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It takes me roughly a full day to get from France to Australia. A rough estimate for what can be a rough journey : apart from the inevitable occasional turbulence, with thus far, after decades of flying Down Under, no dramatic or even disturbing effects, it is tiring, uncomfortable and … long (twenty hours in the air).

Light could do the same trip about sixteen times in a single second, and more than a million times if you gave it the time we take. Once again the figures are approximate, but as amateurs we won’t be too picky. When we were kids we got our first inkling about the speed of light as we noticed the lag in the snail-speed of the sound of thunder compared with the instantaneity of lightning. Non-scientific septuagenarians like me need simple examples and analogies to begin to realize just how myopic we are on a starry, starry night. Our star, the Sun, is (only) 150,000,000 kilometers from us, more than 8000 times as far as the sunny city of Sydney. The next nearest, Proxima Centauri, is over four Light-Years away. Just one light-year is nearly ten trillion (10,000,000,000,000) kilometers.

It’s strange that the experience of the same phenomenon can provoke diametrically opposed reactions. There are the Psalmists and the Priests and the People of God who see the heavens as a reflection of His glory, His power, His supreme intelligence and supposed anthropocentric purpose. And there is the atheist, like me, in awe beholding the awe-full spectacle of the night-sky, aware of a mystery we will never comprehend, literally dumbfounded as I realize how incredibly immense our solar system, our galaxy, our Universe must be. But I can’t bring myself to blame the believer for not sharing my conviction that it all just happened – for absolutely no purpose. It’s so much easier, I suppose, to believe that a Creator has the whole world – and us – in His hands. But heavens above ! What a wonder-full world !

RIDENDA RELIGIO

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