Cosmos and Atheism
According to aberrant psychology, black and white rationalization is one of the hallmarks of psychopathy, so the question of religion cannot be reduced into a simple equation divided by belief and non-belief. The show Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, airing Sunday nights on Fox, has delved into the realm of human knowledge and in the process has stirred up a mountain of controversy, but for the intellectual battle to come down to atheism versus creationism, the truth is that most Americans are left out.
Generalization is not an adequate substitute for original thought, and because both viewpoints are extremist and on opposite sides of the fence, they do not accurately reflect the evolving belief structure at the core of modern spirituality. According to a Harris Poll taken last November, 74 percent of Americans believe in God while those who believe in Darwinian evolution is 47 percent. Technically, more people believe in the devil (58 percent) than survival of the fittest, 39 percent believe that God is a man while 31 percent believe that God does not have a gender. Between 24 and 29 percent of Americans believe in astrology, reincarnation, and witches. More U.S. citizens believe in ghosts (42 percent) than creationism (36 percent), but an equal number of them believe in UFOs. Most notably, 60 percent of the Baby Boomer generation that started the entire hippie counter-cultural movement towards atheism still believe in God.
From the 2012 General Social Survey, there has been a marked decrease in religious preference, called the “non-affiliation trend.” From 1990 to 2012, the tendency for people to believe in a universal spirit while not following a specified religion doubled to nine percent among conservatives and almost tripled with moderates (18 percent) and liberals (40 percent). The trend for citizens over 55-years-old doubled, and for those younger than 55 non-affiliation tripled, hovering around 30 percent for 18 to 34-year-olds.
These numbers suggest that metaphysics and spirituality are alive and well, but are no longer carrying the weight of dogma. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century provided an alternative to the perversions of institutions run by fallible men, so the only substantive threat remaining from religion is the persistence of irrational superstition, which leads to insanity like the Chinese still grinding near-extinct tiger bones with the notion that it can boost a person’s vitality if ingested in a tea.
Creationism is a fundamentalist tradition that excludes everything that denies it, and therefore no opposition can be solidified, even those simplistically stated by Neil deGrasse Tyson in the show Cosmos concerning the fixed speed of light and the distance of stars as irrefutable evidence that the age of the Universe is more than a few thousand years. Faith is paramount to some, and their denial of evidence does not end with science. If their belief system is firmly rooted in text, the Bible itself states that Jesus had brothers and sisters, putting severe limitations on the notion of his birth from a virgin. While performing mental gymnastics, they contort this into a one-time virgin birth while destroying the foundation of the original prophecy that the second coming of the Messiah would follow in the footsteps of Cyrus the Great, the Persian ruler who freed the Israelites from the Babylonian exile and the only gentile referred to as being a Godsend.
Unfortunately the mask of intelligent design put upon this fundamentalist tradition hangs its hat upon denying observable fact, such as arguments that nature cannot evolve between species, even after genetic evidence revealed that the platypus shares egg-laying characteristics similar to birds, amphibians, and fish as a permanent pause in adaptation. It has an otter’s feet, a beaver’s tail, it senses underwater by electroreception through its duck-bill, and the male of the species has a venomous spur on their hind limbs. When the animal was first discovered by naturalists it was thought to be a fabricated joke, so unless the external intelligence that intelligent design-theorists postulate is driving creation has a comprehensible reason for manifesting this animal into existence, the explanation stands as a bigger contradiction to their argument than as a simple byproduct of natural processes that do not follow logic but mutate based upon survival.
Atheism is also taking its hits in these debates, being that the historically “godless” governments of Communism and Fascism in the 20th century abandoned all morality and were responsible for the worst atrocities that mankind has ever committed against itself. According to the Pew Research Center, less than three percent of Americans regard themselves as atheist, with about 43 percent of those holding a college degree. Though the very definition is non-belief, 14 percent of atheists say that they believe in a universal spirit in some form, while 26 percent of self-regarded atheists think of themselves as being “spiritual” and 41 percent say that they often think about the meaning of life. Most notably, between 80 and 85 percent of all Americans sometimes feel a deep connection with nature and the earth.
The concept of atheism itself seems to be an unnecessary statement unless the term is also being used as a contradiction to metaphysics, thereby making it a mask for materialism, in which case the discussion is not really about atheism at all but rather nihilism. Statistically speaking, the tendency for Communist oligarchies to become hedonistic stands as proof of this.
The irony must be considered that in the first episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, while Neil deGrasse Tyson was taking a brief tour of a torture museum in Italy to underscore the topic of religion’s abuse of science, some of the instruments of terror depicted were not used by the Catholic Church against early scientists but were used by the Romans against the faith of the early Christians. There is a marked progression of history that those who were once abused often become abusers themselves, and those previously killed as heretics upon becoming the ruling power then murdered detractors for the exact same reason.
If elitism is the enemy of an open mind, the question is the integrity of modern science and whether or not it has become an exclusivity of accepted wisdom. Either way, the result is not the same as literal torture, but the scientific community has been known to exile and even morally denounce scientists of every fringe theory before they were proven beyond a doubt to be worthy of mainstream recognition, at which point that knowledge then became defensible against other ideas trying to refute it. On a professional level, scientists are territorial about guarding arguments with the validation of their entire careers resting upon theories they have propounded, but there can be no discussion of comparative religion within circles in which the word “God” is a punch-line without further inquiry as to what god out of millions is actually being discussed. In western culture, it is presumed to be monotheism and there is no hesitation within these circles to view divinity in the same light that Epicureanism did in Ancient Greece.
Another argument circling this debate is the fact that most major scientists from Newton to Einstein have believed in a higher power, with the latter being quoted as saying “I want to know God’s thoughts, all the rest are details.” He also said, however, that “God does not care about our mathematical difficulties, he integrates empirically.” This has been taken as proof by some of impersonal Deism within science, and that the scientific method is the process of discovering the “how” of God’s design with a much longer timescale.
Most Americans now scoff at those who refuse to take their kids to the doctor because they believe that prayer will suffice, and with an overall system of belief balanced by mysticism and logic, it seems that the philosophy of early Christian Gnosticism has become the mainstream as culture slowly evolves, just as it took two centuries from the declaration that all men were created equal to manifest it within American democracy during the Civil Rights movement, a century after the immeasurable bloodshed of the Civil War.
Atheists cannot disregard the fact that numerous ancient cultures contained within their creation myths not only far-fetched attempts to fill in the blanks of what they could not understand, but also the notion that everything sprang out of a void of nothingness just as modern scientists conceive the Big Bang. While the question then is what came before and the answer is nothing because there was no time, logic falls aside even within scientific circles due to the unacceptable nature of this response.
According to the law of conservation, energy cannot be created or destroyed, it merely changes shape, so following the path of all things back to one point still leaves the mystery of where that energy originated, leading to other theories involving neutrino superfluidity and the possibility of a Cosmos that is born and reborn ad infinitum, expanding and contracting like a massive heartbeat of all creation and insinuating the multiverse theory, which many scientists find compelling despite knowing that it will likely never be proven and will remain shrouded as philosophy, regardless of its validity.
Atheists are also not capable of ignoring other ways in which religion got it right, such as the Taoist concept of chi, later translated into the Polynesian belief in mana, and the codification of the initial human belief system called animism that survived for tens of thousands of years through all tribal cultures from the beginning of abstract thought. More than 2,000 years before quantum physics proved through verifiable experiments that everything was connected by energy and that all things were inseparably united as one totality, the practitioners of chi already understood this with more clarity than scientists like Einstein, who referred to the quantum realm as “spooky action at a distance.” Luckily, Niels Bohr had an open mind.
Superstition must be taken with a grain of salt due to the drastic difference between creating fantasy to fill in the gaps of understanding and the concerted attempt to perceive inter-dimensional reality. In the future, mankind may look back upon this generation as being equally deluded by imagination as the ancients, not only for the ignorance of assumptions about what has not yet been classified but for the arrogance of those who are not interested in any version of the truth but their own.
To avoid the detriment of knowledge itself, everything must be put on the table and discarded piece by piece, because there is no broadsword of intellectualism that can discount every aspect of philosophical inquiry to the point of stigmatizing the very word “religion.” In the attempt to perceive that which is greater than temporal existence, the most important result in the past was humility and gratitude, something that is lost to modern civilization to such an extent that egocentrism is normal and the rampant desire to keep chasing material wealth causes everyone to take what they have already earned for granted.
There is no room left for atheists to discount all religions as being a pedantic delusion of people grasping onto something to mediate fear over mortality, but even science has tossed aside more than it should. Ancient people were thought to be absurd cavemen, and so animism was mocked despite the fact that it was integral to the proliferation of humanity, as proven by survival. Though tribal people believed that all things contained a spirit, even the rocks and trees, if “spirit” is analogous to energy then any contrarian argument is semantic.
Unfortunately in its rise to power, science lumped all ancient belief into superstition, from the whimsy of folk tales to the horrors of blood-sacrifice, and in the process of belittling shamanism as a fanciful game of mildly beneficial herbs and dancing with imagined deities under entheogenic influence, science abandoned the history of trial and error within nature and therefore lost any connection to the environment, resulting in this current mad dash to try to relearn what was forgotten from ancient knowledge faster than bulldozers are leveling the rainforest.
Nobody owns the truth, and with a history of persecution, scientists should understand that better than most. If the fluctuation of impersonal energy is a process of alteration and is not merely a division of duality guided by entropic deconstruction, then the idea of karma can be considered to be a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, and therefore the question is not whether creationism or atheism will take over America, but rather in what form humanity will find resolution as the truth of the Cosmos.
Opinion By Elijah Stephens
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