Leading Horses to Water
Ancient Greeks began the way of
thinking originally known as natural philosophy but which we now call
science. Science emerged as we know it during the Renaissance, in
an age dominated by fear, superstition, injustice, and brutality.
In other words, pretty much like the present. These musings are
aimed at explaining how science works, and how science can serve even
nonscientists in their efforts to make sense of the world. I can
try to explain things but it’s up to you to decide whether or not you
wish to drink from these waters.
#14 - Not Man Apart
American Heathen: aired: 26 May 2012
Please indulge me and allow me to read a portion of the poetry of Robinson Jeffers - a poem not coincidentally titled "Not Man Apart":
Then what is the answer?— Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence,
and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose
the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one’s own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness.
These dreams will not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear
the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars
and his history... for contemplation or in fact...
Often appears atrociously ugly.
Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things,
the divine beauty of the universe.
Love that, not man apart from that,
or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken.
If you’ve rejected the mythology of abrahamic religions, then you know
that our pre-human distant ancestors were members of just one species
among the wide spectrum of animal species sharing this world before
humans arrived. Our ancestors were but one thread within a vast
tapestry, connected to other living species (including plants) and to
the physical world by links of which they were blissfully unaware, but
nevertheless depended on those links. As our ancestors developed
the enhanced brain capacity, upright stance, and opposable thumbs
necessary for changing the local environment to suit themselves, they
inadvertently began a process of disconnecting
themselves from the natural world. As a species, in continuing
that disconnection process, humans evidently acquired a colossal
arrogance along the way. Humans began to see themselves not as
participants within that natural world, but as the lords and masters
of the world. Some humans invented an imaginary all-everything
deity who created us and, as a sort of post hoc justification for deeds
of environmental alteration already committed, is supposed to have
given us “dominion” over the earth. Some of us beleived we had
been authorized to do whatever destruction we wished to the natural
world, with the deity’s blessing!
With the development of agriculture and a division of labor not
possible to mere hunter-gatherers, humans created spiritual leaders
among themselves, empowered in our imaginations if not in fact, to
intercede with the deity on the people’s behalf when things didn’t go
the way someone wanted. They served as intermediaries to the
mythical deity, interpreting its commands and demanding obedience to
the deity’s wishes. In some cases, primitive societies sought
supernatural aid during troubled times in such a fashion that they
accelerated their own demise, destroying the very environment that
sustained them in order to seek favor with their imaginary
With the emergence of empirical science, our ideas about the processes
governing the natural world could be tested against reality. This
was the spark that became the flame of science that we continue to use
to light the way to ever-deepening understanding of our world and our
place within it. Science has been the basis for technology that
has in turn accelerated the science. We’ve shaped the world to
suit us, but along the way, some have forgotten or ignored the
consequences of our environmental modifications. At the present
time, we have exercised our “dominion” over the planet to the extent
that unintended consequences
are threatening our modern societies. Western technological
society has insulated us so well from the natural world that many of us
have abandoned science for the most part and have no clue beyond what
the pseudo-pundits in the media tell them. Scientists are not
widely trusted anymore and the lessons of science are being cast away
in favor of old myths that have persisted like a case of herpes,
resistant to any form of scientific enlightenment, always ready to
emerge and wreak havoc again.
Is it possible that as our understanding of the natural world deepens to the point where we finally
are beginning to acquire the wisdom that comes from comprehending the
complex connections within the natural world, our societies will turn
their backs on that emerging wisdom and choose consciously to descend
into a new dark age? Will we allow ourselves to fall back on the
false comfort of blissful ignorance and reject free thought in favor of
old discredited dogma? It seems evident that that fate is
precisely what some in our society are seeking for us all.
Science has made it clear to some of us that all life is interdependent
in ways we are just now beginning to see, however imperfectly.
And we also know that the living world is deeply interconnected with
the nonliving, physical world and even the vast depths of the universe
about us. Robinson Jeffers was so right – not man apart, but man a part of that universe.
Do we really want to turn back the clock and re-enter the demon-haunted
darkness of religious doctrine, superstition, and myth? I can
only hope not.
is not a religion but rather a tool for those who wish to think for
themselves about the natural world. Its primary characteristic is
its willingness to entertain questions from those who wish to obtain