March 19, 2016

The Hand of God Probably Only Looks This Way from Earth. But What Does That Tell You?


Giant 'Hand' Reaches Across Space

"The scene, which spans 150 light-years, is about 17,000 light years away, so what we see now is how it actually looked 17,000 years ago."
That was 2009. Now, nearly five years later, the same story is back with this droll drip of the deepening dullness:
"We don't know if the hand shape is an optical illusion," said Hongjun An of McGill University, Montreal, Canada. -- 'Hand of God' captured in NASA image

How quaint. How wonderfully secular the measurements and the standard pop quotes around 'Hand.' Sort of like dropping the word 'allegedly' in front of the name of someone who was caught on tape boosting a fifth of Maker's Mark in the back of the store. I love the unremitting pressure to qualify the obvious in 21st century life. It's so high minded and sensitive. It's a pose that makes everyone who assumes it appear so advanced, so non-judgmental, especially when it comes to "the facts."

It's a funny thing about 'fact.' We've spun so far off center we've actually used fact to replace truth.

Indeed, there are whole industries dedicated to expunging truth with facts. This isn't really what the Enlightenment was hoping for when it set out to enlarge the edifice of fact in the search for truth, but facts are funny that way. Pile up enough into a "great complexity" and they can bury simple truths. Not that facts aren't an element of truth. They are. But they're not, as they say, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you wish to see lies built of facts, you have only to look about you.

"We had the experience but missed the meaning." We look upon the lies of fact in order to miss the miracle. It's part of our disease, our Adam's Curse, that we can see the miracle whole, obvious, and manifest, and strive, immediately and with all our might, to shrink it down into "facts." Our tragedy is that this base struggle to evict the soul from its vessel does not avail us. At bottom we simply lack the power to disengage the soul and erase the miracle. Our struggle to do so only deforms us. It does not release us.

The miracle persists. It persists right in front of our eyes, in all that we see in every moment of life. It persists, infusing everything from the farthest roof beams spanning the vault of heaven deep down into the vibrating phase-changes of the atom, and deeper in still until, in either direction, the great chain of being seems to have no top and no bottom, but like the Ouroboros locked in a Möbius that spins into a circle ever returning to the self-same spot.

Many of those who spend their lives studying cosmology, as well as many of those whose lives are spent studying subatomic particles, strings, charm, quarks and the ever expanding pantheon of mini-matter, have noted, sometimes only in passing and without pause, how close our most cutting-edge physics come to our most ancient metaphysics. And so, beneath all the vast drifts of data and the oceans of facts, we always seek, with instruments always more powerful, to look deeper in and further out. Suspecting, only sometimes and only in passing, that it is the same direction; that as Heraclitus knew, "The way up and the way down are one and the same."

We have always looked to the heavens for signs. It is what we do. And we have always sought to understand those signs to the best of our always limited ability;
"And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating...."

This photograph gleaned from one of our most powerful, modern, and oh-so-technical instruments is just the latest emblem out of a million years of signs from the heavens. And in the end it is seen, as it is seen here by me and by you, through the oldest of our instruments, the soul.

Do I, an exemplar of the most advanced culture in history, actually believe that this is the image, the manifestation, the fading photograph of the hand of God, the Supreme Being? Of course not. Not for a moment do I think that what I see in this image is that. I believe... no... I know for a fact that what I am seeing is merely gas and stars in a seemingly random arrangement shining in a narrow, very narrow, part of the spectrum so that, to my deeper mind and imagination, I pull together some vague shapes in the play of color on the void and relate it to what I have seen elsewhere, felt elsewhen -- and out of that produce a feeling, thought, in my mind that makes my eyes see what appears to be an impossible hand reaching across space long ago in exactly nowhere. It's a cosmic Rorschach image, a glowing gasblot somewhere in limitless space. That it is a 'hand' is impossible. It is even more impossible that it is even an image of a hand.

But that is not the most impossible thing about this image.

What is even more impossible than this utter impossibility is the fact that you see it too.

I know, from all the facts that I have learned, that if the Earth itself were positioned in relative space a few degrees this way or that, moving at a slightly different relative speed towards a slightly different point in the sky, with its local group of stars slightly tilted a bit this way or a bit that way, that the purely imaginary impression of this being a hand would disappear utterly. It might look like a dagger. It might look like a flower. It might look like nothing other than the random assortment of gas clouds that it most assuredly is. What it would not look like, given just a few minor (on the cosmic scale) variations is 'The Hand of God.'

And that's a stone cold fact. Note it. File it. Toss it to the top of the always rising mountain range of facts that we love to build as bulwarks against the dark.

But is it the truth?

Well, it is a true fact. But here's another.

After all the facts are filed, here I am and there you are. We're spinning about an immense ball of thermonuclear fire on the third stone out from the Sun. We're the end product, as of today, of a great chain of being stretching backwards in time for billions of years to a primordial spark that we do not know or understand. That spark created life here and began the long process to us. It began life that is -- as far as we know today for a fact -- the only life anywhere in the billions of light years we can see. (Yes, I know it is unlikely we are alone, but until we know differently for a fact, that's the fact.) We do not know the why of it all even though the persistence of the miracle whispers there must be a why. At the same time, it is highly likely that beings as limited as we obviously are will never know the why. The why is pretty much outside of science, barely within metaphysics, and above our evolution grade.

What we do know is that, because of how we are made and what we have become, through suffering, striving, effort and, yes, grace, that there are some six billion of us that can look at this strange image of gas and stars and somehow understand it as a hand. And that, at will, we can move our hands to write words such as these to reach across space and time and make others like us understand that although it looks like a hand it cannot possibly be one; that such a thing is utterly impossible.

If you don't think that's a miracle that surpasses all understanding, you simply don't have all the facts.

Posted by Vanderleun at March 19, 2016 12:14 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Why does it have to be a miracle? Since you're clearly capable of understanding to the best of your ability the chain of facts that led to your existence and self-awareness, there need for miracles is summarily obviated.

I'm not saying the existence of self-aware baryonic matter within the error bars of a cosmology so vast it's nearly absurd isn't a wonderful improbability replete with an inexhaustible beauty, I just don't understand why you need magic to imbue value to it.

Maybe that's just semantics.

Posted by: Drew at April 7, 2009 2:46 AM

It's almost equally amazing that the "enlightened" will see aught but a vapor of vanity.

The linear nature of the visible cosmos is, billions of years later, transcended by a mere thought born of a snapshot of one moment in the parade of history. It is at that point we have stepped out of the linear reality, and all has becomes possible.

And even transcending all this, can a man that was dead, live again?

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at April 7, 2009 3:50 AM

I have been apostate from the Church for almost 50 years, but modern physics, especially cosmology, seems to be slowly, gravitationally dragging me back. Nowadays, I sit in the back of the empty nave and meditate alone.

Part of it is the enormous number of finely tuned adjustments to reality needed for our existence, like the size of the moon. Another part is the absurdities invented by physicists to avert attention from the adjustments, like the cosmological anthropic principle and the multiverse.

And then we are alone. Even if others exist, if physics is anywhere near true, we will never meet them, we will never even speak to them. All this for us. Deo gracias.

We don't need miracles. We and the world are miracles.

Posted by: Bob Sykes at April 7, 2009 4:18 AM

I grow weary of the press' caricatures of us Christians.

Hasn't it occurred to them that it IS possible to believe in the bible AND evolution? Or do they just want to promote divisions between us?

Posted by: cond0010 at April 7, 2009 4:19 AM

Back when I watched it (they might still), CNN used to run these little slides -- screen farts, if you will -- called Factoids. They'd put a slide up on the screen in the "did you know...?" mode. For the most part, as best I can recall, most of them were wrong in some or all parts.

The term humanoid describes a general conformation to the traits of humanity, but implies an expansion of criteria to possibly include other species than homo sapiens sapiens.

The word asteroid describes a general conformation to the visible traits of a star, but... not so much. An object that seems to resemble a star, but isn't really.

And the neologism factoid describes a bit of data which, while seemingly resembles a fact, but... not so much.

The mainstream media culture seems to deal most in factoids.


Posted by: Mark Alger at April 7, 2009 6:15 AM

Mystery is God's gift to man.

Posted by: Roy Lofquist at April 7, 2009 6:23 AM

Each of us comes into a world that offers a first sight of hands, hands helping us from the womb, hands feeding and cleaning and soothing, hands holding steady in guidance and safety; hands reaching, in love, to give of themselves what we need.

God, our Father, Mother and ultimate self, is ever holding hands out for us.

Posted by: askmom at April 7, 2009 6:39 AM

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
If this is not perceived as truth, then the only thing that can follow is a massive agglomeration of disconnected facts. Like a billion beads with no string.


Posted by: jwm at April 7, 2009 7:00 AM

Facts do not speak for themselves, truth does. Facts only speak for competing ideas. We can only find truth with logic after we have found truth without it. No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.

The imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man. Whatever the scientist may say, when we take the supernatural out of the natural, we leave only the unnatural.

A mind all logic is like a knife all blade, it makes the hand bleed that uses it--the madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everyting but his reason.

Sowell, Chesterton, Newton, Feynmean, Barr, Tagore

Posted by: james wilson at April 7, 2009 8:03 AM

Everything is as real as rainbow. Light + reflective medium + nervous system; or spirit, matter, and soul.

Posted by: Gagdad Bob at April 7, 2009 8:33 AM

Magic's got nothing to do with it.

Posted by: vanderleun at April 7, 2009 9:37 AM

"The why is pretty much outside of science, barely within metaphysics, and above our evolution grade."

My heart tells me that the why is so the primal spirit, whence issued forth the cosmos, can have self experience. It gets lonely around here, you know?

Your piece is beautiful, transcending.

Posted by: John Hinds at April 7, 2009 9:46 AM

In the synchronicity that is rarely, if ever, "coincidental" in my experience, I would point you to yesterday's First Things essay, here.

In a world which rejects Truth, we cling to "facts", and in the process lose our souls.

Beautifully written. Thank you.

Posted by: Dr Bob at April 7, 2009 10:01 AM

Once again, Gerard, a gorgeous piece.

The minds which cannot accept anything but "facts" are, imo, a result of 40 years or so of this:

Posted by: Rob De Witt at April 7, 2009 10:37 AM

Dr. Bob,

Tremendous essay; thanks for the link.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at April 7, 2009 11:01 AM

What's the red thing?

Posted by: David McKinnis at April 7, 2009 12:45 PM

Does this prove that God was a righty?

Posted by: Barnabus at April 7, 2009 3:48 PM

When you say we may never know the "whys" of it all, do you know that you're totally discounting the whys in the Bible---you who opines frequently on the graceful poetry of the King James translation? I know it's not fashionable to read or refer to the Bible as reality in such sophisticated circles, however, it might be noted that it's all spelled out there in a dazzling panorama to anyone who bothers---read that, dares--- to spend time and read it in sequence instead of picking and choosing particular verses to gnaw on. And then to ask for the Holy Spirit to give meaning to you. I realize this put me in the southern, category.

FYI, before my born-again Christian experience several years ago in DC of all places, I had a profound born-again God experience through the study of physics and thermodynamics in engineering school. It knocked my socks off, actually, and it all happened through advanced mathematical equations, a language unto itself, which somehow went from the intellectual realm unbeknowst to me into the heart and soul of my being. It so stunned me, I almost dropped out of school. But didn't.

Posted by: Webutante at April 7, 2009 4:54 PM

Ever notice that cartoon characters only have 3 fingers on their hands?

Look at that picture again.

Some people will claim that this shows that God is a Disney invention, but I prefer to think that S/He has a sense of humor.

Posted by: bud at April 7, 2009 5:11 PM

It could be reaching to bitch slap Richard Dawkins, and it would make no difference to them.

There are none so blind as those who will not see, Nor so deaf as those who will not hear.

Is 6:8-10
I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
"Who shall I send? Who will go for Me?"
Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."
And He said, "Go, and say to My people:
`Hear and hear, but do not listen;
see and see, but do not look.'
Make their hearts fat,
their ears plugged, and
their eyelids heavy;
lest they see with their eyes,
hear with their ears, and
know with their hearts,
and they repent and are healed."

Posted by: Fat Man at April 7, 2009 6:53 PM

Sorry to bring you mystics down to earth but this is obviously an April Fool piss-take by a computer graphics geek: a soccer fan who has digitalised and played with a photo shot of Diego Maradona cheating during the World Cup match between Argentia and England on 22nd June 1986 at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City just four years after the Falkland’s war. He scored the first goal with his hand and the second goal after dribbling past six defenders – a goal that was later voted the ‘Goal of the Century. Diego later described that first goal as "The Hand of God!" Soon after he suffered for his sin when, ridden by guilt and infamy, he became an obese cocaine addict. However, God eventually forgave him and he now runs the Argentine national soccer team.

This is a story of wickedness, repentance, forgiveness and hope. But I should offer a word of caution: if Argentina are drawn against England in the 2010 World Cup, Maradona had better watch his back, lest the Hand of the Archetypal English Soccer Fan (less forgiving than God Himself) happens to be carrying a shiv. Now that's a fact! And if this appears sacrilegious, in my own defence (and there are few who could dribble past that) I would aver that God has twisted sense of humour; where else could I have acquired mine? Newton certainly didn't have one - if he had he would have died laughing and a lot earlier in light of his 'discoveries', which apparently shocked not only him, but his academic contemporaries. Not so the hoi polloi of those troubled times; they knew all about the survival of the fittest!

Posted by: Frank P at April 8, 2009 6:17 AM

God is a beaver-like rodent with a deep voice, three fingers and a thumb. I saw this on "South Park"on "The Comedy Channel."

So. Please. Stop trying to confusticate me.

Posted by: Patrick Carroll at April 9, 2009 9:40 PM

I realize it kinda-sorta looks like a hand but you realize if we even blink for a second it will look like this....


Since we are talking about facts and stuff.

Posted by: Tman at April 9, 2009 9:52 PM

Some wise person once said, "the more I know, the more I realize I don't know." Or words to that affect.
Our problem today is that we don't have that wisdom.

Posted by: Adagny at April 10, 2009 7:55 AM

April-17-2008 at 2:00 a.m. As I proceeded to lay down I hear a males voice say "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH". I ignored it and it said for a second time even louder "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH". I immediately know who it was and I know he was talking about my life but he had much more to show me. I was scared at first but I knew his presence and that it was no danger. I heard voices all around me whispering and talking and so I cleared my throat to let them know that I was awake and aware. So immediately after I shut my eyes I awoke. I was no longer at home. I looked down and saw that I had on my same clothes that I went to sleep in then all of a sudden I was transformed into a white robe and shoes and ascending down. I was in a building that had window in it and I could see people walking on the streets. I looked up toward the sky and the heavens opened up with this radiant light that a mans voice was speaking from and he told me repeatedly
"CHICAGO WILL BETHE FIRST TO FALL". I looked up and said why and I walked over to warn the people but a power shield or force preventing me from doing so. Next I heard a large bang and the street that the people were walking on came literately up. I do not know what Chicago will be hit with but what I saw was strong enough to shake and tear the ground into pieces. I will never forget the man that will be wearing sunglasses,the black suit with stripes. They are not going to know what hit them. Tera Lashae Leonard

Posted by: teraleonard at May 25, 2009 4:48 PM

Once upon a time, Immanuel Kant (maybe the unintentional high-water mark of 'reason alone' to the detriment of all else) was attending a lecture by a an atheistic and materialistic astronomer on the topic of man's place in the universe. The astronomer concluded his lecture with: “So you see that, astronomically speaking, man is utterly insignificant.” Kant replied: “Professor, you forgot the most important thing, man is the astronomer.”

Posted by: M.P. Ryan at January 12, 2014 4:53 AM

There's a certain dissonance, possibly cognitive, in these press release headlines, on scientific subjects, as written. "The Hand of God," "The "God" Particle," etc.

Such headlines are dreamed up and written to suck in readers; clicky, clicky; and they are quite possibly purposely utilized as a means to ensure continued funding for the scientific community's pet projects, as they capture the imagination of individual taxpayers, whether secular or religious, from whose pockets their funding flows.

Posted by: John Venlet at January 12, 2014 9:39 AM

Even scientists, such as Hubble and Hawking, do not wish to examine all the solutions to their questions of the universe. While watching an episode of Church Militant, I watched a trailer for "The Principle" on YouTube. That in turn led me to a longer piece on YouTube that addressed geocentrism by Dr Robert Sungenis. You will not view scientists or the universe quite the same again.

Posted by: indyjonesouthere at January 12, 2014 10:32 AM

Damn, that's good.

Can't believe I missed it the first time.

Posted by: El Baboso at January 12, 2014 10:32 AM

I read this beautiful piece of writing three times today. There are no adequate words... It's simply outstanding!

Posted by: Captain Dave at January 12, 2014 3:27 PM

It is a perplexing fact that Leftists who state that it is all about feelings rather than results can't feel.

Posted by: grace at January 12, 2014 5:38 PM

A celestial high five? So He is black, then?

Posted by: Frank P at January 12, 2014 5:44 PM

Posted by: Scott M at January 13, 2014 1:11 AM

Does the horsehead nebula prove that god is a horse?

If the astronomer who first noticed this cloud called it "The Hand of Jim" would i have to accept that Jim exists?

Jim says yes.

When I look at these distant Rorschach blots i see, i don't know, pretty butterfly?

Posted by: Storm Saxon's Gall Bladder at January 13, 2014 5:46 AM

Thank you Gerard for this.

Posted by: DeAnn at January 14, 2014 7:25 PM

I couldn't resiѕt сommenting. Well wrіtten!

Posted by: canada goose oslo at January 20, 2014 9:16 PM

The more I learn, the more miraculous it all seems.

Posted by: pdwalker at January 29, 2014 10:17 AM