Part of the pushback against religion, it seems to me, is based on the fear that there might be something rational to it after all. Sorry to get all philosophical on you on a Saturday morning, but the idea has been bothering me all week. You see, reductionist thinking has already concluded that religion is “emotion” and science is “reason,” and only the latter has any validity. When’s the last time you met somebody and asked “How are you thinking?” instead of “How are you feeling?” Neurologists are finding that reason and emotion can’t be divided with a scalpel; indeed, healthy thinking involves both, not reason alone. Funnily, this is a natural conclusion of evolution—we evolved to survive in this environment—our brains developed rational faculties to enhance emotional response, not to replace it.
I know this is abstruse; go ahead and get a cup of coffee if you need it. What if emotion participates in reality? How can emotion be measured outside of individual experience? We experience it all the time without thinking about it. From the earliest of human times we’ve had religion in the mix, in some form. Perhaps we are evolving out of it, but perhaps neurology is telling us that there’s something to it after all. Something immeasurable. Chaos theory can be quite uncomfortable in that regard—every coastline is infinite, if you get down to nano-divisions. When you measure something do you use the top of the line on the ruler or the bottom? Or do you try to eyeball the middle? And how do you do it with Heisenberg standing behind you saying there’s always uncertainty in every measurement?
Absolute reality is beyond the grasp of creatures evolved to survive in a specific environment. Religion, in some form, has always been there to help us cope. Yes, many religions mistake their mythology for fact—a very human thing to do—but that doesn’t mean that emotion has nothing to do with rational thought. It seems that instead of warring constantly maybe science and religion should sit down at the table and talk. Both would have to agree on the basic ground rule that both are evolved ways of coping with an uncertain environment. And both would have to, no matter how grudgingly, admit that the other has something to bring to that table. Rationality and emotion are entangled in brains whose functions are simple survival. Pitting one against the other is counterproductive, even on a Saturday morning.
Posted in Consciousness, Evolution, Posts, Religious Origins, Science
Tagged chaos theory, emotion, Evolution, neurology, rationality, reductionism, religion and science
One of the problems with driving is that you can’t get pictures of billboards. Well, given the way people drive around here, I suspect that may not always be true. Nevertheless, I always think of billboards as trying to sell something. There’s sometimes fairly easy to shut out, but in long stretches of otherwise uninteresting road you fall into their trap. Now having grown up in western Pennsylvania, we always thought the people out east—Philadelphia was the largest city in the state, after all—were more sophisticated. It is around here, however, that I often see billboards selling evangelical Christianity. If you put out your wares, you’ve got something to sell. Money to make.
As I was traveling that stretch of somewhat plain highway 33 between Stroudsburg and Easton I noticed a billboard reading “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” To shore up its academic credentials the billboard footnoted Genesis 1:1. An inspirational sunrise, if I recall, shown over the Bible. Of to the left—of course to the left!—was a small “no circle” and inside the famous skeletal progression from ape to human. The message was “no evolution.” The more I pondered this, the more strange it became. Most Americans are well aware that billboards aren’t exactly the locus of truth. They are gimmicks to try to get you into the store. Like the one a few miles down that advertises the world’s largest humidor; even those with no interest in tobacco might feel just a touch curious what such a place might look like. Why would you take your most intimate personal beliefs and put them on a billboard? Does that make evolution any less likely?
A strange perception has lately taken over this country. The idea that an individual’s wants equate with the truth. Shout it loud enough and it has to be true. Billboards would never stretch the truth, would they? Is that image enlarged to show texture or what? And wouldn’t a better choice of anti-evolution rhetoric have been Genesis 2? That’s where God makes Adam from lowly dirt. Yes, Genesis 1 gives us the dramatic six-day creation, but Genesis 2 manages to say it all happened in one day—isn’t that more in keeping with capitalistic ideals? Greater efficiency leads to greater profits, after all. And profits, we all know, are the real purpose behind billboards for any product under the sun.
Posted in American Religion, Bible, Bibliolatry, Creationism, Evolution, Genesis, Posts, Science, Sects
Tagged billboards, capitalism, evangelicalism, Genesis 1, western Pennsylvania
I was a science nerd as a kid. Well, at least I had a real soft spot for charismatic megafauna, but who doesn’t? We had those cheap, plastic figurines of dinosaurs that we incongruously mixed with our mammoths and cavemen—wait, no. We weren’t allowed cavemen because people didn’t evolve. Nevertheless, we didn’t see any problem putting glyptotherium in combat with t-rex. Pleistocene or Triassic didn’t matter—they weren’t here now. Extinction is the great equalizer. One of the figurines that always intrigued me was the giant ground sloth. I mean, here was a creature bigger than it needed to be. Not hurting anybody, it just wanted to eat leaves and laze around. A lifestyle that sounds attractive to this day.
Photo credit: Postdlf, from Wikimedia Commons
Human beings, in a process that is still continuing, wiped out animals bigger than themselves. The story is poignantly told in footprints discovered in White Sands National Monument. A Washington Post piece by Ben Guarino tells how paleontologists discovered a human footprint embedded in that of a giant sloth. Reading the story I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the very last one in existence. What if we’d uncovered the story of extinction in real time? Sloths, apart from being named after a mortal sin, never harmed anybody unprovoked. Simple vegetarians—principally vegans, apart from the occasional accidental bug, actually—they were the ultimate victims of human greed. It is virtually certain that we drove them extinct just like we did the dodo and the fiscally conservative Republican. Not exactly fast food, sloths couldn’t really outrun us, and like good Trumpists, we took advantage of their weakness to our own gain.
Or loss. There are no giant sloths left. We’ll never thrill to the sight of a living eucladoceros, or wonder at chalicotheres roaming the savanna. We’ll never run for our lives from an African bear otter (the mind reels). Our world becomes poorer for our presence, it seems. We moved from huddling in fear in our caves out to take on the beasts with our technology. Once we cottoned onto the concept, we refined it until we could drop an elephant with the single pull of a trigger. Our destruction of megafauna continues at an alarming and accelerating rate. Evolution does have quite an imagination, after all. Like human beings, it can take sins and make them larger than life. And “thou shalt not kill,” we say, applies only to our species.
Posted in Animals, Archaeology, Current Events, Environment, Evolution, Posts, Science
Tagged Ben Guarino, extinction, giant sloth, ground sloth, The Washington Post, White Sands National Monument