Mark Swint

Archive for the ‘Science and Religion’ Category

Prophecy and Science Fiction

In Albert Einstein, Bible, current events, Genesis, prophecy, Relativity, science, Science and Religion, science fiction on August 12, 2014 at 9:01 pm

By

Mark Swint

Author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

Oculus book cover

 

I have always enjoyed ferreting out and discovering the connections between seemingly unconnected subjects – Science and Religion being two of those – hence the existence of this blog. In this I am not alone. The scientific community has spent years and untold millions of research dollars trying to find a solution to the conundrum that is the apparent incompatibility between General Relativity and Quantum Physics. Both are experimentally provable yet according to the best minds in the fields they are apparently mutually exclusive of each other. The attempt to reconcile the two is what gave rise to String theory which has given rise to M theory which still has bugs to be worked out. It is the immutable faith of theoretical physicists that there must be a common theory to satisfy and unify the two disciplines that moves this research forward.

I have found it challenging but ultimately rewarding to see if there were any common ground to be found between contemporary scientific thought and the body of scripture contained in the Bible, the Koran and other scriptural writings as they are brought forth. On a much less clear but perhaps more interesting subject I would invite you to consider – on this occasion  – any possible connection between Prophecy and Science fiction. I know this sounds like a stretch but upon further examination I think you will find that the two are much more closely aligned than is first apparent.

It is a fact that through the more recent centuries up through the 19th century the Bible was often the first and primary source of written word available to most common folks. The Koran and the Torah could also be included in this generalization for people of those faiths. The simple fact is that most people of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries had few, if any, books. However, almost everybody had a family bible and it was to these pages that mothers and fathers turned to teach their children to read – or to practice the reading they were learning in schools. Between the Bible and Shakespeare (for the more erudite) our lexicon grew with rich abundance in sayings, expressions and colloquialisms (Jumping Jehoshaphat, Heaven help us, holy Moses, Saints be praised, to name a few of the Biblically inspired ones). Similarly, Tales of the Apocalypse and the four horsemen, the seven seals of heaven and the specter of Armageddon etched indelible images in our brains such that early Sci/Fi writers drew upon these common threats for inspiration. Of course the scriptures weren’t the only source of inspiration. The rapid advancement of scientific understanding after the renaissance also contributed. Mary Shelly, a young poet, was enraptured by the speculation and after dinner conversations of her husband and others about the most recent discoveries of Luigi Galvani and his experiments with electricity on frog legs and the potential this held for re-vivification of dead bodies. She went straight away to work and gave us the enduring classic tales of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster.

Armageddon and the apocalypse have inspired countless tales of life in the future. Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” tells the tale of a headless horseman who terrorized poor hapless Ichabod Craine. In the current TV hit “Sleepy Hollow” the direct connection is made of this horseman and the four horsemen of the apocalypse. So, it is with this in mind that I would like to take a few minutes of your time and discuss this subject in more detail.

Prophecy and science fiction are not that far apart from the get go. Both are forward looking – that is, both have a way of turning from future to current conditions. Science fiction becomes rather quickly science fact and prophecy is fulfilled to become part of the historical record. Just for clarification, we are not talking about the monsters and space aliens here (although they could certainly be out there). I wish to look more to the likes of Jules Verne, H.G. Welles, George Orwell and others who most often were simply trying to look forward and predict (sometimes with remarkable accuracy) the future. In more recent times it was a science fiction writer – Arthur C. Clarke who first postulated and wrote about the concept of geo-synchronous orbit, an idea which has most successfully jumped from science fiction to science fact. He also was the author of the wonderful movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Even more recently we all have enjoyed our favorite episodes of Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek” in all its various iterations both on television and in movies (with more yet to come). It is remarkable how many of the futuristic ideas expressed on those early episodes have already come to pass, one example being CDs, DVDs, and flash drives – all presented years before the internet existed and before personal computers became ubiquitous.

Many years ago I wrote a screen play for MGM which sadly never made it to the screen but which is now a much better novel called “OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative” (available on Kindle and Nook). In it I had to tell the tale of a civilization that was separated from our own more than 2300 years ago. Because of their separation they avoided the disaster that we call the ‘Dark Ages” a period of a thousand years in which NO meaningful progress of any sort was made. The people of Zebulon, however, continued to progress at a normal rate thus arriving at the state we are at now many centuries before us. For the screenplay, then called “My Brother’s Keeper” (not very original I know but it was a working title) I had to think up and present a number of futuristic things. Eventually the story was shelved for a number of years and only in the last four or five years revived once again. This time, however, when I revisited the story I found that most of the ‘futuristic’ things I had presented were no longer fiction but rather reality. It was satisfying and gratifying on one level but frustrating on another because I had to now come up with a whole new set of forward looking predictions and technologies.

Interestingly, “OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative” is a science fiction story inspired by biblical prophecy and history. It is predicated on a supposed account of a people presented to us in the Bible as the ‘Lost Ten Tribes” (The old Lorne Greene TV series “Battlestar Galactica” was similarly so inspired). As a kid I was intrigued by the subject of the lost ten tribes and I spent many hours in speculation as to what their current condition might be. As I read other associated prophecies about them and the prophesied destiny of them and their brethren who remained behind I began to develop the story that is contained in the novel today. This was for me a fascinating union of science fiction (which I love) and prophecy which has always captivated me.

I began to think of other prophetic utterances and it soon dawned on me that since prophecy was usually an observation of future events, it might be reasonable to expect that the prophets who uttered them might not have the lexicon to adequately describe them. Hence Ezekiel’s “Wheel within a wheel” (Ezekiel chapter 1  and chapter 10:10) might have been the only way he had to describe whatever it was that he saw (I leave that to your imagination). In much the same way that the Native Americans described the first railroad trains as ‘Iron Horses’ so too many of the things we read in prophecy might not be nearly so “out there” as they first seem.

When thinking about the book of the Revelations of John (known in most other languages as the ‘Apocalypse’ of John) we should grant him significant leeway in his narrative. How else would someone in John’s position describe the sound of a jet engine or the rumble of a locomotive but as the ‘roaring of a lion’? When scriptures say something to the effect that “he shall utter his voice and the whole world shall hear it” we are at first skeptical, knowing that no one can speak so loudly as to be heard all around the world. On the other hand, if the events in the Middle East begin to unfold in any way like the biblical accounts suggest, who would deny that the events will not be covered 24/7 by CNN, BBC, Reuters, Fox, Al Jazeerah and RT to name just a few. Today the technology is all around us to not only stay informed to events around the world but to watch them live as they unfold. Indeed, it is not only possible for someone to speak and have the whole world hear it but it happens day after day, every day.

Consider this prophecy of John as found in the 9th chapter of Revelations, verse 9-10: “…And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle… and they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails; and their power was to hurt men…”  Now the imagery might seem fantastical and I can’t say with certainty just exactly what John saw but the first thing I thought of was an Apache or a Cobra helicopter. If you were John and you saw one of these machines in the sky and saw what it could do how would you describe it without using any of the words created today to describe it? Regardless, the imagery he provided certainly conveys the terror and mayhem one of these machines can impose. Verse 14 of the same chapter even mentions the great river Euphrates and then in verse 16 says that the number of soldiers was “…two hundred thousand thousand…”. Now, for the record, the Euphrates is the main river of Iraq and two hundred thousand thousand is two hundred million. That’s much larger than any army so far assembled but the Iraqi Army was touted to be three million strong. We might allow for a little literary license or even some translational errors before we dismiss the account out of hand.

I could go on but I think the point is made that just as science fiction has a way of becoming science fact, so too prophecy has a way of being fulfilled, the difference being only that prophecy, at least the prophecies we are most familiar with, were uttered many more centuries ago than the much more recent prophetic suppositions of H.G.Wells and Jules Verne. Consider that the next time you are tempted to scoff at either. Oh, and check out “OCULUS: the Zebulon Initiative”. You can read an excerpt at mswint.wordpress.com and you can buy your very own copy on Kindle or Nook.

Is Science the Enemy of Religion?

In Bible, creation, current events, Genesis, Geology, God, Moses, news media, Plate Techtonics, science, Science and Religion, technology, Uncategorized on February 14, 2010 at 11:19 pm

By: Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

 

I know I have declared this blog to be dedicated to exploring biblical claims with a scientific eye but I think a brief diversion from that goal is warranted this week.
I was watching a discussion on climate change and global warming issues on FOX News (which I actually DO think is fairly fair and balanced). To my great surprise however, the issue somehow got turned around to a discussion of how religion and climate skeptics went hand in hand and scientists (read, anti religionists) and AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) were similarly connected.
I did not know that the increasingly controversial AGW claims were merely another face of the Science/Religion disconnect. In fact, I do not think they are and I have still to find out how the participants in the aforementioned discussion got to that point.
What really got me though was a statement, issued matter-of-factly, by the moderator who said, without the slightest degree of hesitation, “Of course, science is the enemy of religion”. Those of you who have read my posts can well imagine how I feel about this proposition. To say that I categorically disagree with this position goes without saying but I feel that I must respond a few thoughts and I beg your indulgence and patience. I promise to be short and will try to be interesting.
A calm and dispassionate look at scriptural claims, edicts and prophecies, free from individual dogmas and biases – or from impassioned preachings of sincere and fervent ministers and priests, can be quite revealing.
Specifically, let’s look at Moses, since he alone is responsible for the first five books (or Pentateuch) of the Bible including Genesis, which gives us the most complete biblical account of the creation and early days of the Earth and it’s early inhabitants. Moses, while certainly well educated in Egypt, was nevertheless basically a desert dwelling Bedouin! Oh don’t be confused by the term; Bedouin is a perfectly good description of the desert roaming lifestyle of those who chose to remove themselves from the cities and wander throughout the land herding sheep and goats, living in tents and using camels – regardless of their ethnic or genetic heritage.
Anyway, back to the point. Moses, while certainly well educated, was not well educated in things about which there was no knowledge in those days. No one,(at least from the records we have, had any full accounting of the creation, or at least how or why it was created (We do now have various versions of the ‘book of Enoch’ and a few other ancient manuscripts that have come to light in the last century that do wander into similar territory previously occupied only by Moses). But, we must be careful not to place too much burden of proof on Moses for the things he wrote. You see, Moses NEVER claimed to know or say HOW or WHY the elements of the creation he wrote about came to pass nor did he ever say that the seven creative periods he called days were the only periods of the creation, (in fact in the Haggadah we find that early Jews used over twenty creative periods to recount the creation story). You see, Moses was only an observer; He was a reporter, simply stating facts that were revealed to him or shown to him. The method or means is really immaterial. According to his writings he was shown the creation in a vision and the record he left in Genesis is an account of what he saw. Nowhere in that record does he say how or why the events he recorded came to pass – only that they did occur. He gave us the WHAT (the exoteric) of the creation without giving us the WHY (the esoteric – see my previous post “Exoteric and Esoteric knowledge).
When Moses said that the waters were gathered together and the dry land appeared he apparently had no idea HOW that happened, only that it did. He did not know that 4,000 years later scientists would figure out the theory of Plate Tectonics which would, in fact, tell us how the event that Moses observed came to pass.
This is how science has worked for as long as there have been scientists, and before them, natural philosophers. The world was full of people who made observations of things that incontrovertibly were, but about which nobody could explain. This is how it always has been. The very first inhabitants on this planet saw and realized that birds could fly. This was a truth and nobody denied it. Neither could anybody explain how birds flew, they only knew that they did. It was millennia before people figured out the science of aerodynamics and at last could explain how birds flew. Their discoveries did not change anything about the truth that birds fly but did at last provide the explanation about how they fly so that we could no more wonder about something we knew to be true.
This is and always has been the purpose and place of science in our life. Everything about this earth was, at first, a mystery. Early people watched in awe and horror as normally solid and still mountains suddenly erupted and spewed fire and death with the lava that flowed out of their great gaping maws. Lightning flashed from the sky and started fires and killed people and animals – nobody knew how or why but it surely did! The sun came up each day and set each night. So too the moon, except that it changed through the month being sometimes full, crescent, waxing and waning. It even disappeared for a day or two each month. The stars also traveled across the sky each night and then there were a few that wandered against the otherwise fixed and steady star field. All these things and more caused wonder and fell to the scientists to explain. The function of science is to give us the esoteric knowledge and understanding of the things that we can observe on our own.
Why was I so incensed over the statement that science is the enemy of religion? Because in my world the scriptures exists to tell me, and all of us, what is what. The bible is a collection of statements of things as they are and as they were. It tells me who I am and who created me (or my spirit if you like). But, nowhere in the Bible can I find the declaration that it’s purpose or intent is to tell me how and why these things are. It, in essence, says to me, “look I will tell you what happened and what is what and leave it to you to decide, first, do you need to know how it is so and, second, if you do then leave you free to explore, experiment, seek and search unto you find out how it is so.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that among us believers there are those who adopt a very strict and very narrow interpretation of the things that Moses and others said. This is certainly the privilege of any and all who choose to exercise a degree of faith. But, any reasonable person must admit that two or more very sincere and equally studious scriptorians can disagree and argue interpretations on the same scriptural passages – so why can’t we acknowledge that there can be incorrect theology, just as in disciplined science there are equally rancorous disagreements and debates and scientists can be wrong? Indeed, the very foundation of the scientific method is that one researcher or theoretician issues an hypothesis and then stands back while every other scientist tries to disprove it. Only when the best minds in the scientific discipline have exhausted their best efforts to disprove a theory without success is a theory then deemed valid and true.
Certainly there exists bad theology just as there has always existed incorrect science. I submit that science is only an enemy to bad religion just as correctly interpreted revealed truth is an enemy to bad science. I believe absolutely that good science is the partner of good theology and will, in time, prove to be a good and close friend of the believer.
Of course faith, in both science and religion is the first and most important element in our continuing journey on our quest for understanding and truth but let us not make science or theology mutually exclusive of each other, for if we do we stand to miss out
on the richest parts of both.

A Few Points of Light

In Albert Einstein, astronomy, Bible, constantine, Genesis, Nicean Council, Philosophy, Relativity, Renaissance, science, Science and Religion on August 28, 2009 at 9:29 pm

By

Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

Oculus book cover

Isn’t it funny how the smallest things can sometimes lead to the biggest  discoveries?

Take, for example, stars, or more specifically, starlight. For the common human experience stars are little more than twinkling points of light in an otherwise black sky. They are separated from us not only by unimaginably vast distances – distances so great that even the explanation of how far away they are fails to properly acquaint us with the true scale – but also by time. It’s true! Oddly, all of the points of light we see in the night sky represent completely different times of earthly existence. For example, when we look upon stars like Belletrix, Sirius, Betelgeuse, Vega, Antares or the Andromeda Galaxy, we actually see them as they were, not as they are. For example, we see Sirius as it was 8.6 years ago, Belletrix as it was 243 years ago, and Betelgeuse as it was 427 years ago. Antares shines light upon us that started its journey in 1402! Remarkably, if you can find the Andromeda Galaxy south of Cassiopeia you can look at light that left that galaxy 2 million years ago. More remarkable still, the Hubble telescope has taken photographs of galaxies whose light began its journey 13.5 BILLION years ago! Looking at a night sky that isn’t even representative of “real time” makes it even more amazing that these tiny points of light could have ever had any real, tangible effect on us and on our lives. Yet they say that truth is stranger than fiction and in the case of starlight they are right.

Early humans first perceived the regular east to west motion of the Sun and established the day as the first real measure of time. Each sunrise (or sunset depending on tribal preference) marked the beginning of a new day. The Moon crossed the night sky as a counterpoint to the Sun but it also did something very different as well. It not only moved east to west like the Sun but on each succeeding night it moved a little bit more to the east through the background of the star field. It also had phases , changing from full to waning gibbous and waning crescent to no moon at all, and then to waxing crescent and waxing gibbous until once again shining in the night sky as a full moon. This complete cycle took about 28 days and that repetitive cycle became the next demarcation of time, a lunar month. Closer examination of the Sun’s motion revealed that it too moved against the backdrop of the star field although at a much slower rate. It turned out that as the Sun moved against the background stars it also rose at a slightly different point on the horizon each day. In the summer the Sun rose well north of east ( for those in the Equatorial Band) and it slowly moved southward until the dead of winter when it rose well south of east. This north/south cycling repeated over and over and people noticed that the seasons followed suit. This period became a year and it lasted about 365 days. Early observers marked the northernmost and southernmost points of sunrise and these became the solstices. They also noticed that midway through the Sun’s trek from north to south and back again the daytime and the night time were of equal length so these points came to be known as the equinoxes. The four seasons were tied to these four points so we now have Spring commence on the Vernal equinox, Summer begins with the summer solstice, Fall starts at the autumnal equinox and Winter starts when the Sun hits the lowest point on the horizon, the winter solstice. In the early days of the Roman Empire (and in many other cultures as well) the New Year was celebrated at the beginning of spring. Have you ever wondered why September, October, November and December have names that begin with the prefixes for 7, 8, 9 and 10 even though the months are the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th months? The vernal equinox came on the 15th of March on the Julian calendar so our 3rd month was the early Roman 1st month (although when Julius Caesar established his calendar he made January the first month, breaking with old tradition).

Once it was observed that the Sun moved against the star field it was decided to divide the star field along the ecliptic (the path followed by the Sun and Moon) into twelve portions. The constellations in those sections made up the Zodiac. When a person was said to be born under Pisces it meant that he or she was born during the time that the Sun was in the Star field in front of Pisces. Each of the signs of the Zodiac represented the time when the Sun was in that particular portion of the ecliptic. The men who studied this stuff were called astrologers and they held a very important place in society. As most all societies were agrarian it was crucially important to know when to plant and when to harvest. Tomato and melon growers, for example, dared not plant until the last frost of the year had fallen or else they would lose their whole crop. Likewise, harvesting had to be done before it got too cold. Astrologers were the people assigned to read the stars and make those determinations. The very survival of whole societies depended upon their accuracy.

Reading the stars took on a mystical aura and soon people began to ascribe all sorts of things to them. It was believed by many that the stars a person was born under were determinative of the course for that person’s life. So strongly held was this belief that the saying “you can’t change a person’s stars” was born along with the rather fatalistic determinism that followed. Many of us might remember a grandparent who would say “my stars’ as an exclamatory statement. It was also believed that stars controlled health and sickness and as pandemics swept Europe during the Middle Ages it was believed that sick people were under the ‘influence’ of the stars. The Italian word for influence is ‘influenza’ and we still use that word today, or its foreshortened term ‘Flu’.

What does this have to do with science and religion you may ask? Well, everything, as a matter of fact. You see, the early astrologers were often the theologians as well, or at least in the employ of the head cleric. This was appropriate as who better than men of God to study the heavens? However, things began to happen in the third and fourth centuries that would change the course of humankind forever, just not right away.

The emperor Constantine, the last Caesar of the Roman Empire fought tirelessly to quell the rising interest in Christianity until he finally concluded that it would be easier to adopt it as the official religion and transform the ‘Roman Empire’ into the ‘Holy Roman Empire’. In 325 A.D. he called all the clerics from around the Mediterranean to a conclave in Nicaea, a city in Turkey. There they were instructed to hash out their doctrinal differences and come out of the council with one unified, universal (or ‘Catholic’) doctrine. They were to make determinations and set doctrine on almost everything they could think of, including the heavens and the Sun, Moon and stars. They made decisions on whether there was empty space and just exactly what the Sun was. They decided that the stars were fixed in a shell that rotated around the earth. The Sun had its own shell as did the moon. They decided that the earth was the center of a geocentric universe and all things in the heavens revolved around our little planet. Now, this would have been OK if the council had issued a proclamation saying something to the effect that these new doctrines represented the best of their understanding to that point and that as further light and knowledge appeared doctrines would be reviewed and amended as appropriate. Instead, they declared the doctrines of the Nicaean Council to be ‘infallible’. Furthermore, they declared that anyone who disagreed with the doctrines would be guilty of ‘Heresy’, a sin punishable by death! Well, this worked OK for a little while but even from the beginning there were problems that unsettled the hearts of people of learning. Among the biggest of those problems were the stars the Greeks called the wandering stars or “Planetas”.

No one was really quite sure what the planets were. What was sure however was that the planets didn’t seem to follow any of the rules that all the other heavenly bodies followed. For example, the rest of the stars all moved in unison across the sky. Likewise the Sun and the Moon had their own predictable patterns. But the planets were a different story altogether. An individual planet like Mars, for instance, would move west to east for a while against the backdrop of the stars. It might then suddenly stop. Once it started moving again it might resume its eastward trek or it might just as easily begin moving east to west! It would follow this path for a time and then suddenly resume eastward movement. It might then disappear completely only to reappear some months later on the other side of the night sky! Jupiter and Saturn would likewise ‘wander’ around the sky although much more slowly while Venus verily zipped back and forth across the face of the Sun. All this was most confusing and no acceptable model could be made to explain it according to Catholic doctrine. It remained for many centuries a mystery.

Now let’s jump ahead 1100 years to Firenze, Toscana, or as we know it, Florence, in the Provence of Tuscany in Italy. It is the 1400s and a very powerful Florentine family known as the Medicis rule Tuscany. The Medicis were a banking family who, through intrigue and hard work, had become the bankers to the Vatican. This yielded them wealth and power beyond imagination. But the Medicis were an amazing family as well for they determined to spend some of their wealth serving as patrons for many of the brightest minds they could find. They patronized artists and architects, philosophers and poets. Among their more famous and productive patronages were people like Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo Da Vinci. Another of their men was a brilliant mathematician whom they hired to tutor (ultimately) multiple generations of Medici children. His name was Galileo Galilei.

Galileo was a man of wide a varied interest with an intellect sufficient to accommodate them all. His discoveries and inventions were numerous and his work lives on today. On the British two pound coin is inscribed around the edge “standing upon the shoulders of giants”. It is Sir Isaac Newton’s homage to Galileo and refers to his answer to the question “How have you managed to see so much farther than other men?” to which Newton replied “If I have seen farther than others it is only because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants!” referring particularly to Galileo.

Galileo is perhaps best known for two things, dropping two rocks of dissimilar size from the Leaning Tower of Pisa (his birthplace) and the invention of the telescope. It is this last item which brings us back to our tiny points of light that changed the world.

The telescope was a remarkable invention. It had the previously undreamt of ability to bring distant objects into full view. It could even reveal things unable to be made out with the naked eye. Galileo probably first used the new device to check out the sights of the surrounding Florentine environs. After scoping out the hot Italian ladies in the neighboring buildings (come on, you know he did!) he then turned his sights on even more heavenly bodies – the moon and the stars. The brightest star in the night sky was Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. (Though Jupiter is today referred to as a planet, in Galileo’s day planets were considered mysterious ‘oddly acting stars’). As he trained his telescope on Jupiter Galileo made a surprising discovery that forever changed the relationship between scientists and theologians and, more generally, between science and religion. He saw four tiny specks of light next to the giant planet. That’s all, just four tiny points of light. After a few weeks of observation and careful note taking it became obvious that the four little lights were in fact moons of Jupiter! And that, my friends, was earth shaking! That four previously unviewed sparkling points of light could change the world seems oddly disproportionate to their apparent significance but, like it or not, the world would never again be the same.

The Galilean moons, as the newly discovered objects came to be known, weren’t supposed to be there. They weren’t supposed to exist at all. The doctrine established by the Nicaean council had declared that all objects in the sky revolved around the earth and nothing else, yet here were four objects clearly and indisputably revolving – orbiting – another object in the sky! The implications were enormous and the entire geocentric (earth centered) theory of stellar mechanics – already hanging by a thread – was brought to the brink. Copernicus had already advocated an Heliocentric ‘Solar system’ in which the planets, including Earth, orbited the Sun. Galileo subscribed to this thinking and the discovery of the Galilean moons only reinforced that belief. In 1615 he was denounced for his beliefs before the Roman Inquisition. Though he was cleared of offenses at this time his ideas, published in 1632 in a supposedly fictional conversation called “Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” brought him back before the inquisition where he was found “vehemently suspect of heresy”. He could have been sentenced to death but by recanting his support for the heliocentric theory and through the intercession of the Medicis he was merely sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life.

The damage to the already uneasy relationship between the thinkers and the Church had been done and the rift was only to grow wider from this point on. Galileo’s moons were obviously real and easily seen by anyone who cared to gaze through the telescope. That the church would doggedly maintain a doctrinal disagreement with readily observable fact only heightened the suspicion held by some that the church was not, in fact, the sole and absolute repository for truth. This, coupled with the persecution of the Inquisition against any who dared think along lines other than those expressed by the church, created a cabal of intellectuals who began to rely on their own cleverness and discovery rather than the proclamations of the church. More damaging still to the church was the growing willingness of others to question other aspects of theological edict and doctrine. The coming forth of Guttenberg’s printing press and the accompanying availability of the written word to the huddled masses empowered people to begin their own self directed searches for truths and answers. Ultimately, growing discontent with the official church doctrines led to the Protestant Reformation.

The die had been cast and the grip of the Holy Roman Empire was quickly losing purchase. There was change in the air and a sense of empowerment that the people had never before known. People began to explore and question all aspects of their lives and the western world began to emerge from the long intellectual sleep we call the ‘Dark Ages’. The Renaissance had begun and the rate of discovery and progress it spawned are unrivaled in the annals of history.

To say that Galileo single handedly started the Renaissance would be incorrect. There had been a restless undercurrent of discontent which inspired men like Galileo to challenge the conventions common to the time. However, Galileo’s invention of the telescope and the ensuing discoveries of moons around another planet were the first tangible, ‘hard’ evidence that, as Shakespeare wrote, ‘There are more things under heaven, Horatio, than are dreamt of in man’s imagination.”

It’s hard to imagine that a few points of light could change the world – but it’s true.

The Politics of Science

In Albert Einstein, Bible, creation, current events, Geology, God, Isaac Newton, National Geographic, news media, Philosophy, Relativity, science, Science and Religion, weather on February 3, 2009 at 6:40 am

By

Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

Science is a wonderful pursuit, or so it would seem. In theory, science is the discipline of observation and measurement, of inquiry and hypothesis, of experimentation and interpretation. It is the vehicle that propels human understanding and awareness beyond the confines of everyday experience. Our eyes let us see things as they appear. We gain an exoteric knowledge of the things of the world. For instance, we all know that birds fly. We did not need to be told that they fly. We observed it from a very early age. As children we would pretend that we were birds and that we could escape the backyard with outstretched arms that flapped wildly as we ran. We also saw and understood that the sun goes round and around the earth each day. We saw the phases of the moon every 28 days and we know that if we miss seeing a full moon this month there will be another next month, and the month after that, and so on and so on. Our brains are filled with all sorts of exoteric knowledge – that is, knowledge that defines the ‘what’ of the world. The ‘how’ and the ‘why’ are different matters altogether. To learn how a bird flies or why the moon has phases requires inquiry and study. We are tasked with seeking understanding of the things we see. We see a rainbow. We must study light and refraction and geometry to understand how the rainbow appears so effortlessly after a rain storm. Luckily, we have people who do the inquiring for us. They are called scientists. They study such things most diligently and write books about the things they study. Our only task is to pick up the books and read what they have written and then we are as smart as they.

How nice of scientists to do this for us. As long as scientists keep being curious about things we are interested in, or as long as scientists can interest us in the things they are interested in we will get smarter and smarter until we all know everything there is to know about the world we live in and the universe that it floats in.

We put a lot of faith in scientists. We trust their instinct and their pronouncements as fact primarily because we, ourselves, were never motivated enough in school to study what they had to study to become scientists. We did not do the work, learn the math, or memorize the laws and theorems that they did. We played basketball and football instead. So, in the end we put ourselves in the only slightly uncomfortable position of having to trust the scientific community to tell us the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of the ‘whats’ we already knew. This is OK as long as the scientists are right and smart enough to have figured it all out correctly. But, what’s to worry? Right? I mean, after all, they’re scientists, and science is a pure art; not like philosophy or any other social science where anyone with an opinion and a loud enough voice can make himself or herself heard. No, science is pure – see it, weigh it, measure it, explain it. What could go wrong?

Well, the answer is plenty. The history of science is full of missteps and erroneous assumptions. Take the Flu for instance; the word flu comes from the Italian word ‘influenza’. In the 15th and 16th centuries scientists were certain that the pandemics caused by the flu were really caused by the particular alignment of the stars. Stars and their alignment were blamed or credited with controlling almost everything in those days and expressions of that idea still linger with us today in the form of expressions like “you can’t change your stars’ or ‘it is written in the stars’. We commonly use the word ‘lunacy to describe the crazy behavior of certain individuals. The word ’lunacy comes from ‘luna’ or ‘the moon’. It was believed for many many years that a full moon caused aberrant behavior in certain people. Back to the flu – the word ‘influenza’ is Italian and means ‘influence’ and refers to being under the ‘influence of the stars.

When a young and very timid Isaac Newton went before the Royal Academy in London with his theories on motion and gravity – theories which were correct, mind you, – his was run off and threatened with severe personal and professional harm for daring to take on the venerated and revered Aristotelian Physics that had prevailed for over 2,000 years. Robert Hook, a respected and accomplished scientist in his own right swore that he would destroy Newton for daring to be so bold. But Hook was wrong. So were all of his colleagues. Newton was right. His mistake was in not recognizing the entrenchment of any established concept, idea or cabal of ideas upon which other men and women base their own credibility. His clear and lucid exposition of the basic laws of physics, right  though they were, were viewed as threats and destabilizing forces against the accepted and well acclimated rule of the day. In other words, he was upsetting the apple cart.

Newton was not the only one to be so bold. In fact, almost every ground breaking scientist had to refute the existing theory to gain exposure for his own. Einstein had to modify Newton, although he did it most gently. Neils Bohr had to take on Einstein, much to Einstein’s chagrin, to put forth Quantum Mechanics, a theory just as provable and verifiable as Relativity but completely at odds with it. Irony let us observe that although Einstein had significant issues with many of the provisions of Quantum theory, it was his own work that helped prove its validity.

And so it goes that almost all progress has to first tear down the walls of convention and accepted theory to gain its own foothold in the public mind. You see, science isn’t so pure after all. It is as much a political animal as is almost any other philosophy. Oh, at the root of it is the sincere desire to find the truth, but the acceptance of that truth comes at the expense of reputations and positions of prestige and esteem. Almost invariably, each time a career is made, another is diminished. Egos are hurt and livelihoods are damaged.

Science has another strange quirk to it. It needs to be funded. You and I aren’t usually willing to go to the store and pay for science. Oh, we love the inventions and devices that come from great science. We all have computers and IPods and Xboxes and such. Many of us use GPS technology to help us find uncle Bill’s new house or the nearest Wendy’s, but to go out and buy the latest research into Quantum Transfer or spin preservation, we’re just not interested. So, how do scientists make money? Well, in the old days they received patronage from wealthy families like the Medici’s of Florence, or they were members of aristocracy in their own right. De Broglie was a French prince (sadly he lost his head in the French Revolution). Many of the great English scientists were lords of titled peerage. Today however, there aren’t so many Lords or patronized researchers as in days past so a new structure had to be created. Enter the National Science Foundation or NSF and its equivalent in other parts of the world. Private institutions like the National Geographic Society or the Royal Geographic Society in London also fund major research projects.

So now days the major task of a scientist is to first get funding. This is no easy task  but it is doable. It requires getting noticed and that requires getting published. Today, the mantra is “Publish or Perish”. It’s just that simple! Scientists look for issues of general or public interest and they write papers on them. If a scientists can raise a question or propose a path of research that might answer that question he has a chance at getting funding to study it. If they are creative enough or good enough writers, they get published and the issues get noticed. Notice also means funding and publishing is the fastest path to public funding. It is no wonder then that very public awareness of scientific arguments means great amounts of funding for research. One very good example of this is the hole in the Ozone Layer.

The Ozone Layer is vitally crucial to our very survival. It is also remarkably self-preserving and self-regulating. One of the unique characteristics of the Ozone Layer is that, for a variety of factors, a hole forms over the South Pole (not the North Pole) each Antarctic winter. The existence of this hole was known for over a hundred years before it became an issue of serious scientific concern. But, it wasn’t until we developed the ability to accurately and precisely measure its characteristics each year that alarmists were able to raise public fears over its eminent demise. Yearly fluctuations in its size were seen as trends and portended eventual disappearance.We were told and convinced that man induced excesses of chlorine gas in the upper atmosphere were the cause of the hole and , if left unchecked, would lead inexorably to the total destruction of the Ozone Layer and our death by terminal sunburn. Such foolishness and bad scientific reasoning found purchase in the public mind because reporters and opinion makers smelled a good story. Anything to scare the public was good for ratings and what better scary threat than death by sunburn. Never mind that the physics of the argument didn’t hold up or that knowledgeable scientists in that field already knew the truth, the fact was that if the public wanted research into this matter the scientific community was all too happy to provide that research. After all, it would certainly be good for 5 – 10 years of funding. In fact, the funding machine was able to run a little bit longer and many scientists found good steady work for a good number of years studying something that secretly they already knew wasn’t an issue.

Today, in 2009, we seldom hear anything about the Ozone layer except for the well meaning but radical activists who need a good cause more than they need the truth. The Ozone layer is still here and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon.  (if you strongly disagree with my position please comment and I will be happy to provide a more technical exposition of the facts –for now though, I’m just trying to make the bigger point). None of this is as cynical or conspiratorial as it may sound. We are a people who expect due diligence and if enough people express a concern about any subject then due diligence requires that the matter be looked into. The people wanted answers so the scientific community gave them answers.

Today, the new religion is “Global Warming”. We know it is a serious matter because Al Gore, an ex-Vice President for heaven’s sake, scared us all with his silly and inaccurate “An Inconvenient Truth”. We know his warning is real because movie stars said it was important and he won an Academy award for the movie. He even won a Nobel Prize for his work (not a physics prize or any other scientifically rooted Nobel Prize – no he won a Peace Prize). There were many inconvenient truths associated with the whole global warming alarm but the media and the movie stars didn’t want to address them so they got little airtime – truths about the increased solar flux and the fact that the Martian ice caps were also melting. No, we needed to know that once again evil human beings were destroying the earth by driving cars and flying jets – of course if you buy carbon credits like Al Gore you can fly around in a private Boeing 757 to talk about the deleterious effects of our carbon footprint on the earth’s atmosphere. It’s OK. You have carbon credits – no hypocracy there!

Well, things are already settling down atmospherically so now the proper term is ‘climate change’ rather than the less supportable ‘global warming’. But it is still a funding machine and millions and millions of dollars are still being doled out to scientists to show us the error of our ways. We even have a new president who is going to make us all buy hybrid cars and impose other environmental restraints in order to save the earth for future generations. And we’re buying it! Serious discussion is even being given to the idea of covering glaciers with aluminum blankets to slow their melting. And why are we doing this? Because there is lots and lots of money out there for doing it! And, it’s politically expedient. We as a people love causes. We all need to feel like we belong to something larger than ourselves and what better endeavor than to save the world? And the scientific community? Well, many of them will gladly continue to accept our research dollars as long as they can milk this non issue. More and more scientists, however, just cannot keep up the ruse. In droves they are leaving the global warming religion behind, including 11 of the 13 scientists featured in “An Inconvenient Truth”. This year’s U.N convention of global warming was met with much louder dissent from an ever growing number of scientists. The tide is turning and like the Ozone Layer, this too will pass as we finally admit that the earth will be just fine.

Too bad we don’t have time to discuss the regrowth of new rain forests that is far outpacing the cutting down of older rain forest. That would be a fun discussion. Maybe next week. In the mean time please consider for a moment that science is just as vulnerable to politics and opinion as is any other religion or philosophy.

 

Exoteric and Esoteric Knowledge

In Bible, constantine, creation, Genesis, Geology, God, Library at Alexandria, Moses, Nicean Council, Philosophy, Plate Techtonics, Renaissance, science, Science and Religion on January 31, 2009 at 4:01 pm

By

Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

Oculus book cover

Knowledge comes in several flavors. The most basic and common knowledge is ‘exoteric’ knowledge; that is, the basic facts of the matter. Exoteric knowledge was made famous with Jack Webb’s famous tag line “Just the facts Ma’am” from the 60s TV show “Dragnet”.

We often operate with ‘just the facts’. We know the ‘what’ of the matter without necessarily knowing the ‘how’ or the ‘why’. This is the basis of how the military works, where people receive orders and execute them without knowing the bigger picture or the reason for the execution of the orders. But the same thing happens in business as well. In fact, in much of our daily lives we receive and react to information without ever knowing why or how it was generated or to what purpose it aspires. We simply follow orders. Societies and civilizations enjoy stability and longevity, without progress or growth, just fine when the populace is happy to follow orders without questioning or challenging the purpose or motivation behind them.

Esoteric knowledge, on the other hand, leads to revolution, growth, progress and expansion. Esoteric knowledge is the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. It was and is this quest for understanding why something is so or how something works that has driven curious people and forward thinkers to seek answers beyond the simple facts of any matter. Esoteric thinkers are not happy to just acknowledge that birds can fly; they want to know HOW birds fly. They want to understand the forces that allow wings to develop lift and permit heavier that air objects to soar aloft as lightly as a feather.

For millennia people observed and acknowledged that lightening was a frightening and lethal force to be respected and feared. It took someone like Benjamin Franklin to ask what lightening was and how it did its horrible magic. “Why does lightening kill?” he wondered. “How does it form and how does it make such awful noise?” Because of his curiosity, and with the help of others like JJ Thompson and Michael Rutherford, the world slowly gained an understanding of electricity, what it is, how it works, and why it kills. Because of the work of men and women like these, the world became electrified; it came out of the darkness – literally – and was changed forever.

It is the quest for understanding the esoteric nature of things that moves the world forward. It is the gaining of knowledge that provides us with an ever growing array of devices and machines and services that have enabled us to do incredible and marvelous things – to be sure, we have gained some terrible powers as well – and which has allowed the world to grow and provide sustenance and support for an ever increasing population that would be unsustainable without such technology.

In ancient days the world was awash in exoteric knowledge. People saw the changing phases of the moon. They watched the sun go daily around the earth. They observed the changing seasons, all without understanding the forces at work to bring about such phenomena. People watched with awe as birds soared, seemingly effortlessly, on wind currents. They puzzled as to how fishes could breath underwater. Weather phenomena such as tornadoes, hurricanes, hail and thunderstorms brought fear and amazement and generated countless myths and legends.

Without an esoteric understanding of the things they observed and knew to be fact, people turned to superstition in a futile attempt to give reason for things they could not understand. This led to the establishment of traditions and behaviors that were not always in the best interest of the portion of the population that fell victim to the execution of those superstitions. People were sacrificed to any number of false gods. Others were burned or otherwise killed for being witches or demonically possessed. Wars were waged and battles fought over the preservation of ideas supported by superstition and tradition and much progress was lost that otherwise would have brought the light of understanding to people.

Science, which was originally labeled ‘natural philosophy’ or ‘the love of nature,’ arose when curious men and women were able to set aside some of their superstitions and traditions and listen to the earth and to nature around them. They started with the simplest of matters and studied them, seeking a deeper understanding, seeking the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the object being studied. Slowly people began to see the truth of the things around them. Superstition was replaced with understanding and understanding led to harnessing the truths learned for the eventual benefit of all. As the knowledge of electrons came to light researchers were able to induce current and electric motors were invented. These motors were employed to do the work otherwise done by hand or by horse and harness. This same electric current was captured in a filament and coaxed to produce incandescent light which illuminated the world and opened up the nighttime hours to more productive uses and enjoyment.

The laws of physics were expanded and the study of aerodynamics finally unlocked the secret that the birds had known for so many thousands of years. At last man was able to soar on the winds and travel across vast distances just as the birds had done for so long.

It is important to understand the relationship between exoteric and esoteric knowledge to understand the relationship between good science and good religion. I say ‘good’ because there is an abundance of both good and bad religion and good and bad science.

In generations past, when people believed what the scriptures said, they took the ‘truths found therein and viewed them as exoteric knowledge. The Bible simply said ‘what’ was true and ‘what’ was real. A careful reading of the Bible, however, will show us that the scriptures seldom, if ever, explain how or why something was so. It seems the purpose of scripture was and is merely to tell us what is what and leave it to our faith to accept or reject it. In earlier days this was acceptable because, having been told what was real, we then let our scholars and scientists explain for us how those things could be. In other words, the Bible was a legitimate source of exoteric knowledge.

For example, Moses said that in the beginning the earth was featureless and covered with water. He did not offer any explanation for how this was so or why this was so, he merely said that is was thus. He also said that after a time, the waters were gathered together and the dry land appeared. Again, he did not explain the mechanism that made this true. He simply stated it as fact – observed fact that he had seen in a vision. Moses’ history would indicate little to suggest that he had the technical or scientific training to understand the processes at work. But, as a simple and humble man, he claimed that he was given a vision of the creation of the world and this is what he saw. Imagine for a moment that you sit down in a movie theater and watch a short film by Steven Spielberg on the creation of the world. With his extraordinary vision and special effects teams he makes a movie of wonderful detail showing us exactly how it looked as it was happening. When the movie is over you leave the theater, filled with wonder and amazement at the things you have just seen. You know the creation of the world. The things you have seen are fantastic and astounding. However, you do not know how those things came about or what mechanism drove them to be. You simply know what happened. You are now tasked to relate what you have seen to your grandmother who could not go with you to the theater. You tell her all the wonderful things you have just seen and she stops you with questions like ‘how did that happen?’ You say, Mom, I don’t know but it did! Congratulations, you have just experienced what Moses experienced when he had his vision. He was a goat herder not a scientist. He did not know about Plate Tectonics. No one knew about Plate Tectonics and no one would know until 1965. However, Plate Tectonics is the scientific explanation for the formation of the Earth’s surface features. It in no way contradicts the scriptures and it provides the ‘how and why’ to Moses’ ‘what’ as he related it in Genesis.

 In many other examples science and religion worked hand in hand to decipher the world and our surroundings. This partnership propelled the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the Persians and the Babylonians to seek answers to their greatest mysteries, almost all of which were related to their relationship to their Gods and to their world around them. The advances they gave to the world form the foundation of much of the knowledge we enjoy to this day.

The great rift between science and religion began during the dark ages, that period of time in the Western world that started in the fourth century A.D. and ended with the renaissance, beginning in the late fourteenth century. For the Middle East it began around the seventh century A.D. and continued well past the Western renaissance. In each case it was powerful and almost totalitarian religious dominance that brought a screeching halt to progress and understanding.

In the West it began innocently enough and with good intentions. Constantine, last Emperor of the Roman Empire, decided that this emerging Christian movement, which he was unable to stop, would be a good unifying force to hold his increasingly restless empire together. Wisely, he decided that he should convene a council of all the Christian bishops and leader from throughout the empire so that they could come up with a single, unified – Catholic – doctrine under which all would live and be judged. A council was convened in 325 A.D. in Nicaea, now Turkey. At this council doctrines were hammered out for just about everything the leaders could think of. Items included the nature of God and the Trinity, the proper date and observance of Easter, as well as more worldly things such as whether or the not Sun or the Earth was the center of the universe, and just what, exactly, was the sun? What were the planets and the stars and how did the planets move in the night sly against the curtain of immovable stars? Much great work was done and in the process a few errors were made. This would have been OK had there been a provision for revisions to be made as knowledge was gained, however, the council made one fatal error. They included a point of order that stated that the doctrine of the Nicene council was infallible. In other words, it was perfect and could not be wrong in any point. That meant that anyone disagreeing with any point of doctrine in the Nicene doctrine was a heretic, a sin punishable by death.

Well, this worked for a few years though it had a chilling effect on inquiry and research. After all, with the answers so clearly and unbendingly stated in the Nicene doctrines, there was no need to look for any other or contrary answer. Thus, progress was stopped.

In the Middle East it was the establishment of Islam that cooled the scientific enthusiasm of their greatest thinkers, thinkers who had given us astronomy, mathematics (Al Gebra for example) and medicine. Indeed, Islam declared that all of the progress and all of the knowledge brought forth by their forefathers was contained in a period for ever after known as the ‘time before enlightenment’. This is not to say that Islam repudiated the acquired knowledge of their progenitors but rather that the emphasis was taken from academic pursuits and turned towards Allah. By implying that the early thinkers were unenlightened the new law stifled further thought and progress.

The Library of Alexandria was one of the original Wonders of the World. It was the repository of all of the world’s accumulated knowledge and we can only imagine the truths and histories that were contained therein. Its destruction was one of the greatest tragedies of all time. It is a matter of much controversy, with many scholars claiming several different destructive events, including an accidental fire by Caesar’s men in 48B.C. However, one account attributes some of its destruction to the Arab army led by Amr Ibn al’Aus in 642 A.D. Though this is a matter of much dispute, one of the statements attributing the event to him is revealing of the attitude of the times. It is claimed that he said, speaking of the scrolls in the library, “They will either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous.” Here we see the same attitude as that held by the Roman church with regard to contradictions with the Nicene Creed. It is claimed that they (al Aus’ army) used the scrolls to fuel the fires that heated their bath water and that there were enough scrolls to fuel the fires for six months.

Whatever the truth, the fact is that serious scientific inquiry was dramatically curtailed during the first millennium after the meridian of time. Suddenly, scientists and the scientific method were viewed warily and esteemed as ungodly. The prevailing attitude was that there was no need for science, and only the worship of God, as ordained by the state, was a worthy venture.

Then, along came Galileo Galilee, son of a musician, and an accomplished lute player in his own right. He lived and worked in Firenze, Tuscany, (You know it as Florence Italy). He was a brilliant and insightful thinker and just the kind of person that the Medici’s, rulers of Tuscany, were looking to patronize. With their support, Galileo was able to pursue his quest for understanding and knowledge.

It was the invention of the telescope that really got things riled up in Galileo’s world. His first endeavor was to turn his new invention to the heavens. He set his sights on the brightest star in the night sky, Jupiter. What he saw changed the world. Besides the spectacle of a clearer view of our largest neighbor in the solar system, Galileo saw four small distinct points of light. He observed them nightly for a month, carefully noting their position in a note book. After a month it became clear that the objects were orbiting the great giant planet. They were moons. To this day Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto are still referred to as the Galilean Moons. The problem was that the Nicene doctrine did not allow for anything to orbit any other thing except the Earth. The doctrine had clearly defined the nature of the cosmos, and moons orbiting other planets were not part of the equation. Galileo was a heretic. Nevertheless, he had seen what he had seen and no written doctrine could change that. Through his telescope Galileo saw other wonders equally contradictory and equally damning. The age of conflict between science and religion had finally been fully established and the rift would only grow over the years.

The assumption that the Nicene doctrines accurately reflected the writings of the Bible and the thoughts and intent of God meant that one must either choose to follow religious leaders (And by extension, God) or scientific reason and evidence, but not both. For the first time the scriptures were not viewed as a source of exoteric knowledge. In fact, everything said and claimed in the scriptures was suspect and began to be viewed as fantasy and superstition. People of reason and understanding were suddenly forced to choose between their faith and their understanding. It was an awful choice and many great scientists struggled mightily with the issue.

The sad truth is that one simple change to the great work done by the participants of the Nicene council would have changed the world. Had they simply allowed for a provision to modify and adjust the doctrine as knowledge was gained, they would have formed a partnership with the scientific community that would have allowed for an ever more refined and accurate world view. Obviously, there are many matters that rely on faith alone, but a greater understanding of the true nature of measurable things would have led to the elimination of false and silly superstitions and notions that kept many good people of faith from seeing as far as they might otherwise have.

If God is real – if God is true – then truth in all things will only lead closer to Him and to the truths of the universe that He, through means not fully understood just yet, created. To understand how someone does something does not diminish the accomplishment. So too, to understand just a little bit more of God does not diminish His Godliness. To know that Plate Tectonics may be the method that God used to form the landmasses of the earth does not diminish the accomplishment of that fact. After all, don’t the scriptures tell us that “ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” and, “this is life eternal, to know thee the one true God…”?

To know what God does gives us faith. To know how God does it should only build on that faith. If we could get science and Religion back together again just think of the possibilities. Of course it would take great humility and cooperation on both sides. If we could accept the general nature of things said on the scriptures, with faith, and then turn our own considerable powers of investigation and inquiry to those subjects for understanding, just think what we might learn.

If you think this would destroy faith then I remind you of the promise contained in the scriptures which says, “Ask and ye shall receive, Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you”.

As Agent Mulder says, “The truth is out there.”

Foolish Traditions

In Abraham, Adam and Eve, Albert Einstein, Bible, Genesis, Geology, God, miracles, Moses, Philosophy, Plate Techtonics, Relativity, science, Science and Religion, technology on December 23, 2008 at 10:37 am

By

Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

I find it interesting that the conflict between scientists and theologians often tends to focus on just the mechanics of the various claims of the Bible and not the greater context of the account. The main emphasis is on the specific claim that ‘God’ made it happen, the implication being that the mere belief in a higher entity is silly and foolish. While the various arguments may rage on about whether the specifics of the claims have merit, a bigger issue goes unexamined. Why do these stories exist in the Bible at all?

Seriously, have you ever stopped to consider how odd, for example, the creation story in the first few chapters of Genesis is? Take for example the story of the actual physical creation of the planet. Remember as you read that Moses, while undoubtedly getting some formal training in Egypt, was basically just a goat herder. His life was consumed with the desert; with sand and scorpions and goats and thistle bushes and rocks. Isn’t it interesting then that he starts his description of the creation of the earth by saying that “in the beginning…the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Now, you can argue all day long about the merits of saying that God created the heavens and the earth but step back for a moment and ask yourself why, if Moses were making this up, or if he were just a deluded old Bedouin, would he start by saying the earth began by being covered with water completely? The old adage, ‘write what you know’ comes to mind. Moses’ life was inextricable tied to sand and desert. The lifeblood of Egypt was the Nile River. Sand, rocks and a river were the sum of his experience, so why not tell a tale about a vast expanse of desert, lifeless and barren, empty and motionless. You could then bring in a great river that sprang forth out of the ground to water and give life to everything. A creation story that began like that would have found much more traction among the people who would hear this story than a story about a featureless ocean with no land whatsoever. It is doubtful that most of the people he led out of Egypt had ever seen an ocean, and the account in Exodus is clear in stating that the children of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years. I suspect that had Moses led them to some nice seaside paradise they would have stayed right there – thank you very much – and not ventured one more step onto the burning sands that had been their home for so long. There is no plausible reason for Moses to begin a fable (as many would call it) with an initiatory experience so far out of the common experience of his listeners.

Many Norwegian legends begin and end with the sea because Norwegians lived and died by the sea. A land so inhospitable to vast agriculture relied heavily upon the bounties drawn from the ocean. Fish and fishing were common to all the experiences of those hearty people. So legends of sea monsters, or invaders who came by boat from across the sea were perfectly reasonable myths to propagate.

Similarly, tribal customs from people that lived and died at the foot of volcanoes all incorporated those volcanoes in their lore. To this day it is taboo to take from Hawaii a piece of lava off the island, as the goddess Pelè will put a curse upon the unfortunate thief.

So we get back to Moses. Why did he start his ‘myth’ with an experience completely foreign to the common experience of his people? His story goes on; the land didn’t just appear. Rather, Moses puts in the curious detail that “the waters under heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” How would Moses know, how would he deduce, that in order for land to appear the water would need to recede? I would be willing to bet that if you asked a thousand people to create a creation story of their own, every one of them, if given a water covered world to start with, would have the land spring up out of the water. Not one, in my opinion, would ever think to have the water recede. That is counter-intuitive and foreign to the common experience of most people.

That idea was so counter-intuitive, in fact, that geologists didn’t come up with it for the next 4,000 years! And these were people dedicated to studying the subject! Theories of the creation of the earth abounded for thousands of years but not until 1965 did the theory of Plate Tectonics come forth; a theory, by the way, which completely supports Moses’ brief observation in Genesis 1.

Other elements of the creation story begin to come forth as we look from this different vantage point. Why, for instance, did Moses make the effort to peg the creation of the Earth to six different creative periods? Why not just say something like “God brought forth the river unto the barren land and life sprang forth in all its myriad and abundant glory. Wouldn’t it be logical for everything to spring forth at once? Let’s see; Barren, lifeless desert – water – life filled desert! Water would give life to all and suddenly we would have plants and trees and birds of every kind and animals. This newly formed garden would be the perfect birthplace for mankind to appear.

Speaking of mankind, Adam and Eve didn’t begin in the Garden of Eden! Did you know that? It’s a good bar bet if you’re into that stuff. No, read what it says! “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Then in the next chapter, 12 verses later, we read, “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden: and there he put the man whom he had formed.” What an odd story! Again, it makes no logical sense to go through this elaborate creation myth and then create man in some nondescript place and then put him in the garden. Wouldn’t it have made much more sense to create a beautiful setting for the coming forth of mankind? Isn’t that the stuff myths are made of? The Greek myths all have their gods springing forth from their respective birthplaces in accordance with their natures, i.e. in the kingdoms of the clouds, or the sun, or the sea, or the underworld. How odd then that Moses would decide, if he were the fabricator of the creation myth, that man’s coming forth should be so bland and non-magnificent and only later put him in a garden. Why not create him in the garden? That would have made for a much better story. After all, the very essence of a garden is that it is more abundant of life and more beautiful than the surrounding terrain. Remember, the Bedouin and all desert dwellers lived and died by the Oasis. The Oasis was their only source of water – or life – in an otherwise inhospitable desert.  

In Genesis, the Garden of Eden is representative of the oasis in the desert. The story of Adam and Eve tells of the beauty and the abundance of food in the garden. As Adam and Eve were innocent from the beginning, it is unreasonable to surmise that their occupancy in the garden was a reward for some accomplishment. On the contrary, all indications were that the garden would be their home forever as they tended the animals and got about the task of multiplying and replenishing the earth. It was only after they had transgressed the laws that they were punished and thrust out of the garden and into the ‘dark and dreary world’. They were, in essence, forced to leave the oasis and wander into the desert, not unlike Moses’ own people who left the relative security and abundance of Egypt to wander in the desert for forty years.

Another point or two about biblical stories supports my thesis. In the account of the parting of the Red/Reed Sea, why, if you were chronicling the story of God saving a people, would you not just say “God parted the waters”? Why would you feel compelled to include the detail that the wind blew and imply that that was what parted the waters?

The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah can be explained easily enough by supposing that a meteor of some sort might have entered the atmosphere and broken up, raining down fiery pieces that set the whole place ablaze. Isn’t it interesting that that story, which we attach to just the two towns, actually recounts the destruction of four cities, all proximate to one another, and tells us that one city escaped the fire. Zoar was within the area of destruction of the other four cities but somehow escaped destruction. Isn’t it interesting that all four cities destroyed were right next to each other? Aren’t we to suppose that these were the only cities in northern Africa that were wicked? How convenient that they were all next to each other! And why not Zoar? Wouldn’t it have been tainted by the same local traditions and customs. Wouldn’t debauchery and sin have invaded its doors as well? Probably. But just as we see a tornado demolish one house and leave the next one unscathed, so too, a meteor or other object falling from the sky can be just as random. But why did Moses say that Sodom and Gomorrah would have fire rained down upon them? Why not just afflict them with a plague or some other commonly recognized peril of the time? Even for Sodom and Gomorrah fire raining down from heaven was a pretty unique experience.

My point in all this is simply this. We argue about the merits of a tale, whether it is true or fantasy. In so doing we argue about the details without standing back and asking the bigger question – Where did this tale come from? Atheists and intellectuals can bloviate all daylong about how silly the Bible stories are and how foolish people of faith are but they risk ultimately looking foolish themselves one day. Moses and the other Biblical chroniclers were only reporters relating what they had seen in visions and dreams and prophecies. As we argue about the details of what they saw we miss the fact that these tales came about in the first place. We miss the fact that many of these tales have details that were not available to the common experience of man in that era. We should not overlook the fact that these men provided us stories with facts and ascertains that were un-provable or unsupportable for the next three or four thousand years. We fail to ask ourselves “Why would Moses say something like this?” What in his experience would possibly lead to a detail as explicit as some we read when nothing in his life experience would have even given him the notions that would later form some of the accounts we have from his records?

When an ancient Mayan record tells us that time is a variable quantity that marches differently on different spheres we should ask ourselves “how did they know about special relativity – a theory not put forth in our time until 1905? How would they know that the marking of time would vary according to the size and speed of rotation of that planet or celestial body?

Rather than dismiss all of these ancient tales as folly and foolish traditions we should ask ourselves how these details and these stories even came to be. Without some divine input, some infusion of knowledge from a higher source, we are left only to marvel at the creative wisdom of the people we deride.

I, for one, tip my hat to Moses and the other prophets of the Bible. They were either men of God or at very least, men much smarter than I. In either event I would be wise to follow their council.

 

 

Speaking of Miracles

In Bible, God, Philosophy, Science and Religion on November 28, 2008 at 10:18 pm

by Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

Speaking of Miracles

If you will allow me a brief indulgence I’d like to depart from the norm just this once and relate a very personal experience from my past. I normally wouldn’t do this as the experience is very sacred to me, and not the type of thing that should be cast about indiscriminately. However, now that this blog is somewhat established, I want to record this experience for future generations – my future generations. I have tried to relate this story to my kids and my wife and they might remember having heard this before but I want it written down so that someday, when I am gone and they really read the things I have written, they will come across this account once more and perhaps get a sense of how important and special it is to me.

Many years ago I served as an LDS missionary in Argentina. In the spring of 1971 I was assigned to work in a very small town in the Argentine campo. The town was called Tandil and its claim to fame was a huge balancing rock that had fallen down in 1913 but which still graced the face of postcards and other ‘Requerdos’.  It was a pleasant little town and we were the only LDS missionaries in the area. I loved my time in Tandil and made many good friends there.

LDS missionaries always work in pairs so I always had a companion, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for two years. We were never alone. My first companion in Tandil was a big tall Elder named Grant Hansen. Elder Hansen was from somewhere in Southern Idaho – maybe Burley, although it seems to me he was from a smaller farming community outside of Burley. Anyway, Elder Hansen was a short timer. He only had two months to go before returning home after serving faithfully for two years. I, on the other hand was very new. After three months in Buenos Aires I was thrilled to be sent out into the Gaucho land of the Pampas.

Elder Hansen was a wonderful guy and an excellent missionary. One of the things that made him so special was his health – it was terrible! I don’t mean to tell tales out of school here and if Elder Hansen is still around somewhere reading this (I would love to hear from you if you are out there) I wish him well      and ask his forgiveness. But, the fact is that in 1971, in Argentina, there was not much that could be done to ease his suffering or his discomfort. You see, Elder Hansen suffered very badly from Rheumatoid Arthritis. It affected him in various ways, all of which were exacerbated by the cold damp weather of the Argentine wet season. He hurt most of the time. It hurt him to get up so early every day. It hurt him to ride bikes all the time on the cobblestone roads. It hurt all day walking from house to house and being rejected by almost all we encountered.

Another very serious problem, related to the R.A. was that Elder Hansen could hardly see. His vision had been so affected by the R.A. that he had to wear contact lenses – the hard ones – and augment those with coke bottle lens glasses. At that, he still couldn’t see very well, and yet, day after day, week after week he endured and persevered. He was faithful and obedient to his calling, and set a very good example for a young ‘greenie’ like me. I wish I had been a better companion for him but I still had a lot to learn and a lot of humbling to do.

The persecution we endured from many of the towns people was tough on both of us and I used to wonder how it must feel for a guy like Grant Hansen to suffer so much to do a task for people who took so much pleasure making our lives so difficult.

One day Elder Hansen and I had an appointment to teach a lesson to a family who lived on the edge of town, up a big hill at the top of a development. It was a miserable day. It was raining – hard – and it had rained all day. We were soaked and cold and miserable, but we pushed on, driven by our calling and the thrill we felt each time we were invited into a family’s home.

 This day started hard. It was cold  and as we left our small pension and made our way out to the area, I remember that Elder Hansen was driven off the road by a truck that took great pains to make an extra wide turn just to hassle us. He nearly drove Elder Hansen off the road. After a moment to collect ourselves we got back on the bikes and started up the long steep hill, grinding out each pedal turn with difficulty, in the pouring rain. We eventually reached our destination, met with the family, and taught the lesson. I don’t remember the details of that lesson at all. I do remember what happened afterwards.

We finished the lesson, shared a treat or some sort as was the custom of the people and then made our exit. We climbed back on our bikes for the return back to our pension. It was still raining hard and all we wanted to do was get back home. I remember it was a wide boulevard, well paved – it was actually one of the few roads that was paved with asphalt rather than cobblestone, which was a treat for us. It was a steep hill but we were grateful to be able to coast down rather than climb up it as we had an hour or so earlier. Traffic was light and the road was smooth. Normally we would have coasted down at a reasonable speed but the pounding rain and our general state of discomfort inspired us to pump up the speed a bit, maybe a bit too much. We didn’t care. We were wet and cold and we just wanted to get home. I don’t know how fast we were going but it was fast, probably 35 or 40 mph, or better.

About half way down the hill, raincoats and wheel spray flying, something happened. I say something because I don’t really know what happened. Even at the time I thought it was a very strange thing. It felt to me as though someone grabbed my handle bars and shook them violently. I was young and agile and had very good balance – I had been a gymnast in high school and college – and I was able to fight my way through it and stay on my bike. I was so busy that I only glimpsed Elder Hansen. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that he went down, but being fully occupied with my own struggle, it took me a minute to regain control, get stopped and get back up the hill. When I got back to him I expected to see a bloody mess of torn pants and ripped skin. Instead, what I encountered was him, sitting quietly, wiping the rain from his glasses. His pants were not torn nor was there evidence that he had slid or otherwise traveled along the ground in an out of control fashion. His shoes were not scuffed and he had not a single scrape or bruise. There was not a single drop of blood anywhere.

I quickly dismounted and went to him. “Elder Hansen” I said, out of breath and concerned, “are you all right?” He spoke softly and I didn’t hear his first reply. “What” I asked? He responded again, “I floated to the ground!” “What do you mean?” I asked. He replied, “I floated to the ground! I fell and felt a pair of hands catch me, and set me gently on the ground!” There were tears mixed with the rain drops in his eyes and his humble demeanor told me instantly he was not kidding. I took a quick inventory and could see that, indeed, other than being a little muddy where he sat, he was not injured in any way. We quietly got back on our bikes and silently rode home in the rain. When we returned to our pension we cleaned up, changed into dry clothes and got on our knees to thank our Heavenly Father for the special help we had received.

Nearly 38 years have passed but I will never forget that day or that experience. Do miracles exist? Does divine intervention occur? Are there guardian angels? Yes!

Can I explain it scientifically? No. Can I explain it philosophically? No, I can’t. Lucky for me, I don’t have to! It happened, I was blessed. Elder Hansen was greatly blessed. Somehow, that’s all that matters.

Mark Swint

 

Yin & Yang

In Bible, Isaac Newton, Philosophy, science, Science and Religion, technology, Uncategorized on November 25, 2008 at 11:49 am

  

by Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

Opposites attract. It’s an adage as old as time itself. Sir Isaac Newton made it one of the foundational statements of the universe when he published his laws of Motion; he said, in essence, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This is not to be confused with the statement by the author Bob Wells who said “for every action there is an equal and opposite government program.” It is this opposite force that give impetus for all motion on earth. Rockets soar and airplanes fly expressly because of Newton’s law. In fact the energy exerted by a rocket motor is expressed in units called ‘Newtons’. When we stand up, or walk, it is because our feet have exerted a force against the earth which ‘pushes back’. Since we are smaller than the earth it is we who move against a fixed surface (the scientific literalist will tell you, not incorrectly, that the earth also moves ever so slightly in the opposite direction when we walk). By the way, you do realize that the Earth is bi-polar?

Since the beginning of civilization the idea that everything has its opposite has existed in everything we do. yin-yang-jpegThe Chinese Yin Yang was born of this notion and reflects the nature and necessity of opposition in everything in life. The actual Yin Yang concept is exemplified by a mountain whose east side is illuminated in the morning by the Sun while its west side lies in shadow, occluded by the mountain itself. In the afternoon, as the Sun makes its way westward, the opposite becomes true and that which was dark is now light and that which was light is now in shadows.

 In the Book of Mormon a father speaks to his son of this issue and states that not only is opposition a fact of life but a requisite fact of life. He says “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” He goes on to explain that without sadness we could not experience joy, that we must know the bad to appreciate the good, the bitter to know the sweet, and that without sin there is no righteousness, without law there is no wickedness.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger!” He was simply stating, in a most poetic form, the universal law of opposition recognized by all others before him. In his most literal context he explains how we build muscle through exercise. The lifting of heavy weights is designed to tax our muscles beyond their normal strength. This actually causes muscle tissue to be torn down and damaged. It rebuilds stronger and more able to exert the forces demanded of it and we grow stronger. We all know, and have experienced the growth that comes through trials. It is the challenges we face that either defeat us or make us stronger. No one ever grew stronger by simply laying on a beach all day drinking Mai Tais. Similarly, our expression for someone who does nothing all day, every day,  “Couch Potato”,  implies the inherent weakness that befalls one who does not rise to take on and meet a challenge or at least become actively engaged. Boredom, sloth and indolence are all conditions that befall the inactive and unmotivated mind while energy, sharpness and acuity are all traits enjoyed by those who stay active and enthusiastically and aggressively engage with the world, taking on whatever challenges it may throw at them.

Nature, at its most elemental state recognizes the need, nay, the necessity of opposition. The atom is itself is a composite of positive and negative forces. Each proton in the nucleus is balanced by an electron whirling in a cloud above it. It is the combination of Protons and Electrons, positive and negative, that make up every element in the universe and that give us substance (Yes, Virginia, there are also Neutrons but their contribution is to the stability of the nucleus and they do not establish the nature of the element nor its chemical properties). Strip away all the negative electrons from the positive protons and you are left with a mass of nothingness Stephen Hawking first called a “Black Hole”. A Black Hole is a mass of gravity that sucks everything into it and lets nothing escape. It is lifeless and the epitome of death and oblivion.

So, why do I go on and on about this? It is because of the conundrum of life. Life appears to ignore the most basic laws of the universe and has no tangible place or justification within the laws of physics. Life exists in defiance of the universe and it fends off every attempt by the universe to defeat it.  Eventually everything dies, but not before it has replicated itself and left another to carry on the battle. Nature throws hurricanes, and tornados, and blizzards, and droughts at us constantly but we survive. The Sun, which ironically injects the energy into the world that we ultimately use to exist, bombards us with radiations of various sorts trying to kill us. The universe gets in on this conspiracy by constantly bombarding us with cosmic radiation equally willing to kill us and burn us up.

As if that weren’t enough we are faced with the very laws of the universe which declare that we should not be. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, first postulated by French physicist Sadi Carnot, is also referred to as the Law of Entropy. While it is somewhat complex, it basically states that all things return to their most basic and fundamental state. Cold warms up to neutral. Hot cools down to neutral. Mountains eventually erode and fall while valleys slowly fill up and disappear. It is the law of Entropy at work that makes your car rust and the paint on your house fade. It is Entropy that takes a brand new, nicely paved road and eventually turns it into a cracked and weedy path. If left untended, all roads ever built would eventually break up and return to the basic earth upon which they sit. The great pyramids of Egypt and the temples of the Mayans are stark reminders that the glory that man erects to his pride and ego will all, one day, crumble and disappear. At its most basic interpretation Entropy makes organized things return to a disorganized state to chaos. As the Bible says, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

 So consider the miracle of life. In seeming defiance of Entropy, life takes unorganized matter and organizes it! A seed sits in soil and with a little water and a little sunshine it slowly extracts minerals and elements from that soil and organizes them into stems leaves and flowers of every color, emitting fragrances that please the nose and attract other living creatures that unwittingly help the plant reproduce itself. Similarly, a mother carrying a fertilized egg eats a piece of fruit or a vegetable and a little protein and a baby forms within her belly. There is bone where there was no bone and there is blood and skin and organs where there was none before. The process of gestation and birth is miraculous on so many levels, but among them is the fact that unorganized matter becomes organized onto life, in defiance of Entropy! What a great victory for life.

But just what is life? I mean, we take dirt and rock and water and turn it into cement with which we erect soaring skyscrapers. We refine aluminum and titanium and magnesium and turn them into airplanes that soar above the earth at 600 miles per hour! Is this not also organized matter? Does this not also defy Entropy? Indeed! And can the skyscraper build itself? Can the airplane build itself? No, these things are the products of living beings who created them first in their minds and then with their hands. So, what is life? From where does it originate? How does it happen to be?

The author Bill Bryson, in his wonderful book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” makes a wonderful observation. He says; “It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were top pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would end up with a mound of atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.” So, where is life. Where did it come from? What makes it alive? Who or what struck that spark? Lightning? Maybe, but not likely. You see, it’s not a matter of electricity! Electricity is just the flow of unbound electrons. We have plenty of electrons. Everything in the universe is comprised, at least in part, of electrons. It is not electricity that makes life. It would be more accurate to ascribe life to proteins and amino acids that make up the substance of cells and living organisms. We could narrow it down to a couple of long chain polymers comprised of nucleotides made up of segments called chromosomes constructed of four basic components identified by their first letters G A T and C. Guanine, Adenine, Thymine and Cytosine combine to define the DNA formula that makes and defines us; what we are, what color our hair is, how tall we are etc. etc. proclaiming that a lightning strike is responsible for this is akin to claiming that the dictionary is the product of an explosion in a print shop ( a well worn analogy I admit but it fits).

And yet, in the grand scheme of things isn’t life just the Yin to the Yang of the cold, stark, bleak emptiness of Space? Is it not the light to balance the dark? We are looking and nothing less than Extropy to balance Entropy. While it is true that individual life blinks out as quickly as it starts, life in general goes on and life forms – biomass if you will – continue to exist and procreate. Is this not the pattern for inanimate matter as well? On the quantum level we allow for matter to blink into and out of existence continually. Matter is constantly changing to energy and back again. Yet to the larger, visible world it appears static. So too life remains constant in the face of death. We fly over a large city and everyday it looks the same, even though some have died and some have been born.

So, here’s the deal! Why not God? Why can’t there be a deity? We tend to refer to God as a supreme being. Is this wrong? No! Of course there is a supreme being. That is a fact that happens the instant you have more than one species of life. Is not an Orchid of a higher order than a fungus? Is not a bug of a higher order than a microbe? In intelligence, is not a dog smarter than a slug? Is not a human more creative than a cow? You see, everything exists in a hierarchy, the one above the other in some manner or measurement. Philosophy aside, living creatures exist on differing planes, each within their own realm and each with their own biological imperatives. So who gets to say that that hierarchy stops with Homo Sapiens, with Mankind? Who made us the Supreme Being? Is that not arrogance of the first degree? Can the system not support even one more level of supremacy? Or two, or three, or a hundred more? Is it so totally out of the realm of possibility that a higher life form might exist on a higher plane than we? Is this not tantamount to us living on a plane of existence incomprehensible to a worm?

I would posit that it is the fool who sees nothing beyond his own existence and the bigger fool who loudly proclaims that there can be no existence higher than his own.

I don’t know. I could be wrong.

 

Intelligent Evolution

In Bible, Genesis, God, Moses, Philosophy, science, Science and Religion, technology on November 16, 2008 at 9:33 am

By

Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

                 The conflict between science and religion reached its apex during the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. That trial pitted the State of Tennessee against a high school teacher named John Scopes. It accused him of violating the Butler Act, which made it illegal “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

The case was a sensation and made a household word of the name John Scopes. It pitted two of the greatest legal minds of the time, Williams Jennings Bryan, Congressman and former Secretary of State, for the prosecution, against Clarence Darrow the most prominent defense attorney of the time. The trial inspired a 1955 stage play, “Inherit the Wind” that was quickly followed in 1960 by a movie of the same name starring Spencer Tracy and Fredrick March. Three television movies followed.

The Scopes Monkey Trial put a spark to the conflict that had long been simmering between scientists and theologians. Instantly, evolution erupted into the mainstream dialogue and people everywhere began to openly discuss things which had heretofore been mostly taboo or spoken only in whispers. “Did God make the world or did we come from pond slim?” This became the issue of the day. The Scopes trial broke down the last remaining barrier to the free and open discussion of any scientific evidence which might seem to contradict Biblical teachings. In many ways it was the catalyst that once and for all defined the practical separation of Church and State. Good or bad, things changed after the Scope Monkey Trial.

This issue though, ‘did we come from God or did we come from Monkeys?’ started off on the wrong foot from the beginning. It arose as much from well intentioned but perhaps overzealous theological idealists as it did from a scientific community a bit too anxious to shed the shackles of dogmatic tradition and religious constraint. Scientists had always felt crowded by the oversight exerted by priests and ministers. In many countries still today, one religion is the official religion of the country and as such exercises tremendous control over the curricula taught in the schools. Scientists thought it would be better to explore and investigate in an environment free from external persuasion and influence. “Just let pure science find its way, free from bias and preconception,” was their cry. At least that sounded noble and honest.

In truth science (or religion for that matter) has never operated in a vacuum, free from outside influence or bias. As example, I only have to point right now to the absolute hysteria generated by the pseudo-religious movement of the Global Warming community. It seems that Global Warming is such a cash cow for a community that lives by the credo “Publish or Perish” that ANY voice expressing a cautionary warning to go slow before sticking one’s foot in ones mouth is quickly quashed and banished from the hallowed halls of scientific temples. Many great researchers have lost their positions almost instantly for questioning globaal warming or raising the wrong issues and asking the wrong questions (The list is too long to post here but if you really must challenge this blog I will be happy to provide the research for you). We all know that Al Gore is making a boatload of money from his crusade against Global Warming, not to mention an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize. But how many of us know that 10 of his 11 experts cited in “An inconvenient Truth” have since recanted their opinions? That just doesn’t seem to make the news. By the way, if we called it Global Warming Business then we could say that Al Gore has been fighting G.W.B. Hum? Maybe that’s the real incentive, (Let it go man, you lost).

Anyway, I digress.

Creation! We all know it happened somehow. I mean, the Earth is here and people and other living things are on it. We had to come from somewhere so it is a worthy question –Where did we come from?

The real issue is, does God, if He exists, operate outside of the established rules that govern the Universe, and if so, doesn’t that make him an Anarchist? For some reason (yes, I know what that reason is) scientists think that to believe in God means necessarily abandoning any sense of reason and ignoring the more than obvious evidences that the world puts in front of us. Their assumption is that the very definition of religion is “the abandonment of reality for a more comfortable and accommodating fantasy” (this is nuts on sooo many levels). Many religious people, on the other hand, think that scientists are all Godless infidels who will burn eternally in hell for their blasphemies (again, WRONG).  There are many scientists who have managed to put a personal belief system in place in their lives while still pursuing truth through research and inquiry.

So, what is the problem? Well, it’s this; Zealots say God went ‘Poof” and there they were, Adam and Eve, (or, if you prefer, Adam and Lilith first). Science says, “That just doesn’t make sense nor does it fit the pattern we think we see in everything else!” fair enough.

Let’s take the “God is an anarchist” argument first. In what Bible, or any other book of Scripture, does it say that God ignores rules and laws? Huh?  Anyone?  Anyone? This whole idea sprang from the silly notion that being God means not being bound by anything. The idea that God is all powerful somehow came to be interpreted as meaning that nothing could limit God, ergo; God was not bound by any convention or universal law. The simple fact is that the Bible does not say that anywhere. Oh, it may say that God’s dominion is boundless or His knowledge is boundless or his power is infinite but that is not the same as saying that God does not operate within a system. In fact, just the opposite is true. The scriptures are full of pacts and covenants made between God and Man. The use of pacts and covenants is very telling. You see, a dictator or a King doesn’t need to make a covenant with his people. He simply declares something to be so and it is so. A covenant, on the other hand, is a contract, a two way agreement, legally binding, that obligates both parties concerned. It says that the party of the first part agrees to do something desired by the party of the second part in exchange for a service or action of value provided by the party of the second part on behalf of the party of the first part. It BINDS both parties to an agreed upon goal. If God enters into covenants with people that sure sounds to me like a restriction on Him! Additionally, the scriptures say that God’s house is a house of order. Order and chaos are not mutually compatible. Order denotes structure. Structure denotes bounds and limits. But then, who says structure or limits are ungodly?

 If you are tasked with wiring a house for electricity can you simply go in and staple a bunch of cable to the walls and put in switches? Well, yes you can but we all know that’s not going to work. Why, because the laws of electromagnetism are very precise and very unforgiving. Such simple concepts as the fact that all circuits must have a positive lead and a ground (Negative) are basic but when followed, lead to incredible things like lighting cities or watching cartoon characters on a box that glows and talks in your living room. It is expressly the understanding of, and following of, natural laws that empower us to enjoy the life we enjoy. We travel across oceans in airplanes that fly high over weather, not because they are not bound to the laws of Gravity but because they use the laws of Gravity to create lift and fly (yes, that’s right! Flight requires gravity. A weird concept I know, but it’s true nonetheless).

I posit that it is the existence of, and the knowledge of, laws that give us, and by extension, God, power.  As scientists peel away the obscuring layers of ignorance and uncover the truths of the universe they are constantly moving more and more towards Godlike power. You think I blaspheme? Au contrere! A thousand years ago the only creatures who could fly through the air were birds and Angels (see Revelations). Now we do it for sport and for business. Why? Because we learned the secret of aerodynamics; a set of laws that had always existed but that had always elluded our grasp. A thousand years ago only God could speak and the whole world would hear it  at one time. Recently, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden debated and 70 million people both saw and heard it on little glowing boxes that talk and show pictures right in our homes. I could go on but you get the picture (is that digital or film?).

So, what if theologians accepted the fact that God is God precisely because he works within a structure of natural laws the give him tremendous powers, rather than believing and teaching that he is God because he is not bound (and by implication, doesn’t know any natural laws?).  I know this hurts for the ultra traditionalist but just what is so threatening about it? Really? Isn’t the Bible all about laws and edicts?  Proscriptions against such and such behavior, and the implicit or explicit rewards doled out thereof is the staple of many of the prophetic warnings and urgings recorded therein.        

And you, the scientific community, what is it about order and structure that you don’t like?  If we could get theologians to universally embrace and teach that God is a god of order rather than a god of chaos, and the universe exists within some coherent structure, could we not also get scientists to then go looking for that structure and order?

Interestingly, the issue of intelligent design is at the forefront now. It looks like a clever attempt by religions to do an end run around the anti-creationist sentiment by renaming the cause, but actually, (and here I must admit, in the name of full disclosure, that I received a very well thought out and presented comment to an earlier post disputing me on this) it was a term embraced by astrophysicists (whether they created the term or not is immaterial) looking into the very first instant of the Big Bang. It is a term they were comfortable using because it acknowledged the inescapable conclusions their work was drawing them to, i.e. that there was some initiatory action to the Big Bang, without having to actually say the word ‘God’. That fundamentalists co-opted the word and took up the crusade anew was tragic because the narrow pathway that had opened up between science and religion on this subject was very quickly barricaded once more.

And don’t think for a minute that the scientists don’t have their hands full with problems concerning evolution! Far from being a clean and indisputable fact, there are still many hurdles to cleaning up the theory of evolution. No sane person will dispute what Charles Darwin really found on the Galapagos Islands; that species adapt to their environment. We see that all around us. We see it in skin color, and height, and longevity and visual acuity and so on and so on. Our bodies try to put on layers of insulating fat in cold climates and shed that same protection in warm climates. Adaptation is an amazing and wonderful ability of living creatures. However, there is a huge problem when we make the jump from adaptation to actually crossing Chromosomal boundaries. There is no good evidence – I repeat, there is no good evidence, or explanation for how it could happen – for the ability of an organism to add or subtract Chromosomes in the quest to become another type of creature. The best we can do is say, “it must be so, therefore we shall assume it is so!”  This is O.K. as far as the scientific method goes – it is requisite that we make an assumption and try our best to prove it (actually, the correct method is to try to disprove it) and in fairness I grant to the scientific the time and effort to pursue these efforts. However, I believe there is now a growing sentiment to stick dogmatically to Chromosomal modification come hell or high water. “It must be so” cry the pragmatists, and I don’t totally disagree. After all we do seem to have an awful lot of critters roaming the earth! (Gosh, I hope no one knows about the Cambrian Explosion).

Perhaps there is another theory that would work, if only we weren’t beating the drum so loudly against the Bible, so that we could, instead, seek to find some common ground.  And for those of us who accept that the Bible is authentic, just because we believe that God created the world and the things in it; just what does that mean? HOW did he create it? How did he form the world? When Donald Trump builds a tower does that mean that the man Donald Trump put in every nail and screw? Of course not! Hundreds of people work together to physically erect a concept envisioned and designed by one entity yet that entity gets the credit for ‘building’ the structure.

To say that God created the world does not necessarily mean that he came down with shovel and cement mixer to do it one load at a time. How absurd.

If we could accept a statement such as, “There is a God” or God created the world” and then step back and not jump to the most literal and most restrictive interpretation of that statement, we might find that there is much to be learned, about God, and about us, in the process. If scientists could stop their fight against individual religions who hold, perhaps, simplistic views and accept the premises more generally implied in the scriptures, perhaps they could show us how these things came about. Am I putting reason above faith? Maybe, maybe not.The scriptures exhort us to “seek and ye shall find” “ask and it shall be given.” Are these not invitations to investigate? Moses sought the Lord and asked how the earth came to be. His vision, recorded in Genesis, is merely his simple attempt to express what he saw in words that he understood. Forgive him for not being a Phd. or for not caring HOW it was done. His primary desire was to tell us WHAT was done. It did not matter to him how. Let’s cut him some slack, not parse his words so literally and avoid putting him in the position of someday saying to us, wait a minute, I never said that! You got it all wrong!

Moses, I am anxious to talk to you someday. Until then I think I’ll sit and ponder and trust what you said, and keep an open mind as to how the things you saw and reported actually happened.

In The Beginning

In Bible, God, Isaac Newton, Philosophy, Renaissance, science, Science and Religion, technology, Uncategorized on October 28, 2008 at 10:10 pm

By

Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

           This Blog is sure to generate controversy so let me say right up front that I do not in any way mean to pick on or poke at any particular belief or creed. I want to explore, in a general conversational way, the history of the conflict between Science and Religion. I realize that any look at historical events is always subjective and I admit that try as one might, it is impossible not to view past events through some type of filter, whether it be acquired bias or experiential perception.

This is a very dicey discussion because whether we like it or not certain religious movements have had a greater or lesser effect on the events of world history and human events. It is impossible to discuss some topics without treading on sensitive ground and I do not, in any way, wish to criticize or offend. On the other hand, I do willing admit that I believe individuals throughout history have used the cloak of organized religion to forward their own personal agendas, often to the detriment of the organization. Such, I believe, is the case with the conflict between Science and Religion.

To begin though, let’s talk about happier times, times when theologians and natural philosophers – the name given to people we now call scientists – were not only on the same page but actually complimented each other’s work. You see, the natural philosopher was devoted to trying to explain observed and accepted realities. For example, since the beginning of time (Whenever that was) people have observed that birds – admittedly heavier than air creatures – could fly. Men wondered at the graceful way that an eagle or an albatross could soar without even flapping their wings and stay aloft seemingly endlessly. Human experience taught that all other things that were heavier than air fell to the ground when released. Why then did birds dance aloft in seeming defiance of the universal laws of gravity that influenced everything else?

The ‘Science’ of natural philosophy attempted to explain the ‘truths’ that people observed. Both human experience and the teachings (admittedly often wrong or superstitious) of theologians left the populace with a set of ‘facts’ that existed without explanation or understanding. What were the stars? Why did the sun rise higher in the summer than in the winter? How did the moon cycle through a complete period of new to full every 28 days? Who was God? To whom did the prophets speak when they received revelation? Who were the angels and the demons that both blessed and plagued the people? All matters of the natural and the unseen world were the source material with which the natural philosophers worked.

Aristotle was perhaps the most accomplished at his trade, leaving his mark on a form of science known as Aristotelian Physics which lived on for over 2000 years before a timid little Englishman named Isaac Newton dared challenge him. There were others though, even before Aristotle, who made remarkable observations and posited insightful theories about the things around them. Democritus gave us the term Atom (from the Greek ‘Atomos”) millennia before John Dalton found it through the gasses he studied. Archimedes took a bath and comprehended displacement thus forwarding the science of ship building and further defining the difference between mass and volume.

So too, early philosophers took ideas and statements from the Bible to be fact. Their faith in biblical declarations ultimately led to discoveries in astronomy and cosmology. However, just as with misperceptions about the nature of the observable world around them, early philosophers often strayed far afield due to interpretational errors of scriptural revelation. Other times local traditions and religious practices would be modified to adapt to the conclusions of the philosophers. One example of this was with the earliest scientists, then known as ‘Astrologers’.

Astrologers fulfilled a far more crucial and legitimate purpose in those early years than they do today. It was their observations of the solar and lunar cycles that determined much of the pattern of early agrarian life. They told farmers when to plant and when to harvest. Their observations of weather patterns led to the first weather forecasting. As they built a body of observations about the world we live in their conclusions found their way into scripture and spiritual teaching. The traditional wisdom ” red sky in the morning, sailor take warning, red sky at night sailor’s delight”  comes from the New Testament statement by Jesus to the Pharisees as found in Matthew 16:2,3;

 

When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.

And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering.

 

This early observation found its way into religious teaching after natural philosophers and astrologers noticed the pattern of approach and retreating weather patterns and their effect on the morning and evening skies.

Science and religion enjoyed a generally peaceful partnership for many centuries, the one explaining the ‘how and why’ to the other’s ‘what’. It was a partnership that was to continue more or less uninterrupted until the 4th century A.D.

As Christianity took hold around the Mediterranean, and more specifically throughout the Roman Empire, it was at first met with resistance from the governing bodies. Religion had always been perceived as a wonderful way to control large masses of people. It was therefore a threat to have a religion, or more correctly, a religious movement, take hold without government sanction. Any power base that arose without the support of the governing power was automatically deemed a threat to the stability of the society and efforts were expended to put it down before full blown rebellion erupted. Thus it was for the Roman Empire.

Constantine, last emperor of the Roman Empire, at first tried to quell the rising fervor of the emerging Christians. As his efforts failed to have the anticipated affect he made the bold and audacious move to adopt the movement as the new official theology of the previously polytheistic Roman society. Simultaneously, the Roman Empire ceased and the Holy Roman Empire emerged.

The adoption of Christianity by the Roman Emperor was more than a simple name change. All the Roman Emperors had struggled with the challenge of maintaining their tenuous grip on the disparate components of their far flung empire. The adoption of a single religious movement, one that was spreading fairly simultaneously throughout the Mediterranean was a unifying move that brought the individual groups together. Or at least that was the plan.

The first task that Constantine had to undertake was to unify the individual Christian groups doctrinally.  During the three hundred plus years since the crucifixion of Jesus, Christianity had taken hold throughout the land. It grew quickly but differing people had adopted individual and differing interpretations of what Christianity was all about. Constantine convoked a grand council in Nicaea in Bithynia (Now Turkey) in 325 A.D.to address this issue.  At this council he charged the gathered pastors and bishops with the mandate to begin the process of establishing a single, unified or ‘Catholic’ doctrine. This council of Nicaea was the first of a series of convocations called synods that met to ultimately create one unified doctrine for everything under the Sun – literally! They had to address issues such as whether or not space was a vacuum, or the nature of the stars and their motions, or the Sun itself; just what was it? Of course the synods decided ecclesiastical issues as well, such as the nature and place of Mary, mother of Jesus; issues of life and death and birth and baptism and the proper observance of Easter and so on and so on. This was a formidable task – and a noble one. It should have been the crowning achievement of the Roman Empire; except for one –make that two things! At the conclusion of the effort to find their Catholic doctrine they included two doctrines that set in motion a conflict that would be the cause of such horror and death as the world had seldom seen.

The first offending doctrine was essentially that the doctrine was infallible, it could not be wrong, and anyone who disagreed with it, or taught a doctrine contrary to it, was considered heretic and subject to the judgment of death. The second doctrine was that the Pope was infallible and could never do or be wrong. Again, anyone who disagreed with this doctrine was considered heretic and faced death, often by the most gruesome and inhuman manner.

For a while these doctrines were survivable and the church flourished, expanding the reach of the church and the Roman Empire significantly. This reach endured for a thousand years, until the fourteenth century.

The renaissance began, more or less, in Florence Italy in the late fourteenth/early fifteenth century. Cosimo Medici and family began a series of patronages of artisans, thinkers and scientists who eventually changed the world. Men like Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Galileo changed how people viewed the world. Collectively they sought order and reason against a backdrop of what had become tyranny and abuse afforded by absolute power. Unrighteous men were wielding the power of the church in unrighteous ways. This caused conflict among a populace too afraid and too cowed to speak up, but not too unaware to notice that the things they saw and suffered through were wrong.

Men of science were beginning to observe things that didn’t fit within the Catholic doctrines but they faced horrific persecutions when they voiced their findings. In what should have and could have become a period of rich enlightenment for the church darkness reigned instead due to the inflexibility of the doctrine held infallible by declaration. To change doctrine to fit the observable truths becoming evident would have been to admit that the doctrine had been wrong. This would have implied that the church was wrong when it declared that the doctrine was true in the beginning. The church could not be wrong or every part of it could be held up to scrutiny and modification. Instead of growing with the growing body of knowledge, the church had to stick stubbornly to its dogma. Because of this good men and women died. Men like Copernicus, who simply wanted to understand the mechanics of the stars and planets revolving around him, were persecuted and censured by the church. Copernicus’ work was soundly condemned by the church and Galileo was rebuked for forwarding Copernicus’ ideas and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.  Another follower of Copernicus, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake on Feb. 17, 1600.

Galileo’s crime and condemnation is the perfect example of the growing rift between science and religion. It occurred in several steps but perhaps the seminal event occurred when Galileo turned his newly fashioned telescope on the brightest planet in the night sky. Jupiter is probably the easiest identifiable object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon. What Galileo saw when he focused his invention on it was shocking! He saw four distinct lesser stars next to it. He continued to observe Jupiter every night for a time and he recorded his observations in a book. After a month or so his conclusion was undeniable, the objects next to Jupiter were moons and they were orbiting Jupiter! This was heretical because of the doctrine that said that every object in the sky orbited Earth – the center of the universe – and no object could orbit anything else. Galileo chose to believe his own eyes over the decisions made by unlearned men over a thousand years before. Those four moons, forever known as the Galilean Moons, were orbiting Jupiter and no priest, bishop or Pope could make it otherwise.

The church’s unwillingness to adapt its doctrine to accommodate emerging technology put it at odds with observant men and women who saw conflict in other areas of doctrinal confusion. Soon, people realized that the church could talk about spiritual things but it was no arbiter of observable and verifiable truths that were becoming more and more discoverable. Really for the first time, scientific method and observation had to step outside of the church to continue. This, in spite of the fact that the church had, and still maintains to this day, the Vatican observatory where many good and valid observations were made. In fact, the calendar we use today, the Gregorian Calendar was made to correct errors that had crept into the Julian Calendar ever since 46 B.C. That effort was ordered by Pope Gregory XIII who directed his Vatican Astronomers to correct the calendar according to the solar cycles so that the correct observance of Easter could be held.

Other scientists broke free of the shackles of the church and brought forth new truths about the world. One of Galileo’s admirers, Evangelista Torricelli, determined that, contrary to established dogma, the atmosphere was indeed finite and ended with the vacuum of space.

The rift between science and religion was growing and the church made no attempt to stem it other than to condemn those who practiced the ‘dark arts’. Scientists, on the other hand, grew bolder, often holding in derision the superstitious and foolish beliefs of the church. By the time the church came around and began to embrace undeniable truths it was too late. The idea that religion could hold any truths worthy of scientific study quickly faded.

Sadly, today many in the scientific community- though not all to be sure – view religion as the domain for the foolish and the uneducated. This is grossly unfair but understandable. The tragedy is that common perception places on the Catholic Church in particular, and religion in general, the stigma of ignorance as to things of the world. I would propose that well intended efforts of sincere but uneducated men unfairly placed the stink of error and falsehood upon the scriptures when, in fact, the scriptures could just as easily have been misunderstood and misinterpreted but which, at their core and with the proper interpretation, are true!

Let us not condemn the whole because part of it may or may not have been correctly deciphered. The scriptures – correctly interpreted – may yet hold many wonderful truths and great treasures waiting to be mined.