Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why The Reverent Music?

I watched a two-hour presentation of Nova’s Finding Life Beyond Earth on PBS. It’s easy to summarize the substance. What we need for life is oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon, liquid water, and a source of heat. Voila! Nova tries to answer the question of whether or not we are alone. Interesting question. It does so by looking at photographs of planets and moons in the solar system searching for water, the right elements, and volcanoes. Now there is nothing particularly new or surprising here. It is the consensus of our times that life is just a natural form of matter that springs forth as soon as the appropriate conditions for it are present. So why use majestic, reverent, grandiose, exalted music when scouring the planets for these grubby particulars?

Although the Nova series began in 1974, I first consciously noticed reverent music and a materialistic thematic fused in a film when I watched Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, created by Carl Sagan in 1980. A thought then arose—and it keeps recurring every time this fusion reappears. The thought was: “Aha! Atheism as religion!” Behind that was the observation that Sagan attempted to reinforce emotions of exaltation by playing that swelling music while showing grand pictures—while his intellectual message was that there’s nothing beyond these wastes of gas and burning orbs and galaxies piled upon galaxies as far as telescopes could see. He was thus hijacking an ancient human reaction—that the wonders of nature are the works of God.

Mind you, life may have originated out there somewhere. Scientists whose views I value have asserted such things. One is Fred Hoyle (1915-2001). He was a pioneer theorist on the formation of elements inside stars (stellar nucleosynthesis) and a steady-state cosmologist. He thought that life came from outer space. In a lecture titled, Evolution from Space, given at the Royal Institute in London in 1982, he said:
If one proceeds directly and straightforwardly in this matter, without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion, one arrives at the conclusion that biomaterials with their amazing measure or order must be the outcome of intelligent design. No other possibility I have been able to think of in pondering this issue over quite a long time seems to me to have anything like as high a possibility of being true.
My own entirely unscientific notions don’t require comet-borne sperm and viruses, but I agree with Hoyle on insisting on design—and disagree with modernity that it arises from a handful of elements, water, and heat by lucky accident. And we’re not alone. But that’s not the reason why.

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