Author Archives: Scott Bowles

A Life in the Day

 

By 11:35 a.m. PDT today, the ballyhoo had turned to bellyaching.

“I’m glad we all took the day off,” one miffed TV reporter snarked Monday from Boise, Idaho. “Obviously, I’m being sarcastic.”

Leave it to local TV news to explain the joke — and miss the point. We have evolved from beholding a total solar eclipse was The End of Days to a disappointing End of Lunch phenomenon. One CNN report actually quoted Twitter (has Trump somehow made that a legitimate source) who cracked that the eclipse was “Like Y2K, without the drama.”

A nice quip, but like the newscaster, it fails grasp the expansive truth of time, and our role in it. Today’s eclipse did happen, and it was rare.

Tomorrow it will be forgotten. But today, let the occasion be a reminder of little miracles, ones that add up to less than we expect in a year, but more than we could dream in a decade.

  • Depending on the geometry of the Sun, Moon, and Earth, there can be between 2 and 5 solar eclipses each year.
  • Totality occurs when the Moon completely obscures Sun so only the solar corona is showing.
  • A total solar eclipse can happen once every 1-2 years. This makes them very rare events.s.
  • The longest a total solar eclipse can last is 7.5 minutes.
  • The width of the path of totality is usually about 160 km across and can sweep across an area of Earth’s surface about 10,000 miles long.
  • Almost identical eclipses occur after 18 years and 11 days. This period of 223 synodic months is called a saros.
  • During a total solar eclipse, conditions in the path of totality can change quickly. Air temperatures drop and the immediate area becomes dark.
  • If any planets are in the sky at the time of a total solar eclipse, they can be seen as points of light.
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Why You Don’t Believe In god

 

Don’t take this the wrong way (Don’t you love sentences that start that way? They state something that’s already pre-ordained: “Don’t take this the wrong way” means “You’re about to take this the wrong way;” “Nothing personal” means “You are about to hear something personal;” “No offense” means “You are about to be offended;” “We should start seeing other people” means “I am seeing other people.”

I forgot what I was talking about…oh yeah!

Nothing personal, but you’re an atheist.

And we’re not talking mealy-mouthed, just-to-be-sure agnosticism, that flaccid go-to for fence squatters. We’ll get to those bitches in a minute.

No, I’m talking fuck-you atheism; The heaven sent, hellbent, And the New York Times said God is dead and the war’s begun-level non-believing. The kind that gets you a reservation at The Satanic Suites in Hell’s Motel 6 (what, you were expecting The Wynn?).

That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news: You’re in great company! Stephen Hawking is an atheist. So was Confucius. Though scholars debate whether Lincoln converted in his final years, his disdain for a creator was front and center in a letter he penned after the death of his 11-year-old son Willie: “My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years,” he wrote. “And I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.” Theists like the idea of Abe switching sides at the 11th hour, which is odd; look at the thanks he got.

But wait, there’s more!: The transition won’t be nearly as tough as you think. You already are an atheist, just with one exception. Consider: There are 4,300 religions worldwide, according to a 2017 Pew study (did they get the irony of their name?). That means, even if you do consider yourself a believer, you’re an atheist when it comes to the other 4,299 poor, misguided belief systems.

Here’s a simple test you can take at home or the office to see if you’re an antichrist: Say, for instance, you are shot and survive (it happens 222 times a day in the U.S., according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence). On the way to the hospital, the paramedic asks you: “Would you like to go to a hospital or your place of worship?”

Here’s the odd thing about that obvious question: The answer is a matter of faith.

Take it one step further. Say you’re in an auto accident (there are 6,301 a day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). On your way to the hospital, you’re told your doctor is an atheist. Would that bother you? While we’re strolling there, might as well stop on this cerebral tack: Would you even want a physician who is convinced snakes can talk and the dead come back to life and every biological species known to mankind once shared a boat ride?

Make no mistake, there are U.S. citizens aplenty who accept only the lord as paramedic.  We call them Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They formally reject, for example, blood transfusions and traditional surgery. So if you’re in those fringe groups, my apologies for the blaspheming. And  best of luck praying that tumor away.

Which brings us to that special breed of American coward, the agnostic. This is perhaps the most stupefying manifestation of belief, the I’ll-say-I-believe-just-in-case approach to faith. If I were god, I’d be more pissed you thought me such a chump.

And the agnostic fail safe caveat, “I don’t know so I can’t say for sure,” is just as disingenuous. Life is based on probabilities and assumptions. When you cross a street, you are committing an act of faith — that the motorist won’t mow you down. From the air you breathe to the food you eat, a staggering percentage of our daily choices rely on assumption and chance. We reject agnosticism’s wavering in every other facet of life. Accept that you believe in something. Pick a side and suit up.

Finally — and most importantly — we atheists need face this inescapable truth: Atheism is a religion.

A religion, in fact, as far-fetched and outlandish as any Pentecostal Holy Roller revival. We fans of science flinch at the idea of faith. Yet we practice it, well, zealously.

Take Hawking, the apostle of non-believers. When he tells us there exists in the heavens something called a “black hole,” where light cannot escape and time fractures and the rules of physics no longer apply, we accept it. And quote prophets like Hawking and Einstein and Newton as if we were reading from Corinthians. Even though we will never see a black hole, we assume it’s true (and sounds an awful lot like Hades, minus the sunburn).

So why believe Hawking’s black hole and scoff at god’s Hell? That’s easy.

Because science has a better track record of running corrections, like a newspaper with a misspelling.  Flat earth? Sorry about that; turns out it’s round. Hurricanes? Oops, that’s not Poseidon’s wrath. Center of the universe? Um, scratch that; we’re not even the center of the solar system (which isn’t at the center of things, either). Science is like journalism in the midst of a fierce newspaper war; your raison d’etre is to find the truth first. And if the competition gets it wrong, bust their balls for inaccuracy.

Religion doesn’t have a similar stopgap. You could find, literally, thousands of textbooks that begin with science’s earlier misunderstandings of this world, from misjudging Earth’s shape to mistaking its earliest inhabitants.

Name a single religious text, in the history of histories, that begins with acknowledgement of an error.  You see, the texts aren’t wrong. Your reading of them is.

Fuck that. Time for atheists to concede that our skepticism is as much faith as their certainty. We need Saturday services (not on football Sunday) in which we replace sermons with half-hour Ted Talks on the mysteries of life and the universe.

We just need a catchy moniker. L. Ron Hubbard already claimed  Scientology, which would have been a kickass name. And The Simpsons took The Hell’s Satans and The Christ Punchers.

It’ll come to me. The secret to divine inspiration is to ponder a problem and and then forget about it, letting it settle to near nothingness until there’s a big…BANG!

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