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I Stand For Curiosity And Partial Knowledge.

For thousands of years Humans, as we know us to be, have roamed the earth in groups. Every group developed societies which have had to field explanations about the natural world around them. The Inuit people have snow to contend with, so their stories are rooted in a vast land which afforded no outside contact for so long that the word "Inuk", meaning one member of the Inuit, also means one human being. No others were known.

Similarly, in West Africa, cultures had to adapt to the offerings of their surroundings. Rivers are worshipped for their fertility / potency, the God of Iron (Ogun) is now the God of bicycle-repair people and taxi-drivers. There is no mention of snow. Indeed, my students could not, would not, believe what I told them about snow when I taught in Nigeria. "Sure, Sir; tie boards to your feet and slide over the snow when it is cold out? You would die. Sir, why do you tell us these stories?" So I invited a whole class to my house on the school compound and invited each student to breathe four times with his or her head inside the freezer section of my refrigerator. Each declared that he or she would die, and that I must be lying, although they were polite about it.

Certain stories abound cross-culturally, the most prominent one being some sort of flood story. A flood is recalled in most cultures which developed in tropical or temperate climes, but not the Inuit. And there is evidence in sedimentary strata to support the stories with an observable legacy of verifiable fact.

And why would that sediment exist, from a scientific point of view, but not in the arctic? Because of the differential of temperature, a flood in one place might only appear as slight changes in micro- or macro-climatic conditions in some place as vast as the Arctic, covering the 'top of the world' in what are now called Canada and Russia.

Science can not talk about the qualities of a flood, or any other occurrence, save the purely empirical data which may be collected, found or interpreted. Just as Art can not speak about the quality of belief in some thing, or Religion properly discuss the real world of fact or knowledge. Each operates within its own magisterium, its own world-limits, and cross-over is grossly illegitimate. No 'red' is a better or worse 'red' than any other. No belief is more or less powerful or complete or more right than any other. Each colour and belief is situational ... one to the individual, another to a culture. And each may be more or less complete as an interpretive mechanism of the challenges of a society that had to daily deal with the dangers of the natural world.

Attempting to apply religion to the laws of nature, or to the partializations of evolution, is a gross mis-representation of the finest that both religion and science have to offer. One must remember that, in science, having large holes in understanding is acceptable. Not all things are known, nor, likely, will they ever be. The more we learn, the more we are surprised. Witness to this is the discovery a few days ago of more moons surrounding Neptune, in such number that the previous planetary star, as far as moons go, has been nudged off the No. 1 place on the galactic podium. We keep learning more.

Religion offers each person who chooses to believe a consistency that may be missing in life elsewhere, a comforting bath of reassurance. Arguments within this magisterium may tend to veer around issues that would have delighted a medieval Scholastic, while the religion can not be made "bigger" because it is presented complete. That is why formal religions have Credos. "I believe in ..." tells the story. No reputable scientist would be able to offer a Credo of science further than support of what is called the scientific method ... theory, hypothesis, investigation, publication, critique, refinement, re-critique, application, etc. ... science's credo can only be "Hang around ... there's more to come!", tinged with excitement.

An example of the challenge of understanding evolution is the development, frequently cited, of the flagellum (used by some single-celled structures to move). These are echoed in the flagellum, or tail, of sperm. Using an ion of iron, these make or help the cell move in a liquid. 'Creationist-scientists' citing this as evidence argue that the whole assembly is evidence of a creative hand since the whole works but any single part will not. What is not investigated is the development over eons and in fluctuating magnetic patterns based on changes in magma flow, Van Allen belt arch-changes, the effects of plasma-storms, etc., which are part of the scientific landscape. How comforting it is to have the whole story told, complete! And how flat.

Einstein wanted to "...Know the mind of God". I suggest he came very close ... mathematics, including fractals, the dance of the stars, music and the inquiring mind led him along the path. And we follow. The rules are clear because they are consistent; we just can't say 'em. And that is what science is about ... the holes in knowledge, not a cloth, woven complete ... for our curiosity drives us to be curious, not to venerate. It is our awe that does the latter. And good science is awe-full. It is wise enough to know that even knowing everything may explain nothing, but having an open, inquiring mind, ready for the transcendent and the utter failure is the only requirement for growth.


(A postscript ... the current (late 2000, on the Canadian political landscape) flap about Stockwell Day and the late creationist theory is considered a joke by reputable scientists ... there is too much evidence against it, including human mythology and cross-cultural consistency AND inconsistency. The Flintstones was not intended as a docu-drama. No human bones have been found in Alberta's Badlands at the strata of dinosaur skeletal remains. And we are too related to the roses, our blood too close to sea-water, the symbiotic relationships of the planet too intertwined to have a history or only 5 or 6 thousand years. The followers of Bishop Ussher hang their hats on an arithmetic calculation which which was sincere and honestly made, but following and supporting it now is an insult to our expanded knowledge.)

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You may also contact me directly at martin@aller-stead.com