EvilTony's been pondering stuff again!

Posts tagged ‘Thinking’

Justice and vengeance

Some of the reactions to the killing of Osama Bin Laden have been thought-provoking, to say the least.

“Justice has been done” is probably one of the mildest. But – raised in a western democracy – one must ask if “Justice” – as we would like it to be applied to ourself in all circumstances – has been done?

While finding it understandable that he was killed, and having some, but not too many quibbles with that, having been brought up to believe that justice is dispensed in impartial courts by independent juries and judges I find it extremely hard to accept that “justice” was done. Certainly not “Justice” with a capital “j”.
This is not to say that there was prior intention to deny him justice, (or to put it better, to deny him to Justice) – it would appear that he was quite prepared to prevent his being brought to justice.

Those who died at the hands of Bin Laden’s puppets have been avenged – certainly. But vengeance is not always justice – even if many seem to believe it is. One often sees in it the aftermath of murder trials, where the bereaved claim that sending the guilty to jail is not justice, how can it be justice when their beloved is dead and the murderer is still alive. This is the old “an eye for an eye” concept of justice among a tribal people struggling with their very existence.

While not a Christian, one cannot fail but to agree with the sentiments in Mark chapter 5

  • Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
  • But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
  • And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

Those who believe in Jesus might do well to consider that he delivered himself to what would nowadays be termed “due process” – even if the process was faulty, he submitted to the civil power and it’s judicial process.

I am, more and more, convinced that we created gods to give us explanations for the dark areas of our lives of which we had – at the time – no understanding. The God of thunder, the God of War, the God of Spring; they all controlled their domains wherein they interacted with us.

One of the chief functions of a God was to mete out their personal justice. And humans, in the face of the God’s incomprehensible concept of justice, created myths to rationalise the process. If the crops failed it was because the people had erred somehow. If the rains failed they could be summoned by appeasing the God.

One of the major problems with this approach to creating one’s own gods is that known villains escaped their justice. It was seen that A murdered B and yet his life was not blighted, in fact often it blossomed. And so we created the vengeful afterlife day of judgement. That way we could reassure ourselves that A would – sooner or later – pay for the crime.

But, more and more, we seem to be turning away from seeing that as a ‘satisfaction’ of the offence. Many self-professed Christians seem to want a return to visible vengeance – the guilty must be seen to pay, and to pay in measure equal to the offence. The courts are seen as futile. Locking A up for the rest of his natural life is not enough anymore.

The reason that the courts are futile is a whole either day’s pondering.

Upon Infinity

Infinity is the hugely misunderstood child of humanity’s struggle with the big questions of why we are here, what was ‘here’ before us, and – most importantly for many – what happens to ‘me’ when ‘here’ is finished with me.

We find it humbling and challenging when we come across the imponderable periods of time which the universe, or even the relatively-young Earth, presents to us. Are we really so insignificant in the face of the vastness of both space and time.

Consider this
That which is infinite must be indivisible. We ‘reach’ 2 by adding 1 to 1. At 2 we ‘reach’ 3 by adding 1 to the 2 we already reached. Infinity is that number which when we add 1 to it, remains unchanged. Otherwise there would have to be a number somewhere along the addition process which, as 3 is ‘labelled’ half of 6, could be labelled “half of infinity”. So, infinity can have no “half” – and conversely can have no “double”.
But consider this – there is an ‘opposite’ infinity. Not a negative number… negativity depends on where you start counting from. When I was born, my dad was 41 and I was 0 – we started counting from different places. His birth was -41 years to me.
No, this ‘opposite’ infinity is the infinitesimally small.

Think of a number and make it a fraction of 1. 2 becomes 1/2 and 10 becomes 1/10 and so on. Now, take the large infinity and put it into the fraction and you will see that we can never reach 0, no matter how close we think might get to it, there is always a fraction which is not-quite-0.

While many people have trouble with the concept of numerical infinity, they often find the infinity of time easy to consider. They can appreciate that the universe “started” at some point which is considered to be the beginning of time. Correct – up to a point. The concept of the universe – “our” universe – having had a start is easy enough, but they also find it easy to consider that it might very well have no end. That it would – literally – endure for infinity.

The other night on television I came across the best description of the current thinking on the origin of the universe. It was in the Through the Wormhole programme hosted and narrated by Morgan Freeman. It dealt with the dilemma facing the String Theory concept – which posits that there are not 3 dimensions of space and 1 of time, but 10 dimensions of space and 1 of time. This theory comes from the current interpretation of the math involved in particle physics and the most-c0mmonly-accepted theories of the relationships between the ‘known’ laws governing the large and small things in the universe.
The newest theory is known as Brane Theory and it suggests – which some good cause (mathematically speaking) that the “Big Bang” start to our was just that – the start to “our” universe, but that it was caused by the contact of two different universes – ‘membranes’ if you will, which release the unimaginable force – and forces – which created the particles which created the atoms which we ‘see’ as the things in the universe. This theory would suggest that ‘our’ universe is only one of a possibly-unending series of universes to which ‘our’ membrane has been host, and will continue to host.

No matter how ‘we’ measure/divide the time in our universe it is but a tiny fraction of the overall ‘eternity’ which we may never be able to comprehend.

So, if the physical universe can make us feel small, how then do we react to the concept that our universe is tiny.

Is it any wonder that humanity created God in its image? Leave aside all the ‘morality’ aspects of religion, it would appear that being here to no purpose is something which people are not comfortable with pondering. It’s so much nicer to be “special”.

But “nicer” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.

I may be wrong, but I think…

‘Before’ the beginning there was nothing — quite literally no ‘thing’. As there was no thing, there was nowhere — again literally no ‘where’, because a ‘where’ necessarily requires there to be a thing, and a thing cannot exist without a where which contains it. Finally, as there was no thing and no where, there could be no ‘when’. The existence of time is only found in its passage, which can only be sensed by change occurring to some thing — without a thing to change, there is no time.

Over 13 billion years ago, ‘within’ all this nothingness there was a quantum fluctuation in the nothingness and a coming into being of the universe. This ‘just happened’ — it wasn’t caused, mathematical laws governed it. What isn’t known at present is which mathematics could have been involved in a nothingness, and why the mathemathical laws hold true. The universe evolved, and continues to evolve, from this one event — the event in which all matter, antimatter and all energy originated. There are mathematical ‘models’ which describe the evolution of the universe from almost the origin.

The earth is just one planet of several which orbit its sun and our sun is just one of countless billions. There are more stars than there are grains of sand on earth, and growing numbers of these stars we now know to have their own planets orbiting them. The elements which comprise all life — carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, etc were all generated in the explosions of stars formed from the energy and matter created at the origin. As the song said, “We are stardust… billion-year-old carbon”. All the carbon within me, you and the known universe is billions of years old.

The earth is in what is known as ‘the Goldilocks zone’ for life to have developed. Under many headings of “requirements for life to evolve and survive”, the earth has not too much… and not too little… of all of them. If we ever find other planets which match our conditions – being within a certain orbiting range of a suitable sun; of a certain size; with a preponderance of carbon, hydrogen and other elements – then we should not be surprised to find life there.

Life on earth began when complex carbon-based molecules began to replicate, possibly due to ultra-violet radiation or as a result of electricity from lightning strikes. Then, chance mutation gave rise to the amino acids — just 20 of which are involved in all known life forms. All life evolved from these early amino acids – chance genetic mutation which conceded some biological advantage to an organism in the face of environmental competition from its fellows.

Why do animals have eyes, ears, taste etc? Because having them is advantageous to survival, especially if another animal doesn’t. Anything which develops a method of sensing some aspect of its environment will be at an advantage. The ability to pass on these advantages to offspring is, in itself an advantage. Genes, and the information which they pass on, are an advantage. An advantage can be anything which helps an animal to fit into its environment. Given enough time, all life tends to fit itself into the environment in which it finds itself.

When humans evolved they found themselves phenomenally powerful, and terribly defenceless. Their ability to alter the environment far surpassed that of all other animals, they could and did eat a wide range of plants and animals. They might have seemed, to themselves, to be all-powerful. And yet they were helpless against much that the environment presented them with. Many phenomena were utterly unpredictable – lightning, flood, earthquake, disease etc.

They also found that the human mind is capable of thinking great evil and seeing that evil come to pass. They were helpless against human evil-doing. They saw that life ended with death, and were helpless against that too. To let their minds cope with both their power and their powerlessness they invented ‘Gods’. Rather than any Gods creating us, it is clear that humanity has repeatedly created Gods. Where are those who proclaimed Pharaoh Amenhotep was a God… or Lugh, or Zeus, or Nero, or the Emperor of Japan?

Powers were ascribed to these Gods which ‘explained’ life, particularly things we now know are natural phenomena. The Gods were also deemed to be both interested in, and to involve themselves in, human affairs. Gods accounted for humanity’s dark places – dark from ignorance of nature, and dark from lack of understanding of life. Gods gave meaning and reason to human existence — meaning and reason which were apparently lacking. But — inventing Gods doesn’t create them. And meaning and reason to human life don’t come into being just by stating them.

As human knowledge has grown, these Gods, and the ‘need’ for them, has dwindled. No angry Gods ‘cause’ volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, sudden death, or any of those things which our ancestors believed they caused. Priesthoods evolved which ‘interpreted’ the will of these Gods. Priesthoods – nowadays – can explain very little. The creation of these Gods made humanity feel itself ‘special’.

Many still see humans as ‘special’ in some way – but it is now known that other animals are self-aware, use tools, alter their environment to their will, come up with and follow a plan of action and communicate in ways we understand – and in ways we don’t. Many sense things we can’t – birds can see in ultra-violet, dogs can hear sounds we find too high-pitched. Many animals can literally feel the earth move, and are pre-aware when an earthquake is about to happen. We are not ‘special’ – and we are not bound for an afterlife, a rebirth, or any other form of existence. We die – end of story. Thinking we are special is either wishful thinking or a refusal to think the apparently ‘unthinkable’.

These things I think are backed by respected, scientific, repeatable experiment and factual evidence, but it might be being mis-interpreted. People who lived long ago contributed their thinking to this knowledge, and it will doubtless be refined by those who come after we are dead and by things they discover. These are some of the things I think. I don’t “believe” in these things as ‘ultimate truths’ – they are just things I think are true, but I am open to being proven wrong and to reasoned argument. I don’t attempt to convince anyone who won’t accept these things. I won’t fight or die for them. ‘Ultimate truths’ tend to be the writings of people who didn’t know very much, or think to deeply for themselves.

I may be wrong — but I think…