If Science Kills God, What Fate the Devil?

The Extinction Papers – Chapter One

 

Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to the First Chapter of The Extinction Papers.

I’m genuinely thrilled that The Teeming Brainfather Matt Cardin has asked me to pour out my often daft and hastily supported thoughts into this ever-growing dossier as I attempt to document the multitudinous Mass Extinction of Things happening all around us.  The felling of gods and monsters, culture and mores, tradition and fairy tale.  The annihilation of traditional communication and existence in the moment.  The second toppling of undead Disco.  We are living in deleterious times, and for every spotted owl brought back from the brink of oblivion, often by the efforts of hard science and compassionate preservation, other things — more subtle and possibly more important things — are being blotted from existence with nary a peep.

In The Extinction Papers, I will attempt to chart and discuss the death of those nouns, those persons, places, and things (both concrete and nebulous) that are dying with the day.  Put on your butchers apron and come with me, won’t you?

Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.

Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

Extinction.  It’s the way of the world.  The evolution of things.  90% of all species that have ever breathed the air of this planet are now completely gone from it.  The time of the Dodo is over.  The Thunder Lizards are now fueling our Toyotas (due to the makeup of fossil fuels, why not measure engine output as dinosaurpower instead of horsepower?).  The Sun is no longer the center of the Universe.  The Earth is now round.  Dragons have been dustbinned and Mermaids made into Manatees.  And are we better off?

I’m speaking of (writing of, actually) the death of naïve superstition, including the Granddaddy of All Superstitions, the divine being most commonly referred to as God.

With their backs to the sunrise they worship the night.

Robert G. Ingersoll

My original topic for Chapter One of The Extinction Papers was going to be far different, but two scientific discoveries of the past several days steered me in the current direction.

The lesser of the two helps us remap our history, as what is known as “Britain’s Atlantis” was detected at the bottom of the North Sea on July 2nd by an intrepid diving team sent forth by the University of St. Andrews.  What they uncovered is an enormous, once-populated landmass swallowed by the frigid ocean in 6500 B.C., changing the global topography and submerging secrets under the ocean.  Discoveries such as this call into question whether history as we know it is based on all the facts, or is just a pantomime of the past cobbled together from a sketchy, worm-eaten script missing most of its pages.  The legendary Lost City of Atlantis is scoffed at by most serious scholars, but if the sea can come and snatch away 100,000 square miles from Northern Europe, why not other places?  And what sort of knowledge, practice, and rituals have been lost when these civilizations are swallowed by the Earth?  Is Myth really myth, or actually fact yet undiscovered, or misunderstood?

Two days later came a breakthrough far more monumental in terms of altering both our philosophic and scientific future.  Additionally, its side effect could also prove to be potentially cataclysmic to Judeo-Christian and monotheistic beliefs.  I’m referring to the discovery of the Higgs boson, provocatively termed “The God Particle,” which is singularly unique — and indeed monstrously powerful in so many ways — as it gives mass to matter without the helping hand of a divine creator.   This impossibly miniscule scintilla is so incomprehensible and cutting edge in its function that it had only been previously theorized to exist.  Yet on July 4th, putting on a subatomic fireworks show of its own to rival anything popping and fizzing in our skies, the Higgs boson emerged to our ever widening eyes deep in the bowels of the Swiss countryside, birthed inside the largest machine ever built in human history: the atom smashing Large Hadron Collider project known as CERN.  Just last year I wrote a decidedly Lovecraftian tale titled “Flutes” about what could go right and wrong at CERN.  I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say things don’t end well for any of us.  Cheery stuff, but not so far out considering what this $8 billion trinket can do.  Undertaking a recreation of the Big Bang and looking for matter where none is supposed to exist can have all sorts of unforeseen side effects, with many of them quite horrible.  But that’s horror fiction for ya’, ain’t it?

“A totally explained world and fully realized cosmos would leave both very dull.  A place of spiritual and supernatural extinction, as it were.”

But back to reality and the Higgs boson, which strode from the unintelligible nothingness (realms of reality that we cannot yet see nor measure) for a nanosecond, marked its existence on the wall, and then disappeared back into oblivion.  Sometimes the smallest firework has the biggest bang, and sometimes the experiment is ahead of the theory.  2,400 years ago, Democritus wrote of “atomism” and matter so tiny that it cannot be divided.  More recently, the standard model predicted the existence of tiny particles so small that they could only be theorized.  W and Z bosons, quarks, and the Higgs boson. The building blocks of the building blocks of all existence.  Nature is revealing itself to us in increments.  With this discovery, the eternal question of “Where did it all start?” and how Something came from profound Nothing is in the beginning stages of verifiable, possibly reproducible, explanation.  An uncovering such as this proves that we are still grunting cavepeople compared to where we can go, and what we can see and understand.

So, armed with these topics to fuel a theory, I sat down to write under the glare of my laminated wall calendar, which declared that it was Friday the 13th.  The stars were aligning …

If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.

Groucho Marx

Our worldview is tempered by all manner of superstition.  Unlucky days.  Four leaf clovers.  Rabbits’ feet.  Broken mirrors.  Wedding veils.  Making wishes in the presence of meteorites and burning paraffin stuck into a cake.  A ladder leaning directly over your path.  The resiliency of felines, and the hope that one of sable hue doesn’t stroll in front of you.  The wart-inducing properties of toads.  Crossing one’s fingers.  Swearing to God or on a Bible as the ultimate assurance of truth.

Pure logic dictates that these things are silly, but yet they are ever-present all the same.  They permeate and influence our lives, our laws, our society.  We are a species born and bred on superstition, for good and for ill.

What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships or fears.

Alice Walker

This very same logic is a cornerstone of scientific methodology, which is a pursuit undertaken by humanity to explain the unexplainable.  To find the truth.  To unwind the ignorant trappings of superstition and bathe reality in the light of provable certainty.  Evidence instead of faith — a missionary’s nightmare.  In the last several centuries, science has disproved many myths, and for that, I am thankful, as myth can be dangerous, and truth can often be more wondrous and profound than the belief in something mythic.  But, in a cold explanation of the truth, we lose a bit of our folklore, and the indefinable thing that we call “magic.”  Everyone loves a card trick, and we’re often disappointed when it is explained later by the magician.  Sometimes life is more fun when we don’t know how the deception is made.  Sometimes we like to be fooled.

Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

Mr. Adam Smith, in sounding like the world’s first enthusiasm-hating Hipster, probably wasn’t thinking about what the extinction of superstition would entail.  The end of many religions, yes, but also most likely the end of the supernatural.  If we kill God, by experiments that yield discoveries like the Higgs boson, we also kill the Devil, and without the Devil, what should we fear in the middle of the night that isn’t our fellow man?  Can ghosts live in a scientifically explained multiverse that lacks a mystical afterlife, where the soul is rendered a quaint notion of the past?  What then of the spiritual realm?  Of black magic and dark cults?  Where is the supernatural when all is just merely natural?  Can fairies, ghouls, goblins, spell-casting wizards, and curse-laying witches scuttle about in a reality where science has an answer for everything?  Exorcism stories lose their punch, and become exercises in contortionism and jibber jabber.  Conjuring turns into recitation of bad poetry.  Vampires cannot be cursed by God — and hot wing it at the sight of a cross — if God never existed.  Black Metal bands will have to rethink all their iconography, and Ronnie James Dio’s classic Voorish Sign will look more like snail antennae.   Horror thrives on uncertainty, and there is no uncertainty when all is certain and charted in scientific journals.

No Heaven means no Hell, even in a theoretical sense.  No Angels and no Demons.  No divine Good and no infernal Evil.  No goddamn fun.

Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays

I see where you’re going, Bertrand, but do we truly want to conquer fear, even in our neverending thirst for wisdom?  Fear fuels the appeal of the supernatural.  We like being scared, and like things that scare us.  Producers of horror product wouldn’t make a dime without this human quirk.  We seek out what might harm us, and what scares us because we don’t understand it.  So without a possibility of the supernatural — if not the backbone, then a major rib bone of horror — where does that leave the genre in all of its platforms?  Fiction, film, poetry, song, dance, campfire tales, oral history … Will it all be rendered serial killers and slasher stories?  Gorno and Noir?  Cosmic horror would still exist, and as a devoted reader and writer of the same, that gives me much comfort.  But for the rest of horror fandom, can the entirety of the long and storied genre survive the coming death of God, the Devil, and the whole ball of supernatural wax?  Maybe horror will just become “fantasy,” which wouldn’t be the end of the world.  But the very same world is a better place when the unexplainable remains that way, as in that unquiet void of ignorance, all sorts of things can live, slither, and moan.  We fill up the empty spaces with stories that serve us in some way.  Making myth is a way of life.

So, hail science and the brainiacs who keep showing us more of What’s Out There, but in the name of all that’s weird and wonderful, please don’t show us everything.  Don’t kill the magic.  Don’t murder the mystery.  Don’t sacrifice superstition on the growing alter of knowledge.  A totally explained world and fully realized cosmos would leave both very dull.  A place of spiritual and supernatural extinction, as it were.

And so ends Chapter The First.  See you next month.

A serious adult story must be true to something in life. Since marvel tales cannot be true to the events of life, they must shift their emphasis towards something to which they can be true; namely, certain wistful or restless moods of the human spirit, wherein it seeks to weave gossamer ladders of escape from the galling tyranny of time, space, and natural law.

― H.P. Lovecraft

POST SCRIPT

I found the below passage interesting and tangentially relevant to Chapter One above, taken from the book Straw Dogs by British philosopher John Gray.  Side effects, byproducts, balance, dark and light, chaos and order, the creation of antimatter from matter, enemy from friend …

“ATHEISM, THE LAST CONSEQUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY”

Unbelief is a move in a game whose rules are set by believers. To deny the existence of God is to accept the categories of monotheism. As these categories fall into disuse, unbelief becomes uninteresting, and soon it is meaningless. Atheists say they want a secular world, but a world defined by the absence of the Christians’ god is still a Christian world. Secularism is like chastity, a condition defined by what it denies. If atheism has a future, it can only be in a Christian revival; but in fact Christianity and atheism are declining together.

Atheism is a late bloom of a Christian passion for truth. No pagan is ready to sacrifice the pleasure of life for the sake of mere truth. It is artful illusion, not unadorned reality, that they prize. Among the Greeks, the goal of philosophy was happiness or salvation, not truth. The worship of truth is a Christian cult.

The old pagans were right to shudder at the uncouth earnestness of the early Christians. None of the mystery religions in which the ancient world abounded claimed what Christians claimed — that all other faiths were in error. For that very reason, none of their followers could ever become an atheist. When Christians insisted that they alone possessed the truth they condemned the lush profusion of the pagan world with a damning finality.

In a world of many gods, unbelief can never be total. It can only be rejection of one god and acceptance of another, or else — as in Epicurus and his followers — the conviction that the gods do not matter since they have long since ceased to bother about human affairs.

Christianity struck at the root of pagan tolerance of illusion. In claiming that there is only one true faith, it gave truth a supreme value it had not had before. It also made disbelief in the divine possible for the first time. The long-delayed consequence of Christian faith was an idolatry of truth that found its most complete expression in atheism. If we live in a world without gods, we have Christianity to thank for it.

 

About T. E. Grau

Teeming Brain columnist T. E. Grau is an author of Weird, Lovecraftian, and Horror Fiction. His debut collection of dark tales will be published in 2013. He writes The Extinction Papers for The Teeming Brain and blogs about the beautiful, the terrifying, and the strange at The Cosmicomicon.

Posted on July 16, 2012, in The Extinction Papers and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I really wouldn’t get too nostalgic about the pagan world. The universe of the Greeks and Romans was a savage, pitiless and merciless place based on violence and status. Most people were slaves, a fact considered perfectly acceptable. One doesn’t have to believe in Christianity to be thankful for the fact that it brought a new moral paradigm where everyone was considered to be of equal worth, regardless of stock and wealth.

    • Thanks for reading, Karl. Very much appreciated.

      I do have to respectfully disagree about the “moral paradigm” and “equal worth” of “everybody” under Christianity. Crusades, inquisition, genocide, land and wealth theft, and slavery proliferated under the flag of the Cross, and often because of it. The United States, which many (although not me) consider to be founded by “Christians” as a “Christian nation” was built, in part, on the backs of slaves. I’d say the 18th and 19th Century American south was a pretty “Christian” region of the U.S. (“Bible belt,” and whatnot), and yet they held up slavery as a near birthright.

      Also, you’ll note that Chapter One has nothing to do with nostalgia for the “pagan world.” Actually, it’s a tad complimentary toward Judeo-Christian beliefs, in a roundabout way, which is no small feat for me, considering my thoughts on the matter. 🙂

      The gist of it is that science might one day “explain away” cosmic creation, and therefore, most likely our understanding and need for God, as the Bible currently draws it up. For fans of the supernatural, regardless of religious inclination, that might be a very sad day.

  2. Certainly the ideals of Christianity were often disgracefully violated, but at least they existed, and were often realised, however imperfectly. The Ancient world possessed absolutely nothing comparable; it was a brutal, cruel and vicious place, where conquering powers committed genocide on a regular basis, and slavery was the norm for most. By every moral consideration we employ today, the Classical world was not a place to be.

    As for science, I’m afraid that the only thing it does is to continually reveal how under a materialist paradigm our notions about our self-worth, morality, achievement etc are just so many phantoms. I have to shake my head and wonder when I see people getting excited about the latest discoveries. In their dsesperate need to hold on to their own ego-delusions, they refuse to follow the philosophical consequences through to their logical end. For many people, science has become the new religion, the ultimate irony given the tedious and vapid anti-religious tirades of the ‘New Atheists’ and their ilk.

  3. Excellent post and observations Ted. I have a feeling, as it’s become more and more apparent, that any new scientific discovery will just reinforce the weird christian hold on belief, the “mysteries” of gods doings and it wont prove anything to the “faithful”.
    The more I read about the particle discovery, the more it is like we’ve discovered “aliens”, thus eschewing the man is made in gods image stuff. The faithful will come up with excuses and reasons why it makes the belief in a supernatural being more profound.
    As to my take on it, I say we keep digging, continue learning. If we someday undo ourselves as humans on a genetic or particle level, so be it.
    I guess as much as I enjoy humans and think we are at times quite remarkable in our achievements, our existence is fairly inconsequential in scope of the age of the stars. We don’t consider the rituals of lower creatures but only their feeding and breeding patterns to define them. How should be ultimately be any different.

    • I think humans are just another bacteria that got too big for its britches.

      Not that I mind, of course, as I like a little hubris, and this whole experiment has been pretty damn fun, when it hasn’t been engaged in wholesale violence and debauchery.

      I saw we keep digging, too. We don’t know how to do anything else. The surest way to get a door open is to tell a human being that under no circumstances are they to open that door. Actually, that just inspired a new story idea…

      /scuttles off to scribble

  4. ‘this whole experiment has been pretty damn fun’

    Apart for those numberless millions (billions probably) who’ve been the victims of violence, war, rape, starvation, slavery, exploitation etc etc.

  5. Because given the horror of human history, I don’t think it’s responsible to even joke that it’s been ‘fun’. It hasn’t. If you happen to be having a good time, that’s good for you, and it sure beats feeling bad, but be aware that disaster can strike at any second (as the families of yesterday’s horror can testify). Good fortune is precisely that: fortune.

  6. I’m not saying we should be miserable jerks, just that we should be aware of what goes on all over the world every hour of the day.

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