One of the major changes that's come with the new site is that here, every post has to have an accompanying image. I'm not complaining - I had always meant to have more pictures on the old Daylight Atheism, I think they make a site more interesting and engaging - but since I didn't have to, I rarely went to the trouble. Now that that's changed, I've been putting together a library of public domain and Creative Commons-licensed pictures (plus a few shots of my own) to use with future posts.
While I was looking around on Wikimedia Commons, I came across this page, a contest to select the best image out of all the featured pictures of 2010. The winner is, indeed, spectacular: a wide-angle image of the Paranal Observatory in Chile, looking into the heart of the Milky Way with a laser-guided adaptive optics system. But it's not just that one picture I want to focus on: it's the gallery page, which shows all the entries. There are previous years, too.
Browse all the galleries, as I've spent some time doing, and I think there's just one conclusion to be drawn: Isn't the world an awesome place?
From a single cell to a sweeping landscape vista to a distant galaxy, at every level the universe reveals a fractal scale of intricacy and beauty. The products of human culture don't compete on that scale, but in their finest moments, they offer something different: a majestic combination of ambition, creativity and craftsmanship, whether it's a medieval cathedral or a modern scientific observatory. (Of course, as I've noted in the past, the observatories at least have the benefit that they're used to advance human knowledge rather than superstition.) But whether they're the most breathtaking examples of natural beauty or the loftiest products of human ability, either way these images stir the same sense of awe and admiration in me.
Part of the reason I'm an egalitarian is that the world is an amazing place, one that we all inherit by virtue of being born into it, and I think every person deserves the opportunity and the means to experience its glories for themselves. Beauty shouldn't be hidden away, fenced off, or available only to a select few; it should be shared with everyone. We all only get one life, and we should all have the chance to live it to the fullest!
Image credit: NASA