resembling life and sentience in almost any "competitive" [that is, characterized by differential survival rates] system, even a system in which carbon as we know it doesn't exist.  We can't be sure our universe is the only impressive outcome possible -- and after all, even this universe has barely any life of which we are aware, compared to all that dark, cold emptiness.) 

3. Adam Braff informs me that one group of people who believe in a divine plan, oddly enough, may be the obscene band Insane Clown Posse, which would make them the second most depraved and violence-loving cabal of Christians of whom I am aware.  Their lyrics have inspired horrible "Juggalo crimes," after all.  (But then, would we condemn the book The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs simply because some of its readers were inspired to horrible actions?)

4. Meanwhile, in space: aliens are no doubt eager to meet the newly-appointed U.N. ambassador to outer space, tasked with greeting extraterrestrials.  After the U.N. has finished creating peace on Earth and preventing the temperature from rising one degree a century from now, I guess we'll be ready for grander challenges.

5. The U.S. military isn't waiting for the U.N. to greet the aliens, of course.  A few ex-military men at the National Press Club claim they've already seen UFOs hovering over American nuclear missile sites and shutting down the missiles.  The truly baffling part of this phenomenon is why the press cared about this particular announcement, when every year brings some new group of cranks, with no more or less evidence than this bunch, announcing that they know the secrets of the UFO conspiracy.  It's attention-seeking nonsense, not so unlike the cottage industry of guys claiming to have been in the CIA and to have been privy to all the terrible secrets, if you will but buy them a beer. 

6. If people are so eager to find space aliens, whether Martian or Heaven-sent, I suggest changing the named of the (legit) sky-watching project called SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) to YETI (the Yearning for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). 

7. On the other hand, it's nice to hear scientists have been finding more Earthlike planets out there, including one about the same temperature and size as us a mere twenty lightyears away.  If they actually do find extraterrestrial life, even just something akin to moss, and I miss the news by only a few decades, that will admittedly blow.  Unless it means I get to avoid the apocalyptic clash of civilizations and/or virus strains.  Not all aliens are as good for us as Superman.

8.  In the spirit of Columbus Day (the pro-exploration part, not the pro-conquest part), here's an exploration-related stumper: Austin Petersen drew my attention to this article about NASA space probes encountering some sort of resistance to their movement at the edge of the solar system.  Clearly, space hates our junk.   (Or, as is pointed out by my levelheaded, science-loving friend Chuck Blake -- who was invaluable in rebuilding at its new Blogger location, though I admit I have some more housekeeping to do -- it could be something as simple as unexpected meteoroids instead of a whole new antigravity force, and we should wait and see whether Pioneer 11 encounters the same problem as 10, and whether V'Ger, er, rather, the Voyagers do.)

9. Dimitri Cavalli informs me which jacket one should wear if a space mission goes well.

10. And the site Op-Toons has created a video inspired by the mounting popularity of Admiral Ackbar and the mercifully decreasing popularity of taxes and spending.

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