Monday, September 27, 2010

Three books I read in 1978

These were - The population bomb - in English, it might have been a 1977 Christmas present from my parents who were in Australia at the time. Then there was Space - a book in italian about space - the solar system, Earth Moon and a quick rundown on Stellar evolution and the Big Bang theory. Then there was a Bible - In Italian, that was given to me by my "Nonna Dafne" (my father's mother) whom I stayed with by myself for a couple of weeks during some school holidays. I remember that I had these books in my hand luggage so that I could read them on the plane, travelling with my brother to Australia from Italy to be reunited with our parents (Arriving 1st April). I also had some tobacco? or something like that for my father.

Now my parents were quite horrified to hear that I had spent time with my very religious catholic grandmother, and that I was reading the scriptures that she had given me and taking it as the Gospel truth as it were. They lectured me about believing things just because someone in authority had written them down. The gist of it was that people write things down for other reasons than to promote the truth, and that you should be equally skeptical of any book (fiction OR non-fiction).

I agreed then and I agree now. I applied this to the other two books I was reading at the time, and ever since, I have had a skeptical view about doomsday predictions in regards to the Earth's population, I am equally skeptical about the Big Bang theory, and I am skeptical about practically all historical detail about the old testament (see, I hadn't even got to the new testament as yet).

How can one live a life not being certain of anything that is written? Should I have even trusted my parents when they lectured me about it in the first place? This explains a lot about my agnosticism and my current attitudes to population debate, and debates that surround theoretical physics.


Anonymous said...

Maybe in making your judgement on what is truth, and who you can trust, you should look at how happy the person is who is dictating this supposed truth to you. Try to evaluate just how how their belief has affected their life, and just what they gain or lose from their own, usually predjuced and often narrow minded ideals. Then try to see what difference your blindly following their beliefs and ideal will have on your own life and happiness. Maybe historical accuracy isn't all it's cracked up to be, and not everything is about the truth of the written words, but more about the truths behind the written words.


Dr. Clam said...

This post gells eerily with an epiphany I had at Streaky Bay about a month ago. You may or may not know that my son is vehemently and embarrassingly opposed to all manifestations of organised religion. This certainly has not been my view nor of anyone else in the family, and until recently I assumed it might stem from some unreported unfortunate incident at his first school here, where he was enrolled in Scripture class without us knowing.

I have realised – very belatedly, because I am so thick – that my son’s opinion is not an abberation, but a logical and consistent consequence of three messages that are core to my own world view that I have drummed in to him by word and action since he was very small.

1. Don’t do things just because everyone else is doing them, or all the ‘cool people’ are doing them.

Historically, if you are born in a Muslim country, you end up as a Muslim. If you are born in a Christian country, you end up as a Christian. Etc. What can this be but people blindly going along with what everyone else around them is doing, rather than considering ideologies on their merits? All organised religions are obviously groups of ‘cool people’ – the *only* people who *really* know what it is going on.

[Of course, it would makes some sense to listen to what the great sages and prophets of the past have said, but where they disagree with each other it is obvious that they can be ignored. And then I have gone and said – thinking of the habit of following orders that gave us the ghastly 20th century - things like: ‘Respect for authority is a disease, no different from the Venusian Gook Rot’ (Me, c.1995). :(]

2. Content beats form, as surely as rock beats scissors.

Organised religion seems to be all about saying things in as impressive an environment as possible. You typically have someone in impressive clothes reading something written in impressive language in an impressive setting. The greatest music, paintings, and architecture of Western Civilisation have all been created to provide an impressive setting for Christianity. I am largely suspicious of form because I am so damned susceptible to it, but my son has always cut straight to the content. He is going to be suspicious of anything tarted up with all sorts of impressive emotive magnificences, *because* it is tarted up with all sorts of impressive emotive magnificences.

3. Don’t believe things for any reason except that they are true.

You shouldn’t trust anybody saying something if they are paid to say it. If someone from the coal industry says something about global warming being rubbish, everyone leaps up and down to say that they would say that, wouldn’t they? If I say something about the importance of publicly-funded tertiary education, you quite rightly take it with a grain of salt. So if people are being rewarded to say something is true, not by an executive salary of a measly few million a year*, but by an eternity of bliss, oughtn’t we ought to take what they are saying with whole container loads of salt? That would be logical.

So, my son’s contempt for organised religion is a logical and self-consistent extension of my own world view. And to be logical and self-consistent, I ought to adopt it too.
So that’s sort of where I’m at.

I also wanted to say that I agree with Kylie’s post. The primary way we evaluate beliefs about unverifiable facts outside the universe should be by the effects those beliefs have on the people who believe them and on the people around those who believe them. We are free to chose whatever poetry we like. I *think* this is me agreeing with Kylie’s post.

*: For absolute clarity, this is meant to be the hypothetical coal industry spokesman’s salary, not mine.

Chris Fellows said...

What are you skeptical about in terms of the Big Bang theory? i.e., where do you think we have gone a step too far in extrapolating back the red shift of galaxies and the microwave background radiation?

Marco said...

Hi Chris,
It's funny that I have had input from a lot of people on this particular entry, some of whom are obviously too shy to comment in person, even anonymously. As you know, I have some healthy skepticism about all historical sciences. My primary objection being that those who are most expert on the furthest reaches of history can extrapolate at will gaining notoriety but not being easily accountable for what is "speculation" or "simplification" because there is no useful tests for their theories, and no direct application for anything other than theoretical interest. My own theories have been fluid since 1978. The background radiation and redshift of galaxies are of interest in themselves, and the most agreed upon aspects of Big Bang Theory are the simplest to explain these elegantly. It is necessary indeed to believe in the Big Bang Theory to even be involved in the historic argument as to the origins of the universe, to some extent. My current theory of the Universe does indeed see a Big Bang type singularity as the starting point, but I think it is pointless to scientifically lock this in as a "fact" that is outside the bounds of the peer group of theoretical physicists to argue. There is too much peer pressure to use any strange results (like conflicting values for the age of the universe) to argue fundamental issues with Big Bang Theory exist.

Chris Fellows said...

Ah, that's more or less what what I thought you thought... (and more or less what I think as you know from one of my posts a while back).

I would like to suggest "The Trouble with Physics" for your future post, "Three books I read in 2011".