Monday, October 29, 2007

Moon Philosophy

Driving home last night I stared up at the moon and wondered what it's all about. You know, life. The excellent consumer parody 'This Age We're Living In', came into my mind. The writer takes as his premise,

'Only two big facts are known for certain: you are on a large spinning rock hurtling through space at about 67,000 mph, and one day your body is going to die. Will a new pair of shoes really help?'

I wondered to myself why? Why is there a large glowing moon up there? It seems likely to me that the universe was created, so why put the moon up there? It just seems so random to have a great white moon floating up in the sky somehow. And then it struck me that perhaps it was for the sheer joy of the thing, the Creator at play. Why not?

I thought too about a fifteen year old I had spoken to earlier that day who was distressed. She had been to a party and a gang known as MBP had crashed it. Apparently there are large teenage gangs which roam London crashing parties and causing trouble. They had glassed a girl outside and then the police were called and the party broke up. She didn't say so, but she seemed quite shaken by it. It's a tough time to be a teenager.

Perhaps this world is a bit like that party. Made joyfully, for fun, but then crashed by trouble makers. Eventually the party has to stop, but I hope there will be another, exclusive party afterwards for all the nicest guests. Whatever happens, make sure you're on the guest list for that one.

On the wastelands of the dreary A406 I turned a corner. Above me the moon glowed bright. It looked rather like an old man making a face.


Blogger Immodest Bacchus said...

While you and I differ as completely as one can on the origins of the universe, and well, everything, I like your musing on our lunar companion.

Here are a few important facts about the Moon, that regardless of whether or not you think anything had an active hand in the planning of the cosmos, are salient to your questions.

Within a few million years of the Earth's formation, a Mars-sized body most likely impacted with the early Earth. This collision vaporized much of the material in the Earth's mantle and crust, blasting into orbit the debris which quickly coalesced into the Moon. We can tell this because the material in both are nearly identical, and differ from that of other bodies in our system.

More than a general object of wonder, the Moon has several important, at least to us, we silly biological beings, functions.

The gravitational pull of the Moon is responsible for the tides, which have a huge effect on our oceans and seas, and hence on the life forms that dwell there.

Even more useful, the Moon's pull helps to control a rotational "wobble" in the Earth's axis. It is a bit like a stabilizer attached to a less than perfectly spinning top. Without this, our relatively stable climate would be much more volatile, and hence unfavorable to the evolution of life as we know it. Some theories suggest that the very formation of our atmosphere would have been in fact difficult without this influence.

Tidally locked, the Moon presents the same face to us, one side in shadow, one side in light, though it is slowly moving out farther away from us by about 3.8 centimeters an year, as well as slowing our own wobbly rotation down by a couple of milliseconds per day per century.

Certainly as regards to its effect on species here on Earth, the Moon's varying luminosity is far more than mere decoration. Moths and other insects use the lunar light to steer by, as do shoals of fish and nocturnal hunters of all kinds. For early man, it was a boon in an otherwise lightless night, and marked the passage of time, as well as being famously linked to natural cycles of birth and reproduction.

Of course, the problem with a creator being involved in all this, is that it would have been "more perfect" to simply have formed an Earth without the wobble, kept the early planetoids on a more plotted course, and done without a massive global night-light altogether. But then again, you'd have had no tides and a much, much darker nights. A literalist creation is even harder, as why make the Moon appear as if it were a chunk of Earth that was knocked off and hurled into orbit, if you put it there exactly as it is in the very beginning?

It's things like this that always keep my skepticism of theism and creationism healthy, for while you can always explain away (or at least try) the presence of imperfect, flawed systems in a supposedly perfect creation as part of the master plan, it is at best, a very inefficient and inelegant way to design something like the universe. Worse than this, it has always smacked to me of being sneaky for no good reason. I really find those people, mostly in America, who claim that god put dinosaur bones in the earth just to test people's faith, or that they existed alongside modern humans but were too big to fit on the ark, as being slightly insane if not purposely disingenuous. On the other hand, as an undesigned system, these blips and best-method-in-a-pinch scenarios, are much what you would expect. Without them, we wouldn't be here to talk about it, but they are, so we are, and here we all stand beneath a moon that is slowly drawing away from us as we spin in our step by step dance around the sun.

Sunday, November 11, 2007 11:40:00 pm  
Blogger Fiona A L Campbell said...

Fascinating stuff, immodest bacchus, and I bow to a superior scientific knowledge. I'm not going to get into a huge debate about creationism because I find atheism rather limited and negative, but I'm not a philosopher so I'm sure there is someone better equipped than I to debate with you.

But yes, the planting of dinosaur bones theory is a bit pathetic. I don't really have a problem with the Big Bang theory, although it is only a theory. How we came to be here is a great mystery, but I happen to consider the idea of a Creator at play to be more convincing. Nature is flawed, but still beautiful. If you like, a sense of beauty is my guiding light. I don't find atheism to be in any way a beautiful thought system.

Monday, November 12, 2007 10:39:00 am  
Blogger Immodest Bacchus said...

I wasn't trying to get into a discussion about god or creationism actually, I just felt obligated to put out those few caveats regarding my lack of theistic belief as this shades my viewpoint in humanistic tones. I merely wanted to point out, without taking anything away from the concept of theistic whimsy that you had advanced, that the moon is actually a very functional and important celestial object. Without our lunar companion, life as we know it would be much more difficult to sustain on our fragile little planet.

I don't think you need worry about questions of origin unless, as I pointed out, you are a very literal minded creationist of the old (or new) sort. Theoretically at least, I don't see any problem with having a creator whose creation has unfurled exactly more or less as it appears to have, as discovered by our sciences. Any singularity/god which was capable of creation on the scale typically assigned to it, would be able to see forward exactly to its outcome, down to the smallest details one would assume, and have set things in motion accordingly.

Anyway, it is always enjoyable reading your posts.

Monday, November 12, 2007 1:30:00 pm  
Blogger Fiona A L Campbell said...

Thank you! According to psalm 104 'He made the moon to mark the seasons.' Somewhere there is a passage about Wisdom being at play in creation before man was made, but I cannot find it. But this playful joy is I am sure at the heart of all goodness.

Psalm 121: 'My help comes from Yahweh who made heaven and earth...By day the sun will not strike you, nor the moon by night.'

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 10:47:00 am  

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