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.

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