I have little patience for existentialism. It’s all too often used as a convenient escape for those who find themselves backpedaling after stating something as fact that is far from factual. When you try to pin them down and clarify, suddenly they start in on the whole “Well, what is reality anyway? It’s just our own perception…blah blah blah.” Alright, then, go play in traffic and disbelieve in the laws of physics and see how that goes for you.
There are things we do know. Things we know for certain. Of course, science doesn’t have all the answers, nor does it claim to. If it did, it wouldn’t be science. Science is all about proving oneself wrong in the face of new evidence, which is the opposite of what is done in theism: believing something no matter whether there is no evidence or even opposing evidence.
Of course, it goes without saying that the question of the existence of a god is something no one can provide evidence for either way. It’s really a moot point.
However, there’s been a proclivity in spiritual circles where people make claims about how the universe is and how it works and the nature of it and when pressed, they contradict themselves by saying we know nothing about it. Which is it? Do we have knowledge or not?
In truth, we’ve learned a great deal about the universe and how it works. Major discoveries in the last decade alone have greatly increased our knowledge of it. We know how planets and stars are formed and how they die. We know how galaxies form and die. We know that evolution happens and a great deal about how it happens. We know the earth is at least 4.3 billion years old and the known universe is at least 13 billion years old. We’ve come to understand a lot about how black holes work and how crucial they are to the “management” of the physical universe. We know that every atom in our bodies was once part of a star, and that the atoms in our right hand may come from a different star than the atoms in our left hand. We know a ton of very fascinating stuff, and the physical universe holds so much wonder that it’s a wonder that people have to make stuff up about it to believe in.
See, we used to use gods as a way to explain things we didn’t yet understand. So far, most of the things we had mystical explanations for we now have natural explanations for…with evidence to back it up. The fallacy of saying “god did it” when we don’t know the answer to something is known as the “god of the gaps”. Those gaps in our knowledge are disappearing very rapidly as we learn new things.
Now, I’m not saying there’s no god, but it is interesting that we keep finding explanations for things that don’t require a god at all. If there is one, it’s doing a very fine job at hiding from us and furthermore, it’s making everything look as if it’s not there. Maybe it’s just messing with us? That’s not very nice.
See, when there are things that we don’t yet have a natural explanation for, the intellectually honest stance is to say “I don’t know”. There’s no need to put something in the gaps of our knowledge. Just let them be gaps. Some things we don’t know. But, the number of things we don’t know keeps shrinking. We do know a lot. Granted, given the scope of the universe and how much there is left to discover, we’re still at the merest tip of the iceberg, however, compared to even 50 years ago, our knowledge has increased exponentially.
The average sixth grader now knows more about the universe than anyone who lived 2000 years ago. Think about that. Your kid very likely knows more than the brightest scholars of that age. That’s why it seems silly to base our beliefs on the writings of people who knew nothing of science and very, very little about the world.
With the internet, if there’s something that is known, you can learn it. You can read scientific, peer-reviewed papers and journals and learn vast amounts of things about the universe. The most recent discoveries are at our fingertips. If someone wants to know how evolution happens, how stars are formed, and what quantum theory really is, they can look it up and corroborate it with other information. You can get the knowledge of a college graduate without ever setting foot in a university.
Yet, to this day, despite the staggering amount of information available, people will dismiss out of hand things that are known for certain. I don’t want to believe. I want to know. If there are things I just won’t be able to know in my lifetime, so be it. I’m okay with that. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing something. We don’t have to fill in the gaps with mystical claims.
If it makes you feel better, go ahead, but just don’t claim it as fact unless you have evidence to back it up. Rather than asking what the bleep do we know, why not go read a bleeping book or two? There’s a lot out there, and you’d be surprised how much we really do know. In fact, a lot of it is fascinating, and needs no extra helping of woo to make it wondrous and awe-inspiring. The universe is a pretty amazing place. Let’s discover it as it is, on its own terms, rather than making things up along the way.
© 2015 William Suphan
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