Saturday, September 01, 2007

Religion as Creation

Religion is a testimony to the curiosity, the creativity and the credibility of mankind.

The world is one helluva ‘n amazin’ place. Of this, there can be no doubt whatsoever.

In cuts the curiosity. So how did it all get here? I mean, this is frickin’ amazing, truly dazzling. Here we are on a sparkling, wafer-thin, life-infested segment of the surface of a great big hunk of rock hurling through lifeless space around an even huger ball of fire. The wafer-thin surface of the big rock accommodates not just human life, but lots of other forms too. But the other forms are too stupid to know how privileged they are. Or at least, that is the arrogant view of the humans. Curiosity never killed a cat – according to the humans. Okay, so if there is an earth, if there is a present moment, and if there are humans, then there must have been a beginning, and it all must have started at some point. So where’d it start, and how?

So now, a cut to creativity to fill in the gaps. Some use a backward inferencing process. If there is time, space and life now, there must be some point where each of these dimensions began. And for the beginning to move to becoming as it has today is sufficient for some to infer that God must have existed as the first mover. Well, that’s fine, but it is perhaps useful to remember that just because there is an inferential process doesn’t mean that that which is inferred is true. Apparently, some people used to believe that the planet was flat, that it had edges. I believe that Norse mythology suggests that it was supported by all sorts of animals. Voila, an inference – but no real evidence on which to base the inferences. Sure, there is an end-point, the here-and-now. However, the existence of the here-and-now does not by itself suggest the process by which the here-and-now was reached.

This was always the problem that I have had with Artificial Intelligence being proposed as a model of how humans operate. It may well be that the process reflects the outcomes that are arrived at by humans, but that by no means guarantees that humans took the same path to get there. To take a more mundane example, regression analysis is the way in which predictions can be made about a variable based on weighted sums of various predictors. The weights and predictors can be derived from humans, and the mathematics can effectively model how humans make their predictions. However, there is no necessity that this is the way that the human makes their predictions. The more recent emerging science of neural networks is an entirely different model that also makes predictions. Again, they model human predictions – quite accurately – just like regression. However, the pathway is quite different.

So creativity is invoked to answer the curiosity. How did we get here? No ideas out there? That’s okay because I’ve got some neat ideas here. How about that there was this big cauldron, and a fairy and a gremlin were fluttering around above it, an updraft blew the fairy out and into the flame and the gremlin fell in formed a precipitate. The precipitate exploded and the universe expanded rapidly from there. The fairy that fell into the flame created energy, and some lightning struck the sea of turgid green (but not organic) soup that encompassed much of the third planet from the sol, and out popped life. Millions of years passed, and instead of that life just staying the same (which would have probably led to that life being wiped out), it changed and begat brothers and sisters that were different, and better suited to different situations until we had lots of forms of life.

And finally, credulity. A goodly number of the godless many have no useful ideas, or lack the imagination to have an idea, about where we come from. They latch onto an idea developed by some wanna-be account executive. Yep, this is where ontological explanations (or rather of origin) become the domain of marketers. And to be honest, like most marketing, it really doesn’t take much because good ideas sell themselves. Most people are just dying to know where it all started – and to know that it won’t end. Who wants to believe otherwise?

Let's be honest, none of us has any real clue. The explanations are simply creations about creation. Here’s your choice. Version 1 offers you a world that sees your life as a brief spark in the longer but nevertheless minor ‘daytime’ in which life has existed on the planet. When you die, you’re snuffed out. Your molecules get recycled, and the closest you get to live again is when your molecules are co-opted to support some other living being.

Then there’s version 2. You know that self-important view you have. Well, this is the one for you. You are precious, the essence of you, hey let’s call it ‘luos’, this ineffable quality that is you, this will last forever. You have a purpose, there is a higher power watching over you, ...

Did my 'luos' just start with my birth, or has it existed forever? Will I be conscious after I'm gone? Will I see my friends again? And so on... Honestly, I dunno, go find someone else who can fill in answers to your endless questions.

Religion. It’s nothing really special. We’re here. We’re conscious. This place is truly amazing.

Of course we’re gunna ask how we got here. And some smart-ass is going to give you their thoughts. And if the story is appealing, we’re gonna accept it.

Religion is well-marketed stories. And like most marketing, it is less about developing a story to convince people. It is more about writing a story that people can accept easily. Something along the lines of a Jungian archetype. These are stories that seem eternal, they resonate with our internal software, they make us tingle, they inspire. Religion is great. It resonates, it inspires. But that doesn’t make it true.

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