While it’s true that we can’t think the unthinkable, we must allow for a fashionably evolving definition and understanding of what may one day be expressed with coherent comprehensibility and that which is recognized as beyond our present intellectual capacity with, perhaps, currently unimaginable answers to questions both old and new. Limited phrenic prowess, as a snobbish qualifier, is most often applied to our fellow animals and also to certain groups of humans who are accessed as inferior for one empty reason or another. Evolutionists allow for further progress with Homo sapiens sapiens, and with a nod to our Handy, Erect, Smart, and Smart Neanderthal Homo ancestors, we accept and expect evolution to continue and one day wise, wise man will get a bit smarter.
Put simply, as our brains evolve and our information processing and problem solving abilities increase, what had once upon a time escaped our understanding may eventually become understandable. Just maybe, if, might, could, should, possibly or probably are all susceptible to change. And, as Robert Graves magically pointed out in his The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (New York: Creative Age, 1948), it’s possible to speculate on such matters as “What song the Sirens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women,” yet also differentiate between that which is currently beyond conjecture and that which could one day be sincerely considered with logic, sound argument and luck. The unthinkable today will likely become thinkable several tomorrows from now, capable of being expressed and, applying the scientific method, be testable. [Note: Perhaps the Graves’ citation was inappropriate, as I regard his conclusions as more poetry than history.]
Some mysteries will forever elude us (e.g. did Oswald act alone, are O. J. and Mike Jackson monsters or martyrs, and how do those young Latino women fit into those tight jeans), but a significant percentage of mysteries will eventually and ultimately be solved. However, “eventually” could imply the passing of many, many, many years. The nature and properties of chronological time and physical matter, for instance, are among our most formidable unknowns. We’ve learned much, yet a great deal of specifics presently avoid our persistent questioning.
In its broadest application, the term religion is widely used to describe an organized, often institutional (and, as with the Mormons, incorporated) group(s) of believers in the existence of theistic extraterrestrial or supraterrestrial entities (deities or gods). For clarity’s sake, let’s reduce so-called “organized religion” to ‘religion’ and continue. Discussions about aboriginal belief systems, occult and neo-pagan movements, and the relatively recent spiritual philosophies, kooky cults, etc., will have to be explored and defined elsewhere. Religion, as used here, encompasses Hinduism and its Buddhist offshoot, and Judaism with its Christian and Islamic developments. Such religious systems as Confucianism, Taoism, the surviving remnants of Zoroastrianism and Mandaean followers (and even the Druze) must be left out of this writing because of space (and attention) limitations.
Religion, for most people, explicitly refers to one or more of those five examples above: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While I have a sincere respect for other belief systems (Native American spirituality, Pacific Rim ancestral worship and traditions, and some animistic practices which still survive in far-away corners of the globe), the five mentioned belief systems will be combined, for this writing, as representative of what is meant by ‘religion’.
Agreeing upon a definition of science and the correct usage of the term will also require some explanation and clarification for its usage here. Embracing the implications, the conventional and consensual meaning of ‘science’, “Although its been said many times, many ways,” deserves exactitude. Yup; science... The emotional temptation to accord the ancients with an understanding and usage of science, while sympathetically forgivable, is incorrect and hurts us all if perpetuated. Sure, Erect Homo turned the chemical reaction known as ‘fire’ into a technology, but a technology isn’t science. Our ancestors passed on amazing technologies and traditions (e.g. notational representation, agriculture and livestock domestication, metallurgy, trading systems of prestige items which later served as the basis for economics with its arbitrary and illusory presentation of monetary currency, weaving, writing, roads, plumbing, hygiene, and so, so, so many other technologies and practices) which should always be remembered, respected and appreciated as helpful to the emergence of science. Still, these things unto themselves are not science. They’re tools and methods, wonderful and precious, however, ...science is an investigatory discipline which demands constant emendations and requires testing, testing and more testing. Mistakes get made, corrections occur, and science celebrates for a moment and then gets back to work. This writing will use ‘science’ in the post-Descartes sense of modernity with testing, testing and more testing. Yup; it’s a narrow explanation of the term. Yet, the modern scientific method is what is being discussed and, with a twitching awe at past accomplishments, science is here used without further equivocation to mean ...today’s science.
Religion and science are siblings, of sorts, in that both attempt to provide explanations for and about us. Religion claims some ridiculous origins for life while science struggles daily to support every advancement. I’m all for myth, legend, allegory and metaphor, and though I’ve never actually asked someone to either represent a Christ-like figure (as some have claimed to be) or to dress up in a nurse uniform (which hookers and special gals are said to do when paid or wickedly begged), I can and do appreciate theater as a surrogate for actual life experiences. If one wishes to follow Jesus, do good deeds. If one wants to play a sexy nurse, do naughty things and do them well. Religion pretends (read: lies) when they claim to have all the answers, while science does its best, makes occasional mistakes, admits the wrongs, collectively learns and is thankful for the improvements. Religion and science comment on the origin of life, the beginnings of our universe, time and space, but one threatens harm if you disagree and the other welcomes contributions. I’m through with threats... [Note: The above mention of a representation of a Christ-like figure shouldn't be confused with a literary narrative archetype, or a metaphorical shepherd leading a flock, or even a provocative attack on the gory fantasies of transubstantiation, consubstantiation and the Eucharistic rituals. Rather, the mention was an allusion to certain "holy" nut-jobs (i.e. persons of diminished intellectual capacity coupled with a savior compulsion, often deceitful). The mention of the nurse-thing is hypothetical and, of course, personal.]
Creation myths are numerous, undoubtedly judged as necessary to facilitate various agendas, but well intentioned or not are a cosmological etiologic panacea and should have no legitimate current influence (other than literary or inspirational). As mentioned, I’m through with threats, although I will always (in my own way) congratulate religion for holding our hands when we were scared of the night, lighting, eclipses, etc. Creation myths were/are a proverbial dime a dozen, and answers to such daunting and profound questions as how humans came to be and what those bright objects in the sky are (e.g. stars, planets, and comets) comforted many, despite being lies. The relevance of creation myths, especially to militaristic governments with a strict fundamentalist interpretation of religious scripture and other revelatory writings, is significant and scary.
"But if oxen (and horses) and lions had hands or could draw with hands and create works of art like those made by men, horses would draw pictures of gods like horses, and oxen of gods like oxen, and they would make the bodies (of the gods) in accordance with the form that each species itself possesses." Xenophánes of Colophon (fl. 570–480 BCE) in Ancilla to The Pre-Socratic Philosophers: A complete translation of the Fragments in Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (Oxford: Blackwell, 1948; p. 20).
Stoned on that hobbled path to modern science, mistakes were made and we’re still making improvements to such areas of specialization as Darwin’s theory of evolution by Natural Selection, the relationship between gravity and space in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, molecular biology, medicine, and so on. It ain’t perfect, may never be, but science does its best and will continue to do so. If only religion could say the same.
We appreciate and distinguish knowledge as self-evidential, speculative or demonstrable. The creation of the universe, that is to say, the origin of matter, is arguably at the top of any list of important questions. The “why, what, where, when and how” of matter is not self-evident, various religious speculations are literature, and with the strangest of ironies, shortly before his death, the early American author, Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) advanced the first hypothesis to account for the expanding distribution of matter from a central beginning point and that the universe is expanding, which has only recently become demonstrable after the so-called “Big Bang Theory,” was introduced by the Belgian Roman Catholic priest, Prof. Georges-Henri Lemaître (Université Catholique de Louvain, mathematics) in his Un Univers homogène de masse constante et de rayon croissant rendant compte de la vitesse radiale des nébuleuses extragalactiques (Brussels, BE: Annales de la Société Scientifique de Bruxelles [47A], 1927).
"In this view, we are enabled to perceive Matter as a Means -- not as an End. Its purposes are thus seen to have been comprehended in its diffusion; and with the return into Unity these purposes cease. The absolutely consolidated globe of globes would be objectless: -- therefore not for a moment could it continue to exist. Matter, created for an end, would unquestionably, on fulfilment of that end, be Matter no longer. Let us endeavor to understand that it would disappear, and that God would remain all in all." From Edgar A. Poe's Eureka: A Prose Poem (New York: Putnam: 1848). Online here.
Poe believed God first diffused matter (through an explosion), and though breathtakingly brilliant with regards to the cause and effect of matter, Poe needed the tool-god to account for the distribution, and couldn't think the unthinkable, that is to say, about the origin of physical matter and the creation of something from nothing. He needed religion (or God, the Judeo-Christian theistic extraterrestrial) to assist science in this premiere philosophical problem.
We mustn’t fault Poe, as the question remains unanswered and is, at least at this time, unthinkable. After all, attempting reason, one second there was nothing and at some time less than a second later, there was something. First there was nothing and then there was something or 'matter' (quark-gluon plasma or some such thing). It’s too difficult to think about; it’s beyond us. The only thing that existed a second before nothing was 'that' stultifying particular second or whatever measure of time is preferred. Only time was there, before matter, and time must contribute to this unthinkable labor of learning.
I’ve previously regarded ‘time’ as an illusion and that the sequence of now, now, now and now ad infinitum is an arbitrary abstraction without mass or any physical form or property whatsoever. Maybe it’s time to consider ‘time’ differently. Religion has its answer, science doesn’t. In time, the unthinkable may become thinkable and we may better understand ‘time’ in ways we cannot today.
This seemingly Kobiashi Moru test about matter and time is impossible to pass or to pass by. Jesus taught (Th. 42; online here) that we should “become passers-by,” and as much as I respect his teachings, I believe science shouldn't pass by the unthinkable and needs to test ‘time’. I cannot think of a way to test emptiness (though a better understanding of quantum vacuums are likely), or offer a model of ‘time’ necessary to create matter. It’s not that the omnipotence paradox isn’t fun, but I’m too weary for rhetoric and word-play. Last week I couldn’t imagine writing about matter and time, yet now I hope that someday (the sooner, the better) someone thinks the unthinkable and presents a demonstrably scientific explanation about matter and time that doesn’t require theistic extraterrestrial or supraterrestrial entities.
looking forward to tomorrow,