I must first confess, I didn’t imagine before now that I would ever have occasion to write an article about Miley Cyrus, but as it turns out, she has brought attention to a monumental issue (human origins and their implications) and has served as a catalyst for much consideration on the part of both her fans and her critics. I commend her for that. Beyond that achievement, I also give her credit for recognizing the beauty and elegance of the interpretation she seems to prefer.
On March 1, 2012 (at 3:07pm exactly [don’t you just love the precision of Twitter?]), Miley Cyrus tweeted a one-word description of a picture of and quotation by Lawrence Krauss. Krauss is captioned in the pic as a “Theoretical Physicist” (more on that later), and his statement is indeed elegant:
“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than the atoms in your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I KNOW (emphasis mine) about the universe: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded. Because the elements (the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, all the things that matter for evolution) weren’t created at the beginning of time, they were created in stars. So forget Jesus. Stars died so you could live.”
Cyrus’ one word description was: “Beautiful.”
Krauss is accurately described as a theoretical physicist, I think, especially in observing that there is not a scientific statement, nor even a proven or provable one in his comment. Science is by definition, knowledge, and is commonly understood as obtainable and tested through particular methods.
The scientific method (involving at least observation and experimentation) requires that scientists let the data speak for itself – still, that method can’t fully extricate us from our dependence on first principles, assumptions or presuppositions. In Krauss’ case, it is evident that his presuppositions – rather than his science – are governing his conclusions. He is certain – in fact, he knows – that we are all stardust. Notably, Miley Cyrus is doing as much science as is Krauss in deriving this conclusion (none).
How carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen all first came to be part of the human experience does not reside in the realm or jurisdiction of science. That event was not observed by Krauss, nor does he make appeal to any such eyewitnesses. Further, the event is not repeatable. Even if we could somehow simulate what we think might have happened, there would be no way to be certain that such a thing indeed happened at the first.
Krauss doesn’t postulate we are stardust – he knows it. But how, if such a thing is not scientifically ascertainable?
Krauss doesn’t postulate that the elements were not created at the beginning of time – he knows it. But, again, how? When he appeals to no evidence (besides unprovable and unscientific statements) regarding what took place?
How indeed? The answer is simple actually: faith. Krauss has a tremendous amount of faith in an interpretation of reality that excludes the possibility of God’s existence and creative work. I must say, such strong faith (in anything) is something of a marvel – if not beautiful. So, I commend Miley Cyrus for her recognition that there is beauty in Krauss’ statement, if only for the grand expression of faith the statement represents.
I also commend Krauss for moving beyond origins to understanding the implications. If we are starstuff, we are accountable only to the stars. If as Carl Sagan suggests, the cosmos is all that is, was or ever will be, then as he concludes, we owe our loyalty to the cosmos (I suppose, though we can reasonably debate how ought derives from is). Krauss recognizes that if his certainty of our origin is correct, then we owe our lives not to God, but simply to the stars that birthed us. And those stars have made known to us no ethical requirements. They don’t teach us how to live. Rather we are left to our own devices.
While I would never suggest that this kind of atheistic worldview does not allow for ethics (even an atheist can borrow theistic ideas), I would suggest that if we take these things to their logical conclusion we are left with some interesting questions.
For example, if Darwin was right, and we are simply animals deriving from animals, then we are fully justified in living as animals. Animals have no moral culpability in their destruction of one another, but only practical considerations. Survival of the fittest is the law, and there is no other.
Further, if the stars, as part of nature, are justified in their exploding (events which presumably would cause great destruction to other entities in their proximity), then how can human actions which might cause destruction –whether to other humans or other aspects of environment around them – be deemed inappropriate or even unnatural? Can nature do anything unnatural? If I am nature, then I can do no wrong. Who dare restrict or condemn me?
Miley Cyrus is right – that degree of faith is a beautiful thing, even if the object of that faith is a heartbreaking deception. Still, I cannot muster any faith in something so fanciful. Perhaps an application of the scientific method which could demonstrate to me that life can come from non-life would help me view Krauss’ explanation as something other than utter nonsense.
Still, I commend Krauss for being a man of faith, and I commend Cyrus for finding beauty in that. But as for me, I find Krauss’ statements of origin to be biased and unscientific, and the ethical implications to be incoherent. Further, I would hope we recognize that Krauss’ statements are not scientific or even informed by science (they are not), but rather his presuppositions and assumptions inform and undergird his science.
I would hope that we recognize what his words really are – a grand and poetic declaration of independence from God. I hope and pray that Krauss and Cyrus realize the true weight of that declaration.