Aug 22, 2005

I Have Lots of Questions. Zeus Can Give Me the Answers (I Hope)

It's hard work to look for answers, isn't it?
Ever since I was a little kid, I've always had lots of questions about everything. I have to admit that I didn't like all the answers I got, either because the reply was, "I don't know" or, "that's the way it is!" I also didn't care for the answers that revealed something unpleasant, like having to eat my fruits & vegetables for a healthy life! And, speaking of life, the sad thing is that we die. I didn't like this at all. Of course, when you're a kid they supply you with myths to cope with difficult concepts, fears, expectations, and when there aren't any answers to your questions. At some point, though, a person has to grow up and face his fears and the unknown, and accept that although an answer is not available as yet, there shouldn't be a reason to stop investigating the world around us.

Now, how do we come to a conclusion of what a fact is? Well, we have a tool for understanding the physical world, and it's called the scientific method. Like any tool, it may not be used correctly, but its great advantage over all other methods is that it's a self-correcting tool! That is, all of its conclusions are tentative and subject to revision. This may not sit well with those who want the absolute, or prefer to live in a static universe infused with divine (not acquired) knowledge! It may be counter-intuitive at first, but a strong theory is one that can be disproved. Weak theories are the ones that are accepted as true without allowing the possibility of revision. In other words, no external facts or even questions are allowed.

In every step of our inquiry we should always ask, "how do we know this?" I have to confess, Zeus hasn't given me all the answers I want, and I'm highly suspicious of texts or people that speak of divine inspiration, because I'm a skeptic; an open-minded one, but a skeptic nevertheless. Even the Oracle at Delphi was smoking the ganja of the day before channeling the gods' edicts. So, since I cannot possibly know if something is truly divine, or the last word on the issue by the master of the universe, I'm left with the scientific method and empirical observation to make sense of it all.

So, science is something very specific, it denotes a process of acquiring knowledge, but because it's amenable it does not mean that any argument can dismiss a scientific theory, and a "complete" story of Humpty Dumpty, or the Earth resting on a turtle, are adequate explanations and good alternative scientific theories. And, this is the crux of the matter: What science do we teach our children in school? I think there is only one science. Any theory, any opinion about the physical world should be able to pass muster under the rigorous tests of the scientific method. Otherwise, it's not a scientific theory. Period.

There is a movement by conservative Christian groups to challenge evolution in schools and either replace it or teach intelligent design (ID) as an alternative theory. At least 19 states are considering including ID in their school curricula. There is no debate in the scientific community about the validity of evolution; the actual debate in trying to fill the gaps of the theory of evolution is within this theory! The few scientists who are quoted by the ID proponents basically argue that the complexity of evolution may not have happened accidentally or by natural selection, therefore, a "designer" was necessary for the evolution process to take place. Of course, they are not able to provide further evidence of such a divine hand of intervention.

No serious scientist can suggest that it was the Christian god who did this. I'd take great offense if they did so. My personal preference (or bias if you like) is of the Hellenistic view that says the gods didn't create the universe, but the other way around. Before there were gods, heaven and earth had been formed. These were the first parents. The Titans were their children, and the gods were their grandchildren. This makes sense to me. Otherwise, how would one explain the emergence out of nowhere of an absolutely complex entity (god) that jump-started evolution and other very complex structures?!
All this discussion can indeed take place in the classroom, but the currency of understanding should be reason, and not quoting ad-nauseam from a "holy text" or claiming revealed "knowledge." Perhaps creation, IE, Biblical texts, or any other mythology [I personally prefer the Hellenistic mythology for its focus on humanity as the measure of the universe] can be discussed in classes other than science; where the students can learn about the myths and cultures of people around the globe. These topics simply cannot be in a science class because they are not science! Like any weak theories, they cannot be exposed to same scrutiny ID proponents want for the theory of evolution. They're take-it-or-leave-it propositions; it's what we call faith!

"Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication, and courage. But if we don't practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us---and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who comes along." Carl Sagan

18 comments:

Alanis said...

You opened the can of worms....It's a political problem not a scientific one when people want to introduce IE into the schools....

It's part of their religious culture. It feels good. Their strategy is to punch as many holes into the theory of evolution, to create doubt, and then casually suggest, "you know, we DO have an explanation of what THAT theory can't answer".....

Of course, they want the Xtian god as the designer.... why, there is only one myth superior to all others, and that they one a person buys into!

So, you are a proponent of Hellenistic religion? Hmmmm. I have to think what to make of this....

(post more often; i know it's the summer and all but i like tickling my mind more often and your site does just that! thanks)

Voodoo master said...

From a purely scientific/curiocity perspective.... what exactly did the Delphi Oracle smoke? Are there any recipes I can get a hold of? thanks

Geeshus said...

Very good post, although I disagree that weak theories are the ones that cannot be disproved.
I don't know, I'll think more about this later. It's hard work (like Shrub often says) to think and do things. I think I'll vegetate ifront of the tv for a while now.

Oh, if the earth rests on a turtle (I know I've heard this mythology years ago), where does the turtle rest on? Got'ya!

Andros said...

It rests on another turtle, and so on for ever!

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Isis said...

To some people maintaining a belief system is more important than knowledge. I also think that the fear of the unknown is too much for many people to bear.

Anne said...

The theory of evolution depends on the scientific method, which looks into the genetic material, cell structures, etc. This is how modern medicine progresses too. Researches see how certain mutuations take place, their effect on the molecural level and on the host organism. The same process is used when drugs are manufactured to cure diseases and prolong life.

Even Jerry Falwell when he had a severe health problem a couple months ago, didn't just pray to his god for a cure, but ran to seek the help of scientists, not pastors!

Anderson said...

I have a simple question: If the Bible is revealed to man by God, then it follows that everything in it is absolutely true! Right?

OK, I won't ask about the world being created in 6 days... (a day may mean longer periods). But, in Genesis the creation sequence is wrong! According to it, God created the Earth, plants etc, before he created the sun and the heavens! Well, we know that sunlight is needed for many things to grow and live!

In other words, creation theory, or whatever you call it, Intel. design, doesn't really tell us about how the physical world came to be. Sooooo, religious teachings are good for Sunday school, and private indoctination not for the classroom.

Anon said...

if you guys are wrong, prepare to burn in eternal hell!

Hedon of Isthmus said...

I'm not a Xtian.... My myth says that if I don't believe in all this stuff, I won't burn in hell like you guys, but I'm just ain't going to have any cake! And, the Creator will punish me by kicking me out of heaven every so often so I can go through the trials and tribulations of a mortal man over and over again... until I reform myself that is....

1 in CT said...

I agree, students should be taught science and not be confused with non-science as such. I think it would be to everyone's benefit if we raised students to be critical thinkers. One of the things that I still find amazing is that too many people don't really understand what reasoning is. Even a concept a=b, b=c, therefore a=c is hard to grasp! Schools, should make certain that our kids get the best education. There is only one science and a scientific method. I have no problem exposing the kids to religion, but it should be done at home or Sunday school, or whatever. It should be up to the parents to do so. Since there are so many interpretations of how things came to be, and even moral codes, religion should stay out of schools.

Anonymous said...

If IE is the alternative to the theory of evolution, shouldn't we have an alternative to the alternative? Sure, Zeus will do!....

Anonymous said...

i think for the preservation of both the state and religion they should stay out of each other's domains

Ronald, NY said...

This creationist thing is interesting stuff, but I don't see what it has to do with schooling, unless you discuss poorly-written fiction... Basically, it says, our culture has this book that says a story about the world and how people should behave and it should be taught in schools as..... what exactly????!!!

Also, even if many people (even the majority) believe in something doesn't necessarily mean that they are correct..... especially, like you said, you deal with REVEALED truth.... take it or leave it....