Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Scientific Literature: neurobiological origins of primitive religion

One of the things I hope to do in this blog is expose people to more of the scientific literature.

For starters, I offer "The neurobiological origins of primitive religion: Implications for comparative mythology" by Steve Farmer, Ph.D. There is a tremendous bibliography at the end of the paper with many hours of reading for interested persons but I will be discussing some of the finer points in more detail in the future. Please at least try to give a read, you'll probably be surprised at how much you can at least get the gist of, even if you don't understand every point. And that's ok -- learning is a life long process.

One of things I hope that readers new to scientific literature will do is stop and think for a moment about just how many scientific papers there are (literally millions of them) and what a herculean task it would be to truly become an expert in just one field of inquiry. There is so much knowledge and information out there, it is not reasonable to expect any one person to understand all of it, indeed, it takes about 6 billion of us to understand only a good fraction of it. This is why arguments from ignorance are just not acceptable (and no, making an argument from ignorance doesn't mean that YOU are ignorant, it means that you are basing your viewpoint on an absence of knowledge and evidence).

Think about that when you ponder how it all began and how life started, especially if you are tempted to think "There just MUST be a God, all this couldn't just happen". Just because you don't understand something, and even if no person in the entire world understands it, that doesn't mean that there has to be a supernatural explanation for it! And also remember that by proposing a supernatural God as the explanation for how our Universe began you ponder the existence of something infinitely more complex "just" existing than our Universe.

And there is absolutely much that science does not yet understand about the subatomic world, our world, and the cosmos. But while we may not know some things with certainty, we do have many clues, hints, and hypotheses.

Think about all the things we have learned over the years about our universe. We used to believe the stars were fixed into the "firmament" of the heavens, we had no idea that they were stars much like our own Sun and we had no idea that some of those stars were ENTIRE galaxies of stars. And we had no idea that there was a vast and rich structure to the universe. And we have also learned much about the extremely tiny. First discovering molecules and then the elements that compose them, and then breaking into the details of the Atom and now even far deep into the structures of the subatomic world. We've learned much about Chemistry, especially organic Chemistry. We've learned about how simple gases and liquids (with the addition of some energy from sun, lightening, volcanoes, thermal vents, and even chemical sources) can drive those elements into complex organic molecules. We even know now how almost every single molecule that is important for the beginning of what we call life (which seems to require some kind of self-replicating structure at a very minimum; although we now struggle to draw any sharp line between life and so-called non-life -- we have many strange forms which fall in the gap in between).

So I ask that you suspend belief in a supernatural God for a moment and ponder just how amazing and wondrous the ACTUAL Universe that we experience every day is. It is both breathtaking and terrifying. It has created animals and Humans with the capacity for love and sacrifice but it is also cruel beyond measure and unmoved by Human emotions (unless WE take action). The authors of the Bible were certainly correct to express the idea that we should be thankful for each and every day because every moment could truly be our last - and I think that they were more acutely aware of that than we tend to be today.

To save the world requires faith and courage: faith in reason, and courage to proclaim what reason shows to be true. ~ Bertrand Russell

Some research tools you may not be aware of:

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