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My Take: Space travel is a spiritual experience
July 6th, 2011
12:54 PM ET

My Take: Space travel is a spiritual experience

Atlantis' journey to Alpha, the international space station, will be NASA's 135th and final mission in the space shuttle program, which began 30 years ago. Tune in to CNN's live coverage of the launch Friday, starting at 10 a.m. ET on CNN, CNN.com/Live and the CNN mobile apps. Then check out "CNN Presents: Beyond Atlantis" Friday at 10 p.m. ET.

Editor's Note: Madhu Thangavelu conducts the Space Exploration Architecture Concept Synthesis Studio at the University of Southern California.

By Madhu Thangavelu, Special to CNN

Religion and scientific pursuits parted company centuries ago, at least in the eyes of the public.

Everyone knows the story of Galileo, who stood by his empirical evidence of the Copernican, sun-centered view of our solar system even under the threat of death by the church’s preferred method for punishing heresy: burning at the stake.

The church confined Galileo to house arrest for the rest of his life.

America's Space program, then and now

And yet for millennia, religion was the primary purveyor of science, especially astronomy. That’s evident in the symbols and images projected in cathedrals and mosques and temples all over the world. For a long time, the heavens belonged to God and religion, and scientists from Newton to Einstein have framed scientific inquiry as a divine investigation.

It’s worth noting that the term “big bang”, though coined by astronomer Fred Hoyle, was conceived by a clergyman, Monsignor Georges Lamaitre of Belgium.

Today, human space activity offers an important venue for exploring the potential for meaningful relationships between science and religion – or at least science and spirituality.

Religion stripped of all customs and liturgical practice may be called spirituality. It’s the wonderment that explorers feel when they are exposed to nature’s secrets and to new dimensions of human experience.

Photographing the end of U.S. shuttle program

While robotic spacecraft roam the solar system, sending back images from far-off worlds, the yearning of humanity to be physically present there is what drives NASA and others to pursue space exploration. Without a vibrant human space activity component, NASA may not have a reason to exist.

As the Atlantis space shuttle prepares for its last mission on Friday, the private sector will probably now lead the way in manned space flight.
Space explorers continue to seek an intense spiritual experience and are willing to risk their lives for it, and I’m confident that that will continue to drive space travel innovation.

We call this new group of adventurers “space tourists,” but they’re mostly spiritual pilgrims seeking to experience and appreciate man’s place in the universe.

On the shuttle, the spiritual experience begins at liftoff. With their eyes on the glass cockpit and their ears tuned to mission control above the roar of those mighty engines, the crew is praying for a successful and smooth launch.

That’s because, despite checks and cross checks and counter checks, despite the best efforts of ground crew and controllers, many things can still go wrong in such a complex system.

A space town's goodbye

The monitoring of the final minutes before launch are so rigorous and intense that the entire sequence is handed off from the crew to a set of computers. When your life is in the hands of machines, prayer is important.

As the boosters fall off and the ride becomes much smoother, astronauts start to see nature’s spectacle through the windows. Their eyes, though fixed to the mach numbers steadily climbing higher than twenty times that of a speeding bullet, are gripped by the awe of the space environment.

A few minutes later, after the final thrust that puts them into orbit, the engines shut off and their bodies released from the force of gravity, the crew is overtaken by the awesome majesty of the Earth’s disc. They are experiencing a spiritual awakening that words cannot express.

Their bodies, meanwhile, are adjusting to an environment without gravity.

Upon arrival at the International Space Station, the first thing they do is look out at planet Earth. The space station sports an Italian-made cupola, a large and exquisite window that looks toward planet Earth, and it is perhaps the most aesthetic component of the entire facility. What domed cathedral could substitute for this “live Earth” for a ceiling?

The International Space Station crew spend a lot of their free time just looking out from the cupola and marveling at the dynamic colors and drama the Earth gliding below them offers, as the day becomes night and back again, all in a matter of minutes, as they orbit the planet.

I have had astronauts stare me in the eye when I pose the question, “How does it feel to be walking on the surface of the moon?”
Well, you really have to be there to experience it, they say.

While in space, their sensory systems are turned up to highest alertness levels, heartbeats racing like athletes during peak performance, and they are soaking in terabits of information. The rush of data is simply too hard to debrief, in technical terms, prose or poetry.

Though they are fully aware that Newton and Kepler’s laws of gravity and motion guided them there, some have told me that their minds gravitate toward their religious traditions’ scriptures.

Most crew of space missions come back changed forever. Astronauts do not see national boundaries, they do not see warring nations, and they rarely notice the ravages of humanity and industry on the face of the planet.

All they see is a stunningly vibrant planet, lots of rich blue-aquamarine ocean, virgin white snowtops on chains of mountain ranges and puffs of cloud cover as the continents whizz by below them in absolute silence. No one is asking them for country of origin or standing in line for visa verification.

They see the whole world as one giant, harmonious living entity. They are immersed in warm and caring embrace; a feeling of oneness with nature is inescapable. From orbit, the idea of a common humanity becomes reality.

If that’s not a spiritual awakening, what is?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Madhu Thangavelu.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Culture & Science • Opinion • Spirituality • Technology

soundoff (211 Responses)
  1. Muneef

    A true Space experience can be seen here;
    http://www.eholyquran.com/Quran/Zavosh/man.htm

    July 6, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Nuneef

      That's cool. I didn't know Muslims did that.

      July 6, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Muneef

      Did what exactly?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  2. Matt

    "What happened to the lure of space?" Simple......no more soviets out there to compete with. We're no longer driven to outpace the "the other."

    July 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Scanland

      You are incorrect. China is using our money to fund their space program. They will pass us rapidly once they get rid of their totalitarianism and roll up their sleeves. Or maybe they'll never surpass us in space. They sure aren't surpassing us in freedom.
      We're still ahead in the freedom department, but space isn't an ideology. It's a place. Technology is supported by science, not ideology. And science is supported by people who want to support it. Now we are in trouble. Manipulation of people's minds is why our children are barely able to pass tests compared to other countries.
      And this anti-education movement is in direct opposition to education, facts, truth, and science among other things.
      Who is doing this anti-education stuff? How many different groups of people are actively messing around with the cirriculums in our schools and universities? Where are our trade schools? This isn't progress, this is retardation of human expansion and success. This is failure to do the right thing. Religion is not helping us to make progress, but is keeping us back in the name of comfort and delusion. Comfort is fine, but delusion is not.
      Get your intentions straight, people!

      July 7, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  3. Jirka

    "At the dawn of the space program, kids wanted to be astronauts. Where did that fascination go? " Actually, a lot of American kids tried to be astronauts, because they took up space in school. As funny as this may seem, it is really a sad commentary on reality!

    July 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  4. AmazingSteve

    Did Deepak Chopra get an alter-ego? More of the same vague, wishy-washy, feelgood nonsense with no practical purpose.

    Look, I can spout spiritual gibberish, too:

    Americans truly love baseball because it is such a deeply spiritual experience. The teams working together bring a sense of harmony to the entire world. An athlete's senses are turned up to the maximum, ready to react to anything, and in that almost superhuman state they feel closer to God/Jesus/Nirvana/Shiva/The Mighty Thor. Specifically for the Christians, what could be more spiritual than following a trinity of bases to get home?

    July 6, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Amazing Steve: What is this fear that people have about emotions? It is not wrong to acknowledge that things make you feel good. Thankfully not everything has to be about practicality. That would make for a very dull life indeed.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • DeepPak Your Cheeks Ra Ra Ra

      It's spiritual. Woo woo. so I can get paid for writing about it. Woo woo Woo hoo!

      July 6, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Scanland

      Frogist, I see nothing to indicate a fear of emotions in AmazingSteve's post. He made a pretty good joke, too.
      What do you say about people being "blinded" by their emotions? Is that a good thing, do you think?

      July 7, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  5. bill

    well driving from one town to the next cost an arm and a leg of fuel, You would think going to the moon would be a tadd more.

    July 6, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Scanland

      Don't get me started on the oil industry. Just don't.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  6. Reality

    From Professor Madhu Thangavelu (Hindu? but who apparently keeps his religion to himself)

    "While robotic spacecraft roam the solar system, sending back images from far-off worlds, the yearning of humanity to be physically present there is what drives NASA and others to pursue space exploration. Without a vibrant human space activity component, NASA may not have a reason to exist."

    NASA will continue to exist because they have shown that we do not need humans to explore the universe. We have learned and continue to learn more from NASA's orbiting telescopes and rovers than we ever have or will learn from manned explorations to the Moon. And we definitely don't need to send a few men and women to Mars when we have sent and will continue to send rovers and satellites to gather scientific information at a fraction of the cost. And indeed I get very "spiritual" when I see the faces and success of the NASA and JPL engineers and scientists as they see their creations land and/or circle our planets knowing full well that said success is due to my support via my tax dollars. Great and continuing science, education and entertainment for less than $60 per taxpayer per year.

    July 6, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Reality: I'm right there with you, Reality.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Very interesting Mr. R. Do you realize, (am sure you do), that within the lifetimes of our, (my) grandchildren, there will be self-evolving, (ie programmed to react and self correct instantly to/from their own mistakes and new environmental challenges), (maybe silicon based) intelligence systems, (robots), as well as implantable nano systems , (into their brain circuitry) for the old carbon based systems, (humans), which will plug into the outlet and download every book and article, and video ever written, and every scientific advance and concept ever discovered or created. The long slow upward sloping curve of intelligence systems on planet Earth is about to go parabolic ! Very exciting.

      July 6, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Bucky Ball

      Hey, there my friend... Did you just post that from one of the alternate universes with reverse spin...? 😀 LOL.

      BTW- I don't think you ever did spill the beans on how you were able to write upside down...?

      Hope that you are well, -Bucky...

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 6, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Yo Peace.
      No I didn't did I ? Let me think up a bit of a puzzle to reveal it.
      Well, maybe not. How about :
      əɹəɥʇ+ıɥ=pɹoʍ¿dɥd˙ʇxəʇuʍopəpısdn/ɯoɔ˙oəuʎuuns˙ʍʍʍ//:dʇʇɥ
      😈

      July 6, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Bucky Ball

      ˙˙˙əɔɐəd 'spɹɐƃəɹ ¡ llɐq ʎʞɔnq sʞuɐɥʇ ¡ ʍoəɯ s,ʇɐɔ əɥʇ sıɥʇ ʇ,uıɐ 'lləʍ 😀

      July 6, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Scanland

      Thanks for the extra eyestrain, Bucky Ball! If I wanted to read everything upside down I'd stand on my head or change the settings on my display-screen. Not trying to be a party-pooper, though. The formatting is lost and the letters uneven as a result.
      A proper upside down text would preserve the letters in their proper relation to one another. Okay, I'm a party-pooper. 😦

      July 7, 2011 at 1:53 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      @Scanland
      Go ta bed. 😈

      July 7, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • Scanland

      Now you're being the party-pooper! 😯

      July 7, 2011 at 4:52 am |
  7. Jim

    If space exploration is spiritual how about the churches that hoard treasures give some of it to science? As John Donne said in Meditation XVII (No Man is an Island), "If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels." If there is a god, why are those that believe in the supernatural and mystical afraid of science? After all, by their reasoning, it is but an extension of god.

    July 6, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • brad

      "....by their reasoning, it is but an extension of god"
      Jim, you might consult the other atheists about this. They insist religious people can't use reasoning.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Brad
      It's not that we think religious people CAN'T use reason, just that some choose not to.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • brad

      @ Doc

      Thanks for the sane response. It's refreshing.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Scanland

      It's also true. Avoid reasoning and you are being unreasonable. Unreasonable people can be more dangerous than reasonable people, brad. I think that has been said by many people, some of them religious.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:56 am |
  8. Justin Observation

    Religion is based in Astrology, not Astronomy, that's why they have symbols of stars and such. That is why the story of Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection exactly match the progression of the sun throughout the year. The three kings are the stars of Orion's belt that line up to where the sun rises on Dec. 25th, spring equinox is the sun conquering the darkness, it then rules in heaven, king of kings translates into the star of stars, yada yada yada....

    July 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      That is true.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IibiiEJAoK8

      July 6, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Astrology is religion's predecessor on the evolutionary tree of manmade beliefs. One day, when you visit places like 'Vegas, there will be a booth right beside the astrologer's with a sign that says "Become A Believer In Jesus And Win A Million Dollars – Only 5$" and there will be a line up of people to deposit their money...

      July 6, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  9. Kennedy Space Center Employee

    NASA currently has no vision, no plan, no funding, and no vehicle. NASA is in complete disarray.
    It's easy to see why we've lost the support of a large percentage of the general public.

    July 6, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  10. vel

    A sense of wonder doesnt' require any gods or supernatural. Each religion wants to say "look at the universe! *MY* god did that" and each of them has no more evidence than the rest. i am quite satisfied to not beleive that some petty god, that hates anythign that doesn't constantly worship it, created the wonders, and horrors, of the universe. What kind of a loving god creates guinea worms, flesh eating bacteria, rabies, etc. take the universe as it is, not some delusional version where *you* are the center of some divine attention.

    July 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • brad

      I must have misunderstood. I thought that evolution began with nothing and produced guinea worms, flesh eating bacteria, rabies, etc

      July 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Scanland

      brad, evolution is not a religion. It is a well-proven explanation for those nasty things. If you want to pretend there's some super-dude somewhere who deliberately created nasty stuff, then that's your right as an idiot.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:11 am |
  11. Buddy R

    Manned space flight is ending because the democrats controlled the white house and both house. They made the decision to nix man spaced flight in favor of paying for abortions and condoms in Africa and increasing "social" spending in the US. Hopefully with the Republicans now in control of the House and probably retaking the Senate in the next election manned space flight will return to the US.

    July 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • vel

      Nice lies and outright hatred there, Buddy. Everything is someone else's fault, isnt' it?

      July 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • brad

      Caution, there, Buddy. Bloggers have informed us that the Pope is to blame for not handing out condoms in Africa. The liberals folks are all in favor of the s*xu*al revolution, free abortions for all, and mass copulation. But they want the church to cope with the ramifications.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      manned space flight is ending because it is impractical and ineffective. what is the point of sending humans to the moon or Mars, and keeping them alive, when computers and robots can do this without food, water, social problems, medical, etc.. Also, humans need a 2-way ticket and therefore at least double the cost of a 1-way ticket.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Howard

      The loss of fascination with space was due to a combination of things. Public boredom with it (been there, done that), the Soviets got beat and then just quit, and the Vietnam War began to consume the public's limited attention and too many of its dollars. But mostly, it was because we needed a fresh new challenge (Mars?) at a time when we couldn't even afford to dream about it, when the technology didn't really exist to do it (and maybe still doesn't), and the cost of going more than 800 times farther than the Moon was just plain "out of this world."

      Sure, a man's reach must exceed his grasp, but that only applies when what you're reaching for is only barely beyond your limits.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      You need help man.....there's a backorder on tinfoil!!

      July 6, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Frogist

      @BuddyR: And in the same vein you say that, I can say the Repugs were to blame with their President's stealing our money to go a-war-mongering until our country was bled dry. At least mine is slightly more believable than yours.
      However, the picture is always more complex and it included issues after the Columbia disaster, questions of safety and efficiency, how old the shuttles are, the public's interest, and of course money...
      BTW Your trying to turn this into some kind of partisan political battle is kind of repugnant in itself considering a lot of people are losing their livelihoods over this.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      So are you saying the abortion rates in the US are increasing ? I think you may want to both check on that, and give us a reference for that piece of bullshit.

      July 6, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  12. brad

    We never get to take a close look at anything. From the moment we're born we're slowly becoming aware. And everything is slowly becoming ordinary to the point that we hardly see it at all. If we could look at a moonrise as though seeing it for the first time, that would be as wonderful as a trip into space.

    I used to participate in the "we're so tiny in the universe and therefore insignificant" mindset. Then I realized that a two-year old person can out think the largest galaxy out there, as well as all the empty space.

    July 6, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      It is simpletons like you that keep religion alive.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • brad

      Richard, you are supposed to be an evolutionary biologist. Astronomy is not your schtick. You can hardly manage pop-science writing without resorting to emotional outbursts. Maybe you should make another attemp at real science.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Brad: without liberals there would be no democracy, no freedom, and no hope. 2000 years ago, conservatives called for the execution of a famous liberal called Yeshua bar Yosef, also known as Jesus of Nazareth. Fortunately, this country was founded by radicals and liberals and a liberal named John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to send a man to the moon. This nation has also been a preferred destination for liberals from other nations, such as Albert Einstein. Just some things to keep in mind next time you want to toss around a term like "liberal."

      July 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • brad

      @Alex Gessong. You're right. Civil rights, womens' rights, etc. were all "liberal" endeavors. I should have use the term "libertine".

      July 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Jim

      Brad, do you actually think that the poster is the real "Richard Dawkins"? If so, I have a bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island to sell you.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      @Brad,

      How can evolution and biology exist without astronomy and physics ? They all go together.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • brad

      @ Jim
      Of course I thought he was the real Richard Dawkins ! If it's not Richard, then we have an atheist with a sense of humor or has blasphemed against Dawkins. The former has yet to be discovered, and the latter is unthinkable.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @brad

      Hey -brad...

      I think I understand where you are coming from. Nothing wrong with having a sense of wonderment and awe at the universe.

      Hope that you are doing well.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 6, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      So can an ape and a dolphin.

      July 6, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Bucky B

      Several years ago, I had the opportunity to go swimming with some Dolphins. And absolutely incredible experience !

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 6, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Never swam with them, but a couple times we were windsurfing and they "cavorted" with us. Awe-inspiring. 😳

      July 7, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  13. Frogist

    I think there is some truth in the author's words. In every interview with astronauts I've ever heard, and they've been doing a lot for the last flight of the shuttle, they all speak of this indescribable emotional reaction. They can find no words to accurately describe being in space hovering above the planet. They do say how precious and small our planet looks from so high above. And how it is vital that we take care of it. That we recognise we each have a duty to it.
    The thing that strikes me the most is their passion for learning. They say what an important thing it is for people to keep striving for new knowledge. To take every opportunity to keep exploring their own world. They respect scientific pursuit. They see it as a path to beauty and truth and the betterment of all humanity. That does not mean they reject religion. Or that religion rejects them as you can see by the Pope's interview with the STS-134 crew last month.
    I really envy them the ability to see the world without borders. And I wish I could be there on Friday to watch Atlantis lift off for the last time. But I'll be glued to my tv!

    July 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Frogist

      Pretty cool there, -CK !

      Peace...

      July 6, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  14. Laughing

    I see it differently.

    When you get up there and see the gigantic size of the universe and then see the teeny tiny size that earth is comparitively, wouldn't you think "And I'm supposed to believe an omnipotent, omnipresent god really is invested not only with this one, little planet, but EVERY individual on it"

    July 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Laughing

      Sorry, that was @CW

      July 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • JW

      I think He is invested because so far, as far as we know this is the only planet with intelligent life and capable of choosing to worship him or not. Although we havent explored the entire universe yet. There may be intelligent beings that we have not seen.

      July 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Laughing

      @JW

      Fair enough. I guess I have 2 questions. 1) We've always been under the assumption that only earth is able to harbor life because of the unique quality of liquid water, magenetosphere, distance from the sun, ect... but now we're learning that life can still happen in environments that we thought impossible on a couple of years ago. If there are trillions of stars in the universe and if at all those stars have at least one planet (let alone 8/9 like ours if you include pluto) think of the probability that some sort of life exists out there that leads to wonder what makes sentient life but that really comes down to whether you believe god imbued us with the knowledge (or rather I guess Eve did with original sin) or whether it was an evolutionary trait to help us survive.

      My second question is, If god did create this huge, enormous universe to only pay attention to earth, why make the universe so big? god certainly didn't need to make more to "awe" us, he did that with pillars of fire, and talking bushes and what not, so why make it just so gigantic?

      July 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • CW

      @ Laughing,

      On your first question

      1) I think your analyzing things way too hard. all you need is faith..faith in God...you know you put your faith in the "assumption" that the sun will rise tomorrow don't you?

      2) One day you'll get to ask God all these questions you have. Let me say though....its kind of a messed up question don't you think? Since God DID do all these things and miracles as he walked the earth and you STILL DON'T believe. Its just me but that question seems a bit crazy...since you don't believe.

      Other than that...a whole lot of assumptions that no one can know.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Laughing: well, if there is a God, omniscient and omnipresent, being invested in every single particle in the universe would be a simple thing. The universe may appear to be vast to a human being, but, if there is an omnipresent God, the universe is not so big at all from the perspective of an omnipresent intelligence. If I were a God, the difference in size between an atom and a galaxy would be trivial, and keeping track of every quark would be no more difficult than breathing is for a human being. If there is a God, we cannot expect God to operate within the same limits of scale that a human does.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • JW

      Yeah there is no telling how far the universe really goes. I think there is a possibility that it never ends. Im not a scientist so I wont claim to be an expert, but I think there could be another planet like ours somewhere, or another form of life that can live under different conditions. As for the second question, assuming that everything happened in the order that was laid out in the Bible, the universe was created before humans. It seems as if he did not plan to create life at first, as if he created the universe first but was not completely satisfied with it. That is a good question I will think about it more.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ CW

      Whoa whoa whoa, hold the phone, did you just say I shouldn't think so much, I should just trust god? Really? Two things, one I think everyone should question their surroundings and not just "go with the flow" It's called critical thinking, and secondly these aren't hard questions that I pondered for hours on end, these are just the questions that immediately came to me when I started to understand the size and scope of the universe.

      As for your second statement, really? I'm still questioning these things when I have yet to even get clear proof that this god of yours exists.

      Sorry, I'm going to stick with JW, he's a lot easier and more rational to debate with. When you tell me to not analyze stuff and just have faith and forget about it, that's not an answer, either scientifically or theologically, that's just intellectual laziness or being scared of what you might uncover.

      Another question for you to ponder. It took god 6 days to create JUST the earth and he needed a full day after that to rest, I wonder, wouldn't going on to create the enourmity of the universe kill god from exhaustion? I mean, he needed a full day of rest just with little bitty earth after 6 days, I wonder how much time and energy was spent on the sun, the other planets and our solar system alone.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ Alex

      I will concede you're right, a being that is omnipresent and omnipotent would, I guess, not have issues of attention span, I guess that sort of bleeds into the territory of god actually being omnipresent, omnipotent and omnibenevolent (which I personally do not believe since I think they are mutually exclusive – the omnipotent and omnibenevolent parts at least).

      @JW I'm an amatur astronomer (I like to study astronomy when I can but I have yet to even get a real telescope) but I do know that we have actually found an "end" to the universe so to speak, or at least we've been able to map out up to a specific point where there is no more light beyond a certain point.

      To your second point, that's an interesting train of thought. Personally when I read it, I thought that man was always the plan, he was just the crowning achievment, the "icing on top" as it were. Since god had to start from the ground up (literally) it would seem man had to come last.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      What I find funny is the idea that some great god with the power to create worlds, is so vain that he demands worship from his inconsequential human creations. ha ha. what a hoot

      July 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      Religious faith is nothing more than a mortal fear of a scientific reality ... sad but funny

      July 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • JW

      Thanks Laughing. I will say you are probably my favorite atheist on here. You seem to be able to ask questions without just being insulting which I appreciate. As for the last question, there are Christians who believe the Bible to be %100 literal, as in 6 days=6 24 hour periods. Many Christians such as myself believe days to be an undetermined period of time. Its possible that one day=one million years. I believe in that because of the life form that have appeared and later became extinct before there was any fossils of humans.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      @JW,

      Let me ask you something serious.

      What good does prayer do ?

      Medical studies show that prayer does not change patient outcomes. BTW, Why don't amputees ever grow limbs ? Regardless, 1 of 2 things is happening. 1) god hears prayers but chooses to ignore them... or 2) god does not hear prayers or anything else for various reasons. Either way, prayer does nothing, and is rather pointless. right ?

      July 6, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • JW

      I dont believe that prayer is pointless at all. I have prayed about many things, including the health of relatives who have cancer. And there have been studies that say that prayer does help. Also, what does prayer have to do with what we were talking about. You just want to bad-mouth me because I am a Christian. I pray all the time. I feel as if I do not have to worry about anything because God is always there with me.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ JW

      Thanks JW, you aren't a bad christian counter-part yourself,

      I have heard that there is a question in whether or not a day = 24 hours. There is Harold Camping who ran with the idea and decided that in October we're all going to die. So with that in mind, 2 questions arise. One, if god is all powerful, why did it take him any unit of measurement of time at all to create everything (whether it be a day or a million years), if he can speak stuff into existance, why not just say, "Let there be ..."? I think it makes more sense to fit, theologically at least, the existance of dinosaur fossils into earths history as a planet this leads me to my second question though how you phrased it I guess it makes more sense why you thought that man was more of an afterthought rather than the goal, but if there was life pre-human that lived and died before man existed, does that mean that god tried and failed? Does that make god fallable?

      July 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Laughing

      Oops, sorry for sort of broken response. I was typing in bursts and let my mind go faster than my fingers. To add to my previous post, I thought it made more sense that obviously the world wasn't created in only 6 days, but in billions of revolutions around the sun. However, doesn't this thinking go directly against genesis? Regardless of needing X amount of time to create this all, why "grow" it from scratch rather than pop it into existance. god's certainly supposed to be capable of doing so right?

      July 6, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • JW

      Well most Christians might not like that I see this but I think that God can change his mind if he wants. When I read the Bible I dont interpret God as saying this is the way things are and they will always be this way. Perhaps God was satisfied with dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures at first but he wanted something more intelligent. I believe that even the world itself has changed dramatically. I think it was probably a gradual process of God creating things, plants and animals and seeing how they interacted.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • fred

      God is outside of time and space and being infinite when he spoke day one into existance it was an instant poof to which the best we can measure took 11 billion years. The stated time is for our finite minds only to allow some comprehension based on what was knowable 10,000 years ago

      July 6, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • fred

      JW,
      From what I read God does change his mind. God never changes but the reality we experience is subject to change.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ JW

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but it doesn't really sound like you follow the christian god as much as you follow your own version of god that mostly fits with christianity over other religious intrepretations. Mind if I ask you denomonation of christian you are? Most of the stuff you says sounds rational and I can't fault you for your beliefs because they sound like they are well reasoned, however it's given me the impression you're more of a deist fitting in with christians rather than a christian. I'm not trying to offend, but a lot of your views are heretical to most christians.

      July 6, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • JW

      No problem yeah I am glad at least fred seemed to agree with me on a couple of point. My denomination is Mennonite. Well there are many Christian conservatives who would disagree with me. But alot of conservatives have more of a tendency to add things to the Bible that arent there than someone like me does. They may say that God would never change his mind, but there is the story of Noah's ark where God sent a huge flood that wiped out most of creation, but he seemed to express remorse after that. The Bible also speaks less of war and violence after Jesus's death. I interpret that one of Jesus's purposes aside from the obvious one was to be a peace offering, even though some still claim Gods name in war. Well anyways that is just a couple of examples of what I mean about God changing his mind. But I am definately a Christian. In fact sometimes I like to say that Jesus is my hero, because I would like to live like him exactly how he was described in the Bible.

      July 6, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      @fred,

      So, you think god can change his mind ? Since he knows everything, he must know that he will someday change his mind, right ? Then he is not really changing his mind at all, just following some preconceived plan. hmm. Or, could he have changed his mind becuase he was wrong the first time around ? The concept is as laughable as the idea of god itself.

      July 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • JW

      Certain things that God did that were appropriate when they were done may not be appropriate today.

      July 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • fred

      Richard Dawkins
      The bible is clear in that no one can comprehend the mind of God. As to changing his mind I was thinking about how Isaiah and Moses explained what was best explained as a change of mind.

      July 6, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ JW

      Interesting, I have an aunt that's mennonite, but who would prefer to convert to judaism so she generally has tried to stay away from the mennonite dogma and embrace judaism so I confess I don't know a lot about it. Someone said mennonites were amish people who used electricity, but I think there's probably more nuance than that.

      The noah's ark doesn't really make sense because god meant for noah to live before he sent the flood in the first place. You are also right there's less "war" in the NT, though it sounds like there was still plenty of persecution, but now it was happening to christians rather than their enemies.

      It just seems to me at least that your trying to fit christian dogma to your views (with the aside from Jesus which it sounds like you'd rather emulate than think he should live more like a carpenter of today or some other nonesense). Most christian denomonations are pretty rigid and don't really respond well with change so I'm still trying to understand that apart from you declaring Jesus as your lord and savior, it sounds like most of christianity doesn't really fit with your own religious views.

      As to god changing his mind, doesn't that mean he is fallible? I mean, if god makes a decision, shouldn't it be right the first time around? Richard brings up a good point that if god is all-knowing, then doesn't he know that his original decision is going to be wrong?

      From what I can tell, god needs to be infallible or else all his decisions up to this point can be called into question because if god was mistaken about one thing, then what stops him from being mistaken about something else?

      July 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • GodPot

      @JW – "so far, as far as we know this is the only planet with intelligent life"

      Just so you know, that is like saying that all sand on every beach in the world must be covered in dog shiit because you found a grain of sand in one of your dog's dingleberrys.

      July 6, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      @Richard Dawkins
      "Prayer", in it's many forms, (chanting, mumbling, repeating words/phrases, singing, repeating memorized phrases, meditating, reading, listening to familiar phrases/patterns) increases the circulating levels of beta-endorphins. You can google and read any of the many many articles about that. My question is not what is prayer, but what is the difference between a "religious" experience", and an "aesthetic" experience. Maybe nothing ? What exactly does "awe-inspiring" mean anyway ? We need the linguists to weigh in. 😈

      July 6, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Bucky Ball

      Re: awe v. aesthetic

      I'm thinking different labels or different noises/utterances individuals make that are basically re-presenting virtually or the same neuro-biological experiences(emotions). A linguist might suggest a surface structure v. deep structure approach as well.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 6, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • JW

      Laughing Amish are a division of Mennonites. Mennonites arent quite as strict about using modern technology though. I think I probably should have put my ideas differently. I think that God changes based on the world. In the Noahs ark story, the reason given behind the great flood was that God wanted to wipe out all of the evil in the world, which may have been necessary of that time, but afterward he said he would not send a flood of that magnitude again. Plus there are a lot more people today it would take a pretty big flood to wipe out everyone. I think there is more violence in the old testament because God wanted to demonstrate His power, but in the New Testament wanted to show himself as a loving God. That was one reason that he sent Jesus. Jesus was also there to demonstrate how we should live, by being peaceful, generous, and tolerant. I think that many conservative Christians forget the ideas that Jesus taught. There are groups of Christians that get hung up on one issue. They focus on that issue by using the entire Bible to further their agenda and ignore the rest of the Bible. Unfortunately since those are the ones that are in all of the media people think that that is what Christianity is about, but that is not what Jesus taught.

      July 6, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Laughing

      @JW

      Interesting, you learn something new everyday. So I guess to delve deeper into your noah example. I have questions just about that specifically. Firstly, why wipe out evil with a flood? If god is so powerful why did't he just sort of point and say bang? why not send the angel of death to smite everyone? Why was evil there in the first place (that I'm sure will be answered with, because man has free will and can choose to be evil, but my question is, if evil is so abhorrent that god would rather kill everyone than be fine letting them practice it, why create evil in the first place?) It seems to me there are a number of different ways that an allpowerful god, with unlimited power could wipe out evil without putting 2 of every animal and one man and his family on a boat and make them weather the storm for about 40 days. Not to mention what happened afterwards with Noah and the whole getting wasted and naked thing.

      God is a pretty jealous god (he even says so) in the OT but reforms in the NT. It's been asked before but I still haven't actually seen an answer, why does this all powerful being susceptible to human emotion, especially one as petty as jealousy that even humans are capable of suppressing better than the god in the OT. What made him reform? You say that god is changing to fit the world, but why? Why would god need to change to fit the world that he himself made in the beginning, shouldn't the world change to fit him? I'm happy that you at least can take away from the bible the peaceful messages of tolerance and love, though like you said there are dominate parts of christianity that pervert the bible to fit their agendas of hate, my question regarding this is, so jesus, who is both gods son and god himself sent this embodiment to earth literally to suffer and die in the name of forgiving everyone of their sins, why did god need this embodiment (it's for lack of a better term because I still don't understand how jesus is both a son of god and god) at all, why not just appear to a prophet and say, "Hey everybody, I forgive you!" Obviously that would be harder in todays world because anyone spouting nonesense on the streets claiming to be a prophet are bound for the crazy house, but back then, prophets were still very much believed and respected, so why is it so crazy to use a prophet again? A lot of the ways that god goes about getting things done (the flood, forgiving everyone of their sins, allowing evil, changing to fit this world) just doesn't make sense for an all powerful being that god claims to be. If I had en enth of the supposed power that god has, I can think of a couple of ways to use that power more efficiently to get things done in a much neater and cleaner fashion, and I'm only human right? It might all be a part of gods plan as many have put it, but at least from my point of view in the here and now, a lot of the evil done in gods name, or because of misinterpretation could have been easily solved with the magnitude of power that god is supposed to have, so why aren't those problems solved?

      I answered it with a couple of ways, one god is all powerful, but not omnibenevolent, or god is not as powerful as he would have us believe and operates within certain boundaries. If god changes his mind, conforms to earth standards then god is able to make mistakes and thus is fallible, if god is fallible, what else has he made a mistake with and why follow something that will make mistakes

      Sorry if that's rambling, It's a little late.

      July 7, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      @Laughing
      The flood myth was included because everybody else had one too. The lifted it from the Gigamesh Epic.
      See : http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/flood/introduction.asp

      Hey Peace2all,
      There is a really interesting linguistic map in this article ! Wow.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      That should read :
      They lifted it from the Epic of Gilgamesh.

      BTW Peace,
      I don't know if there is even such a thing as a "linguistic map", but it sorta looks like one. 😈

      July 7, 2011 at 5:32 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      Peace
      That's what I was thinking. If I listen to the quartets from Fidelio, or the quartets from Beethoven's 9th , or meditate, or surf with dolphins, or go for a run, or look out the window of my spacecraft, and the result is my endorphins go up, .... ? I suppose that is cynical, and they are not really equivalent, ..... hmmm. Buckminster will have to think about this one.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:53 am |
    • Laughing

      @Buckyball

      Yeah, I know the flood myth is just one of the many flood myths out there. Most religions have some sort of story where god gets angry and sends a flood (hel.l, the ja.panese tsun.ami last march had some people saying it was divinely sent). I was more questioning the actual theology behind the story itself rather than the vali.dity of the story. I mean lets get real, what no one can answer me still is if the flood did actually wipe out EVERYTHING except Noah, his family and 2 of each animal, then how did the human race survive? He only had sons so even inc.est is out.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      Interesting. You're right. I have never thought about why that text was included. I don't even know which editor, (J, E,P or D), included it. Maybe someone does. It may be a clue or starting point as to what the intention of the editor was for including a flood story.
      As far as only having sons goes, I think Genesis 6;16 says the sons had wives. But 6:7 says god was PO'd at the animals too. and he regretted he made them. Obviously it was not omniscient or it would have known the future, and would have known he would be sorry, or do animals have free will too, (or some such bla bla bla) ? 6:16 says he intended to destroy ALL life on earth. It must have had a senior moment.

      July 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Laughing

      I think the flood was included for a couple of reasons. One is it shows gods awing power and wrath, lets remember that especially when it was first recorded, it was still a warrior culture for the most part and you need a god that can show his strength, wiping the world clean with a single flood would probably do the trick. I think the second part is to show that although god might get angry (like really, really angry) he can still forgive and keep his promises like never sending a flood of that magnitude again. It's sort of like, "hey, look what god can do, but he promised he wouldn't do it anymore, so don't worry about it happening to you".

      Good question about the animals though, it's another theological question that doesn't really have any sense, I think we're supposed to believe that animals don't have souls and so don't have freewill, then again why would god get angry at an animal, its sort of like me getting angry at a rock because my shoes got dirty from the dirt surrounding it, but hey, god has his reasons right?

      July 7, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • fred

      Laughing,
      Regarding flood story you mentioned God getting mad at animals. Anamils were made for man, so when God had it with man He also destroyed that which he created for man.
      The Flood was used over other instruments of destruction to show a cleansing. Evil was washed from the face of the earth with the power and wrath of God. As a backdrop the previous paragraphs paint the evil of man spreading and how evil multiplies itself when unrestrained to the point where God says enough (a hint at final days coming). Just a few chapters before God created man and it was good and He rested – note the peaceful personal setting in a good relationship. Man entertains a little evil the good relationship is broken evil grows until it consumes virtually all. Now God has not changed his mind but man has changed. God has a holy mind set and mankind has now changed to where Gods justice is demonstrated. Low and behold there is one Noah that loves God and is not touched by the evil. Note Gods relationship with Noah is like the others in which He was pleased and were without sin. No change in mind God always brings a remnant through that pleases him. This is one of the themes God carries throughout the Bible. God is always true and faithful we can count on Him. We can have a personal relationship with Him. God with us. Check out how God protected Noah in that ark, he shut the door when the rains hit. The ark a picture of God carrying his remnant to a mountain top. Rainbows and promises fulfilled what a great way to end a journey.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:48 am |
    • JW

      As far as sin being in the world I do believe that people do have free will and that God does not intend for us to be his puppets. I think that the flood was kind of symbolic of washing away evil, which is used in baptism as well. Actually as far as Jesus he did not necessarily have to die in the manner that he did. Jesus was acting as a sacrifice by dying for our sins. I have actually heard a second theory about Jesus among Christians. Some say that he was not divine at birth, but he was so committed to living a godly life that God sort of adopted him. Personally I stick with the traditional story, but I can see since a couple of the Gospels dont have the birth story why the other theory came about.
      I think as far as the emotion of God, I think that his jealousy is more of the fact that God wants us to live a life without sin and does not want us to be led into a life in which we would be going against his will. I think Jesus felt pain and emotion just like any other human, but he was godly in that he was without sin, and he could perform the miracles that he did.

      July 9, 2011 at 3:16 am |
  15. CW

    I see all the atheist's and nonbelievers have made it here,

    O well...my take is this....I would say if one went into space and saw all the great things there are to see..."How is it that anyone could question that God made all this?". I just don't see how anyone could question who created the heavens, earth and the universe.

    July 6, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • anon

      But who is to say its YOUR god?

      July 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • I_get_it

      How is it that anyone could question that Zeus threw down lightning bolts? How is it that anyone could question that blood-letting cured a mult.itude of diseases? How is it that anyone could question the efficacy of voodoo dolls?

      July 6, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • CW

      @ I_get_it,

      NO you don't get it. Hope you will some day...until then I guess your going to make and poke fun. Go ahead...all christians are used to it....you'll still get our prayers...believe me..you need them.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • JohnR

      @CW He gets it just fine. You don't.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      @CW: One of the advantages of sentient intelligence is that it leads one to question. It's perfectly possible that the universe could form without intervention by a god. Given an infinite amount of time and random events, chaos can result in order. An orderly universe is one of the potential results in an infinite set of possibilities. I personally believe there is a God. I *know* there is a universe; I *believe* there is a God. My knowledge of the universe is based on rational observation of demonstrable scientific fact. My belief in a God is based solely on a "gut feeling", because I can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a God. Earth is still a very special place in the universe, with or without a God.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Frogist

      @CW:
      I think it's as equally valid to ask "Why do we need a God to tell us we're special?" or "How can anyone question the importance of science that got us to this amazing view?"
      Personally, I doubt I would have any questions that cerebral faced with that view out the cupola. It would all be emotion.

      From what I've read and heard, astronauts don't look out at the vastness of space and have it necessarily confirm the existence of God or deny it. They speak of the beauty and the wonder and the curiosity that it inspires in them, looking at the earth from above. Whether that strenghtens or weakens their personal religious belief is something I don't think I've ever heard.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      @I_get_it,

      Are you saying that the belief of a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father, can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity, because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree... isn't real ?

      July 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      ... and the world is flat, because we can't imagine the physics otherwise

      July 6, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • The Bobinator

      > NO you don't get it. Hope you will some day...until then I guess your going to make and poke fun. Go ahead...all christians are used to it....you'll still get our prayers...believe me..you need them.

      No-one gets you because you don't make any sense or explain anything. You just make statments and then move on.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      @CW,

      Why did your god create AIDS and flesh eating bacteria ?

      July 6, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • I_get_it

      CW, "...until then I guess your going to make and poke fun. "

      It's interesting that you think that I am 'poking fun'. Zeus, blood-letting and voodoo dolls are humorous to you then, eh? Fact is that many, many people for many, many years took them flat seriously, along with vast amounts of other outrageous mis-beliefs. We question unverified claims - it's a good thing.

      July 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      @Alex,

      I hate to tell you this, but the Earth isn't that special. We only feel special. It is exactly like winning the lottery. A lottery winner seems to think that he is special, that something was planned. In the universe, there are billions and billions and billions of stars and planets. Every planet that contains life, and I think there are many, will find that the life forms think they are special. If you had the reference point of a cosmic observer, you would probably see life scattered everywhere – no big deal. BTW, A Dung Beetle probably thinks that he is incredibly fortunate to live a life with so much pooh around.

      July 6, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • JW

      Richard which planets are these other intelligent life forms on? Im not saying that I am sure there are no other life forms but you are using that as the basis for your argument.

      July 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins

      @JW,

      Sure, we do not have proof of life elsewhere yet... But it is highly probable. When microbial life is discovered on Enceladus and Europa this decade, the odds will skyrocket.

      July 6, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      @Richard Dawkins

      The Drake equation states that where:
      N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible; and
      R* = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
      fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
      ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
      fℓ = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
      fi = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
      fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
      L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space.
      The number of stars in the galaxy now, N*, is related to the star formation rate R* by, (insert current estimate),
      Tg = the age of the galaxy. Assuming for simplicity that R* is constant, then and the Drake equation can be rewritten into an alternate form phrased in terms of the more easily observable value, N*
      One can question why the number of civilizations should be proportional to the star formation rate, though this makes technical sense. (The product of all the terms except L tells how many new communicating civilizations are born each year. Then you multiply by the lifetime to get the expected number. For example, if an average of 0.01 new civilizations are born each year, and they each last 500 years on the average, then on the average 5 will exist at any time.) The original Drake Equation can be extended to a more realistic model, where the equation uses not the number of stars that are forming now, but those that were forming several billion years ago. The alternate formulation, in terms of the number of stars in the galaxy, is easier to explain and understand, but implicitly assumes the star formation rate is constant over the life of the galaxy. As many observers have pointed out, the Drake equation is a very simple model that does not include potentially relevant parameters.
      The Drake Equation] merely speaks of the number of sites at which ETIs spontaneously arise. It says nothing directly about the contact cross-section between an ETIS and contemporary human society.
      Because it is the contact cross-section that is of interest to the SETI community, many additional factors and modifications of the Drake equation have been proposed. These include the number of times a civilization might re-appear on the same planet, the number of nearby stars that might be colonized and form sites of their own, and other factors.
      Brin has proposed generalizing the Drake Equation to include additional effects of alien civilizations colonizing other star systems. Each original site expands with an expansion velocity v, and establishes additional sites that survive for a lifetime L'. The result is a more complex set of 3 equations.
      The Drake equation may furthermore be multiplied by how many times an intelligent civilization may occur on planets where it has happened once. Even if an intelligent civilization reaches the end of its lifetime after, for example, 10,000 years, life may still prevail on the planet for billions of years, permitting the next civilization to evolve. Thus, several civilizations may come and go during the lifespan of one and the same planet. Thus, if nr is the average number of times a new civilization reappears on the same planet where a previous civilization once has appeared and ended, then the total number of civilizations on such a planet would be (1+nr), which is the actual reappearance factor added to the equation.
      The factor depends on what generally is the cause of civilization extinction. If it is generally by temporary uninhabitability, for example a nuclear winter, then nr may be relatively high. On the other hand, if it is generally by permanent uninhabitability, such as stellar evolution, then nr may be almost zero.
      In the case of total life extinction, a similar factor may be applicable for fℓ, that is, how many times life may appear on a planet where it has appeared once.
      Alexander Zaitsev said that to be in a communicative phase and emit dedicated messages are not the same. For example, humans, although being in a communicative phase, are not a communicative civilization; we do not practice such activities as the purposeful and regular transmission of interstellar messages. For this reason, he suggested introducing the METI factor (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) to the classical Drake Equation. The factor is defined as "The fraction of communicative civilizations with clear and non-paranoid planetary consciousness", or alternatively expressed, the fraction of communicative civilizations that actually engage in deliberate interstellar transmission.
      Considerable disagreement on the values of most of these parameters exists, but the values used by Drake and his colleagues in 1961 were:
      R* = 10/year (10 stars formed per year, on the average over the life of the galaxy)
      fp = 0.5 (half of all stars formed will have planets)
      ne = 2 (stars with planets will have 2 planets capable of developing life)
      fl = 1 (100% of these planets will develop life)
      fi = 0.01 (1% of which will be intelligent life)
      fc = 0.01 (1% of which will be able to communicate)
      L = 10,000 years (which will last 10,000 years)

      Drake's values give N = 10 × 0.5 × 2 × 1 × 0.01 × 0.01 × 10,000 = 10.
      Multiply that by however many billions of galaxies there are, and you get an estimate. There "ain't NO WAY" we are unique.

      July 6, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Scanland

      Dayyumm, Bucky Ball!
      I like to keep that stuff short, so I say that life on other planets throughout the universe is a statistical certainty.
      But maybe you pasted that from elsewhere? If you typed all that out yourself, color me impressed right down to my toes!
      +2 points for content, -1 point for lack of pithy-ness. 🙂

      July 7, 2011 at 3:23 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      @Scanland
      Sorry 'bout that, I went into "rant" mode. This subject has come up repeatedly in the last few weeks, and there are some who keep posting ridiculous assertions about the "trillion" to one odds against this probability. So It was time to let 'em have it.There is no excuse for such ignorance. BTW I will save it and edit it and cut it down for next time, and believe me there WILL be a next time.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:16 am |
    • Scanland

      Ah, the expectations produced by past results! Not as good as visions, but it'll have to do. Good luck on paring that down. :wicked:

      July 7, 2011 at 4:56 am |
    • Scanland

      😈
      Damn, I hate it when I get those mixed up! ":wicked:" is used for smileys on a different website I visit from time to time. 😳

      July 7, 2011 at 4:58 am |
    • Richard Dawkins

      Cheers @Bucky,

      I am well aware of the Drake equation. I have been a member of SETI for more than 12 years

      July 7, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  16. LoftyAmbitions

    We agree that, when you talk with astronauts in person, you get the sense that there's a lot more to the experience than can be covered in the press. In some ways, space exploration does define what it means to be human, what our boundaries are, what our questions are. Also, the pride that those involved in the space program exhibit is meaningful too.

    We're a poet and a librarian covering the end of the shuttle program at Lofty Ambitions Blog. See more of our videos, photos, and commentary there.

    July 6, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Lofty Ambitions: I meant to say in my post further up that I think the author is mistaken that the experience cannot be captured by art or poetry. Like many others, he understimates the power of those tools. I will def take a look at your blog.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  17. Odessa

    If God wanted us to go into space we would have been born differently to withstand the elements of space. If God wanted us to fly, we would have been born with wings. To fly or go into space is against God's wishes or plans. To fly or go into space is no different than the Tower of Babel.

    July 6, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Odessa

      A good Christian does not fly.

      July 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • JW

      That is ridiculous. Why would God not want us to explore space?

      July 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Odessa
      Shall we sum up the story of Babel?
      Once upon a time, all of mankind lived together in harmony, speaking a common language and working towards a common goal.
      They decided to build a great city with a mighty tower for the world, reaching far into the sky, as a monument to the greatness that is possible through cooperation.
      Mankind's Creator looked upon His creatures' collective steps toward fulfilling their potential and was displeased.
      He smote the great tower and divided humanity by ensuring that they could not comminicate effectively or work together to achieve their destiny.
      And The Creator was greatly pleased with the strife, division and chaos He wraught knowing that misunderstanding amongst the tribes of man would inevitably lead to rivers of blood being shed in war.

      The moral of the story:
      Don't try to achieve anything great, lest you incur God's wrath.
      Isn't that a nice story to tell your children?
      What a petty God you have!

      July 6, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • I_get_it

      If "God" wanted us to listen to you, Odessa, he/she/it would have given you a better script.

      July 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Odessa

      You said "If God wanted us to fly, we would have been born with wings." and "A good Christian does not fly."

      He also didn't give us computers or the internet. Yet you use them. You must not be a good christian for using either.

      Do you wear clothes? You were born naked. Your god didn't give them to you. Bad christian.

      July 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Artist

      Is Odessa the same crazy Korean christians chic running around on this board?

      July 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Odessa: and if God wanted us to wear clothes, we wouldn't be born naked, right? Dude, or dudette, you're a human being. You don't know what's on God's mind. It's pure hubris to believe otherwise. The Pope flies. Do you really think the Pope is not a Christian? If there is a God, then God allowed us to evolve these really neat human brains to do such things as travel into space, build cities, harness electricity and do all sorts of other "unnatural" things.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Free

      And id God wanted us to travel across oceans and seas we'd of never needed to invent boats. There would not have been an ark, Jonah would never have gotten near any whales, Jesus wouldn't have ever stepped out of any boats in a storm and Paul wouldn't have spread his new religion nearly as far. Obviously, God didn't have any trouble with humans using their intelligence in this case. Why is it that so many believers think otherwise these days?

      July 7, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      Addelbrain

      Do you take Aspirin when you have a headache ? And don't say you take Tylenol.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  18. Lycidas

    Nice to see an article showing that the Chruch and religion isn't always against science and discovery.

    "From orbit, the idea of a common humanity becomes reality."
    For some this would be true. Seeing all that makes up humanity from orbit would drive the concept home.

    July 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • JW

      I think that most Christians believe that God and science are not necessarily independent of each other, although it seems some Christians as well as atheists do believe that.

      July 6, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      The idea of common humanity doesn't require going into orbit. All it takes is to open one's eyes and it can be done right here on Earth. From exploring space, we can confirm how special a place Earth is. So far, we haven't found any other world even close to the awesomeness that is Earth. But we'll keep looking.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Scanland

      When I look at a picture of the Earth from orbit, one thing I cannot help noticing is the extremely thin film of atmosphere that we live in. Very thin. Too thin to keep out all the rocks coming our way.
      If your god is without sin, and he is throwing rocks, what do you think about that? Will the next large meteor strike cause you to think your god finally got tired of the tiny rocks and decided to use the big ones to make a really neat splash?
      Or would you think that after casting trillions of stones at all us sinners, he's just trying harder to get our attention by tossing a big one at us?
      Or would you look at where the meteor landed and say those people who were killed were killed by god because they were sinners?
      Or something else just as idiotic?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:36 am |
  19. The Bobinator

    > They see the whole world as one giant, harmonious living enti-ty.

    Except it's not. And I doubt they all see the earth as one living enti-ty. I think this is your label.

    > They are immersed in warm and caring embrace; a feeling of oneness with nature is inescapable.

    Umm, what?

    > From orbit, the idea of a common humanity becomes reality.

    A concept becomes reality? How so. Do the people suddenly like each other because one person can think it's the case while up in outer space? I know what you're doing, you're trying to be poetic. However, what you write actually has to be reflective of what actually occurs.

    July 6, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Bobinator: Maybe they see something that you don't. That doesn't necessarily make them wrong. 7 billion humans = 7 billion points of view. Some see a living Earth, some see a big wet rock with organisms crawling around on it.

      July 6, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • The Bobinator

      > @Bobinator: Maybe they see something that you don't. That doesn't necessarily make them wrong. 7 billion humans = 7 billion points of view. Some see a living Earth, some see a big wet rock with organisms crawling around on it.

      And reality justifies one of those claims and doesn't support the other. That's what makes the author wrong.

      July 6, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Bobinator: I seriously think you should make room for some poetic licence...

      July 6, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Scanland

      Poetic license is one thing, writing an article filled with untrue, even poetically untrue, statements should be just as poetically scorned and vilified by any poetical critics out there. Free speech and all that.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:40 am |
  20. The Bobinator

    What a load of rubbish.

    July 6, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.