Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Problem of Origin

While science is accused of being a religion, it is actually religion which is a science. The word science is broader than religion, encompassing many fields of study. Religion, in all its various forms, are essentially sciences which do not rely upon experimentation. Instead, they rely upon a spoken and/or written account of a non-verifiable narrative or revelation (in other words, mythology).

Since the adoption of science based on experimentation and observation, our understanding of the universe has revealed numerous holes in religious systems of cosmology, chemistry, biology, and physics. From the Quran saying that salt water and fresh water don’t mix, to the commonly held idea that the Earth is the center of everything, nearly every rock that science peaks under reveals errors in “divinely inspired” documents and stories.

There is one glaring limitation, however, that makes one big question tough to discuss. The earliest written record we have of someone pondering the dilemma at length, at least to my knowledge, was Aristotle. He clearly stated the problem: if all actions have a cause, and causality if linear, one should be able to go back in a record of reactions and find an initial, primary reaction.

In other words, things happen, but the natural state is to remain at rest, so something must have set the whole universe into motion. This was defined by Aristotle as “something that moves without being moved.” This has since been referred to as the unmoved mover or the prime mover. However, it should be noted that Aristotle himself did not in any way directly write or imply that this something was a god or intelligent consciousness.

Which makes sense, really. Later monotheists, largely Christians and Muslims, adopted Aristotelian thought and ascribed the notion that this prime mover must be “God.” But this is wishful thinking, as this merely causes another dilemma.

Aristotle came to his conclusion through thinking reasonably about the data he had (which was limited, even more so than we are limited today), while monotheistic theologians appropriated his basic idea in order to justify their internalized dogma. If one abandoned all preconceptions and considered the situation rationally, there is no way one could come to the conclusion that a god could be the prime mover.

If you’re a religious person, ask yourself this: how would you react if someone told you that the world was created by a chimp named Bobo? What would be your first question? I know what mine would be: “Where did Bobo come from?”

“Well, Bobo simply always was and always will be. Something without an end needs no beginning, and it was thanks to Bobo that the magical Hippo grew the world in its gaping mouth, which she opened during the day and closed at night.”

Well that explains everything…

Using nonsense which masquerades as thoughtful philosophy does not exempt one from answering questions. I have asked many Christians about God’s origin, and not once has anyone flat out told me, “I don’t know.” This, despite their book making no clear explanation for the origin of this conscious being which has the capability of creating a universe, bending it to his every whim, and knowledge of every aspect of what happens in it.

Often, I hear it phrased like this: “The universe is too complex to not be created. If you found a watch, you wouldn’t think it just randomly came together; you would assume it had been made by a watchmaker.”

Except this doesn’t even begin to address the new problem, which is that if you think the universe is like a watch, too complex to come into being without deliberate action on the part of a creator, you have to then find the parents of the watchmaker, and their parents, and their parents… until you get to the pond scum we all formed from (truth be told, we’re probably not literally derived from pond scum, but it probably was aquatic and a very simple organism).

It’s not important anymore that religion has come up with so many horrible answers for the questions we have. The true damage was done during all those centuries when people of all religions across the world wasted their time praying and meditating and chanting and dancing, believing they knew how things worked, when in fact they could have been using some of that time constructively pondering how to go about finding the real answers (which still leaves time for dancing).

What’s strange is how religion manages to take a hostile stance towards science, no matter what is discovered. Take evolution as an example. Before the 19th century, you would be hard pressed to find any Christian who opposed the idea of life springing from inanimate objects. Now, the very idea of this is used as evidence for against evolution (though evolution is a separate issue from the origin of life itself).

The theory of abiogenesis was an accepted doctrine among the Western and Middle-Eastern cultures. Aristotle claimed that flies spring magically from decaying meat, among many other examples that he said were readily observed. Francesco Redi demonstrated that flies do not appear on meat that is kept free from flies in a series of experiments he published in 1668.

In his now famous experiment, he put meat into jars and covered half of them with fine gauze, so that air could enter and leave but flies could not pass through. He even went so far as to put dead flies in with the meat in a later experiment, and this also did not yield maggots.

Being the olden days and having no internet, telephone, telegraph, or even Pony Express (we’re talking about the good ole days of homing pigeons, here), news travelled slowly. Further work by Louis Pasteur with bacteria and fungi was published and distributed widely thanks to the printing press. This sealed the deal, driving the final nail in the coffin of abiogenesis in 1864.

Five years previously, Charles Darwin wrote “On the Origin of Species.” I always wonder if there were Christians who got ideological whiplash from having to change their view so quickly in those days .We don’t teach the history of science as much as we should, and it’s religious backtracking like this which is why the faithful are so hostile towards science. Never let anyone tell the lie that religion goes unchanged through the ages; religion alters it’s supposedly perfect and God-backed ideology all the time, primarily when the evidence becomes too great to ignore (though Americans are really slow to get over the myth of Adam and Eve and a talking snake).

Even the scientific knowledge of a 6th grader would be enough to laugh the Bible into obsolescence… well, not an American 6th grader, but any 12 year old from a country that values education would suffice.

On the issue of the origins of the universe, I could say “I don’t know,” but I feel the scientific stance is more accurately stated as, “We’re still looking into it.” This, compared to the views of hundreds of religions, which are matched in their incompatibility only by their certainty.

That is why religion is a[n imperfect] science.



  2. The problem of origin is a burden for evolutionary science, but not religion. The Big Bang is a beautiful theory, but it had to have an originator: even if the universe was a spec, how did that spec come to be? A God, who began time. Hell, Einstein proved time was only relative, and if you were traveling fast enough, you could live for 160 years and only appear 80 years old. If science really believes that time and space are malleable, then is it really that hard to believe that God was here first, and time doesn't continue forever?

    It CAN'T continue forever. Who made God? Who made the thing that made God? Who made the thing that made the thing that made God? How long ago did the Big Bang occur? Infinity? It's an error that would continue forever without end if you're not satisfied with an origin answer. Most religions in the world are based off of answering that problem. That's what makes evolutionary science a very poor, and inadequate religion. Speaking of Einstein, he did say religion without science is blind, but science without religion is lame.


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