Sunsets, Who Can Explain 'Em?

Creationism is one of the last sick remnants of slavery.  In the days before the Civil War, northern Christian abolitionists cited the Golden Rule as reason to do away with slavery.[1]  Southern slave owners funded preachers and teachers who countered with literal readings of the Bible to not merely justify slavery but to denigrate African-Americans as inferior because they were descended from Ham, Noah's son who was punished for telling his brothers that their father got drunk and was lying naked in his tent. [2] The result was southern and rural western and midwestern churches (as dispossessed southerners moved out after the Civil War) who held to a false doctrine of Biblical literalism.[3]

Recently the creationist position was brutally sodomized mercilessly gutstomped given a pants down spanking bitch-slapped to a faretheewell demonstrated to be sadly lacking humiliatingly defeated bested in a much publicized debate.

We won’t go into that because others have done it better.

But I do want to touch on part of the fallout, specifically this lady’s question from the creationist side.

sunset enhanced-27109-1391576856-1

The sunset question gets quite fascinating when you start to unpack it.

For starters, you can't have a "sunset" without an observer: Planets rotate all the time but unless someone is actually there to observe it there's no sunset to see.[4]

Further, a sunset is not so much a noun as a verb; it is more of an event than a thing.  Observers on Earth placed a hundred miles apart on an east-west line would not see the same thing:  One could still be in daylight, another in night while the one in the middle enjoyed the view.

Set them up on a north-south axis and while the rotation of the planet may cause the sun to appear to dip behind the horizon, one observer many be in a cloudless area and see nothing spectacular, another much further to the south may be in an overcast area and not even be able to see the sun, while someone between the two might have the optimum blend of light and just the right kind / number of clouds to observe a spectacular show.

Further still, enjoying a sunset is something pretty much limited to people with unimpaired vision:  A terribly nearsighted person might perceive a smudge of color, a color blind person would see only shades of purple and grey, a blind person wouldn't see anything at all (though they might sense the passing of the warmth of the sun’s rays on their skin).

Even humans with perfect (for our species) 20-20 vision are at a disadvantage.  We see only three colors; our good friend the mantis shrimp sees sixteen!  No human can even imagine what the mantis shrimp’s world must look like because no human is capable of visualizing those colors.[5]

Further further still, only a human could look at a sunset and say “That’s beautiful.”  A camera can record the light and the position of the sun and clouds relative to that vantage point on Earth, but a camera conveys no meaning.  A person with no sense of aesthetics might see colors and details but not be able to put them together as "beauty", likewise a person under some form of psychological stress might not appreciate the beauty that overawes their companion.

Clearly, the beauty of a sunset has much less to do with the Earth’s atmosphere and sun than it does with the state of consciousness of the observer.

Which, when you think about it, is a pretty apt metaphor for the religious experience.

We, and the materialists, are experiencing the same set of sensory inputs; we are just processing them differently.

This does not have to be a needless either/or proposition; there is nothing incompatible with faith in a a great metaphysical being/spirit/concept that is responsible for/links together everything in our universe and an understanding of the physical mechanics of that universe.[6]

So, yeah, in a very real sense only God can make a sunset insofar as no religion postulates a theology where human consciousness is not in some fashion intrinsically linked to the divine.

sunset article-2362566-1AC8CA6F000005DC-878_964x954

[1]  On the basis that since nobody wants to be a slave, ergo it must be wrong to own slaves.

[2]  Slave owners plied both sides of the street, citing Darwin as biological proof to justify slavery.

[3]  Personally, I prefer the term "plain text reading" as opposed to "literal" or even worse, "inerrant". "Inerrant" means the theological teachings are without error, not that every word is literally true, but sloppy usage has confused the two terms in the minds of most people. Using the term "plain text reading" allows one to study the particular passage for its inherent meaning without requiring it to be 100% factual.

[4]  And, technically, our sun never sets; it’s a relative fixed point to the real motion of the Earth, although the Sun itself and the Milky Way galaxy are all traveling through space on their own.  I suppose ala Pitch Black there may be some double or triple star systems where one member actually does move behind another at some point, but that’s another topic for another time…

[5]  Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, and William S. Burroughs excepted.

[6]  The people who do make it incompatible generally tend to have a host of other hoops they require you to jump through for their benefit.

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