Archive for May 2010
Tall Penguin, the blog of a co-worker of mine, became famous when P.Z. Myers linked to a picture of our bookstore’s Bible section stripped of Bibles by some amused people. People strayed for her accounts of the life that she built after she left the denomination of the Jehovah’s Witnesses behind, how she started to radically reconsider her world from that point. She gained such famed that she became the subject of a podcast interview at the blog Irreligiosity.
The interview is great; hers is a terrible story. The extent to which the denomination sought to manipulate people–to isolate them by discouraging them from critical thinking via higher education, by lying about the procedures determining doctrine, by reversing doctrines arbitrarily (one moment receiving organ donations was cannibalism, the next it was acceptable) at the expense of so many lies–horrifies me. The doctrine of the 144 000 people who would ascend to heaven in the end times, strained by the fact that the current number of Jehovah’s Witnesses number in the million, is ridiculous: arguing that people in the past who seemed faithful were not and that it is quite possible that people with true faith will replace the bad one is as self-serving as any that I think of. And Tall Penguin broke away from all that, simply because of a chance encounter that she had with a book that her partner had brought home, something that inspires her to think critically about her universe. Given the denomination’s dislike for engagement with outside thoughts, and its appalling desire to police the innermost thoughts, it isn’t surprising that she was a victim of a shunning.
Faith is something that I have been engaging with personally of late; I still go to St. Thomas’s. I’ve found it centering; I like the idea of structure. At the same time, the idea of faith that supposes itself to be beyond reason appalls me. I would like to believe that I can have a faith that is compatible reason: if I was asked to believe something unbelievable–if, in short, it seems to violate natural law–I wouldn’t be attending St. Thomas’s. (Yes, I think there can be natural law, of a sort at least. Read Robert Wright’s Non Zero for more.) I would like to think that it is possible to combine an informed faith with respect for reason. I think it is possible. Certainly Tall Penguin’s story confirms that there are some faiths that are entirely uninterested in reason. Is that a risk for all denominations?
What do you all think? I would be interesting in hearing from others.
Betelgeuse, the brightest star in the constellation Orion (hence its name Alpha Orionis) forming the northwesternmost corner of that constellation and the ninth-brightest star in the night sky massive star. Though only a few years old, its mass-twenty times that of the Sun–means that it’s a “highly evolved” star, aging and fluctuating hugely in light and size; its size is huge regardless, its size stretching beyond the orbit fo Neptune. Even though its something like six hundred light-years away, Betelgeuse is such a huge star that astronomers have actually been able image its disk for more than a decade.
Betelgeuse is a fine candidate for a supernova, with its mass and its age and its instabilities. Astronomers predict that it’s likely to do just that at some time in the next thousand years. It may have done that already, actually, but because of the limits of the speed of light we just wouldn’t know. The indispensable James Nicoll has linked to a report–based on an unsubstantiated report, but still–that Betelgeuse is about to burst forth any day now.
Betelgeuse has been shrinking continuously since 1993, at an increasing rate. By June 2009, it had shrunk 15% from its size as measured in 1993.
But wait! There’s more. It is rumored, though I have been unable to find any reliable confirmation of the source (which is claimed to be first-hand) that the latest observations from Mauna Kea show that Betelgeuse is now shrinking so fast it is no longer round. (Due to conservation of angular momentum, when a massive star collapses gravitationally, it collapses faster at the poles, becoming increasingly oblate — flattened — as its final collapse accelerates.)
What does this mean?
Well, briefly, what it means — if true — is that Betelgeuse could be within as little as weeks of a Type II (core collapse) supernova.
Supernovaed Betelgeuse would be a bright, bright star. “The supernova that created the Crab Nebula, SN 1054, was bright enough to see in daylight for 23 days, and remained visible for 653 days … and it was 6,300 LY away. Betelgeuse is almost 12 times closer, and can be expected to appear around 140 times brighter by virtue of that alone.” Earth is far enough away from Betelgeuse that there’s not going to be apart from the amazing show of brightness; Betelgeuse certainly wouldn’t do what Hobus did to Romulus.
This is, I repeat, an unconfirmed report. But it’s a cool one. Wouldn’t I love to see a supernova with my own naked eye!