Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Sirius Mystery and Intelligent Design

I think I would argue that those who write the mythological narratives of Evolution often shift around in what they will accept as knowledge. Carl Sagan, cited in the book the Sirius Mystery by Robert Temple says this about history, interpretation and knowledge with respect to extraterrestrial intelligence, pages 59-60:

[An early alien] contact story must be encumbered with some degree of fanciful embellishment, due simply to the views prevailing at the time of the contact. The extent to which subsequent variation and embellishment alters the basic fabric of the account varies with time and circumstances. [An example] relevant to the topic at hand is the native account of the first contact with the Tlingit people of the northeast coast of North America with European civilization — an expedition led by the French navigator, La Perouse, in 1786. The Tlingit kept no written records; one century after the contact, the verbal narrative of the encounter was related to the American anthropologist G. T. Emmons by a principal Tlingit chief. The story was overlaid with the mythological framework in which the French sailing vessels were initially interpreted. But what is very striking is that the true nature of the encounter had been faithfully preserved. [...]The oral rendition contained sufficient information for later reconstruction of the true nature of the encounter, although many of the incidents were disguised in a mythological framework — for example, the ships were described as immense black birds with white wings.

As another example, the people of sub-Saharan Africa, who had no written language until the colonial period, preserved their history primarily through folklore. Such legends and myths, handed down by illiterate people from generation to generation, are in general of great historical value. (Emphasis added)
This shifting with respect to what counts as evidence for intelligent causation has been used to tie those who believe in rejecting all mythological or religious texts in knots before, note what his epistemic standard is for "the contact" by E.T. here where "legends and myths...are in general of great historical value." They are? What is his attitude towards the Bible or "religion" and tradition that claims to be based on history? It seems that suddenly it turns to superstition which cannot have any epistemic standing nor can science be allowed to touch upon it. If it is allowed to touch, then it can only refute "religion" to bring a new enlightenment. Yet any support it lends must be separated for the sake of a separation of religion/Church and science/State. Yet it is not as if issues of mythology and religion are all that different.

There's the Egyptian angle in the Bible, so get out the astronomy books. A mythohistorian would most likely say that the pillar of cloud by day is "the Lord" in his rocket ship and the pillar of fire is what it looked like at night.

"By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night."
Exodus 13:21

"During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion."
Exodus 14:24

Then there is Moses going up the mountain to meet the Lord to tell him to fire some more "hornets"/rockets at the Egyptians and so on and on. That's just where God had to land, see. I'm kidding, I doubt that God has an ontological status that makes technology necessary.

I think the reason that progressives try to engage in their usual epistemic shifting as far as what they will count as knowledge (e.g. one standard for extraterrestrial and another for extracosmosial) is because biblical narrative reads more like history than myth and is strong culturally. If it wasn't then they'd admit to ID, as the latest press releases from national science organizations indicate that they are more comfortable with aliens than with God. I wonder if religious aliens who believe in God might avoid the modern emotional conditioning with respect to "science and religion." Probably not, as they'd seem like angels. (That is where the term evangelical comes from, by the way.)

Another place that Sagan and others have been caught inbetween their shifts between different epistemic standards is in dealing with intelligent design. ID advocates use the example from SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence):

After years of receiving apparently meaningless, random signals, the Contact researchers discovered a pattern of beats and pauses that corresponded to the sequence of all the prime numbers between two and one-hundred and one. (Prime numbers are divisible only by themselves and by one.) That startled the astronomers, and they immediately inferred an intelligent cause. When a sequence begins with two beats and then a pause, three beats and then a pause, and continues through each prime number all the way to one-hundred and one beats, researchers must infer the presence of an extraterrestrial intelligence.

Here’s the rationale for this inference: Nothing in the laws of physics requires radio signals to take one form or another. The prime sequence is therefore contingent rather than necessary. [Meaning that a mind might have the opportunity to think through its brain to make some symbols and signs of design, much like the text you are reading now. To some minds that could not its information content, the meaning would be alien. Yet they could still detect it as designed if they were not biased against doing so by their culture.]
(The Design Inference)

The Velikosvky Affair shows that the answer that evolutionists are willing to look for has to suit all the myths of the progressive ideology of the Enlightenment as opposed to the "superstition" of the Dark Ages. But there is overlap in claims between religion and E.T.I, as any extraterrestrials that have technology advanced far enough to almost bend the laws of the Cosmos will appear magical or as "the gods" to those who are far enough behind them. If extraterrestrials are more extranatural too as a part of their being or more like "the people of light" as Jesus said then their ontological status as beings is pretty much entirely different, as they are not biological. Thus God would not need a rocket ship and Jesus did not pray in the Garden of Gethsamane, "If it be thy will, send the Mother Ship now." Yet ironically, the shepherds that saw the "heavenly hosts" were most likely written off as UFO kooks in their day. They were just shepherds, after all. Would you believe some group of hicks that just came in from their fields?

Suffice it to say that there is some overlap epistemically between all claims about the past and things that only happen once which are therefore not repeatable and testable.

(Random note, Sagan set himself up as a rather dishonest critic of the mythohistorian Velikosvky but his sentence above about the epistemic status of legends and mythology is quite different.)

I didn't actually get to The Sirius Mystery. It's an interesting anomaly and mystery, which can be added to many others. I'll get to it.

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