Through The Cold Eye of Science
We are frail, vulnerable creatures orbiting a burning ball of gas at 66,000 miles an hour, rotating on an axis at over a thousand miles an hour, the experience of which we are mostly unaware of.
We will eventually be destroyed by
- falling space debris,
- microscopic viruses and bacteria we can’t see,
- wild animals including homo sapiens, the most deadly animal on the planet
- environmental devastation caused by homo sapiens
- mutations of our own cells (cancer)
- corruption of our biological systems (smoking, eating, inactivity)
- the exhaustion of all of the energy in the universe given enough time
- or as individuals we simply wear out (old age)
In the mean time we are enormously emotionally invested in a world of other things, much of which is unique to our own experience as willful agents.
- Will we have food, water, security?
- Will we have the pleasures we want?
- Will the other beings we care about get what they want?
- Will we be valued and esteemed by the other beings in our spheres?
Our emotional view of this world both gives value to this world an can even endanger its very existence.
Religions and philosophies recognize that this cold eye of science is but one view on our existence. Our meat sacks have hosted multiple views of our own existence many of which have denied the assumption that our physical condition or experience is the most basic level of our being. Many of these have asserted that there are other levels of existence that science by virtue of its purview is simply unable to explore or capture, just as my old Nikon SLR does a wonderful job of capturing light, but cannot capture sound. Religions and philosophies have noted that that those who assert that all there is is the material is like my Nikon saying that there is no sound, even though I hear the “click” every time it works.
Time in the Material World
Materialism can offer pleasure. We are marvelously equipped for pleasure. Pleasure from touch, pleasure from smell, pleasure from taste, pleasure from sight, pleasure from hearing. Pleasure can be sought, pleasure can be secured, pleasure can be bartered for.
Future pleasure, however, is far more difficult to secure. Time is our enemy. Pleasure may be experienced in time, but time robs us of security and all secured pleasures. This material world offers no security in time. All sane prognostication ultimately offers only decay and death, of this materialism is sure. If you want to read the most meaning that can be read into it, read Bertrand Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship”
Comfort and Joy
Religions offer more by daring to doubt the materialist’s assertion. They dare to claim that there is music in the picture unknown to my Nikon. That in that music there is beauty, hope, comfort and joy. That this self, this illusion that some tells us is an adaptive asset of a brain developed by chance, will have a narrative that will go beyond its meat host. That it relates to other selves independent of this material world, and that not just the beauty seen by my Nikon, but also the music and smell and taste and touch unknown to it, will endure and be hosted once more by a stronger, better substance, not subject to decay. This idea, the holding of which to me and to you is immediately dependent upon our meaty hosts, and seen by the sensor in my Nikon through language, changes everything.
Darwin’s Uncomfortable Paradox
If the only mechanism that shapes us adaptation in the service of survival, if it is survival and adaptive competitive advantage that tunes the sensor in my Nikon to what I experience as the visible light spectrum, rather than Infrared or Ultra-violet, AND what that conquering sample of earthly bipeds nearly universally includes the development of the assumption and assertion that the material universe is dependent upon and subservient to invisible music, what will become of the deaf?
Let’s imagine an island of birds. Let’s imagine that flight is thought to be a useful adaptation for survival of small, feathered, warmblooded creatures. Flight would allow birds to build nests in trees and on cliffs, away from the foxes and snakes that eat their eggs.
Let’s imagine, however, that there are birds who don’t believe in flying. Flight is an illusion of the simple minded and poorly educated. Regardless of their assertions about flight the historical fact is that the birds that think they can fly over very long periods of time have out-reproduced, out competed, and out performed those who said flight is impossible. Some have always believed that flight were impossible, and some of those have excelled as individuals, but as a tribe they have never seriously competed for pre-eminence.
Whether or not flight is real, if those birds that think they can fly are out competing those birds that say they cannot (Darwin’s insight), then the birdly regard with respect to flight is irrelevant compared to the advantages imagined flight is giving to those birds who believe in it.
Darwin’s ideological children are doomed to their niche, no matter how sure they are of their supremacy. This is ironically the same position that many religious groups feel acutely.
But what if unbelief in flight is the new flight?
One might argue that belief in flight proved to be an adaptive advantage in the past but now based on better sampling of Nikon images we can demonstrate that there is no music, that flight is not possible, and that those who rigorously disavow music and flight will maintain a competitive advantage over music hearers and flight believers until the time when music and flight are on the shelf with Santa and the Tooth Fairy.
This is, of course, not a new argument. I would like to note, however, that it is essentially the same argument about the future that the music hearers and flight believers employ in their struggles between themselves. Whoever laughs last, laughs best. It is an argument that there will be a day in the future where the god of the Christians, or the god of the Muslims, or the universe of the Buddhists and Hindus, or the god of the Mormons will be seen by all to have prevailed.
The irony of course in this assertion is that the deaf and the flightless have stepped into the arena of the musicians and the winged. The colder, clearer eye of the skeptic should look back into history in order to calibrate their expectations. Science about the future is based on the assumptions (themselves not able to be proved or disproved, only asserted) that the world is fixed, that observable rules will continue to apply, and that past performance is the only evidence based platform for future planning.
A Skeptic Looks at the Past
Religionists have dominated power and reproduction throughout recorded history. Points for Darwin, Nietzsche and Marx.
What is harder to believe in is that a materialist’s regard for the efficacy of power, matter and energy can be wed to an ethos inherited from Christendom of generosity, forgiveness, tolerance and diversity. All systems afford tolerance and diversity only within their own universe of rules. Gravity plus cliff kills the flightless bird every time.
Atheist-materialists who wish to espouse the post-Christianized West’s values of kindness, beauty, love and acceptance find themselves in a very precarious position in a very dangerous neighborhood. The tiger cares nothing for value of the monkey’s highly evolved social network.
What ought does Darwin offer to challenge Stalin and Mao when in the end Stalin, Mao, Jesus, Gandhi and John Brown according to their theory all lie moldering in their graves.
All they can fall back on is the assertion “the world is simply better if we think of it this way” which collapses any real critique they might mount against the horde of religionists. Religious thinking once again proves the competitive victor as it has done throughout history. Their own theory suggests its own demise.
You Can’t Fool Yourself
So if non-empirical assertions, like the value of love, tolerance, kindness, gentleness, love of enemies, etc., demonstrate a either a competitive or at least short-term existential advantage over their opposites, what “ought” can you muster to dispel larger narratives filled with notions of the virgin birth or of resurrection? Tolkien demonstrated that a stronger world, a more believable world, is filled with story and legend and details far beyond the paper that sells (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit).
You believe what you believe and you inhabit the world that you believe. The real world, the one outside your ears will be the world that conquers you and any sane person knows this. According to materialism decay destroys all worlds. The thought is beyond dispute in its world.
Those who wish for another world, as all religionists attest, populate their existence with angels, demons, hobbits and trolls and who can tell them they ought to stop?