Posts Tagged ‘science’

A Caveman’s Theory

February 24, 2008

Thousands of years ago, the first gods were conceived.  The earliest known civilizations had their gods, often connected to the natural environment, the elements, and celestial bodies.  These gods were probably theorized by cavemen – sorry, cave people –  to explain the sun, moon, stars, tides, etc.  They had no concept of the world around them, let alone what lay beyond it.

All these gods were later consolidated into one god.  Monotheism was very convenient and useful for kings or emperors who wanted to consolidate and manage power.  Multiple gods gave priests more power as there was more for them to interpret, but a single god enabled a king to claim to be chosen by the one god to rule.  There would be no other gods with dissenting opinions, so there would be no justification or tolerance for people who dissent.

This occurred in Egypt, when the pharaoh Akhenaten proclaimed a single god.  Apparently, this was not popular with the priests, who had enjoyed power and influence.  It has been suggested that they probably also profited from the looting of tombs after the nobles were buried.  After his death, traditional polytheism was re-established.

Later, the Jewish mythology surrounding Moses and the exodus from Egypt came along.  This was followed by Christianity, which infiltrated the Roman empire all the way up to the emperor.  The Romans spread it across Europe and the idea survived the empire.  The monarchs of the kingdoms that emerged in the wake of the collapsed empire sought papal sanction.  If they couldn’t get it, some would replace the pope with one who saw things their way.  Later, they would break from the papacy and claim their own divine right to rule.

Challenge to papal authority was also integral to the enlightenment.  Ideas that contradicted church concepts of the universe emerged.  The church was not pleased and persecuted those with ‘heretic’ notions.  It, and kings who claimed divine right, enjoyed their power, influence, and accompanying wealth, just as the priesthood of ancient Egypt had.

Free thought endured and survived, leading to modern scientific method and theories.  Many of those who cling to gods and religions refuse to accept new ideas that fly in the face of their beliefs, no matter how cohesive the models or how much evidence is accrued.  But, honestly, who is smarter – a modern scientist or a cave person?

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Fear of the Void

February 10, 2008

The void must be a very scary thing to many, if not most, people.  As far as I can see, people believe in god because they’re afraid of the gaps in human knowledge.  They feel a need to fill in these gaps and that’s where god comes in handy.  Everything is defined and can be traced back to a source, even if it, itself, is undefinable.

I had a phone conversation with a family member a while back that turned into a discussion about religion, god, and society.  We disagreed, so maybe debate would be a better word.  She seemed to rely on the fact that I didn’t have all the answers as proof that her belief was justified and, therefore, that our society should be founded in religious principles.

At one point, I had her cornered.  She had no response and, suddenly, there was real panic and fear in her voice as she started accusing me of some violation of the rules or principles of debate, then found an excuse to end the conversation and hang up.  I realized that she didn’t just want to believe she was right.  For some reason, she needed to.

I don’t understand this fear.  I accept that there’s a lot we don’t know.  I even accept that what we know is dwarfed by what we don’t know.  I’m OK with saying, “I don’t know”.  It’s a perfectly valid, and honest, answer.  We gradually fill in the knowledge gap, or void, with facts as we expand our knowledge.

But that’s not fast enough or good enough for some people.  They want a complete package now.  And, if any facts threaten their complete, but false, universe, they reject them – often vociferously.  They seem to think the world will fall apart without one.  Some, who have been misled or lied to and then realize it, do have or let their worlds fall apart, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Even some people who reject god and religion continue their pursuit of perfection.  They need a perfect system or philosophy to replace the old one they discovered wasn’t perfect, or even real.  They need an irrefutable core that everything else can be traced back to.

But we are imperfect people in an imperfect world.  We do the best we can for ourselves and to balance our own needs with those of society.  We try to interact with others in a way that is as mutually agreeable as possible.

Maybe we will find a perfect philosophy or system one day.  Maybe not.  Until then, we have to accept our imperfection and make do with what we do know.  We should not accept a false system of belief that offers misleading perfection, or an illusory perfect world view.

A society based on lies will eventually come crashing down.  Better to bring about a soft landing than to delay the inevitable crash by trying to hold up the sky.

Beware the Ever Present Bogeyman

February 3, 2008

A couple nights ago I watched another movie on TV that I’d avoided on its release because I’d expected religious propaganda – with good reason.  M. Night Shyamalan’s previous film ‘Signs’ was a very bad, blatant attempt to say that keeping faith in god will save you.

But ‘The Village’ is a much more intelligent, thought provoking, and honest movie.  The story is set in what appears to be a nineteenth century Mennonite type village.  Life is simple, people are innocent and respectful, and old world values are adhered to.  A council of elders are in charge and their edicts are abided by.

This may seem idyllic but the village is in an isolated valley, surrounded by woods inhabited by hostile creatures.  Only the elders seem to have been around before the current truce.  The rest of the community takes their word that there was trouble in the past.  To keep the creatures away, the colour red is banned because it supposedly attracts them.

There is a metaphor here for religion and politics.  There is a clearly defined boundary at the edge of the woods which must not be crossed.  When Lucius Hunt wants to visit the outside world for medicine that would benefit the community, he is forbidden because he would have to pass through the woods.  Medicine?  Science?

One day, Lucius ventures into the woods and is seen by one of “those of whom we do not speak”, as they are referred to.  The red-robed creatures invade the village that night and leave red warning symbols on doors.  This provides the elders an opportunity to reinforce the rules and the consequences of breaking them.

Later, the village idiot stabs Lucius out of jealousy over the legally blind woman they both love.  She volunteers to go to ‘the towns’ to get the medicine Lucius needs to survive.  The elders allow it and, when she asks what she should do if she encounters the creatures, one of them reveals an astonishing truth.  There are no creatures!  It is the elders in costumes who terrorize the village.

We later discover that the elders, all traumatized in the past, had established the village as a shelter from the outside world.  They invented the creatures as a way to control the people and prevent them from leaving or seeking the outside world.  In the end, the elders decide to continue the lie.

A hierarchy creates a bogeyman to instill fear, control people, and preserve a way of life that suits them.  The colour of passion is banned, innocence is emphasized.  Science cannot be pursued if it challenges the rules.  Sound familiar?