Science, atheism and the search for more

Posted by on May 17, 2010 in Thoughts | 3 comments

One of the innate human characteristics that separates us from other animals on earth is our insatiable need to find out “why”. Our natural need to seek for things like food and a mate is shared with other animals, but the questioning of why things happen is a unique to humans. It is ingrained in us, from the first day we start searching with our eyes and hands for our mothers’ face and bosom. The “why” seems to follow naturally right behind our instinct for survival.

The Milky Way panorama from the European Southern Observatory

The Milky Way panorama from the European Southern Observatory

Historically, humans have used our ability to ask questions and seek out answers to benefit our societies and cultures. For instance, man may have once asked “Why do all the edible foods grow on the river flat?” and then did experiments to see how he could replicate that environment in a more convenient location. That is a very practical example of human curiosity, and there are plenty more moments in human history on which we have used our ability to question, seek answers, abstract what we already know, cross compare between previous answers and innovate to find an answer or a solution to our situations. These practical answers about survival become a common wisdom among people in a community, which they can pass on from one generation to the next to ensure the beat chances of survival for that community.

But we ask more than just practical questions that help us survive. Given the very complex nature if the human brain, the human psyche and the way our culture shapes us, we also ask the more esoteric questions, like “Where does the sun go when it sets?” or “Why does this stone drop to the ground when I let it go from my hand?”

These questions were much harder to answer than the more practical and immediate queries we may have asked. What happens in a situation where an answer to a question is beyond the knowledge of even the smartest person in a community?

In an ancient society, maybe a shaman or wise man would answer these questions with a “best guess” scenario, or with ideas seen in dreams or visions. It would seem that because humans have the powers of free will and innovation, that naturally we assumed that all around us was the divine intention of a much larger and smarter power. We can herd animals, build homes, communicate, domesticate, invent, alter and create our immediate environments. We have power over animals and plants alike, and have worked out ways to change and use them to our advantage. So given that all these things are here on earth, it would seem that all this was put here for us right? That the very earth we live on, and all that surrounds us is too good to just “be here”, right?

Religion is spawned by the same view of the world, where a “best guess” is good enough to be hailed as truth. In fact you could say that modern religion is a direct descendent  of ancient mysticism, and still holds on to many of the tenets of the early mystical ideas our prehistorical forefathers. Over time, the high priests of religion took the mystical reasoning of those before them, and over time formulated the belief system into a strict doctrine, and consolidated it to become a strict set of rules that seems to be self beneficial. In fact, the main religions we are left with today are not only self justifying, but have been carefully manicured and shaped to become self protecting. The texts of these religions also proclaim to be the “Actual word of God”, and also to be infallible. But this is where religions start to come unstuck, because of our innate need to ask “why?”

Planetary Nebula NGC 2818, Hubble Space Telescope

Planetary Nebula NGC 2818, Hubble Space Telescope

Many in history have been content with living with the answers given to them by they the mystics and shamans, the priests and the Imams, but there were those who were not, often labeled as doubters or blasphemers. Sacrilege and blasphemy are the results of questioning the all-powerful nature of religions, and are backed up with all the worst threats imaginable, from death in this world, torture and banishment, to eternal suffering in the fiery pits of hell in the afterlife! It would seem to me that somebody doesn’t want to be questioned!

Even with the threats, still we ask “why?”  and “how?” and “what if?”

Where we once turned to religion and the metaphysical to answer questions about our universe, humanity has now matured enough that the answers we seek are being answered by science, and even some religions with their closely guarded doctrines and superstitions are finally having to admit that the answers do not all lie in religion. The Catholic Pope admits that evolution is a viable proposition, either because of using logic himself or because he was told by his publicist that this would be a good move. And no sensible religious person would deny that the earth revolves around the sun, that gravity is the reason we don’t all float into space, or that planes can fly.

When we ask “why?” we are not deliberately at odds with religion and past teachings, but often the teachings of religion are at odds with the findings of science. And answers we seek about the physical world must come from our collective knowledge, and not from the doctrine of some ancient texts. If we are to survive as a species, we need to move forward, we need to drop our prejudices about which of god’s teams you support, and start looking at this world in a real, physical, and tangible way. The sciences are not here to antagonise, or to remove faith, but rather to further us ALL, every one of us. We need to grow up, we need to take responsibility, we need to acknowledge our universe and where we fit into it.

This may be a difficult proposition for many to accept, but I really think it’s time we as a species started to accept our lot, and really see the universe for what it is; amazingly beautiful, astoundingly huge and shaped by natural forces.

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  1. This is AWESOME!: “The sciences are not here to antagonise, or to remove faith, but rather to further us ALL, every one of us. We need to grow up, we need to take responsibility, we need to acknowledge our universe and where we fit into it.”

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  2. Asking why wasn’t always something we did. Our brain evolved it’s consciousness and at some point we began curiousity. But our instinct for survival was there from the beginning.

    “Why do all the edible foods grow on the river flat?” In the first stages of our conscious mind and the language learned to develop such thoughts, I don’t think these were such conscious thoughts, but subconscious and part of our survival instinct.

    I think religion first began to develop when man’s brain was becoming conscious. He began seeing things like planets, big animals, fires, lightening, etc…. I think that when man sees something he cannot figure out and/or it’s bigger than him, he thinks it rules, that it’s more powerful and/or knowledgeable than he.

    So, when man was first starting to civilize, he retained these ideas, as there was no science yet and most things had not been explained yet. As his brain and language developed, he became a social creature and tried to reconcile these big powerful forces with others. Well, man best relates to man, not a sun or a mountain. So, man began personifying things, trying to make sense out of the world by giving it a human persona. He began to group these big things into the same category, which was nature. He still saw these things as bigger than him, plus he didn’t know how he got here. He invented beings more powerful than him to explain nature and himself, as he didn’t know how to not give things outside him anything but human traits. Indians did this a lot with nature.

    When man saw his fellow humans die, he didn’t know what that meant and why it would happen. So, he used his being explanation and rationed they went back to them, their conscious live part. As science began to develop, things began to be explained. But, not only was it difficult to comprehend for many, word didn’t get out to everyone. So, a good many people still retained these made up beings they called gods. And, some humans used those gods as a control method over people, as they could scare them and force them to do things. Still others, used those gods to comfort the poor, sick etc…. So, it became a dichotomy, gods used for good, gods used for bad. Well, those are my thoughts in a nutshell, bottomline is that man, when he doesn’t know any better, explains the things he doesn’t understand by giving it human traits. Thus, he created gods in his own image, so to speak.

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    • Good points there, and thanks for your comments. Yes I should have mentioned more about the way humans tend to project themselves onto everything they don’t understand. I just wish ALL the thoughts I have could surface as needed, but sometimes one idea takes precedence and I forget others… Actually seems to happen all the time… Hopefully, the more I write, the better I’ll get at it.

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