Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world

SCIENCE, SORCERY AND RELIGION

I am interested in “the unknown” and like to speculate on the  ways that knowledge is handled by Science and Sorcery and Religion Their devotees have different views about what constitutes knowledge and where it comes from and what you should do with it. I am going to present this as a story, inventing as my characters Sidney the Scientist and Sammy the Sorcerer and Percy the Priest. They all have successors today. I am going to locate them in an age when humans are beginning to live in significant social groups and trying to figure out the world around them. They are beginning to gain knowledge.

For Sidney and Sammy and Percy – all three – knowledge arises when  Action A or Event A is perceived as causing Event B. After that, my three characters part company because they have different motivation. Sidney is interested in knowledge for its own sake. He wants to test the perceived relationship by independent examination, which means sharing  discoveries with others in a search for certainty. He wants to establish truth. He recognises that knowledge gives power, but power is not his objective. Sammy is different. For him, personal power matters a great deal. His first thought is “How can I use this knowledge to my advantage?” He does not want to share it but rather to keep it to himself and maximise the benefit of being powerful. Percy is different again. He is deeply concerned with the well-being of his social group and wants to use knowledge as a means of creating beneficial social behaviour.

So how do they proceed? Sidney the Scientist goes on and on enquiring, and leaves others to use or ignore what he has found out. Sammy the Sorcerer uses knowledge to do things that other people can’t do, thus gaining position and status and respect. He may, of course, use these attributes for the benefit of his social group because he needs people to do his bidding. There is no satisfaction in power without people who will obey him. So his use of power may be sufficiently beneficial to keep them in existence but it is a means to an end. Sammy surrounds himself with signs and symbols and mysterious rituals in order to maximise the reverence shown towards him. He never shares his expertise with the common herd. Percy the Priest wants only the good of his social group and is not interested in power for its own sake. Yet he is convinced that following certain precepts is essential for their well-being and finds that people won’t accept direction from a pleasant well-meaning fellow who has no power to coerce them. What does he do? He wonders why he should have been given this special insight and decides that he has been favoured by God. People begin to listen to him. Sadly, Percy is also human, and wants a successor, and gradually a hierarchy is built up.

Sammy and Percy are vulnerable to new knowledge unearthed by Sidney, for the practices of one and the precepts of the other originate from the world as it is seen at one particular moment – which changes. If Sidney shows that the original perception was wrong, then Sammy and Percy need to adapt. It is not too difficult for Sammy because he never explained his power in the first place and told nobody how he created his effects. He can embrace new knowledge and integrate it with his practice. Percy has more of a problem because he invoked an omniscient all-powerful God and encouraged people to regard the precepts as valid for all time. So when science proves scripture to be incorrect it is possible to conclude that “God got it wrong” or “God does not exist”. Percy went public when Sammy kept his mouth shut.

But Percy could be right.The existence or non-existence of God is unprovable. If he exists, and the marvels of the universe that seem to unfold almost daily are all his work, then he is surely capable of talking in one language to Percy in his primitive tribe and in a different language to less ignorant folk in the 21st century. Disbelief in the literal words of the old testament is quite a different matter from disbelief in the God concept. Percy’s successors should focus on the world as it is today and start their search for “What God wants now”. We don’t know how the first priests got from what they thought necessary for society to the conviction that God endorsed it. Religious folk believe the process was divine revelation. Is that process operating today? Christians can point to the summary of the law offered by Christ in Matthew 22. v. 39-40 and Mark  12.v. 31. They speak about love, a theme which has been reinforced down the ages as the best principle for humans to follow. It is often hard to know which of many possible actions is most in accord with “love thy neighbour”.  It is easy to get tied in knots with the story of The Good Samaritan because it seems to suggest that my neighbour is anybody who behaves with kindness towards me – which says nothing about all the others. But it helps to ask oneself what “love” really means and to contrast it with “selfishness”. Such questions can help Percy and his mates in their search for “What God wants”.

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