Ask A Genius 411 – Gods, Old and New
October 13, 2018
[Beginning of recorded material]
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What are the old ways people believed in gods, and, to some extent, still believe in gods?
Rick Rosner: In the old days, which is Greece and Rome and before that, you had people without a lot of science and technology but who had sufficient technology and civilization for them to consider bigger questions of existence.
When people barely had language or had no language out on the Savannah 100,000 years ago or 150,000 years ago, any belief in gods would have been shared without anyone else and would have been a vague sense of rightness or wonder.
A person without language could see a tree with a different color that they’d never seen before, like a Jacaranda or a Bougainvillea. I don’t know if they had that out on the African Savannah.
Something with a shocking color and still have a sense or feeling of beauty. Or they could bring down a large animal in a hunt. They could still be favored by existence. There might be feelings of their in godness.
That the world has provided for them or has given them a special visual treat or something. But really, then, you get the cave painting gods. Some speculate some of the cave paintings were meant to be in homage or a figurative sacrifice to God.
You’re saying, “Hey!” But we don’t know; the cave painting people didn’t leave too many clues behind. People like to say that you can get clues about how people felt about the afterlife and, therefore, God by their burial practices.
The things a living person would need put in the graves. So, fine, but we don’t have a lot of information, you can then get to the civilizations that everyone is forced to study. The Greeks, the Roman, the Etruscans, and so on, the people from 10,000 years ago up to 2,000 years ago.
Those people didn’t have a lot of science and technology. But they had enough that they could live in towns and cities, and their lives were stable enough that they could – and they hand language – start thinking about questions beyond day-to-day existence in a more systematic way.
They developed extensive sets of gods to account for everything they couldn’t account for given their level of knowledge about the world. The idea of gods intervening on a daily basis and fighting with each other via humans.
Gods coming downing and humping humans to make demigods. Their gods were active because they needed to do a lot. Their world was largely unexplained. Then the gods get consolidated under the big current religions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
I don’t know exactly what the push is, but religions with a bunch of gods were superseded with religions having, usually, one god. As the world becomes clearer, perhaps, it becomes more efficient to group all divine powers under a single deity.
There is a thing going on with the late Roman Empire. I doubt that most citizens of the Empire believed in the full pantheon of gods. Religion got hollowed out. People paid a lot of lip service to Roman religion.
But a lot of people probably didn’t believe in the whole thing. Maybe, the new religions with the single gods were easier to earnestly believe in, because you didn’t have a frickin’ clown car of gods.
Maybe, it was easier to bring back sincere belief. You have, from the time of Christ up through now, these big religions and with many people sincerely believing that the information in the religion was provided through special spokespeople directly from the deities.
Moses gets the tablets. Jesus’s disciplines get the Word and write down stuff. It comes directly from divine beings. It is similar to the kings of Europe. That system of kingdoms stood for many years on the idea that kings were kind of anointed by God or somehow had the power via God to rule over everybody.
As with all these beliefs, it is probably a combination of sincere beliefs and not having the time/gumption to question the beliefs. Then a big chunk of people who think, “Yes, it is bullshit.” But it is a continuum.
You have people actively questioning it. But you don’t have a lot enough of that. Because there is no overthrow until the Rennaissance. Then you have full and complete belief in gods and kings.
Then you have degrees of laziness, cynicism, and dealing with the tasks of life, and not having the time or the curiosity to really question stuff. Plus, there’s still not enough information to definitively overrule these beliefs.
Who will you believe? The person who says the Earth goes around the Sun, or a religion that took 300 years to put up a cathedral with a 250-foot tower, and whose representatives dominate every aspect of life.
Those are the flavors that you get from the Rennaissance until now. Where 400 years ago, people start noticing that systematically applying analytic skills to technical problems leads to good results.
You can make machines to do jobs for you. You can make trains and ships. You can find math that accurately represents physical processes like gravity. Then increasingly, you get what you’ve told me to call the God of the Gaps.
That as the world continues to fill with scientific and technical knowledge. If people want to continue to believe in God, their belief will be strongest in where science hasn’t yet extended.
For instance, the mind and consciousness, even today, there are more people probably believing in the special divinity of the mind than in the special divinity of any other things. Because it is the last big area that has not been adequately explained, except the entire universe has been explained by Big Bang theory.
Today, you have several predominant flavors. You have the entirely scientific people, who may or may not be that scientifically literate or not.
But a science-oriented person or believing person will believe there is no divinity in the universe – and it is all random processes. And if there are some things that science cannot explain now, there are things that science can explain later.
There is a slightly more sophisticated version of that expressed by Richard Feynman. Even if science is never able to completely explain everything, even the things that we can explain through science, they have a scientific basis.
But it is too tricky and complicated for us to explain it. That’s science as default. That everything has a scientific explanation, regardless of when if ever scientists come up with an explanation.
Then there’s “meh” science. People think, “Probably science, but I don’t care, I’m busy.” That flavor of belief has probably run through humanity for all of history. People who don’t give a shit and have a casual acceptance.
They will not strongly examine the prominent beliefs of their society. They are spending too much time on other things like investing, getting laid, and so on.
[End of recorded material]
American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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