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Your Belief is Myth and My Belief is Real

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Maybe we’re all myth makers.

22 comments to Your Belief is Myth and My Belief is Real

  • Bill

    “Maybe we’re all myth makers.”

    Well sure, yes, that’s exactly right. We are all myth makers, by design.

    Mankind’s hard-wired proclivity for analyzing cause-and-effect leaves us all pushovers for a good creation myth. Here I use ‘myth’ in the sense of a story invoking supernatural (or extra-natural, if you will) causes, not in the sense of ‘falsehood.’ Pretty much everybody has one. The fact that I call mine “random vacuum energy fluctuation” whereas my neighbor calls hers “God” is, on a subtle but important level, pretty much a distinction without a difference.

    • J Clifford

      I disagree with your characterization of the term myth, Bill. I don’t think myth has anything necessarily to do with the supernatural, but is a mode of thinking and communication in which metaphor is more important than reality. It might include bits about supernatural stuff, but it doesn’t have to.

  • Charles Manning

    In my old age, I’ve become fascinated with the Big Bang. The other day a relative told me I should just accept the fact that God created everything, and added that our young grandchildren all know that God created the universe, even if I don’t accept that. My thought: what a bleak intellectual future these kids face! As long as they answer the question of how the universe began that way, they’ll never appreciate the amazing, mind-boggling (words fail me) mystery of where we all came from. Our bodies don’t just consist of elements produced in exploding stars that required billions of years to develop and ultimately explode, as scientists often tell us. Actually, the singularity that came into being in the beginning, about 13.8 billion years ago (call it t=0), contained everything necessary to human life. So we are all 13.8 billion years old. God, if He exists, couldn’t have preceded the singularity, because time itself began at t=0; there was no time before t=0. The mysteries surrounding the advent of the Big Bang (which couldn’t have been either big or a bang), and the evolution of the universe from t=0 to now, are so profound that we can expect to spend the rest of our lives trying to comprehend them. Creation myths like those foisted upon the youngsters aren’t myths more interesting than the scientific explanations, or easier to understand, or more satisfying. They’re intellectual curtains that obscure the most profound truths human beings will ever contemplate.

    • Dave

      Charles, you seem to be saying that “God made the universe” is more difficult to believe than “the universe made itself.” Both are stories of creation, or our mythology as Bill used the word, but the latter for many of us takes great faith to accept.

      • Charles Manning

        My point is that belief that God made the universe closes the mind to the questions, and mysteries, raised by science. By the way, I’m not aware of any scientists who say “the universe made itself.” Are you?

        • Dave

          Good question. No, I’m not aware of any scientists who say the universe made itself. Perhaps it’s just my default reaction to “belief that God made the universe closes the mind…”. Belief that Ford builds trucks probably doesn’t affect those curious about truck mechanics one way or another.

    • Bill

      Good on you, Charles. I am wholly in favor of any deep thought regarding origins that leads one to a living sense of awe, wonder, and sincere humility regarding one’s place in the universe. If ‘sin’ exists, I think the greatest sin must be the squandering of our uniquely precious gifts of life and consciousness exclusively on quotidian consumerist nonsense. As I grow older I become ever less concerned whether one calls the object of that awe God, Zeus, Flying Spaghetti, random vacuum energy fluctuation, or ‘turtles all the way down.’ Calling it ‘God’ rather than ‘random vacuum energy fluctuation’ need not necessarily close one’s mind to the wonder of creation and the power of scientific inquiry. I’ll grant you that it is not at all difficult to find people who are living examples that it can, but then again I know many a fellow scientist who has descended so deeply into the minutia of his science that he, too, is cut off from awe and wonder. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…which (here) is to say that your own flavor of creation myth is neither good nor bad in itself; what you make of it in your life is good, or bad.

      There is a wonderfully fascinating and vigorous debate going on in the science of cosmology today, concerning the idea of the so-called ‘Multiverse‘…an infinity of separate universes, each with its own different laws of physics, each (by definition) cut off from all the rest, and of which our own Universe is merely one. It turns out that a number of attractive cosmological theories under active study today lead pretty naturally to the idea that our own universe is but one of an infinite number of others (note that this is not to say that an infinity of universes does in fact exist…but rather simply that it is a reasonable question to ask).

      The theory has its boosters, and its detractors, among cosmologists today. But most interesting (to me, anyway) is the current vigorous debate among cosmologists regarding whether or not multiverse theory is a proper subject of scientific inquiry. After all, if the individual universes of the Multiverse can in no way communicate with each other (a notion on which most multiverse theories agree) then multiverse theory cannot be tested, and its consequences cannot be observed, and that leaves the whole idea outside the realm of science. And yet, if it is a correct description of reality, how on earth could it properly be considered to be non-scientific? Here is where the rational mind, and science, shut down completely, having reached their limits. One thing we know for sure: we have no idea what, if anything, is beyond or before our own universe, and we never will. I happen to call that “God.” My God does not wear sandals, nor have a beard, nor does it love me in any conventional sense, nor is it properly referred to as ‘he’. And yet, in its most important features, it is pretty much indistinguishable from my next door neighbor’s God of the Old Testament. And, interestingly, both my God and my neighbor’s God, when properly considered, lead us to love one another, and to care for the earth, and to view life with awe and humility.

      • Charles Manning

        Thanks for the reply. We’re on the same page, but maybe different paragraphs.

        In particular, the existence of the/a “multiverse” strikes me as untenable. Each universe other than ours, if it exists in the same way ours does, would have to be bigger, or smaller; older, or younger; have more or less matter, anti-matter, and dark energy; and so on. As I’ve heard the multiverse described, such comparisons couldn’t be made, because we could never experience, measure, or in any way observe universes other than ours. Just because an idea might deserve discussion doesn’t mean it’s credible.

        You say, “ we have no idea what, if anything, is beyond or before our own universe, and we never will.” I question whether there’s any sense in asking those questions, because it’s illogical to talk about what could have existed before the beginning of time, and also to ask what’s beyond everything that arose from the singularity, if indeed everything that could exist arose from it.

        Of course, I’m far from a trained cosmologist or scientist of any sort (unless you call jurisprudence a science). But we all have a duty, or so I think, to try to understand the universe and our place in it. It looks more and more like this endeavor will be for me parallel to religion for others, assuming my focus can’t properly be described as religious.

        The Old Testament God is to me a myth, unless God can intervene in the universe, whether responding to human entreaties or just acting capriciously. Belief in such intervention is the life blood of most religions. My faith isn’t in an interventionist God, but in the notion that events in the universe happen according to comprehensible laws – even though our understanding of those laws has changed radically since Newton, and continues to evolve. I also think moral laws are natural, not products of religion, but I deeply respect those who agree with me on morality out of religious conviction.

        • Bill

          Interestingly, the first serious scientific proponent of the Big Bang theory is usually credited to be the Catholic priest, Monseigneur Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître. He also beat Hubble by a couple of years to a formal conception of an expanding universe. Not saying this proves anything in particular, other than, perhaps, that there are examples of highly rational and honored cosmologists who also, for whatever reason, elected to be card-carrying god-botherers.

          Among my personal pantheon of scientific heroes, Lemaître is right up there near the top, on the right hand of Albert Szent-Györgyi, the exquisitely beautiful soul who discovered Vitamin C and declined to patent it (and noted anti-war activist).

        • Jim Cook

          I’m enjoying reading everyone’s thoughts. After trying unsuccessfully to wrap my head around phrases like “infinity” or “before the beginning of time” or “billion” or even “yellow,” my head can get pretty cloudy. To clear my head up, it helps me to consider that although we tend to agree that ideas like “infinity” or “time” or “number” or “yellow” have some kind of match with some characteristic we observe, that doesn’t mean that these concepts actually exist apart from people thinking and talking about them. Maybe someday we’ll learn to use different words with different assumptions that don’t lead us to dead ends.

          • Dave

            A couple years back we saw the fantastic Hubble images at an IMAX Theatre. The verbally dominating left hemisphere of our brains had to shut down, while the right hemisphere relaxed and enjoyed the show.

  • My theory is that the physical universe has always existed and the big bang is probably more of a pulse expansion contraction BOOM big bangs….which continue into the past into infinity and will exist into the future into infinity. INFINITY is the concept we wish to understand and comprehend, not god. God if anything is presently very negelctful if he exists.Neglect in itself is violence, they take away children from parents who neglect them. The Jesus having to be arrested tortured and murdered? The “meme” is too violent and barbaric. At some point my adult common sense and intelligence kicked in and I was able to LOSE ideas and concepts imprinted into me by parents or peers { My parents are Irish Catholics From Northern Ireland} I went to 4th grade there in 1964-65. The ugliness of bigotry and hate from the english king james protestants [“christians LOVE?”] They obviously got it wrong. Just like in the USA GOP rEPuBLiTARD/republican fundie evangelicals SAME THING Inotolerance bigotry IGNORANCES “Only the white southern baptists who use the king james bible and voted for reagan and the bush family will be going to heaven?” Yeah sure if you say so? Jesus would NOT be taking monies from social safety net programs to offset taxation of the wealthier. The low income in the red states who vote republican red neck racists? IGNORANCES!

    • Mark

      John,
      Your model of the universe (Big Bang, expansion, contraction, collapse … repeat) is an old model. Recent discoveries show conclusively that not only is our universe expanding, the expansion rate is INCREASING. There will be no contraction or collapse. Ultimately (trillions of years in the future) the expansion rate will be so rapid that individual atoms (and even, eventually, subatomic particles) will be moving apart from each other faster than the speed of light. The observable universe will shrink to the size of these particles.

      The multiverse model now being proposed has arisen not only from hypothetical thought, but also from advanced mathematical models of the universe. These models also incorporate multiple dimensions (as many as 9 if I remember correctly), as opposed to the 3 (4 if you count time) dimensions we are used to in our daily lives. Some models suggest that black holes could be the creators of alternate universes.

      We humans are incredibly resourceful. Who knows what we may accomplish billions of years in the future (assuming we survive). Travel to other universes may become possible. The physical/chemical laws of these universes could be very different. There’s no telling what could be possible in another universe with dramatically different laws of nature.

      • Bill

        The mathematical models you speak of are collectively known as Brane Theory, an offshoot of String Theory. They require that the universe have 11 dimension (all but 4 of them hidden to us). Lots of smart cosmologists seem to feel that Brane Theory is the one road to a true Theory of Everything. Only problem is, there is absolutely no observational evidence that the branes or strings these mathematical models posit actually exist, and many experimentalists have suggested that observational evidence will never be available, even if branes actually do exist. Another problem with Brane Theory is what some wags have called “The Alice’s Restaurant problem,” which is that there are actually an infinite number of possible brane theories. You can get anything you want by simply choosing the flavor of brane theory that produces whatever you wish to show to be true. In all these respects, Brane theory starts to look a lot like religion with equations…i.e., yet another creation myth.

        • Charles Manning

          Excellent comparison of Brane Theory (which I never heard of before, but it sounds familiar) and religion. In particular, Christianity and Islam, and I suppose other religions I’m not that familiar with, talk about afterlife in heaven, paradise, or hell. These are supposed to be places, but aren’t accessible unless you die, which means (to the believers) they exist but can’t be observed, or measured, or experienced by the living. Like the parallel universes of the multiverse. Along with this goes the concept of the soul, which is the only vehicle between these — universes. I don’t believe incorporeal souls exist. Why, for example, would we say people have souls, but not chimpanzees? Not dogs? Not insects?

          I also have a problem with multiple dimensions. Length, width, weight, and age are dimensions, but so are colors and various electromagnetic frequencies. There, I’ve mentioned whole bunch of dimensions in our own universe, all of them accessible to us in some manner.

  • Mark

    The big difference between BRANE Theory and religious belief is that the theoretical physicists who espouse BRANE Theory will acknowledge that it’s only an idea and could be proven wrong. If another idea comes along that better represents the universe then the physicists will dump BRANE Theory for the new idea. In religion, nothing can be learned or discovered to convince people to discard their religious beliefs. Religious people are certain that they are right.

    • Charles Manning

      Very true. And yet the comparison Bill makes is nonetheless striking. For example, “Brane theory starts to look a lot like religion with equations.” Religious believers think scripture cannot be doubted, and compels conclusions about the other “universes” they think exist. Scientists who advocate the multiverse idea want to establish that their mathematical devices compel their conclusions. And, although I agree wholeheartedly that scientists, unlike religious believers, acknowledge they could be proven wrong, religious believers also have been known to change their minds, either by switching to another religion, or by modifying their belief systems.

      • Bill

        Thanks, Charles. Yes. Not all people of faith are inflexible. And, as well, not all people of faith are ‘wrong’ and need to ‘change.’ They’re only wrong when they tell you that their faith should determine your actions.

        • J Clifford

          Yes, let’s not tar all religious believers with the same brush.

          First of all, not all religions preach faith. When Christians use “faith” as a synonym for religion, they show their ignorance of the breadth of religious diversity.

          Secondly, not all religions have scripture. So, we can’t talk about “religious believers” as a general category and how they relate to scripture in the same breath. Many have no scripture to believe in or doubt.

          But then, while not tarring with the same brush, let’s not deny the validity of some strong trends within particular religious identities. While not all Christians live in the rejection of skepticism, very large numbers of them do, and this rejection is a consequence of the Christian religion itself, not just happenstance.

            • Jim

              I agree with J. Clifford’s point — it’s interesting to say the least that religious faith as a phrase takes on Christian assumptions, when there are many other forms of it, in a discussion thinking about science broadly.

              Kinda reminds me of the radio show “speaking of faith” on NPR. It almost always spoke favorably of faith, and almost always from a Judeo-Christian perspective. That’s a majoritarian approach: my belief is central, and yours is assumed to be mine, or forgotten, or rendered as myth.

    • Bill

      Well, as a religious person myself, I gotta say I’m certain that you are wrong.

      How about not tarring us all with the same brush?

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