Wednesday, May 15, 2013


            Moons!  Around Mars, Jupiter, Neptune...
            Moon.  Lovely lady.
            Growing less so now?

s m a i s m r m i l m e p o e t a l e u m i b u n e n u g t t a u i r a s
                                                                    - Galileo Galilei

            The astronomers of the flying island of Laputa have advanced that most venerable science considerably further than those natural philosophers of Lemuel Gulliver's home, England.  The technology of their telescopes is more advanced; using them, the Laputan astronomers "have made a catalogue of ten thousand fixed stars, whereas the largest of ours do not contain above one third part of that number" (Swift 155).
            The known universe expands.  And in so doing, do we and our world shrink?
            Does a scientific understanding of life reduce its mystery?  Does the removal of the spiritual dimension/world reduce the beauty of the world?
            The idea of the God of the gaps implies that, to the theist, science threatens to remove something desirable from the world.  As soon as scientists give a material explanation for an observed phenomenon, theists effectively say, "Okay, okay, you can have that one over there.  But this unexplained phenomenon over here?  Totally God!"  The theological insistence that qualia present evidence of unexplainable phenomena continues to feel downright pathetic (and, as a quasi-theist, embarrassing).
            The theist who responds to science with, "Okay, you can have that, but we're keeping this," clearly implies that something has been lost.  I never hear of them responding with, "Yeah, you're right, neurons firing are the cause of conscious thought.  Still God."  Such a response wouldn't deal with all the accusations that anti-theistic philosophers level (often rightly) at people of faith.  But my point is, the response of those who believe in the spiritual demonstrates their anxiety.  There is a grasping quality to the God of the gaps, which feels much like a drowning man searching for a lifeboat.

            They have likewise discovered two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve around Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the centre of the primary planet exactly three of the diameters, and the outermost five; the former revolves in the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty one and an half; so that the squares of their periodical times are very near in the same proportion with the cubes of their distance from the centre of Mars, which evidently shows them to be governed by the same law of gravitation, that influences the other heavenly bodies (Swift 155-156).

            Jonathan Swift tells of two moons, orbiting Mars, 150 years before their actual discovery.  According to Wikipedia, their orbits are reasonably accurately described.

Salue umbistineum geminatum Martia proles. “Hail, twin companionship, children of Mars”, or “I greet you, double knob, children of Mars.”
                      - 1610: Johannes Kepler makes a valiant attempt at decoding Galileo Galilei's anagram.

            So did Swift read Kepler's mistake, which turned out in a weird way to be true?
            Or did Swift receive divine inspiration?  (See the very bottom of the page.)
            And how far have we come from the Moon (our moon mind you) as the celestial egg laid by the Goddess and her Serpent lover?
            Very, very far if you listen to either the atheists or the theists.  According to the atheists, we have come far, far away from untruth, and we daily approach closer to truth by means of science.
            And the theists...well, their version of events is quite far-removed from the picture painted by the scriptures of any known religion.  Most of what we call religion doesn't appear to have a drop of mystery or power or spirit anywhere in its obsessively defended and materialistic midst.

            Saturn, of which Galileo really said:

Altissimum planetam tergeminum observavi. “I have observed the highest (most distant) planet [Saturn] to have a triple form.”  
                      (Click on the link to see Saturn as Galileo would have seen it:  a giant Spirit Princess Leia ready to...well, sleep with Hans Solo.)

            Yes, yes.  I have to acknowledge that the world is full of reasonable, well-informed people just waiting to dispel any and all romance.  Hence Steven Novella of the New England Skeptical Society:

"It is also possible that Swift followed the basic logic that Mercury and Venus have no moons, the Earth has one, and Jupiter and Saturn have many. Mars is between Earth and Jupiter, so maybe it has two. There is some sense to this logic as it is probable that the farther away a planet is from the sun the more likely it is to hold moons. Too close, and the sun will grab them. The Earth’s moon is likely the result of a chance collision. While Mars is far enough away, and close enough to the asteroid belt, to have picked up a couple of moons."

            *sigh*  Fine.

            And the Moon itself?
            I take great comfort in the fact that the Moon is there, clouds or no, and takes no notice of any of this.  Though I think it might wonder why the hell did Galileo have to write his findings as a bloody anagram?

Swift, Jonathan.  Gulliver's Travels.  New York:  Penguin Books, 2010.  Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment