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As a half-involved, half-detached observer I have been watching the continuous rise of religious feeling in Russia over the past two decades.

I have reason to be half-involved – my own cousin has gone deeply religious. So much that she, after having earned a degree in chemistry and biology, has now done a batchelors degree in theology swiftly followed by a masters degree in the same (the atheist in me would much prefer to call these degrees the “so-called” degrees). And over the last years, I have been witnessing her deepening mistrust towards all things associated with, in her eyes, a lack of christian and godly morality. It’s put quite a strain on our relationship, and of course some areas of conversation have become a zone where both of us feel like we tread on eggshells. But this subject continues to fascinate me. Especially since her faith is a heady mix with a parallel belief in astrology, which surely is a “pagan” area – and in any case, not a science after all?

The search for god in Russia is hardly surprising – in its days, communism acted as a form of belief system, faithfully adopted by some and forced onto many other unwilling ones. The collapse of communism, the appallingly shameful and horrible information about the bloody wrongdoings of the past leaders that was finally disclosed in the wake of that collapse, and the extreme economic hardships of the nineties left a vast emptiness in the lives of many and caused them to look for alternatives to run to. Anything went in those days – all things occult flourished, astrology enjoyed (and continues to enjoy) a huge following, whole families crowded before TV screens watching some charlatans waving their hands about on prime time telly promising to “charge up”  water bottles dutifully held by viewers – waiting for all their illnesses being cured overnight.

Then, by the mid-nineties, and after decades of communist suppression, religious community leaders came out of the shadows and all churches started enjoying a revival. And it feels like it’s really taking hold of Russians by now. How much of it is a fashion thing and how much of it a true faith? It is probably a mixture – and this raises some interesting questions. Those people who only two decades ago professed to be atheists could not have been so, and certainly fear of being in trouble for being religious had a big part to play. But are they truly religious now? What makes them so sure of their faith? What makes a person look for god? How many of these people truly think and examine their position, and how many are ready to run for any sort of “shelter” as soon as things are tough?

I am also fascinated by some faith-related problems that my cousin seems to be not seeing at all. For instance, I asked her about the position of orthodox christians on catholics and protestants. Are the latter two supposed to be “deviant faiths” in the eyes of her church? Are they wrong in how they worship and will they go to hell for that? – Don’t laugh, as this is what catholics have surely been taught in the past about protestants, I have heard many references to that. Anyway, my cousin opined that the orthodox church has no agreed position on this. No agreed position!! And no view! How can a church not have a view on this major split between its key branches – apart from calling it “wrong”?

Certainly the current intention of educating younger people in the christian faith is to go out and seek like-minded faithful ones. These groups go on pilgrimages all over Russia, seeking out other people belonging to their sect and establishing contact (my cousin does not belong to mainstream russian orthodox church – they actually disapprove of one another and the followers are not welcome in each other’s places of worship). And perhaps that’s a good thing – it’s their own business how they spend their own free time provided this keeps them out of trouble? But of course they also want to convert young minds to their belief system. The view is that the current levels of morality have sunk so low – the lowest ever in the history of humankind – that there is nowhere left to go but to god. It’s interesting that most generations (since the Romans, I believe) also think that the next generation will bring about the end of the human race due to their total moral decline – so far we are still standing.

I want to finish this essay by briefly turning to the question of “why people might turn to god”. It is really difficult to comprehend why people believe – there are no facts to base one’s faith on, is one problem of many that atheists would point out. But this summer I came across a fanstastic science-fiction novel called “The Roadside Picnic” writted by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky in 1971. I was re-reading it again, and one passage struck me as so very relevant to the question that has been puzzling me for so long. Here it is:

“…Man, as opposed to animals, is a creature with an undefinable need for knowledge. But the whole problem with that is that the average man … very easily manages to overcome this need for knowledge. I don’t believe that need even exists. There is a need to understand, and you don’t need knowledge for that. The hypothesis of God, for instance, gives an incomparably absolute opportunity to understand everything and know absolutely nothing. Give man an extremely simplified system of the world and explain every phenomenon away on the basis of that system. An approach like that doesn’t require any knowledge. Just a few memorized formulas pins so-called intuition and so-called common sense.”


Copyright 2009 by CuriouslyInspired


Yesterday was marked by a number of events that all prompted me to think of science, religion, superstition and atheism.

On the one hand, there was an interiew with David Attenbourough on Breakfast where he was talking about his forthcoming programme on Darwin and Evolution. He made an interesting point which I never really thought about before. 

Every religion has a creation myth – whether this is Australian aborigines, an African tribe, Hindu or Hebrews (with Christianity borrowing on the Hebrew myth of Adam and Eve). However prior to Darwin, there was no natural explanation to nature’s unique richness and diversity on our planet, so there was no alternative, non-supernatural view to uphold. In the grand scheme of mankind’s development, it’s a fairly new theory, and as many things new of course it is going to be opposed by some (or many) religious people, as it threatens the very essence of their perception. Read the rest of this entry »

The rediscovery of the original apparatus and materials from 1950ies experiments to create amino acids – the building blocks of life – reignited the interest in this debate.

Original 1950ies experiments: Stanley Miller originally performed these experiments and managed to create 5 amino acids, which the theory suggests would have formed a “primordial soup” which would have been the basis for proteins and subsequent life creation on the planet. A strand of his work focussed on creating amino acids involving steam. However in the 1950ies it was deemed that the Earth’s early atmosphere was not like that, so the experiment suffered from subsequent obscurity; the kit with his full notes was lost.

Update and enrich the findings: Now that the old experimental kit and detailed notes have been located by Miller’s former student, now Professor Jeffrey Bada, the latter managed to move forwards from the 1950ies experimental results and create 22 amino acids. He argues that ancient volcanoes, similar to existing volcanoes, may well have had the atmospheric conditions that Miller used in his earlier tests. Thus, young planet’s volcanoes and thunderstorms accompanying their many eruptions could have indeed created a “little, local prebiotic factory” of amino acids, in itself was a giant step towards creating life forms of Earth.

Read the full story from the BBC here.

Divine intervention or volcanic sparks? What is particularly fascinating about this debate is that it brings back and updates the discussion about the origins of life on Earth. The scientific explanation is now supported with some fresh experimental evidence on the possibility of creating life without divine intervention – but just involving natural processes on the planet.

To date, this issue has beeb one of the biggest debate points between atheism and religion, alongside the origins of the Universe (Big Bang v God).

What would religious people’s response be on this matter of this experiment, I wonder?

Tomorrow a monumental experiment in physics will start in Switzerland. The new particle accelerator, popularly but misleadingly nicknamed “the Big Bang machine”, will generate energies previously unseen by humans on Earth, in the ongoing quest of the physicists to reproduce conditions at the very start of the Universe. They hope to glean new information about the laws of physics and possibly discover the theoretically predicted elementary particles never before recorded.

Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, cost over 8 million euro to build. One particle which might get produced as the result of this experiment is the Higgs boson, which as physicists theoreticise might help explain how all existing objects in the Universe acquire mass. It’s been the sticking point of theoretical physics for a long while.

Why is this important? The experiment might help unify the two conficting theories of the 20th century: Einstein’s General Relativity theory (which explans the Universe at a macro level), and Quantum mechanics (which deals with matter at extreme micro levels). These theories are not compatible, but are both needed for explanations of certain phenomena – e.g. when considering physics of black holes. Previous attempts to combine the equations of both theories have resulted in all matters having zero mass which is clearly wrong.

Why bother spending this much money? Deepening our understanding of the fundamendal laws of nature develops our science and technology in unimaginably rich and diverse ways. For instance this could help in the long term quest to find new sources of energy.

Physics versus religion. How did the Universe come about? As physicists probe ever closer to the time of “the Big Bang”, they hope to eventually answer this big question. Whilst this or other experiments will not likely convince religious people to abandon their faith in the Divine origin, it is bound to generate some more lively debate. Already we have seen clashes of scientists with creationists over the past few years linked to the increase in the popularity of creationism in recent years and their refusal to accept facts about the evolution (granted, this is a different area to particle physics). This debate is bound to continue for some time but I for one will want to see science prevail.

One of the possible reasons for science “losing ground” is that it has become quite complex and out of reach of understanding of a person out on the street. But it is not all smoke and mirrors. It might need to be taught better at schools or be explained in more practical terms.

Why I find this inspiring: Immense respect for the intellectual prowess of scientists, sheer advances in recent technology making such an experimental project possible, and the possibility of breaking down existing barriers to understanding of science by achieving breakthroughs that capture the world’s imagination.


June 2017
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