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Offbeat – 21 March 2014

According to someone’s horoscope someone is going to have a terrible day tomorrow. That statement will hold true for someone who reads the horoscope and experiences a number of unfortunate events.

I’m not really fond of atheism. There are far too many inconsistencies. There seem to be two breeds of the folks, the ones who are angry with God and attack the church, and those who are angry with the church and attack God.
My take on this issue, and I think I have said this before, is that you shouldn’t spend a lot of time attacking something you swear does not exist. If you get too noticeable or aggressive about it, you might end up drinking pills in little cups, under the watchful eye of an unfriendly matron in a high-security ward.
I noticed that the Catholic Church was a major target on social media. It always seems to be Christian religion that is the target of atheist ire. I never see major attacks on Buddhism, Islam or Judaism. This leads me to the conclusion that the majority of atheists are Christian, actually.
While I am here, life as a true atheist must be pretty grim. In the absence of anything more than the scientific doctrine of flesh and flesh only, my betting is you live, you get pheromones, you procreate, you do some kind of duty towards your offspring and then you die. Not much fun in that. What about the mysteries and joys of love and laughter?
To be honest I don’t really want a scientific explanation. I’m actually comfortable with my superstitions and my mysteries.
The thing that struck me over the last few weeks is that humanity thrives by finding significance in things that atheists would dismiss as pure science of some or other kind.
Let me use lightening in the jungle to try and explain the thing. Imagine a time when indoor sanitation was not conceived of and the wheel was a puzzling oblong. Now imagine that lightening killing whatever passed for human in those days. It could kill or it might not kill, regardless of the quality of the victim.
In order to explain the quality of the victim, there had to be an explanation for that death. The quality of the victim was the only thing that could be explained. So no doubt a belief system defined the circumstances in which a good or a bad person died. Using the Judaeo-Christian method, the bad victim would be the one who was punished and the good victim would be the one who was ‘gathered to God’.
The important thing that comes out of this is that an explanation was found, and it made sense of an inexplicable thing even if it was flawed in purely scientific terms.
The need for significance has not gone away. According to someone’s horoscope someone is going to have a terrible day tomorrow. That statement will hold true for someone who reads the horoscope and experiences a number of unfortunate events. That person will then begin to examine horoscopes to find correspondences between life and the arrangement of constellations. No amount of science can reasonably explain away the significance of a superstition.  Should it try? Probably not. There’s no harm in it. And if you are an atheist, do you really need the validation of someone superstitious to reach a point where you are comfortable with reliance on your own trust in science and nothing more?
The scientific explanation for laughter is that it is some kind of reaction to alleviate a perceived threat or an incongruity. The other way of saying it is to say, I am happy or that’s odd to the point of being funny. Which would you prefer? Now what is the explanation for love? Before you jump on a scientific explanation, consider the love of a parent for a child. The child has limited utility value until it is old enough to do the dishes, and even that is weighed down with a hefty price. Science can reduce behaviour to a set of Pavlovian responses, either learned or genetic. That, unfortunately reduces us to little more than meaty robots responding to programmes. An additional level of significance, which we assign on the basis of half-formed understanding, can turn the responses into emotions or values that are far more rewarding. Science may be right, but I’m happy to be wrong.

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