Death, dark goddesses and urban folk religion are some of the common themes among the books reviewed this month…[Read more]
Tag Archives: science
On February 11th 2016 the Ligo Collaboration announced that gravitational waves have been observed for the first time from the collision of two black holes over a billion light years away. But what philosophical implications does this discovery have? Read more at Patheos!
Simply put, the second law of thermodynamics states that whenever energy is transformed from one form to another form, entropy (disorder) increases and energy decreases.
Scientists place particular prominence on the second law of thermodynamics for a number of reasons. It’s a theory that’s based on empirical evidence. It gives us a definition for the direction of time, i.e. the direction in which entropy increases. It tells us that the Universe has limits, i.e. energy cannot be converted with 100% efficiency. It may also tell us the ultimate fate of the Universe. In short, it’s a very powerful law.
The second law of thermodynamics also tells us something else. It tells us that ultimately, everything decays. Everything wears out and fades. Everything dies.
I find it intriguing that the second law of thermodynamics, one of the most important concepts in science, essentially describes death. And death, like life, is held in particularly high regard among Pagans, as well as followers of other beliefs.
Wikipedia alone lists some 200 deities connected with death found throughout world religions. That’s about the same as the number of fertility deities. Most religions have some kind of festival to venerate departed spirits, in addition to having a lot to say about the afterlife and the proper way to deal with the bodies of the deceased. Clearly, death is just as fundamental concept to religion as the second law of thermodynamics is to science.
Although it may seem morbid or bleak, I think this tells us that death is one of the most important aspects of existence. It is perhaps the only certainty in this universe. It unites us all – not just people, but animals, plants, rocks, stars and even the subatomic particles that make up everything. The fact that death is so powerful yet so commonplace means that we should not fear it. We should try to see death as constant, unifying companion, the one thing we know to always be true in a Universe full of uncertainty. In this way, death is perhaps the ultimate God.
Yesterday evening my sister and I were fortunate enough to attend a special talk with physicist Prof. Brian Cox and geneticist Dr Adam Rutherford, at the beautiful Conway Hall in London.
As readers of my blog may know, my love of science is deeply tied in with my Pagan beliefs, and I was so glad to hear these two experts explain some difficult concepts so well and in such an engaging way, as well introducing me to new ideas in science (such as the theory that electrochemical gradients are behind the origin of life). But what I wasn’t expecting was for these two scientists to comment on the place of religion in society.
One thing you should know about Conway Hall is that it is owned by the Conway Hall Ethical Society, who are a humanist (and by extension, atheist) organisation. As a result, there were a lot of atheists in the audience, and one of them posted the question, “Will we ever be fortunate enough to live in a society without religion?”
In response to this, both scientists said that while we should not be dominated by superstitious beliefs, they don’t think that society should lose religion and that religion plays an important role in creating a cultural framework. Prof. Cox also mentioned that the co-existence of different beliefs (including those of religious and atheist people) are a sign that democracy is working.
I was so impressed and so pleased to hear such attitudes that I (and other people in the audience) gave them both a round of applause.
Because Paganism holds that nature is sacred, the majority of Pagans are also environmentalists. Unfortunately, environmentalism can be frustrating and depressing a lot of the time – it can feel like no matter how much you’re trying to do your bit, it’ll never help because corporations and governments are doing the majority of the damage, and you can feel powerless to do anything about this.
But there are occasionally stories that show us that, despite living in an increasingly industrialised world, there may be some hope on the horizon. IFL Science has reported that last year the global economy grew but carbon dioxide emissions did not – the first time this has ever happened. This has been attributed to countries such as China switching to alternative energy sources.
Reports such as these are a huge encouragement. They demonstrate that yes, it is worth striving for a cleaner, greener world, and it is even possible to do this and still prosper. Rather than letting this news make us complacent, I hope this news helps to spur on people to continue making changes to their lives in order to play there part in the efforts to clean up our planet.
Remember #Dressgate? I think it actually serves as a useful metaphor for spiritual belief. Read more at Patheos!
The Four Elements are, by definition, fundamental to many forms of Paganism, and particularly Wicca. In the modern world however, I find it difficult to reconcile the four classical elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water with the 100 or so scientific elements – how can I refer to the four elements that make up our world when I know that the reality is far more complex? [Read more]
In today’s world, we tend to think in terms of “science verses religion,” as if they are antagonistic and opposite from each other. But back in the day, this wasn’t really the case; there are plenty of historical examples where science and religion met eye-to-eye, from Christian monks who made and recorded important scientific discoveries, to scientific principles described in the Quran, to the numerous scientists and mathematicians who were also members of the Freemasons, a society in which belief in a Supreme Being is more or less mandatory. Whereas nowadays, many people seem to think that one cannot hold religion to be true if one also holds science to be true. How can one know that the Moon is a vast, lifeless lump of rock orbiting the Earth, and also believe it is the embodiment of a goddess?
So how can we resolve this problem in a rational and scientific world?
Myself, I LOVE science. I love learning how the universe works and how it came to be. If I had been better at maths, I probably would have done a science at university (I also think maths is beautiful and wonderful, but I just can’t do it!). For me, science does not de-mystify nature; on the contrary, science reminds us over and over again that the truth is usually far more interesting and stranger than anything human beings can imagine.
But despite my respect for science, I also leave offerings to nature spirits and bow down to fox statues.
I no longer feel conflicted in doing this. I used to, definitely, which is one of the reasons I didn’t practice Paganism for years despite having a keen interest, but now I feel quite resolved in my feelings towards science and Paganism. And this is why:
1. Science is the way in which we get to know our gods. As a Pagan, I worship things quite literally – the trees, the earth and the animals themselves are sacred and part of the spirit world. One of the best definitions I’ve found of Paganism was a random comment on the internet, which is, “Pagans worship what they can actually see.” By learning about how the natural world works, we deepen our knowledge, and therefore our connection, with the spirits of Earth, the ocean, the air and the stars.
2. I enjoy being a Pagan, which is the number 1 reason why I am a Pagan. And if I feel content and fulfilled by doing something that has no particular drawbacks, there’s no reason not to do it. Which seems pretty rational.
3. As mentioned in a previous post, I place a huge amount on emphasis on the act of ritual itself, moreso than its potential outcomes or the beliefs behind it. Ritual affects how we feel about things – for me, it inspires a profound awe for nature and reminds me to treat our earth with respect and dignity. Because I place less emphasis on profound faith than I do in ritual, I don’t feel I need to worry about how compatible my religion is with my knowledge of science.
4. There’s a little bit of doublethink involved in this one, but I believe that as far as an individual is concerned, there are two realities. There is the shared reality, a.k.a the real reality, as in the world that exists around us and upon which all science is based. Then there is the reality that we actually perceive ourselves, a reality that is private to us in our minds, coloured with emotion, memory, dreams and imagination. To us humans, limited by how we interpret our senses, both realities are just as real (in fact, the “inner” reality is somehow more real to us). So inner world of the psyche, in which reality can be anything we want, can be considered just as valid. In which case, it is quite easy to both see existence as a product of scientific reason, and as a realm in which gods, goddesses, spirits and faeries all exist. It’s all a matter of which “reality” we choose to see.