Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Me, my God and Science

Modern humans have always been thirsty for knowledge since their dawn some thousand years ago.  Earliest humans looked around and tried to figure out how stuff worked.  They were successful to an extent.  They could control fire, which enabled them to eat literally anything.  Cave paintings show how they perceived nature.  They explained whatever they could, what they could not was attributed to divinity.  (It's still a trait)

Fast forward: the dark ages.  Nothing in human history has proven so impeding to knowledge as the dark ages.  Just to give an example, Islamic world was one of the most advanced societies around the 8thcentury AD.  They discovered a number of celestial bodies and hence most of them have Arabic names.  They established complex mathematical theorems.  The Arabic numerals are the ones we use (base 10).  What happened afterwards?  Why did the rational progress stop?  Why was science scorned upon later?  The answer is in one guy.  Some religious leader declared that any kind of mathematical inquiry was devil worship; that research was a way to question God and was evil.  Instantly, religious fanatics started ransacking science.  Crusades followed.  Since then, very little progress has taken place in their community.

Then came the Renaissance: the age of curiosity.  The church held a firm grip over people's beliefs.  Anything against the Church was labeled heretic and the transgressor was punished severely, even executed in public.  This was enough to prevent most people from countering the 'axiomatic' divine church laws.  Some courageous souls, however, were adamant at finding the truth.  They did not believe in the egoistic Earth centric view, then prevalent, or the view that volcanoes were caused when the Satan got pissed off, or that plague was God's way of punishing us.  It simply did not make sense to them.  A Polish astronomer, Copernicus, based on his study found that the Sun and not the Earth was the center and that contrary to the Church's declaration, the Earth revolved around it.  It was an Aristotle-an thought,  unchallenged since centuries, that was attacked.  The fear was so great that the theory was not published until when Copernicus was on his deathbed.  Even then, many philosophers tried to defend him, stating that this was something Copernicus wondered and not something he proposed (which, by the way, was exactly something he had proposed).

Then came the Newtons and the Galileos who changed the way people thought.  Nothing was taken on belief.  Everything was questioned.  This led to a number of inventions and discoveries.  Printing presses, machines etc. fueled the industrial revolution in Europe.  Humanity was on a roll.  Progress was achieved greatly.  The slumber of the crusades was finally giving way to achievement.  Newton showed that even the most trivial of things, that Aristotle labeled 'natural behavior' could be a complex mathematical and physical phenomena (gravity).

 The biggest  blow to religious doctrines was the Theory of Evolution.  Darwin proposed something unbelievable, that we were not created, but we are just a matter of a chance collection of driftwood; not crafted by an intelligent designer, but assembled by a matter of "luck".  That was a belittling, self-debasing and scary thought.  Our pride of being special in the eyes of "God" was shattered.  Philosophers say that the harshest thing you can do to a man is not actually killing his self-respect, but it is killing the pretense of it.  That is killing something that does not exist.  The consequences of that theory still spooks people (like Wendy Wright) who cannot accept the fact.  It's funny, people find it plausible that God came to earth in the form of a child and picked up an entire mountain on his pinkie, or that God would provide you with 70 virgins if you died for him, or that a 500 year old guy stuffed all the animals in a boat, or that the earth is 6000 years old etc; people find all this acceptable, but when told that we have evolved from monkeys, they say "ridiculous".  Probably if they were indoctrinated on evolution since childhood, they would call religion "ridiculous".  Never mind, that's how it's going to be till humans survive.  Neil degrasse Tyson explains this pretty well.

Since then, one after another, all our misunderstandings about nature have been cleared.  The biggest and hte most humbling blow was the fact that the Earth is nothing but a tiny speck of dust floating in a vast,  incomprehensible universe.  Here's an image of Earth taken by Voyager at a record distance of 6 billion kilometers .  The famous Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. 
Sagan said: "Astronomy is a humbling profession, the photograph shows a pale blue dot suspended like a mole of dust in a sea of sunlight.  All our dreams, all the people we love, all our petty differences, all dictators and leaders, everything is there, on the pale blue dot that we call the Earth."

Modern times have brought a new wave of cognizance.  For perhaps the first time in history reason presides faith, proof presides belief and science presides God.







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