Friday, September 7, 2018

A Little More, After All....

....because Jason and I were talking about this last night, and there is a lot more to say, but I can only say part of it here.

Here's the thing about the Niels Bohr story: It's probably apocryphal, or maybe he really said that but he was joking around. But who cares? As that article goes on to point out, we are all looking for explanations of the unexplainable. (Inexplicable? Sure. If you like. But here I'm not talking about the inexplicable. I'm talking about the unexplainable.)

When you didn't have much information, you might think that it's some interference by the inexplicable force of FATE that makes bad things happen to good people, and, more inexplicably, good things happen to bad people. 

Let's say you're an ancient Greek or Roman. You invent some really scarily sociopathic gods to explain everything. Let's say you're an ancient Greek "scientist," and you claim that hummingbirds don't have feet. And everyone else believes you, except the people who live in the countryside and see hummingbirds all the time and see their feet. (I still don't get what's up with that ancient so-called "observation.") 

And in the 20th Century, even if you're an eminent physicist, if you hang a horseshoe on your wall, the right way, it might just bring you luck, even if you don't believe in it. Because, why not?

But this is different from true religion. Here's a quote from LDS Pres. Harold B. Lee, back in 1971, quoting from another religious leader: 
I quote from this article by Rabbi Arthur Herlzterg:“What people come to religion for, is an ultimate metaphysical hunger, and when that hunger is not satisfied, religion declines … the moment that clerics become more worldly, the world goes to hades the faster.“… Religion represents the accumulation of man’s insight over thousands of years into such questions as the nature of man, the meaning of life, the individual’s place in the universe. That is, precisely, the question at the root of man’s restlessness.“Man seeks something to end his state of confusion and emptiness … in the latest parlance, an antidote for aimlessness. We do not know if the truths of religious tradition can be interpreted to satisfy this need, but we are sure that here, not in political activism, is religion’s path to relevance.”In other words, in my own less learned words, religion does for us what science, and politics (as the Rabbi said), can't do. It feeds our "metaphysical hunger," our hunger for answers to those questions we can't answer in any other way. 
And true religion, as opposed to old myths involving the bizarre behavior of gods who are out of control, or half-baked observations and misguided "explanations," answers our need for "something to end [our] state of confusion and emptiness."

One final point, which is essentially what Laura mentioned in her comment to my post of yesterday: The argument between science and religion is a false one. It was made up by men (yes, men, not women, and not all humans) to promote conflict and promote their own agendas, to their own benefit, and to the detriment of the rest of us...

...which is why we're not arguing that there's some kind of conflict there. We keep pointing out, and will continue to point out, that true religion and real science are merely different roads toward the same goal, of understanding this world, this universe, and our humanity.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Myths, Superstition, and Religion

Dear Reader,

I've been trying for months to come up with a perfect conclusion for my thoughts on how myths and superstition are different from religion; and how there's not really any argument to be had about these differences, anyway. 

I've been reading online articles and checking out books from the library; I've been writing notes for myself on napkins and wherever; I've even bought a couple of books about the history of various mythologies and ancient religious beliefs.

I've mentioned Hugh Nibley in previous posts on this subject, because he studied those ancient religions and their so-called myths, recognizing that one doesn't have to call everything that's old or connected with some ancient beliefs "myths"; any more than one has to call every factoid or idea or temporary equation from modern scientific beliefs or paradigms "science."

I like how Hugh Nibley shows ancient myths that dovetail with our LDS teachings (as in the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants, as well as, of course, the Bible). I loved reading this morning about the founding of the Baha'i faith and the explanation of Baha'i beliefs given by Baha'i leader Shoghi Effendi (*I'll paste it below in case you don't want to follow the link).  (Notice that the first thing he says the Baha'i faith does is "search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition.")

I like seeing how my non-LDS and non-Christian friends follow the same principles of behavior that we teach in our church.

I guess I've concluded: Scientists are no more rational and logical and no less likely to believe in superstitions and to have private religious beliefs than any other people. Scientists rarely decide to study science to "prove" that religions are "false," though of course some self-proclaimed scientists do become atheists and take it upon themselves to proselytize at every opportunity against religion.

I've gone through the five stages of grief, so to speak, about scientists who deny the existence of God (or of anything else above and/or beyond what they themselves, the self-proclaimed petty little gods of their own little worlds, their own little labs, their own pathetic students: 

Denial (I can't believe this man [because usually they're men] can be so closed-minded); anger (what's his problem, anyway, other than being an idiot!); depression (I guess there's no hope in the world of finding a bridge between science and religion); bargaining (if only I could explain that science and religion are both seeking after the same over-arching knowledge of the universe and our place in it!---then they'd stop being so mean!); and acceptance (oh, well, I'll just continue in my own way to understand, and apply my scientific method to science and my religious understanding to all those things that the scientific method can't explain).

Here's something funny, in an article called "The Science of Superstition," in the Feb. 16, 2015, issue of The Atlantic magazine:

A visitor once asked the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Niels Bohr whether he really believed that the horseshoe he’d hung at his country home was lucky. “Of course not,” Bohr said. “But I understand it’s lucky whether you believe in it or not.” (emphasis added by me)

If Bohr couldn’t resist magical thinking, can anyone? One recent study found that even physicists, chemists, and geologists at MIT and other elite schools were instinctively inclined to attach a purpose to natural events. When the researchers subjected the scientists to time pressure (reasoning that this could expose a person’s uncensored biases), they were twice as likely to approve of statements such as “Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” than they were when they had time to respond more deliberately [1]. Such bias may well be deep-seated: another recent study found that, regardless of their parents’ religiosity, 5-to-7-year-old children preferred explanations of events that involved lessons—like “Maggie’s house burned down to teach her not to play with fire anymore” [2].

But so what? Why do we care if scientists can sometimes be superstitious, too? Because they claim that all they're interested in is pure logic and science! I've even met someone who called himself a scientist, even though he was "just" an engineer (see? see how that creeps into an otherwise polite statement?), who said he wasn't interested in fiction and poetry because they weren't a valid way of learning about the world.

I could go on and on about this, but I'm not going to, not right now, anyway. 

*From the Patheos blog "Sic et Non," Shoghi Effendi explaining Baha'i teachings:

The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition (emphasis added by me); the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind—these stand out as the essential elements.

Unprecedented (Weird Word of the Week)

This word has been driving me crazy, ever since the 2016 elections started in 2015 or whenever they started. I'm so sick of pundits saying that this or that thing is "unprecedented," it's driving me crazy.

As Lawrence O'Donnell told Rachel Maddow last night, "We need a new word, a stronger word, instead of "unprecedented."

I have a few suggestions:

Crazytown (though that's already been used; see the Urban Dictionary)

Crazypants (also already in use; see the Urban Dictionary)

Exhaustingly idiotically impeachable (though that's more than one word)

Ready for the 25th Amendment (see what Elizabeth Warren has to say about this)

Here's a quote from that article:

"What kind of a crisis do we have if senior officials believe that the President can't do his job and then refuse to follow the rules that have been laid down in the Constitution?" Warren told CNN. "They can't have it both ways. Either they think that the President is not capable of doing his job in which case they follow the rules in the Constitution, or they feel that the President is capable of doing his job, in which case they follow what the President tells them to do."

Dear Reader, please send me your suggestions.