Religion vs. Science and Roads Not Taken

Any serious writer could tell you: Not everything you write ends up on a page somewhere.

Some of the stuff just isn’t good enough. Some of it is good enough, but not germane to the piece you’re currently writing. And some of it is good enough but … just doesn’t fit anywhere.

This is a piece of a piece that never made it into my book. It’s sort of a double reject — the chapter in which it appeared was edited out of the book, but even before that decision was made, this bit was edited out of the chapter. Still, it struck me as worth saving. So, here:

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What would happen if you re-ran human history? Say you wound the tape of history back about 20,000 years, made a few changes just for the hell of it, and then started it running forward again?

Tell you what I think: The names and dates of pivotal historical events would be completely different. The major players of history would be different. Wars would be fought between some of the same groups but not others, and at different times than the ones of our history.

Literary fiction? Different. No Great Expectations, no Tom Sawyer. No Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Comparable works, certainly, but not those specific ones. Stephen King, if he existed, if he was a writer, would not be the author of The Shining, or Carrie, or It.

And religion would be different. There would be no Zeus or Mount Olympus. No Egyptian Book of the Dead. Hathor the cow-goddess would not be part of our religious history. Neither would the Navajo Hero Twins.

Oh, there would probably be plenty of religions, and they would all have their books and mythologies, and a lot of it would seem similar. Considering the number of times virgin births and resurrections have happened in our own religions and mythologies, those memes are probably constants with humans, and would crop up over and over in the religions of the rewound world. But the religions themselves would be different. No Book of Mormon. No Scientology. No Jehovah’s Witnesses … because no Jehovah.

No Jesus. No Bible. No Koran. No Allah.

Why? Because all of these things are products of human culture. Their origins depend on countless chance incidents, unlikely beginnings and lucky breaks. They grew out of pivotal moments, accidental encounters, random social forces, strangers on the road bumping into each other and sharing tales — all of which, with the tiniest of changes in their beginnings, would bring radically different results in their endings.

However …

There are some things that are not culture-dependent. Things that have nothing to do with the vagaries of human storytelling or mythology, but that depend rather on discoveries about the real world. Constants such as … oh, the properties of iron, or the usefulness of glass. The distance between the Earth and the Sun. The chemical makeup of water. The length of the year, the phases of the moon, and the progression of the seasons.

In any rewound and restarted history, geology would be the same. Given enough time, the people of every alternate history would discover or invent the science of geology. Not some other geology, or a similar geology, but the exact same geology we have. They might be a bit behind us or a bit ahead of us, but they would discover the same continental processes, the same vulcanism and sedimentation, the same uplifting and folding, the same elemental constituents of the rocks, the same method for the carving of the Grand Canyon.

Biology would be the same. Physics would be the same. Not just similar, the same. Pop a scientist from our track over into another one and — assuming he entered at an equivalent technological moment and had time to get up to speed on the vocabulary — he’d be able to talk to the scientists of that other track.

Run the experiment a dozen times, or a thousand, and science would be the same in every repeat. Why? Because science depends on real things, the real workings of the real world.

But religion, just as it’s turned out different in all the various cultures of the world we live in, in 10,000 or more different present-day religions and uncountable numbers of past ones, would be different in every rewind.

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About Hank Fox
  • Cuttlefish

    Have you *seen* Mt. Olympus? There’s a microclimate there that leaves the peak hidden in clouds virtually all the time. It practically screams out that there is something hiding up there, and something important. It might not be the pantheon we are all familiar with, but it would not surprise me in the least to find some functional equivalent living up in those clouds.

    Now, if you rewound the clock enough that Olympus itself is changed, all bets are off!

  • Jeannie in PA

    But biology would be different, wouldn’t it? Not the fact of evolution. But surely the process of evolution would result in different forms and creatures. Or maybe 20,000 years is not enough time.

    • Hank Fox

      I hadn’t really thought of that; I was talking mainly about human history and culture. But come to think of it, 20,000 years is probably enough time to show SOME effect on some of the wild animals on whose lives we impinge, and certainly enough to come up with completely different breeds of domestic animals.

  • robertlandbeck

    A ‘rerunning’ of history is a close approximation of what may very well be about to happen! “And religion would be different.” But in this case scenario, both religious and atheist will find themselves heavily on the backfoot.

    It would appear that all sides of the God question and history itself have it wrong! The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is spreading on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new ‘claim’ is predicated upon a precise and predefined experience, a direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, command and covenant, “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” Like it of no, a new religious claim testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment, evidential criteria now exists. Nothing short of a religious revolution appears to be getting under way. I’m testing the teaching now myself. More info at http://soulgineering.com/2011/05/22/the-final-freedoms/

    • Hank Fox

      Robert, some of this strikes me as extremely unlikely. For instance, “a new religious claim testable by faith” is way outside the box of anything I could believe, and “direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, command and covenant” … man, that just seems to me to be rehashing some goddy ground that has failed to EVER provide any positive result.

      Given also that the Bible is waaaay absent from the list of reputable reference books, and that even serious theologians doubt any such individual as Jesus existed … well, I just wonder why anyone would trouble to reinterpret his supposed “moral teachings.”

      I looked at the link you provided, and … gah, reading that book would feel like being trapped in a small dark room, when I know there’s a brighter, freer world just outside.

      And that one chapter title, “Circumcision of the heart” — whoo, that made me wince in TWO places.

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  • neilt

    And that one chapter title, “Circumcision of the heart” — whoo, that made me wince in TWO places.

    HAAAAAAAAAAAA…. that got me.

    But seriously…”circumcision of the heart”….WTF?

    One thing I’ll never understand about religious babble… how using silly language, mixed metaphors, and vague references to naughty bits, vital organs, and blood fools or cows people into thinking that there is some kind of real content or meaning involved. I can understand a sexual fetish in an individual…they can be fun if nothing else. But the ritual fetishizing of all things naughty or violent or gory that goes on as part and parcel of western religion just blows my mind…all I can do is giggle when I read phrases like that.

    Now I’m hearing it in the voice of 80′s one-hit-wonder Bonnie Tyler, “Circumcision of the Heart” instead of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Woooo! Turn around, bright eyes!

  • shajanmathew

    I think a religion similar to Christianity will inevitably appear. Religious myths may be a colorful way of expressing something deeper about evolution itself.