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Monday, 3 October 2011

The New Superstitions

Missionary descriptions
Missionary descriptions of people untouched by the Gospel of Jesus Christ often refer to them as beset by ignorance and superstition. For example, William Carey, who wrote an enquiry on the spiritual the state of the world, included these words:

"The Swedes are serious Lutherans
 but most of the Laplanders are Pagans, 
and very superstitious."(p. 39)

Today, westerners who know so much better laugh at such descriptions and think of them as the product of the fevered minds of colonial religious zealots.

But the plain fact of the matter is that men and women who reject God always believe myths and superstitions. They think their knowledge is wisdom, but in fact it is folly!

Examples please
We don't need to scan history in any depth to see this demonstrated. A writer produces a tome which looks indefensible (because it is new and big) and legions jump on the band wagon. Marxism, Freudism, Logical Positivism, you name it. Then given time, the work is analysed, holes found in it, debunking takes place and soon it becomes the burden and concern of no-one but poor students of history - in one branch or another.

The wisdom has been revealed as folly, and in the worst of cases, blood has been spilt along the way.

The New Superstitions
New superstitions will arise in every age, and today one of the most prominent is a spin off from evolutionary theory and brain studies. In other words the latest superstitions are coming from the scientific world. Not from science itself, but from devotees of neuromania and darwinitis.

Talons Tallis
More of us should know about Raymond Tallis - because he is on a campaign to expose and debunk these silly myths. Remarkably, he is an atheist (and has to constantly defend this, since many of his readers will think he is a cloak-and-dagger theist). I know that God doesn't need atheists to defend his cause, but it is always interesting when unbelievers can see through some folly - it shows how obvious the mistakes are.

The book to read is "Aping Mankind" (subtitle: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity) and the superstitions he wishes to expose are legion. Here are a few:

"Mankind and animals are really the same"
With only the light of natural revelation, Tallis is able to see what anyone who thinks can see - that human beings rise infinitely above animals, that the gap between the two can only be called a chasm. Made in the image of God, mankind is in a totally different league.

Tallis exposes the urban myths that attempt to bring the two together. On the one hand, animals are lifted up, and their wonderful but absolutely limited behaviour is humanised: "tool making" for example; and on the other hand, humans are brought low. Eating a meal with friends is described as "feeding behaviour." A tiny little bit of thought reveals the absolute folly of these attempts to connect beast to man. When I eat a meal with friends, that behaviour is infinitely more complex and full of significance than the 'feeding behaviour' of a brute beast that sees a banana and gobbles it up. In my case, where I eat, the shopping and planning beforehand, the cooking, the preparation, the laying of the table, the invitation, the cultural manners at the table, even the lighting, the background music, the conversation, etc. ad infinitium are not in any way like the "feeding behaviour" of a brute ignorant beast! Describing it as such is not just an insult to humans it's an insult to my intelligence.

The point is many westerners believe this hokey pokey - that we are the same as beasts! But it's superstition on par with the fairies who come out at night! (National Geographic is full of the stuff.)

"Your behaviour is shaped by evolution"
Apparently, girls like pink because when we were hunter-gatherers they had to know when fruit was ripe! And boys like blue because they had to know what colour of sky revealed a good day for hunting! Only problem with this view is that in Victorian times, situation was reversed. Boys liked pink (a toned-down version of brave red) and girls liked blue (for some reason the colour associated with Mary). The point is that these things are culturally determined and nothing to do with evolutionary behaviour.

"You are your brain"
You must read the book, but Tallis shows the nonsense of thinking that the real conscious 'me' is nothing more than the product of firing neurons. The identity between electrical activity and our consciousness is facile and foolish.

These and many other superstitions are revealed in this rip-roaring read. Though it's tough going at times - and for that reason may not have the impact it deserves.

Chesterton's word
The west thinks it lives in a world full of fact and solid reasoning, but in point of fact it inhabits a world of lies, myths and superstitions, barely indistinguishable from the pagans of the past.

This of course should not surprise us, and it should move us to the tragedy and lostness of life without God. When people do not believe in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything.

God's last word
"Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools..."

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