On the origin of stars
As a blogger, I often wing it, based on intuition and a general sense of a subject. My intuitions often turn out to be correct, but not always. Last night I made an intuitive analogy between the unproved origin of species out of the purposeless process of random mutations and natural selection, and the origin of stars out of nothing but hydrogen and helium atoms floating in empty space. I suggested that just as the first is unproved (and, as I have argued, inherently impossible), the second is also unproved.
In saying this I forgot things I had read years ago on this subject, and I was wrong. By coincidence (hah), I had breakfast this morning with Michael Hart, the author of The Hundred and Understanding Human History. Among his other areas of expertise, Mr. Hart is an astronomer. I asked him how well established is the conventional view of the origin of stars. He explained that highly detailed modeling had been done establishing every step of the process by which hydrogen and helium atoms, through the power of gravitation, form into clouds, thence into denser clouds, thence into proto-stars, thence (by increasing heat and pressure setting off a nuclear reaction) into stars. While Mr. Hart, who is a Darwinian but not a dogmatic one, agrees with me that the origin of species by random mutation and natural selection is not proved, he said that the origin of stars has been demonstrated with a far higher degree of certainty than the origin of species.
Provisionally accepting Mr. Hart’s explanation, as counterintuitive as it was to me, I said to him: Think of what this means. The universe and matter are designed in such a way that once hydrogen and helium atoms come into existence, floating in empty space, they automatically form into stars, and not just into a star here and there, but into trillions and trillions of stars filling the universe. And further, as we discussed, when the largest and shortest-lived of the first generation of stars burn out and explode, the remains of the exploded stars eventually form the second generation of stars that contain the higher elements such as carbon, iron, and oxygen, allowing for the creation of planets such as our own. It is an awe-inspiring thought that, just as an adult human being is a natural and automatic unfolding of a single fertilized cell, this universe filled with stars, each of them a slow-burning nuclear furnace lasting for as long as 20 billion years and capable of forming and supporting its own solar system, is a natural and automatic unfolding of hydrogen and helium atoms floating in space.