May 14, 2014

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Gaping holes exist in the scientific understanding of existence, which the sciences answer chiefly by ignoring them. They do not mention purpose (there is none), the possibility of an afterlife (there is none), free will or determinism (we have freely determined that there is no free will), or Good and Evil (evolutionary traits evolved to further cohesion within the pack). Minor omissions, these.

The purest form of this approach is atheism. To me the most tedious thing about atheists is how proud they are of themselves, but I have never understood just what it is that they believe or don”€™t. They reject Yahweh, Allah, Shiva, and Zeus, which is not unreasonable, but do they not wonder about death? Nothing comes after, they say. How do they know?

Which brings us to that other classic mechanism for the avoidance of anxiety, religion. While the sciences avoid questions of death, morality, human destiny, and the afterlife (if any) by ignoring them, the religions focus on them, allowing the questions but mistaking assertions for answers. Of course, if you want to be convinced earnestly enough, you can believe anything.

Religion consists of more fervent hope than observation. There is in most religions the idea that Good is rewarded and Evil punished, that if we are kind and compassionate and just, then God (or gods, according to taste) will reward us. There is no evidence for this. In fact cancer strikes the good as often as the bad, and the intelligently amoral, not the virtuous, prosper. It does not seem likely that babies born with horrible birth directs are being punished for sins committed in utero. In most places and most times, people have lived in misery and died in agony. Why they have deserved this is not clear as divine justice.

Nor is there support for the Christian notion of a loving God in the natural world. When a young giraffe is attacked by hyenas, disemboweled, and bled until it collapses and the hyenas begin eating it while it is still alive, I for one cannot see much loving kindness in it. Just a giraffe, you say. It probably seems otherwise to giraffes, agreeable creatures who eat leaves.

But then, what choice do the hyenas have?

Yes, the universe has its appeal. I have never lived in a place more eerily beautiful and complexly implausible. Perhaps we really are just pond scum on a minor planet in the middle of everywhere. Or maybe something is going on that is way above our pay grade. But between the sciences that describe much and explain nothing, and religious faiths that seem exercises in wish fulfillment … What’s on the movie channel?


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