Time to Move On
Some of my earliest childhood memories are playing on the playground during recess, throwing a football and running foot races, while the nuns watched over us making sure none of us did anything bad or potentially dangerous. I went to Catholic school and the nuns were also our teachers. Little did we know that they were the ones acting potentially dangerous towards us. I don’t mean they did me any physical harm, although I do remember stories of other kids occasionally getting a ruler to their knuckles. What I mean is the potential harmful knowledge that they were feeding all us vulnerable, trustworthy, care-free little sponges. I was raised Catholic. I was baptized, went through communion, and was confirmed always with the knowledge that my elders, my teachers, my friends, my parents would never lie to me or lead me down the wrong path. Well, they almost did. Almost. They are actually still trying to teach me the ‘truth,’ however I am now old enough to think for myself, think rationally and reasonably, and learn about the world for myself. I have moved on from useless traditions and superstitions and feel it’s time for the rest of us to do the same.
To be completely fair, it’s not entirely their fault. My family and friends would never intentionally or maliciously try to hurt me or tell me something that they thought was untrue. On the contrary. I have had arguably the best childhood and the best parents a kid could ever wish for in history. I love my family and friends more than anything in the world… but they’re only human. They are just as susceptible to false information, culture, tradition, and just plain lies as anyone else. Billions of people have been exposed to ancient and out-dated traditions but only a small percentage have been brave enough and/or had the opportunity to see the world for what it really is. Humans are a gullible species. They depend on each other to tell them truths and lead them in the right direction for mere survival purposes. Even our earliest human ancestors had this trait. Imagine yourself as a child back then: you trust in your father that he’ll teach you how to successfully hunt for food because his father taught him, and he’s still alive to teach you, so he must be telling the truth.
This ‘gullibleness’ has a nasty side effect: believing and trusting people too much. Why else would we still believe in angels and demons, gods and devils, good and evil? We were taught as little kids to believe. Even now, in such technologically advanced times and with such an advanced civilization, we still tend to believe in ghosts even though we’ve never seen one before. We don’t know anyone, anyone in the world, who can prove without a doubt with undeniable proof that ghosts exist. We have been trained to believe for millions of years!
Believe it or not, there was a time before supercomputers and particle accelerators, microscopes and telescopes, even the internet – imagine that! We didn’t always know what we know now. We didn’t know the Earth was just a tiny speck of dirt racing around a ball of fire on the outskirts of an unimaginably huge galaxy in a relatively remote part of the universe. No one knew why the sun -the ‘life giver’- rose everyday. So we used the best knowledge we had at the time to come up with a reason, and hope, and pray, that it would rise again the next day. We invented gods. There have been thousands of gods invented over millions of years to explain any number of natural processes we couldn’t explain otherwise. We told our children there were gods who made the sun rise and the crops grow, and they believed us. Why wouldn’t they?
Well, since then we have learned a great deal about the world in which we live. We learned, for example, that lightning is made of electricity, not by Zeus. We also learned that we can manipulate that electricity to do very useful things. We can use it to turn on a radio for example. No, god didn’t do it… no, it wasn’t magic… there’s no ghost in the machine… I just turned on the radio! A few hundred years ago you would’ve been accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake if you dared to turn on a radio (assuming of course there was a transmitter nearby). But today, we know the science behind it. We understand how it works and are OK with it. I dare say we take full advantage of it and have managed to use it as entertainment, and even saved lives with it if you can believe it! Imagine if we applied this attitude to other areas of science (i.e. stem cells, quantum research, etc). We could live longer, healthier, and more happy lives than we do now if that’s even possible!
The problem is, is that we don’t. This is why I said that the nuns, the teachers, the ‘believers,’ were acting potentially dangerous. We don’t take full advantage of the sciences. Schools are under-funded. Vital life-saving research is being halted on grounds of religious morality. They were teaching us easily falsifiable, useless ideas that counter scientifically sound information that can (and has!) hinder our ability to grow and thrive as a species, as well as individually.
They were teaching us faith, but there is a fundamental problem with faith. Faith by definition is a mental acceptance of, and confidence in, a claim as truth without proof supporting the claim. It’s believing in something with no reason or evidence to believe in it, and sometimes contradicting proven facts of reality! Having faith in something doesn’t make any rational sense. People use faith to explain the unexplainable in nature, and to justify aspects of their religion that directly contradicts scientific facts. In reality, these things aren’t unexplainable, they just haven’t been explained yet.
Some people also believe that science and religion don’t overlap. That is, they believe that science and religion explain total separate and independent realms of reality, therefore allowing and justifying their need for faith. They use science to explain certain things, and their religion to justify others. I cannot completely agree with this assumption however. Religion claims certain things about the natural world that science can prove wrong. For example: if you’re a biblical literalist then you believe the earth was created in six days. That is a physically falsifiable statement.
But religion also makes certain claims that in fact, cannot be falsified. A number of main stream religions for example, make the claim that ‘no one created god, god just is.’ Since we cannot see god, touch him, or measure him in any way, this claim cannot be proven wrong and we must accept that purely on faith. Carl Sagan expands on this idea in his famous thought experiment, “The Dragon In My Garage.” In this excerpt, he describes this hypothetical being:
“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”
Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!
“Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle — but no dragon.
“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.
“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.
“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”
Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.
“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”
You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.
“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.” And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.
Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.”
The main point here is that believing in something based purely on blind faith is worthless. What is the difference between something unknowable and nothing at all? Now to be completely fair, even if there is no reason to believe for something to exist doesn’t mean it absolutely doesn’t exist. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, therefore there is a ‘possibility’ for god (however irrational. See: Occam’s Razor). Someone who believes this is considered an agnostic. I technically do agree with the idea of agnosticism towards claims which are not falsifiable, claims which lay outside the realm of science, because by definition, these claims can never be proven or disproven. I choose not to use this term however because it is totally useless since that reasoning could in theory apply to everything limited only by our creativity.
I think that most of us would agree there probably isn’t an invisible floating dragon hanging around someone’s garage, and even if there were, we wouldn’t care anyway since we cannot interact with it. There are however, things that can happen in the natural world that might seem supernatural or someone might call miraculous. Something like the parting of the Red Sea for example could happen in theory and lays within the boundaries of physics. However, the probability of this happening is so small that we can easily assume that it will effectively never happen. The chances of something like this happening are so small that it would take many orders of magnitude longer than the universe has existed for it to occur. And even that is an understatement. Let’s look at one of my favorite examples by Richard Dawkins. From his book, “The Blind Watchmaker,” he describes a situation where a ‘miraculous’ event could potentially happen:
“In the case of the marble statue, molecules in solid marble are continuously jostling against one another in random directions. The jostlings of the different molecules cancel one another out, so the whole hand of the statue stays still. But if, by sheer coincidence, all the molecules just happened to move in the same direction at the same moment, the hand would move. If they then all reversed direction at the same moment the hand would move back. In this way it is possible for a marble statue to wave at us. It could happen. The odds against such a coincidence are unimaginably great but they are not incalculably great. A physicist colleague has kindly calculated them for me. The number is so large that the entire age of the universe so far is too short a time to write out all the noughts! It is theoretically possible for a cow to jump over the moon with something like the same improbability. The conclusion to this part of the argument is that we can calculate our way into regions of miraculous improbability far greater than we can imagine as plausible.”
If we can apply this reasoning to everything, then we can be sure of nothing. Or to put it another way, by following this same concept we are unsure of everything. Or at least everything to a certain probability. Is it possible that a marble statue could wave its hand at you? Yes, but not probable. In fact, unimaginably improbable. Is it possible for a deceased relative of our past to spontaneously materialize next to you as you read this, then disappear just as quickly? Sure. Do we think this will happen? Of course not. Why? Because it has, to our knowledge, never happened. And with mathematics, we can trust that it will never happen for a time period longer than humans can imagine. Why am I going to such great lengths to describe and define the idea of agnosticism? Because I feel it is, by all probable accounts, a useless term and in my opinion and should not be applied to science, ergo reality. If we are unsure of everything, what’s the use in describing anything?
We need to describe things in the natural world to survive. We need to learn how to manipulate things in nature in order to live, and we need science to teach us how. We are still clinging to these ancient and out-dated and utterly useless ideas that god created the entire universe specifically for man, just so that man will love him. Why would that happen? Why would god, as powerful as he is, do that? And further more, why would he send us to Hell just for questioning it? Why would we be punished for eternity for using the very thing he supposedly gave us: a brain? Our ‘free will’?
People want an easy answer. We want easy answers and finding the truth of how the universe actually works is hard. It’s not easy being a scientist. Remember the years and years of math classes? Calculus? Trigonometry? Remember staying up all night cramming for that biology test the next day? It took a lot of time and a lot of hard work to understand the complexities of mitosis, photosynthesis, or plate tectonics. Remember when long division seemed indecipherable and how long it took to memorize the multiplication table? But it all makes sense now that you understand it. You took the time to understand it, comprehend it, and apply it and now it seems second nature. Just common sense right?
Maybe now’s the time we all take it one step further. It’s time to move on. We’ve already abandoned Thor, the God of Thunder… we’ve abandoned Ra, God of the Sun… let’s just take that last step. There’s no need for gods anymore. Humans have explained some of the biggest mysteries in the universe. Sure, we have a long way to go, but we’re making new discoveries every day. Humans as a species -all of us… you and me- have come so far and learned so much to make our lives easier and more rewarding in so many ways. Let’s give up these childish traditions, these undeniably -just plain wrong- ideas and grow up. We should teach our children facts instead of superstition. We should all take the time to try and understand the things around us. Sure it’s hard and can take time, but at least give it a try. Let’s keep moving forward. It’s time leave the playground and think for ourselves. It’s time to move on.