The Superstitious Universe

We live in a world bound by superstition. We inhabit a universe who very existence is viewed through the prism of minds haunted by demons, shadows and the supernatural.

And most of those people are in positions of authority.

Why must we live this way? Why must the history of our species be one of divine fiat? Why should our past–indeed, our very present–be held to be the unfolding plan of an invisible person whose will and reasons are inscrutable?

How is it that the majority of human beings are easily duped into thinking that it’s impossible for mankind to have built the pyramids in Egypt? Or find something mysterious that those shapes should find expression by inhabitants in the Americas? Two completely different cultures come up with the same basic shape to express their desire to know the heavens but the standard reason is always the same: it’s aliens.

A tsunami kills hundreds of thousands of people and the explanation from these demon-haunted minds? God’s will; his displeasure at the secular lifestyles of the victims. Nothing about the inevitable consequences of living on top of volatile fault lines, but rather, the invocation of an apparently cruel deity offended by topless beaches.

In popular culture, the rage is all about ghost hunting, but it’s not done for entertainment: it’s shown as science in action. A great sleight of hand for what’s really an old parlor trick: call it science, tell us your “investigating” phenomena and it all sounds highly legitimate. Traipsing around a house at 2 a.m. with night-vision equipment and computers and a promise to “review the evidence”…it’s all the same nonsense being made to look as though there is something rational going on. But in the end, the answer is always the same: ghosts, spirits, cold spots. A superstitious mind giving the only true answer possible: it must be the supernatural.

As 2012 approaches, the stupidity is notched up based on the ending of a calendar from a civilization long gone. An interesting observation to make: while most people (seem to) accept that the sun no longer revolves around the Earth and that our solar system is in the outer arms of the Milky Way galaxy, we are still stuck in the Ptolemaic mode: the Earth is at the center, everything revolves around us. So, we have strident voices telling us of a galactic alignment, a galactic equator, a sure-thing that this must Mean Something Significant for the Earth. As if the center of the galaxy is somehow cognizant of a rocky, life-bearing planet thousands of light years away and needs to act. What does this alleged galactic alignment mean for Mars? Venus? I have often wondered about those who desperately want the world to end: what happens to the other planets? If the Earth goes away tomorrow, will the universe still exist? These demon-haunted minds are everywhere, screaming at us to believe their petty superstitions. What refuge is there?

It’s not from our scientists and intellectuals. To counter growing waves of nonsense, they’ve come up with ineffectual terms like “woo” to describe the bunk. Woo? Seriously? This effete, laughable attempt underscores why the rational tend to lose out to the demon-haunted minds: a lack of drama, emotion, the pow that needs to hit someone square in the face. Writers peddling their 2012 lies have mushroom clouds on the cover of their books; the History Channel has clips of marching armies and missiles being fired to underscore the doom of 2012 or the alleged prophecies of their patron saint, Nostradamus. But the intellectuals? Well, they have the word “woo” to help in the fight. They’ve got the word “brights” to describe themselves while breaking their arms patting their own backs.

You want to fight against anti-vaccination people? Call them child abusers because that phrase will stick when you make your case to frightened parents who aren’t sure if they should stand in line for the H1N1 vaccine. You want to disabuse someone that the world is going to end in 2012? Tell them to give you all their money right now since they won’t need it in a few years. Sometimes, you do need to make people feel stupid in order to show them what they believe might result in them really losing their money or their lives. An ironic thing: using irrationality to demonstrate rational thought. It’s a variation on an old religious tactic of “lying for the Lord,” only a rationalist won’t close the deal and take advantage of the victim for profit. He’ll stop himself.

The natural world is full of mystery, that’s undeniable. There are more questions in the heavens than can be answered by any philosophy right now on Earth. But so much of this wonderment is tainted by the demon-haunted minds who insist that mankind never invented anything on its own, but is the recipient of alien or supernatural knowledge. That planets too far from Earth directly influence our lives and we must divine the hidden message they want to tell us. That everything is impossible without the guiding hand of God. Should we bother telling them that constructing a pyramid in alignment with the stars is only relevant from that observer’s point of view: in several thousand years, nothing will line up at all, now what? This is a fight with no end, it seems.

Or, perhaps, we’re just destined to live in a superstitious universe where nothing can be a beautiful artifact of happenstance, but is some mysterious clue that needs to part of an even more mysterious plan because everything revolves around our existence and our planet. What kind of future is there for us in such a universe?