I know, the title is a bit of a mouthfull, but I did not find any shorter, or more striking headline for my post.

What is the difference between religion and conspiracy theories?

Recently I have run into a number of wild and even wilder conspiracy theories. As I have previously stated, their lure lies in, that the world is actually full of conspiracies. Big and small conspiracies are made by actual people to achieve a goal. “Conspiracy theories” however, are not conspiracies. They are the products of paranoid imagination. Attempts to guess what is behind this, or that complex phenomenon. They are most often precisely nothing but, wild guesses and poor methodology at trying to examine the reality.

Many of the wildest conspiracy theories are motivated by the need people have for safety. For example the people who claim, that there actually are no nuclear weapons, or the people who claim that there is no global warming going on. Both of these groups of people have chosen to live in denial of an unnerving fact, so they do not need to fear, or do anything against a threat in front of wich they feel totally powerless. The denial springs forth from the fact that they have no means to evaluate wether the phenomenon in question is a fact, or not. (Even though they think they can.) The view on the matter is chosen intuitively by being motivated by fear and all the subsequent argumentation and attempts at rationalization are only put forth to support this presupposed position.

Kuvahaun tulos haulle nuclear blast

There are also those conspiracy theories, like the flat earth theory, or the moon landing denialism, to wich it is a bit more difficult to point out some pre-existing motivation. A nother reason why they are so popular is that they seem to provide explanation. Simply because of various reasons the theorist has come to suspect what has been told to them, they jump to a seemingly convinient alternative explanation. We humans are curious animals who want answers. Knowing about things is also a method to provide us with a sense of security. Because knowing gives us an edge to prepare ourselves. We fear nothing like we fear the unknown. Especially so, if the basic sense of security has been shaken. Wich it often is, if the person in question has poor methodology to evaluate reality. If they have been originally indoctrinated to simply rely on authority, and then it is revealed to them, that not all auhtorities are reliable, what then? What is clear, is that the people who have such misunderstanding of the reality around them, is that they have a very limited ability to evaluate the anything beyond their immidiate grasp. I see this mainly as a failure of the school system. In that the schools have traditionally taught kids what is true and what is not, much more vigorously, than how to find out what really is true and how to make the distinction.

There are of course various reasons why people believe what they do. If someone believes in the holocaust denialism, their motivations to fall for this trap are most likely political, but such political views come from a pre-existing misunderstanding of the world and history. Not to mention the methods of how history is studied, or how we know – really anything. Political views are a result of values we hold, but most people do seem to have a certain set of values because they have inherited a set of values from family and surrounding culture. Not so much since they have analytically evaluated various sets of values and chosen one by virtue of the kind of world that one tries to sell them. Even of those few who have, some have fallen for a trap of world views that sell their particular group of people some form of priviledge, instead of a world where we would all share and be equal. Most often people are taught, that such priviledges belong to them by mere birthright. Being born with a certain colour of skin, certain nationality, certain economic class and so forth. In the wide world any such group can hold on to this sort of priviledge for a while, but because it is based on nothing real, such structures are under constant change. Conservatism seems to come from the need to keep to the particular priviledge of the current generation.

How do religions differ from conspiracy “theories”? Religions are the result of ignorant people trying to guess and explain reality around them with poor methodology. You could claim, that this applies to all the other religions, exept yours, but then you should be able to explain how yours is different in this respect. Can you?

Religions often give us the guessed end result first, not unlike conspiracy “theories” and they seem to provide an explanation to the unexplained, unexplainable and the univestigated. From the history of religions we do know, however, that when we have a better explanation than the guess that there was some supernatural causation behind some extraordinary event, the supernatural explanation loses it’s significance. The question is why should we pay any attention to any supernatural explanation, because not one of them has ever been verified on any even remotely reliable level? The reason why people do this, is naturally the cultural tradition behind such a behaviour model, but it is only a part of the actual problem, wich is that people do not even know how to evaluate the truth of things beyond their immidieate grasp.

The most widespread conspiracy “theory” is creationism. Or if you please, Intelligent Design. The latter refers to a seemingly sciency version of superstitious belief, wich people mostly believe, because it supports their pre-existing belief in a divine and benevolent designer parent character. To cope with their fear of dying, wich has been extended from it’s natural form to elaborate measure by fairytales, that are virtually empty threats of eternal punishment they feel they need this parent figure, as if they were not adults at all. Do you see how the motivation for this belief is not so different from the climate change denialism, or nuclear weapons denialism? In fact, many of the people who belive one of these things also believe the other. They have the same very limited skills of evaluating reality and facing reality.

Religious beliefs like conspiracy “theories” often also come from our base values. The things we value, have been taught to value, and as such concentrate to a world view and eventually politics. Politics affect other people and the rest of the ecosystem. In my many encounters with religious people I have learned, that they are sadly often not unlike the conspiracy theorist, statistically illiterate, ignorant of history, physics, biology, geography, cosmology, and without the means, or even will to find out about the truth. They both, the conspiracy theorist and the Theist, have decided about the “truth” in their own subjective mind and are not even interrested about any objective investigation. Any “investigation” only exists for them to provide confirmation bias.

Are there no differences between conspiracy “theories” and religions? Yes there are. For example religions are by far more authoritarinistic, than the conspiracy theorists in general. The conspiracy theorist wants to reveal the truth hidden by the authoritities, while the religious person believes in some specific authority blindly and teaches the next generation, that this blind faith is a virtue. The conspiracy “theories” rather rarely include any supernatural explanation, but at least try to explain the complex reality within the limitations of observable, material reality of the universe. In that sense the average conspiracy theorist does not leap as far away from what could be verified to wild guesses about what can never be verified. It is just that their ability to investigate the reality is impeded.

There is one more major difference between religions and conspiracy “theories”. It is that because of our cultural history, religions are such a widespread cultural sets of beliefs, that no matter what science, be it about physics, biology, history, sociology, or any other field of study says, religions may not be mocked, are not mocked, as the average tin foil hattery even though in a sense they are even more removed from reality by appealing to unnatural causation.

Advertisements

A gender neutral marriage law was recently affirmed in the Finnish parliament. This aroused some attention and controversy. There were arguments for and against it being presented. They were much the same as in this issue around the globe where ever it has become into focus. I do not even try to repeat them all here. There are a couple of concerns I would like to address about this discussion.

“Born this way.” The question wether, or not, homosexuality is a trait a person has from birth is not and should not be brought up in the entire discussion about marriage. It is totally irrelevant. Even the question, if someone chooses, or not, to be a homosexual is irrelevant to the question of marriage. We do not really know, if people are genetically caused to be homosexuals or wether it is a trait that developes onto the person. We do know that a lot of homosexuals would choose not to be homosexuals, if they possibly could. The reason to that is, that the society around them has trouble accepting them as they are and in respect to that some of them even learn to have similar cultural reasons of having trouble of accepting themselves as they are.

The real question is not what causes homosexuality, but wether we have any actually rational and sane reasons to think it is wrong on any level. We do not. The “reasons” presented to make the claim, that there is something wrong about homosexuality are presented as follows and often the path from one claim to a nother are presented on this line of thought:

Is it a sin? Now, sin is something determined to be some sort of violation of the will of some particular gods. Freedom of religion however dictates necessarily for a peacefull and mutually respectfull society to exist, that the beliefs about the divinities, or the supernatural in general, may not decide legal processes, or be used to step on the rights of a nother individual. Not even within a religious group that has accepted one doctrine or a nother. That is, even if the Catholic church and all the victims of rape by Catholic priests thought it was not really a crime, by the secular mutual standards of the modern soceity, they still are and should be treated as such. Therefore even if the majority of religions in any given country thought, that eating shellfish or being homosexual was a sin, they could not ethically make it illegal based on that imaginary guess on what their god supposedly thought was a sin.

Because the entire issue of marriage equality has been raised mostly in secular countries (and not in the Vatican or Iran), the question wether it is a sin is irrelevant. In modern democracies religions are a private matter and sin is something you discuss privately with your particular god, if you wish, who then redeems you from it, or judges you from it. Or you do not bring this or any other subjects to your god, if you even have one in the first place. This is why the people whose dislike of something like homosexuality often is derived from religious prejudices, often move to the camp of inventing seemingly secular “reasons” to justify their feelings about the issue.

Is it unnatural? There are people who try to frame sexuality into this tight box of reproduction. They have the right to do so in the privacy of their own homes, but not force the idea on others. No doubt that this line of argumentation appeals to all sorts of simpletons, as it seems simple. However, human sexuality is far from simple. I could discuss how a lot of animal species have homosexual behaviour, but from experience I know that this tends to lead down the rabbit hole of humans not being animals. Wich strangely often leads us back to the idea of sin. No, humans are not the same animals as those other animals that also engage in homosexual behaviour. That is there just to show you, that it is natural in the sense that it happens in the nature. But wether or not any animals engaged in homosexual behaviour does not in any way address wether it is right or wrong. Animals do not drive cars, but we do not try to ban driving a car because we see it as unnatural. Sex is as much just a form of reproduction and should be as much limited to that, as human transportation is all about walking and should be limited to walking. If you do not want to run or ride a bike, fine then don’t. But do not try to make running illegal. OK?

Gods are by definition unnatural. They are not part of nature, if they even exist beyond our natural brains. Should we ban gods because they are unnatural? Everything that happens in nature is natural. Salt is natural. Polio is natural. Homosexuality is natural. The only relevant question about homosexuality regarding laws is wether it is harmfull or not and if then to what extent. The entire question wether it is unnatural is ridiculous.

Is it harmfull? People see a lot of harm done to the homosexuals by people who feel justified in disliking, or even hating them for the “reasons” they give, that I listed abowe. There are also people who have been harmed by homosexuals. This works much the same way as with racism. When people are harmed by the representative of this, or that group of people, they make the connection between the group and the deed. Despite wether or not the group identity, or what ever makes the purpetrator of the harm part of that group – even skin colour, or sexual orientation –  was actually the motive for the deed. If a homosexual rapes a child, it is not the homosexuality that caused the deed. Any more than, if a white man shoots a black man, him being white was his motive for the act. The rape of a child is the result of the rapist being a) rapist and b) pedophile not being homosexual. If the rapist was not a homosexual, he would simply have chosen his target differently. The white man shooting the black man may have been motivated by any number of reasons from theft to racism. But even if it was racism, the motive was not him being white.

As for the marriage equality, there have been a number of more, or less comic attempts to stop the change, that has now finally taken place. There is this notion, that a family unit ideally consists of a father, a mother and some children. The idea has been, that the reason why the society recognizes a marriage as a special status between two people is because they are able to reproduce and should be given social support to be better able to do this. It is a ridiculous notion, in that even if that could be proven to be some form of ideal family unit, it does not mean all families need to reach such an ideal. Especially not those families who do not find the arrangement ideal in any way. By the same token, people who can not have children should not be allowed to get married and old people whose children have grown to adulthood should divorce.

There is this claim, that there is some sort of harm done to adopted children in same sex marriages. This claim has not been confirmed in any scientific arena. But even if it could ever be proven that the children have it better in a heterosexual family than in a same sex family, that would be a moot point. It is like saying that since the rich families can better nourish the needs of their kids, than the poor ones we should ban the poor people from getting married, and/or from having children.

Kuvahaun tulos haulle aito avioliitto mielenosoitus

The picture abowe is from a “Genuine Marriage” demonstration at 24. september 2016 , that gathered almost a hundred demonstrators (wich is pretty few even in Finnish terms) in Helsinki to protest against the gender neutral marriage law. It seems they had more balloons than demonstrators.

Last but not least the most stupid argument against the gender neutral marriage must be the slippery slope argument. Wich is that if this is allowed, what next? Shall we allow polygamy, marriages with children and marriages with house pets? It shows the level of stupid from the political side that opposed the gender neutral marriage, that they themselves did not laugh at the representative who presented this ridiculous argument. Was it not the same as arguing that if we allow people to drive cars, we may have to allow people to drive tanks next? If you do not understand the difference between two consenting adults havign sex and sex with a child or an animal, never get any children or pets. As for the polygamy, where in any holy books ever does it even hint that, that was a sin? It is a separate discussion we may have in the future, but it has absolutely nothing at all to do with the gender neutral marriage law.

The reconstruction of a historical artefact is typically a project, that is easily affected by our modern cultural norms and standards. Standards, that we are often blisfully unaware of. Sadly, having such standards and norms makes us easily blind to the wider world and makes us less than objective about reality.

As my example I have chosen a silly little mistake, that I see all too often and probably (hopefully) I am the only person (or one among a very small minority) who is even irritated by such. I guess, there are far more people who get irritated even by my calling this out as a mistake and I would first like to appologize to people who might get offended by me revealing their misunderstanding. In my experience people are more likely to get agitated by their mistakes being pointed out, than they are happy, that they get a chance to repair any such mistakes they might have otherwise overlooked. Why is that?

Anyway, the waistline, especially the concept of male waistline has changed according to fashion lately, but long enough time ago for us to have become unaware of this radical change. It shows us, how what we may easily percieve as conservative, may actually be quite modern and how often we are blind to the changes in our culture. One of the most radical changes on thinking on what is proper attire for men has happened after the industrial clothing markets have totally taken over with their ready made garments. That change has really pulled the pants down for men. Up until the mid 20th century male waistline was typically considered to be at the level of the navel. At the point where the human body twists the most – largely because of this and because that is where a healthy human individual (healthy enough to do close combat with spear and shield, at least) is the most narrow, so it is only natural to tighten the belt there. Yes, men just like women are at their narrowest at the navel, not at the hips, where the waistline in western culture today is percieved and where fashionable pants today reach. But I am actually pulling far back in time when the westerners did not even use pants yet.

I have seen several attempts to recreate medieval armour and (as in my example) armour from antiquity, in wich the modern reconstructionist makes ridiculously large chest piece, to fit the armour to reach all the way down to the modern low waistline. This causes the armour to not turn with the body easily, along the shoulder line, but causes an irritating at best, restricting at worst twist because it now both hangs from the shoulders, but also rests on the hip. One person who had made this mistake, described it themselves as “chafing on their nipples”, or something to that effect.

I could post several pictures, that people themselves have published, in wich they wear a ludicurously tall chest piece, but because my point is not to shame any individual who has made a common (as is my case) mistake, I shall not. If you are interrested, and do not recognize what I am talking about, I recommend you make a search for this and I promise you shall find plenty of examples of both reconstructions fitting the mistake I call out here, and of very good reconstructions, that have not made this error.

In any case, even if my example was hypothetical and nobody had made the particular mistake I present as an example, I hope you get my meaning. Further more, I do not believe in presenting the wrong example, but presenting the right example and especially in historical research a good source material of the orginal, as the better pedagogical example.

The picture below is from a Greek vase from the antiquity and it shows us how the so called linothorax armour plate is worn. Now, one could make the mistake to think that the waistline of this armour is lower than the navel, because of how it is painted here, and that is part of the problem. Our sources are not always accurate, or so obvious to us, that they would set us straight from our own cultural assumptions and biases. Yet, if we examine the picture closely, we see that the crotch of the man in the picture is just a bit lower than where the pteruges (the flaps hanging from the edge of his chest armour) even reach. If we compare them to the width of his hand, we are perfectly justified in thinking that the pteruges must be at least two widths of hand long. Even given the fact, that the hand width is not an accurate measurement, this leaves very little for us to assume otherwise, than that the lower edge of his chest piece is at the level of his navel and it is certainly not resting on his hip. This will not only allow a greater freedom of movement and wearer comfortability. It also explains why there are only two connection points to close the armour (not only in this particular picture, but uniformly nearly all pictures of such an armour), as if the chest piece was any taller, the twisting motion at the level of the navel would open it when the wearer made any radical movements. That would hardly be very convinient in a battle?

Kuvahaun tulos haulle pteruges

Once more, this is just an example of how easily we jump to conclusions about cultural concepts foreign to us, even in seemingly trivial things. In this case the false notion of historical concept of waistline based on modern fashion, makes the armour reconstruction next to unusable and certainly paints a picture of the ancient people having been idiots for using such clumsy military gear for generations after generations. Think about how a more taboo concept may make us see a foreign culture, we come to contact today, in a completely false and twisted light. This is the very same point, where our ignorance, preassumptions and biases makes some of us see all Muslims as potential terrorists.

There are and have been a lot of conspiracies in the real world. Because the conspiracy is something secret it is often hard to prove, or disprove.

Kuvahaun tulos haulle new york skyline 2000

Some of the most extreme conspiracy theories have captivated the minds of millions. Some are so ingraned to society, that they are not even discussed when examples of conspiracy theories are presented.

Examples of typical conspiracy theories are the ideas, that the US officials knew before hand about the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbour, or the terror attacks in New York and Washington in 2001. Both of these conspiracy assumptions represent deep distrust a large part of the US citizens have for their government. They also represent the fact the US citizens who pay dearly as taxpayers for an ultra expensive military and extremely secretive agencies – both of wich have been found red handed in ethically questionable actions – do not feel safe. The blatant disregard for legality, or ethics these powerfull institutions have shown, does not make people feel any safer, nor the fact that these very expensive institutions are caught with their pants down. The average person likes to think they are safe and that is the main reason why they agree to big spending keeping such institutions costs. However, when something surprizing happens, that shows how woulnerable people are, they find their previous misplaced trust hard to accept, and try to look reasons for having been wrong from elswhere. Like that they had every reason to believe they were safe, exept for this conspiracy theory.

One major conspiracy theory in this same category is the Nazi hatred of the Jews. As the Germans could not accept their loss in world war I, they had to find a scape goat. Someone to blame that the promised victory never came. Racism is a similarly unfounded prejudice as the idea that a big military will keep your country safe and you personally out of reach of violence. Usually the effect is contrary, since a big military is often used for unsavioury actions to “protect the intrests” of the country, or more likely the corporate capitalism, or some obscure political ideology. This is prone to create enemies, who in face of overwhelming military power need to form conspiracies of their own to fight their oppressors.

However, if you thought any of the abowe were wild and implausible conspiracy theories, there are some that are by far even more ludicurous. For example a couple of surprizingly popular and mad conspiracy theories, that have the same roots and often the same believers are the climate change denialism and evolution denialism. Both are based on a claim that the scientific community has a major conspiracy going on.

Climate change denialists state, that the entire climate change is a hoax and even if it is not a hoax, but true, the change is not a bad thing, nor is it a human caused phenomenon. One of the climate change denialists is the new president of the USA a nation that is responsible for a very large portion of pollution. He has stated in his campaign, that it is a conspiracy by the Chinese to undermine US economy. His main advisor in environmental issues has claimed (while on the payroll of Exxon), that it is a conspiracy by the EU. I am curious as to wich one they are going to settle between them as the purpetrator of this conspiracy. This is a demonstration why conspiracy theories are not just us laughing at the stupid mentally disturbed individuals who think the world is secretly led by lizard people. Ignorance that leads to such nonsensical conspiracy theories is dangerous for the entire world. They make people distrust science and turns them to hand power over to self interrested authoritarianistic demagogues.

Just as with the climate change denialism, the evolution denialism starts with the assumption that the entire scientific community is in conspiracy, a secret pact, to lie to people contrary to their better information. The problem is how to prove such a conspiracy. The scientific method after all is the best method we have to evaluate reality as objectively as we possibly can and the scientists supposedly involved in this conspiracy are the ones who are best equipped to research both evolution and the climate. It would be ridiculous, if it was not so serious, that for these conspiracy theories to propagate themselves, they do not need to be investigated. People take them as true without the least bit of effort to investigate them, or precisely because they are ill equipped to investigate reality. They are most often believed by people who have been from childhood taught and indoctrinated to belive, that faith is a virtue. That their gut feeling is the best judge and somehow in more or less direct connection to some ultimate moral arbitrator creator entity – That in turn has never been falsified to exist on any level of reality. That means these people are effectively adults, who are totally subjected to their prejudices.

If the believer in any wild conspiracy theory is prejudging the reality around them according to some arbitrary tribally moralist ideal, be it something like a religion, or nationalism, they are helplesly biased. For example, to think they have every right to own a big polluting car, as the car is part of their identity, way of life and a continuation of their sexuality and self image. Or for a nother example to think, evolution must be untrue, as it challenges the fairytale they think is the ultimate truth from some god they worship, and feel as a base for their morality and sometimes even the justification of their very existance and possibly a redeemer of their guilt from the evil they have done because of their arbitrary understanding of morality.

As with everything else, the time to believe in an extreme conspiracy is when the evidence is presented, and the evidence is achieved by using the scientific method, as it is the only even remotely objective way to achieve reliable information. In addition, the more extraordinary the claim for a conspiracy is, the more extraordinary should the evidence be.

It seems to me, people believe the most extreme things when they are ill-educated, ill-informed and when the theory supports their preconceptions. Did I get this right?

Crucifixion

“Hey guys, I think we have a live one here!”

Many Christians profess to have a personal relationship with Jesus. What do they mean? A personal experience impossible to replicate, if one has not experienced it. It is sometimes even presented as the best and foremost evidence they have to believe in the existance of their god.

What do Christians mean when they say they have a personal relationship with their god entity? It is often described some form of conversing between them and their god. They ask their god for advice in choises they have to make and supposedly this god of theirs answers. How? How do they know, that who ever answers is actually their god?

How does one make the distinction between a particular god talking to oneself within the limits of the inner mind of the person experiencing this, from the normal inner dialogue we have? How does one make the distinction between different alledged supernatural entities talking within our minds?

Or are they referring to hearing voices? Hearing voices is not necessarily a sign of schizophrenia and it is far more common than commonly assumed. Be it caused by such serious condition or not, it is a trick of the mind. The physical brain within our cranium. It is perfectly natural, that when a person starts to hear voices, those voices that are echoes of the brainfunctions reflect the cultural heritage of the individual. Sometimes including their religious beliefs and cultural ideas about the supernatural. The Jesus character in the Bible seemed to think, that sort of experience is a form of coexistance with some sort of demons. This makes the Bible appear very much as a book and the Jesus character in it as a typically superstitious human being of the time when the book was written. Does it not?

If the relationship with a particular god entity is not described as much as hearing actual voices inside your head, merely the natural inner dialogue, perhaps even a muted version of it, it still is necessarily connected to the cultural heritage and culturally induced ideas such as particular concepts of gods. Even if a person later in life becomes convinced, that the connection they had to a particular god was not those of a particular god concept of their own cultural heritage, in order to recognize wich god concept fits the experience they remember having had, they first need to become aware of the cultural notion of a particular god that would fit the bill. God concepts are necessarily cultural constructs. Similar god beliefs have appeared ignorant of each other around the globe, but the very same concept has never appeared simultaneously in different cultures indipendend of each other. Instead the succesfull religious movements all require a form of proselytising.

How could a personal experience, limited between our own ears be evidence of a particular god to exist? Even to us ourselves? Most of these experiences are direct reflections of the cultural heritages and subsequent beliefs people already had even before they had the experience. Putting aside the fact, that the personal experience of an individual is presents very poor evidence for a nother person. The obvious cultural connection of recognition of a particular god depending on the culture and experiences of the particular individual, at very least, puts the evidence value of any such experience to question. In any case it reminds us, that either, if there is a god behind such phenomenons this god is “challenged” in trying to convey who this god is to human individuals, or then there are multiple different gods providing evidence of their existance.

Now, if the god of the Christians manifests somehow differently from other gods, and the “personal relationship” is a concept to describe this, it still means, that it is a cultural concept. As this personal relationship seems more common among particular mutually competing Christian sects, it means, that most Christians are not included in this personal relationship. Most Christians in the world are just normal people who have no personal relationships with anything supernatural. Why?

What if there is something supernatural causing these experiences, and the cultural interpretation was just a side-effect of the phenomenon being transmitted to the rest of us, by superstitious and culturally indoctrinated individuals? Well, perhaps, but how likely is that? According to the Occam’s Razor, the more simplistic model of explanation is the more likely truth. If applied to voices in the head, the inner monologue feeling or seeming like it was between the individual and a god, or just a chance occurance seeming like it was an answer to a question presented by the person inside their head, it is still more simple to explain any of those as tricks of the mind, rather than by anything supernatural, that would still require an external verification to even exist as much as to be a possible explanation to the experience.

I have to admit it, if I ever had any such an experience, I would rather have my head examined, than jumped to the conclusion, that a particular deity was trying to make a contanct with me. But is that just my own cultural heritage and bias? I am not immune to my own culture, or the assumptions it provides me. Yet, my ally is the scientific method. As long as it does not provide any direct information about divinities, I am quite happy to neglect any suggestions of gods as fable. Much the same way I neglect any ideas of demons, angels, pixies, unicorns, dragons and such. Besides, being a researcher of history, I have quite scientific evidence of how the beliefs in the supernatural appear. We have no reliable knowledge about anything supernatural, but we do have reliable knowledge about otherwise perfectly rational people being able to make up fantastic stories, believing them against all evidence and even sacrificing themselves for their faith in the most ludicurous and harmfull beliefs. Like for an extreme example the Nazies.

Some people have told me, that the medieval people knew, that the earth we are standing on is a sphere. This can be traced down, for example, from some medieval illustrations in which the planet is depicted as round. The interresting question is, who in the medieval times was aware of this? Was it common knowledge among the vast masses of people, or was it only privy knowledge of the University professors who knew about the Ptolemic model of the Universe? What was their understanding of it?

I have also been told, that Galileo Galilei was NOT martyred for science, because the medieval church was NOT opposed to science. Yes I know, put like this, it sounds a bit weird and it is a bit of a simplification of the idea, but essentially what I have been told to think. Well, he was not burned on the stake, because he recanted his statements, so I guess it must be so. Is it? The interresting question here is, who in modern times even knows why poor Galileo was accused of herecy? Most people have heard his name…

Galileo Galilei was accused of herecy because of his heliocentric views in 1633. He recanted, and was not sentenced.  Eventually heliocentricity was lifted from the cencorship list of the Catholic church in 1758 (only some hundred years after the trial, but who is counting) and allready in 1992 (less than 400 years after the trial) the pope John Paul II apologized the treatment of Galileo!!! Besides, today we know, that Galileo was indeed wrong – The sun is not the center of the universe.

According to a couple of recent studies 66% of people in Europe and 74% in the US are aware that the earth revolves around the sun. In these studies it was also revealed that only 66% of Europeans and some 48% of US population were aware, that human beings have evolved from other animal species. Or to be more precise, these are the persentages of people who got it right when asked. This essentially means that a good part of them only managed to guess right. While all the people who got it wrong obviously did not know these elementary scientific facts, there is a group of people who also have little, or no clue, but managed to make the right guess. Even accepting that these studies do not tell the entire story, I find this alarming. Do you?

Have you ever wondered about sci-fi movies where the film makers obviously could not understand the difference between a galaxy and a solar system? Or why on earth do the alien species from other planets look like humans with rubber masks on? Well, call me a geek, but I have. No longer do I have to wonder such blatant idiocies. If almost half of the audiences even here in the western world have no clue wether the earth revolves around the sun, or that human beings are animals evolved under specific conditions from other species on this particular planet, then none of such stupid and illogical things should disturb them a bit. And after all it is all just entertainment.

The really frightening thing is, that these are more or less democratic countries where we, the adult population are all voters. When we are voting for candidates do we understand what sort of leaders we are choosing? If the basic understanding of science is this poor, the choises made can be really bad. It is paradoxical how far our science has taken the limits of human information and how little of it the common man understands.

Our position in the universe, or our origins as a species may seem like trivial things in modern politics, but when people are choosing representatives to make decisions about things like nuclear power, military funding, climate change, euthanasia, abortion, or any other decision involving ethics and science, then what kind of choises will be made and on what grounds? Their personal beliefs in their preferred superstition (read religion)? Can we expect the politicians to make informed choises based on known facts, if they are chosen by and representing people who have no clue of the most basic facts?

How important is this lack of information and understanding of it? As whith any choises we have to make,  whith better information better choises are made. Correct?

*The research about European knowledge was an Eurobarometer from 2005 and the research about US science knowledge was a study by the National Science Foundation on Public Attitudes and Understanding 2012.

All people make guesses. Some are better at guessing, or they are simply luckier than others in getting nearer the truth. Some people simply have more information to make more educated guesses. For a reason these people are more often right than others. Even they may be wrong. It may be a result of  them being biased about the issues or simply misinterpreting the evidence, not because of all that they know, but because what little they do not know.

As it seems economical experts have made some bold guesses, that did not prove to be correct. As a result the world economy has plunged into a recession. It is typical to the guessing, that usually it is motivated not what seems to be correct, but what we would choose to be correct. People rather believe a pleasant and compelling suggestion, than the complicated truth. On the other hand fear is the key for many to believe in a particular guesses.

Fear of the outsider, or unknown is a powerfull factor in this mind game of guessing. If there is a rehabilitation center for alcoholics, or drug addicts, or a nursing home for the disabled being build in the neighbourhood, the ugly head of fearfull guessing raises its head. Suddenly there are loads of people who argue that they fear for their children and especially that their property value goes down. They are outraged, if their concerns are not tolerated. As if we were expected to tolerate the most vile intolerance of some. Having lived close by to alcoholist rehabilitation centre, insane asulym and a hospital giving treatment to drug addicts I would say, these were better built around rental housing. Just because the bad guesses those who actually own their houses may cause harm to the people who need these public services. For sure it will cause more harm to the children of these intolerant people, as they will pass on to the next generation their hate of the unknown.  People like me in rental flats could not care less if the neighbouring building is a re-hab center. Nor are their children harassed by their strange  neighbours.

What do we know? You and I know the world is round since some authority has told us so, but to verify that idea we only need to look at the horizon. It curves and the rest of the world is somewhere beyond. Hence, the information we have about this matter is rationally acceptable. We may wonder, how did our ancestors not come to think about such an obvious matter. What on earth made them think the world is flat, when it does not look it? Would we have come to question that the world is flat, if the same authority that told us it is round had told it to be flat?

If we had lived in them days when all people still thought the world is flat, we would propably have accepted it to be so. The reason why someone ever even claimed the world is flat, is that they did not know, what is the shape of the world, so they made up an explanation they thought sounded just right. It was a guess on the shape of the world. That they chose the world to be flat, shows how little they knew or bothered even to think about the matter, when looking at the horizon would have told them immediately, it to be a poor guess.  A number of world views were built on such guesses. This one claimed the world to be disc on the back of a giant, that one said it is a disc held up by invisible pillars. None of them represents anything than a poor guess of the matters. These wild guesses have since been shown to be totally and utterly nonsense. But instead people would have given up all the nonsense invented to explain the world beyond the horizon and all the unknown matters in it, they canonize these unplausible guesses. People like to say these mythological explanations are not simply nonsense, but defend them by claiming them to be metaphysical, or metaphors for something completely else. However, they were not metaphors to the people who invented them, nor to the countless generations who believed in them for centuries.

What if something in a religious text, that was for centuries understood as a factual truth, is proven scientifically to be false? Is it honest to claim it to be actually meant to be a metaphor? If that piece of religious fancy is actually a metaphor, how can we tell, what parts of religious texts are actually to be accepted as facts and what are mere metaphors? Some parts of religious texts abide to the scientific testing and others are possibly beyond our capablity of testing. But why should we believe anything to be absolutely true, if there is no way of proving such? All those things that science can not prove to be true or false may also be later found out to be mere metaphors for something completely else. Is for example god in the Bible just a mere metaphor, a metaphor for universal moralism, or the creative force of life energy?  Maybe it is just a metaphor for the national spirit of the twelve jewish tribes?

There may be a day, when the science can prove the existance some particular god or gods, but until that day we will have to choose whose guesses on the matter are plausible to us. If it is just the authority who claims to know that a particular god exists because it says so in the same book that claims the world is supported by the invisible pillars, or that it is a flat disc on the back of a giant tortoise, should we trust such an authority?

Science is not a religion or a philosophy. Neither is it an ideology. Therefore it itself has no bias to find previoulsy invented world views wrong. It is just a bunch of the best guesses on what can be verifiably found true by people who have researched a particular issue, with the best tools and methods available. It has no dogmas, it is under constant change and very unconservative by nature, though some scientist may hold conservative ideals and every scientist has their own particular world view with included bias.

If we are to choose either the theories science presents, or the religious ideals that contradict those theories on how the universe around actually is, honestly we can only accept the religious ideals by abandoning reason and embracing faith. Faith is not build on reason. It is built on feelings, or to say it in other words, it is based on the subconscious.

Scientific theories may be later proven to be wrong, but they are not wrong because they contradict some particular system of superstition. Science can take alteration, how about religions? Certainly most of them have been altered many times as the knowledge of the surrounding universe has increased.

To be perfectly honest, I doubt it, if there are any gods that hold any benevolent interrest towards humanity,  or that if there are gods, they are in any need for us to worship them. In fact it would be reasonable to expect them to be proud of us, if we finally claimed indepence and as adults took responsibility of our own actions. Certainly they would be appalled by us bickering about whose ancestors had the most correct guesses of gods, when they wrote theirs up. Especially so,  as those scriptures have obviously been written in the very limited knowledge of the universe of those past times.

Is the world flat? Was the earth created before the sun? Are there gods? Your guess is as good as mine, but on what do you base your opinion about it?