For me, one of the defining moments in my life occurred almost three decades ago when PBS aired a series called “Cosmos” hosted by a charismatic poet named Carl Sagan. I could be found in front of the TV every week motionless and staring as my impressionable little brain was indoctrinated into the realm of critical thinking, the scientific method and a view of the universe that was so much larger than what I thought it to be.
Episode thirteen of that series, “Who Speaks for Earth?”, is my favorite and I watch it over and over again. In a good portion of this amazing hour, Sagan takes us on a tour that starts at the beginning of the universe and continues through to the creation of creatures who learned how to manipulate their environment, to work cooperatively, to build societies…to stand on another world. This time line, when viewed objectively, is a creation myth. He concludes:
“These are some of the things that hydrogen atoms do given fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution. It has the sound of epic myth, but it is simply a description of the evolution of the cosmos as revealed by science in our time.”
Adam Frank’s talk concentrates on how in the “science versus religion” debate, we need to get rid of the “versus”. Like Adam and Carl, I am an atheist. But, being an atheist or a scientist does not preclude one from having spiritual experiences. For me, spirituality consists of those moments of connectedness with the universe. They are the moments in which some grand truth is revealed to me…they’re just revealed through science, rather than religion. I posted the article about the George Smoot talk specifically because viewing the structure of the universe though George’s lens was as profound a moment for me I can remember.
As a science geek, I was extremely excited when Marge Betley referred us to Adam. I was even more excited when I started reading his blog and found that his views were so closely aligned with mine. And, he didn’t disappoint. Of the reviews I’ve read on the ‘Net, Adam’s talk was the most well-received, and with good reason.
Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester who studies star formation and stellar death using supercomputers. His recent book, The Constant Fire, Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate, has just been issued in paperback by the University of California Press. His new book The End of Beginnings: Revolutions in Time, Life and Cosmology will published next year by Free Press. You can find more of his thoughts on science and the human prospect at the Constant Fire blog.