Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dis/Proving God: Patterns

I feel I should take a moment to explain this series of posts - I realize I probably sound a bit lecture-ish, that is not the intent. Yes, I'm a nerd, yes, I read encyclopedias as a kid, so yes, I know quite a few words. I try really hard to pick the right words to be as precise as possible, in the hopes that it will lead to less misunderstanding. Communication is a tricky thing.

Secondly, I am not writing this to preach to anyone, this exercise is for me. It is an effort to take a series of random thoughts swirling about in my brain and solidify them, organize them, and clarify them. It is an effort to understand myself, my understanding. That said.

Patterns are an important feature of scientific analysis and discovery. Science constructs mathematical models to describe the behavior of the universe, by observing and quantifying patterns. That you hold an apple up, let go, and it drops to the ground every time is a pattern which leads to an understanding of gravity. If the apple were instead to go off in a different random direction each time, it would be difficult to derive much useful information.

But there is a pattern. It falls. What's more it falls, and accelerates. And it does so with a great degree of consistency, which allows us to come up with numbers and equations to describe the effect of gravity.

Observing a pattern is not enough in itself to definitively establish something as a truth of course, but it does certainly give one reason to consider the thing further.

Apply this to religion, Can we see patterns? Consistencies?

Have you ever played the telephone game? Where one person whispers a story to one person, that person repeats it to the next person, and so on through a line of people. The last person then talls the story they heard, and it is usually nothing like the original story?

It is a good example why gossiping is a bid idea, but it also carries an interesting idea about stories from the past. They change over time as they are told and retold. Consider the Old testament, particulary the first 5 books, which also make up part of the Torah, and the Quran. they were written by Moses (Are we absolutely certain the texts we have are in fact penned by Moses, or is it possible they were copied by someone else, from writings Moses made?) How long after Moses wan't alive for the events of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph ... thousands of years of history, thousands of years of people going their several ways, thousands of years of stories being passed down from one person to the next. It is not at all surprising then to find the stories have changed... drastically.

It is then very compelling when patterns, consistencies are found from one mythology to the next. I was, as I said (am, actually) a bit of a nerd. I was big into Mythology, as a youth. Greek and Norse were my favorites, but I also learned a bit of African, Babylonian, Egyptian... There are some stories which show up in nearly every human mythology.

The Creation - okay,big deal, who wouldn't wonder where they came from and make up a story?

A great Flood - Now this one is very interesting.

  • The Chinese called it Gun-Yu.
  • The Greeks tell of the Gods flooding the earth to destroy the wicked, leaving only Deucalion and Pyrrha alive, 
  • In East Africa the Masai say it was Tumbainot, his wife, and three sons. 
  • The Lakota tribe tell the same story of destroying the wicked by a flood, noting that the rainbow was given by the great spirit as a sign that there would be no more great flood.
  • The Coctaw tell of a prophets sent to warn of a coming flood
  • In Arizona, the Papago have a story of Coyote who foresaw a flood, gnawed down a great tree,  crawled inside and sealed it. Montezuma took coyotes warning and built a canoe. The story goes on to say that he later became wicked and tried to build a tower to heaven.m The great mystery destroyed the tower with an earthquake and change the languages so people could no longer understand animals or other tribes.

These two aren't the only two repeated themes.

Most mythologies talk of two (or more) great destructive events. One of a water event (the great flood), the second is a fire event.

Most every Mythology includes a supreme being, a father god.

Most every mythology has some reference to a great tree (yggdrasil, tree of life?)

There is nearly always a conflict between forces of good, who quietly encourage people to be kind and good, and forces of evil, who use subterfuge and deception to trick people into being selfish, contentious... evil.

Most every mythology has a story of life, death, and rebirth, usually involving an individual who is part god, part mortal (Consider Hercules as one prominent example, his father was Zeus, the Supreme God, and his Mother was a mortal woman, he performed many miraculous feats, including taking the place of Promethius, who was sentenced to eternal punishment for stealing fire from the Gods and giving it to humans. Hercules also bore the weight of the world, and descended into and returned from the underworld. Another example is Thor, Son of Odin, and Joro, who was a giantess (and whose name means "earth"), whose greatest foe, Jormungandr,  is a serpent. At Ragnarok (The apocalypse) the two slay each other. Early american mythologies includes stories one who defeated death and brought a "gospel" of peace, promising to return some day. Some of the early Spanish explorers were mistakenly thought to be this returning god, which gave them great advantage over the natives in their conquest of the Americas.

Every Mythology has an apocalypse event, in which the earth/universe is destroyed and reborn.

So which story is the real one? Are any that we have the real one? Scientifically, it would be very difficult if not impossible to come to any certain conclusion. But the consistent recurrence of certain themes should not be cast aside lightly. If a pattern emerges, it usually means something.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Dis/Proving God:Science and Faith

I think we often forget that science is not the antithesis of belief. Science often depends upon belief in order to progress.

In around 400 BC, Democritus Posited That matter was composed of atoms and empty space. He had no tools to see an atom. He was acting on belief. And educated belief, based on observation and keen analysis, but a belief nonetheless.

In 1803 John Dalton proposed "Atomic Theory", going beyond the original hypothesis of Democritus, and Isaac Newton (1700'ish), to give detail about the role mass played in atomic composition.

In 1873 James Clerk Maxwell proposed that the empty space was in fact electric and magnetic fields. In 1894 G.J. Stoney, based on prior experiments with Cathodes rays, concluded that electron were particles.

Moving forward to 1903, and H. Nagaoka suggested that Electrons orbited positively charged particles in flat rings.

Niels Bohr in 1922 Modified this model to present electrons as orbital shells around a nucleus.

None of these individuals saw and atom, or an electron.

They acted on a belief, performed experiments observed and measured. There were times when experiments or theories were wrong. The first experiments using cathode rays to prove negatively charge particles failed. That didn't cause all of science-dom to declare electrons a myth (Though there were scientist who did not accept atomic theory as valid). Instead they reevaluated their model, discarded some theories about the properties and behavior of the particles, developed new tests, and moved forward. Electrons behavior changed from flat orbit, to spherical orbit, to sort of smeared out in a shell above a nucleus.

Today their are scientific theories, beliefs regarding other as yet undiscovered (much less seen) particles, such as the graviton - a theoretical particle responsible for gravitational force.

Belief is an entirely acceptable, even necessary facet of scientific discovery.

Religion makes an equally foolish mistake in attempting to ignore or discount science. Or basic logic.

I have on occasion asked a question, because it is one I find interesting to discuss... "How do you reconcile the Old and New Testaments? Specifically, in the Old Testament, God seems very wrathful, and quick to punish: examples include Lot's wife who was turned to salt for 'looking back'. To boys were eaten by a bear for making fun of a prophets bald headed-ness, A prophet chastises the king for not killing every man, woman, child, cow, etc... Then in the New Testament, Jesus, spend his time among sinners, inviting them to follow him, teaching everyone to love one another, and forgiving the very people who crucified him."

I have received some very thoughtful responses to this question. I have also received responses like "Who are you to reply against God?" and "They don't need to be reconciled". If I as a religious person, see a discrepancy in scripture, or teachings, etc... It does not prove that God doesn't exists, but it does say that there is an error either in the scripture/teaching, an error in my understanding of the scripture/teaching, or an error in my understanding of the nature and/or character of deity. To ignore the discrepancy is... blind faith... stupid faith.

So then, we accept the possibility that one or more deity may or may not exist.We recognize that, as we have insufficient resources to prove any case, we must therefore consider all possibilities. That doesn't mean we believe all possibilities, but we accept that each individual has the right to believe as they will. We respect the beliefs of others, seek common ground where possible, accommodate where possible.

How then can we hope to find any truth, personally or collectively. By utilizing a scientific principle of seeking patterns, commonalities, threads of truth.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dis/Proving god:The Facts

On the topic of deity, one must start with what it known, and from there move to what is most likely, given available evidence.

To begin with, there are three possibilities, one and only one of which is true:

1. There is no god. (The atheist belief)
2. There is exactly one god. (The monotheist belief)
3. There is more than one god. (The polytheist belief)

It is notable that the last two are not as straightforward as many think. For instance. God vs Allah. Is one right and the other wrong/false? Or are both referring to the same one god? Or Are they both real, and separate? Dueling it out in some great astral chess game in which we are all pawns? The latter scenario takes what are generally thought to be beliefs systems of type 2 and defines them as type three.

Likewise many type 3 belief systems could also in fact be type 2. Some view Hinduism as having many - even millions of gods and goddesses, others say there is only one deity, that the "many" are merely different manifestations of the same "one". For other multi-deity belief systems, such as Greek and Norse mythology for instance, It is possible that these system were originally a single god system, but over time, the stories began to change, and the one being was re-imagined as multiple beings, perhaps to make it easier to rationalize what the believers saw as behavioral discrepancies in said deity.

Similarly one could argue that monotheistic systems performed the same process in reverse. To determine which way such a process went, one would need clear timelines for the various stories so that one could which were closer to the source stories, and which were more altered re-tellings.

In the absence of concrete evidence, we must assume that all three of the above possibilities are equally likely.

Some would claim that there is concrete evidence - Dinosaur bones for instance, which prove that the world wasn't made in 7 days as the Old testament claims, this portion of the "Old testament" is a key part of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faith. But all this proves is that the biblical claim that the earth was made in seven days is either incorrect, or misunderstood. It is possible the biblical telling is meant as more poetry than prose. It is also possible that the story was altered over the years of telling and retelling (what we have was either written by Moses, or by someone who heard it from Moses, making it at least one re-telling from Moses, and possibly more. But who did Moses hear it from? It could have been re-told and altered for several generations by the time it got to him).

Another possibility is that the writer or original teller (God?) may not have been talking about earth days (What is a day to someone who isn't from our Earth?) According to the Genesis telling of the story, The Sun, Moon and Stars don't come into play until the 4th day, suggesting that it wasn't earth day that was being used as the measure of time.

"But if the bible is imperfect or incorrect, then there must not be a God" right? Again, this is not proof of the nonexistence of God, rather it is proof that some theories about God are incorrect. The fact the the bible, prophets, and the world are imperfect leaves several possibilities in which God exists:

1. God is imperfect.
2. God does not micromanage.
3. Imperfection is part of the design.
4. We have an incorrect understanding of the word "perfection" where deity is concerned.

(typically about this time someone goes on a rant about religious people and their double-speak. This isn't doublespeak. It is merely the nature of language. Language is imprecise and fluid. Meaning changes over time, and from one person to another. The goal is to reach beyond the syllables to the personal meaning. Real communication isn't speaking at each other, it is understanding each other.)

So, an objective review of the facts reveals that the facts neither categorically prove, nor categorically disprove the existence of God. What then are we left with? Speculation. Theory. Belief. Hope. Faith. And "personal science"