God Created Manchester – that’s what the legendary t shirt said. But I preferred my ‘Born In The North’ top. Don’t know why. Perhaps I harboured some deep concern that the mention of God and dear old Manchester in the same sentence might somehow be a bit blasphemous.
I wasn’t going to post anything about the sickening events in my home town – because words were truly failing me. In a desperate bid to avoid crass platitudes and explanations, I didn’t watch the telly or chase down Facebook avenues or Twitter ginnels (that’s a bit of Mank for you there). No, I put Radio 2 on. Chris Evans show. Couldn’t cope with Radio 4 today.
And there it was – ping! Professor Brian Cox. A man with a big Manky background who had filled the arena in Manchester the night before Ariana Grande with his own show. And who consequently, had been trying to get his own smart as a dart head around things.
Now I wouldn’t count myself as a Brian fan. I can’t understand what on earth he’s on about half the time. I try really hard. I mean really, I do. Because *he* – bless him – tries really hard to reach a doofus like me. I even screw my eyes up and tell myself ‘listen… listen…. this surely must make SOME sort of sense.’ But the minute he starts on about atoms, I’m reaching for the paracetamol and the fizzy Vimto.
And I’m also not a fan of the whole God Delusion discussions. Whether you get your knickers in a twist over Dawkins or Archibishop thingymajig or Pastor Blaster in the USA happen to be arguing about at the moment, doesn’t really bother me. But a very dear friend, a very sensitive pal of mine (who happens to be a muslim, who happens to be on a life sentence in a Texas prison, USA) wrote to me the other week about the terror attacks and said ‘Just since WHEN was it a crime – a licence to kill each other – because you disagree with one another about something? What is WRONG with the world out there?”
Sometimes it takes someone perceived to be much lower down the social pecking order than you are, to crystallise the message. And then someone up there with the stars like Prof Cox – to reaffirm it. What did he say? Well. He simply quoted Carl Sagan in ‘Pale Blue Dot’;
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Our Brian then wrapped up his interview with Chris Evans by remarking how incredibly unique and special human life is; “We know of no places in our galaxy where THIS happens – where life can develop into civilization, to people like us who can love and live and write and produce art…. where we are atoms that can contemplate atoms…. we as human beings, may be so precious – because there may be nowhere else where things like us can think about nature.” He reiterated that astronomy is about HUMILITY – a humbling and character building experience. That;
“Science is about admitting that we do NOT know everything … about embracing doubts and uncertainties and therefore embracing difference between each of us. It’s not unusual that we would have had different views of the universe because nobody knows the answer.”
And ironically, in moments like this – I get the feeling that many people would rather seek an answer from the ‘no answer – but let’s live and love and try, find real humility together,’ from science, rather than from traditional religion, from fatalism or from quick pat answers.
Or maybe I’m just getting old and tired of all of the heartbreak.