"Finally, the man spoke. 'You're right. I was late for the show. . . . But religion was late too. So was science. So were you. You weren't there for the Words of creation . . . and I wasn't there for the Bang.'" (from The Story of Everything, Chapter 24)I haven't read Steven Weinberg's The First Three Minutes, but I have heard physicists tell rapt audiences about the first few seconds of the universe's existence. Amazing, I say, an outsider looking in. The first few seconds! The evidence I hear doesn't seem to come from back then, but from what is going on now, often in particle accelerators.* A skeptical beep goes off in my head.
Then I hear about the cosmic microwave background radiation, which dates from about 380,000 years into the universe's existence. It tells about origins too, but with a less extravagant claim. This is evidence that actually comes from long ago, even if not the first few minutes. You read it the way you would a fossil. No beep.
In a back copy of the New York Times Magazine I read about another early moment, the dawn of religion. Robin Marantz Henig is describing an ongoing debate among evolutionary biologists, psychologists, and anthropologists. Did religious belief come about because it was adaptive in its own right or as a kind of accident, a byproduct of some other adaptation? The experts cited by Henig argue long and hard, but none has any evidence from back then, from the point 50,000 or 100,000 or 200,000 years ago, when religion supposedly originated. Beep.
Someone will have to tell me how you can get inside the head of hominids from 100,000 years ago without the benefit of a written record, or at least of one preserved in art. It can't be done. Contrast the availability of evidence here with that for biological evolution, where two remarkable streams of data flow side by side: the fossil record and the genetic record. Both come from way back then.
So I ask, Can't the first 379,999 years of the universe story remain in darkness, at least until we know a whole lot more? Can't the origin of religion, for which the evidence will never exist?
I love to tell stories in the dark and about the dark. I love to hear the speculation, the musing, the hypotheses. I love to hear about books like Barbara King's Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion. Twenty-five years of observing apes, of seeing them mourn their dead for example, has led her to tell such stories. Are these primate behaviors the very ones that led to religion? The stories aren't evidence from back then; they come from now. They can't be science because they're not falsifiable. They're like the origin myths told by religion, tales in and about the dark, speaking of their tellers, speaking of now.
Much as I love these stories, I would like to see one--just one--with the dark places left dark. No claims about origins. No Creation Museums. No special effects on PBS. No gods in the gaps. No strings. Lots of fades to black, occasional shafts of light. Images that reflects the actual state of our knowledge. Reality checks on religion and science.
It's not easy to see in the dark. It's even harder to see the dark itself. I ask for the wisdom--and the story--to make that possible.
*Check an excellent article in Scientific American (June 2007) on the new field of "particle cosmology." Perhaps a physicist could help us out here.READ COMMENTS
**I'll be taking a few weeks off from writing new blogs. Comments on current ones are still welcome.
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COPYRIGHT (C) 2007 JOHN N. KOTRE