A Struggle As Old As Time.

By: Derek Dyson

Earth and the natural order of the world around us has been a constant source of wonderment and awe throughout human existence.  From our earliest ancestors 5 million years ago to the rise of our species some 200,000 years ago, the extraordinary mental capacity of early hominids such as Australopithecus and even more so with our species homo-sapiens-sapiens has given us, above all other inhabitants of Earth,  the capability to explain the world around us. Throughout history this has been done in one of two ways. Either through mythology and other unfounded belief or through deductive reasoning and the scientific method, we have attempted to make sense of our existence and the inner workings of this universe.  While the mythological approach was sufficient to our ancient ancestors, humanity has developed the skills, through science and technology, to move beyond unfounded belief and into a reason driven culture.

            As little as 100,000 years ago, the skeletal system of our direct ancestors looked identical to our own.  Although identical in appearance, their lives would have been dramatically different.  With no real means of communication, the mental capacity of the human brain was somewhat bleak.  After thousands of years of social cohesion, we finally began to develop traits that would be similar to those held by you and I.  Around 50,000 years ago our species began to develop complex communication skills which lead to the development of a more complex social order.  Around this same time modern humans began to migrate out of North Eastern Africa and started to inhabit other continents.  Their adaptation to natural surroundings such as climate and food resources lead to the evolution of the different races found on earth today.

            It wasn’t until some 15,000 years ago that our ancestors emerged from the last ice age, moving beyond the hunter gatherer existence that we had known for almost 200,000 years and into the Neolithic Period around 8,000 years ago. This is when we started to use pottery and complex tools, allowing us to develop permanent settlements where we could grow and irrigate crops as well as domesticate animals. This period lays claim to the first cave writings and the beginning of the religious myths of ancient Egypt and early Greek (Minoan) Mythology. These myths were created in an attempt to explain the aspects of this world that were not understood by our early ancestors. 

            Mythology is an attempt to explain the world around us, so where best to start, but in the beginning.  In the Greek creation myth, Pandora (the first female created by the gods) is given a jar or a box and is told never to open it.  Disobeying the gods, Pandora opens the box and releases all evils of mankind onto the earth, leaving only hope behind, which is meant to symbolize man’s free will.  This myth attempted to explain how we got here as well as given reason to why the gods would allow bad things to happen to their most prized creation.  In the eyes of our ancestors, all human life had sprung from the womb of the female. If the first female created had disobeyed the gods, it could be easily understood why disasters such as famine, drought, death and war would be allowed by the very gods who were supposed to look after us. Essentially, we had brought it upon ourselves.

            Another Greek myth was that of Hades, also known as Hel. Hades was the god of the underworld who split his power with Zeus (the king of the gods) and Poseidon (the god of the Sea), dividing their power by 3rds, which was often used to symbolize the natural balance of the world. Being the god of the underworld, Hades was a greedy and vindictive god who would not allow any of his subjects to leave the gates of his domain, which were guarded by a three headed beast.  Persephone, the beautiful daughter of Zeus, decides to seduce Hades to spite her father, eventually leaving earth to stay with him in the underworld. Because Persephone is not allowed to leave the underworld, her mother Demeter (the goddess of the Harvest) becomes upset and stops allowing crops to grow on earth. To solve this problem, Zeus pleads with Hades to make a compromise on behalf of humanity.  Hades decides that Persephone can visit Earth only if she promises to return to the underworld for three months of every year.  This myth was devised to explain why crops would not grow during the winter, a problem that would have surely plagued an agrarian society.

            It is easy to look at these Greek myths and laugh at their ignorance, but what of current mythological ignorance?  Today we understand the concepts of photosynthesis and how the earth’s climate can interfere with the growth of vegetation, but for the ancient Greeks, it took the elaborate story of Persephone. Today we can recognize the seasons as the cyclical movement of our earth around the sun, but as little as 400 years ago the Catholic Church threatened the lives of Copernicus and Galileo for saying so.  We understand the orbits of subatomic particles as well as the orbits of planets far beyond our Solar system.  We understand how much of this world works and we do so only by the means of scientific inquiry and the dismissal of mythological dogma. 

            Today the evolution of man is no longer based on a creation myth riddled in inconsistency. We can easily realize that the story of Pandora, or her much later Jewish equivalent Eve, is not a historical account of the creation of man, but a mythological attempt to explain our existence by an intellectually inferior people of our ancient past.  Through the modern tools of science such as the mapping of the Human Genome, Radio-carbon dating of archeological evidence, Archeological dating through sediment stratification and the development of biological sciences, we can fully understand beginnings of our species without referring to the gods and goddesses for help.

            The Age of the Renaissance pulled humanity out of the Dark Ages by way of free thinkers such as Copernicus, Galileo and Isaac Newton, all of whom were in danger of persecution by the Catholic church  because they attempted to explain the world around them by way of reason instead of church doctrine and ancient mythology.  What if these men were silenced completely by the church? Would we still find ourselves in the Dark Ages?   Today we see the same type of persecution against the scientific community, especially in the fields of biology, where 99.9% of the most educated men and women in their field know and understand the concepts of evolution and 98% of them believe that Darwinian Natural Selection is the only known mechanism that could lead to this process.  Although there is complete cohesion on this subject in the intellectual community, many people in the world today still attempt to cling to a mythological explanation, rather than the natural or scientific explanation that was developed through scientific inquiry and reason.

            As the human race advances, we will continuously explain more and more of the world around us. As this happens, where will you be? Will you be like the ancient Greeks looking towards Persephone to explain the seasons?  Will you be the Catholic Church denying that the earth revolves around the sun? Will you too cling to the ancient myths of our ancestors and teach your children (or even attempt to force the children of others) to beleive that “creationism ” or its equivalent “intelligent design” dispell the existence of Evolution?  If so, what will the future inhabitants of this earth say about your mythological beliefs?

Religious Conservatives and Sex

By: Derek Dyson

Last night in President Bush’s State of the Union Address, he laid out his plans for the upcoming year. On the President’s to-do list were two public initiatives that I wish to look into with more detail, not as separate issues but as two very distinct issues that must coincide with one another to reach a common goal. These issues are public education and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. On the outset, one could easily see the correlation between the two subjects, but what I wish to bring to your attention is the blatant misuse of funds by the federal and state governments that not only deny proper education on the subject domestically, but also where it is needed most, on the continent of Africa. I will show how the stigma held by religious conservatives on subjects such as sexual intercourse coupled with the archaic views on contraception held by the Catholic Church have lead our government, through lobby groups and special interests, to all but ignore the problems of sexually transmitted disease as well as teen pregnancy. Knowing that this subject is very complex, I will attempt to keep this essay short enough to keep your attention while hopefully broadening your prospective on the subject.

Today in America at least 30% of our public schools rely on abstinence only approaches to sexual education, while close to 40% rely on an “abstinence plus” approach. Although abstinence is the only sure fire measure against sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy, it is by no means a viable option to sexual education. Our children need an unbiased approach to sexual intercourse that is free from the religious morality imposed by the Christian community. It may be alarming to some, but of our 50 states, all requiring sexual education in our publicly funded schools, 12 of these states mandate abstinence only approaches, denying funding for anything but. An abstinence only approach leaves no room for education on condom use or other safe alternatives to sexual intercourse. This approach is only backed by 15% of the American population based on a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, yet the Evangelical hold on our public policy has once again extended far beyond their populative constituency.

The stance held by religious conservatives on sexual education is irresponsible to say the least. This is very apparent in the small community of Owasso Oklahoma where I grew up. It is widely known that the local Baptist Church has a major influence on local initiatives, which along with an already highly conservative population, has all but ignored a fairly obvious teen pregnancy crisis. Although I was unable to obtain any official statistics on the subject, due mostly to the local high schools unwillingness to cooperate with me on the subject, the problem is well known throughout the community. I use this example only to illustrate this problem at a local level so I can then show its significance at the International level.

In 2004 the Bush administration appropriated close to 4 billion dollars towards the AIDS epidemic in Africa and then gave more than 200 million dollars of that funding to a small number of Catholic Charities to spend on humanitarian relief. This is ironic considering that the Catholic Church condemns the use of condoms, which are considered the most realistic and effective barrier for combating the spread of HIV by the International AIDS Alliance, and instead teaches (or preaches) their abstinence only demagogue under a guise of humanitarian relief. Do we as Americans believe that the Catholic Church should use our tax dollars to explain to the tribal people of Africa, who have been genetically programmed for the last 200,000 years to preserve their species and tribal heritage through reproduction, that they should no longer have sex because god doesn’t want them to? It’s fairly obvious that if the Bush administration were even remotely concerned with saving the lives of the millions of AIDS stricken natives of Africa, they wouldn’t waste the American tax payer’s money by sending to Africa a religious organization that refuses to acknowledge the use of contraception, then replacing it with the mid-evil and intolerant religious views of Thomas Aquinas, expounding that sexual conduct is immoral and full abstinence is gods true virtue. Teaching abstinence to tribal African cultures is like explaining to a two year old that chocolate is going to make him fat. He will hear you and probably understand you, but he won’t really care. Why is this? It’s because being fat isn’t a social concern of a two year old, just like adhering to the religious views of some fundamentalist Christian from America isn’t going to be a social concern of a twenty year old Kenyan man who will rely on his offspring to harvest next seasons coffee crop.  This is not rocket science, it is common sense, a virtue that seems to have left the minds of those who expound these beliefs.

Many on the religious right condemn Islam for its intollerance and injustice towards humanity, but religious fanaticism, textual literalism and intolerance are not issues that stop with the Muslim community. The Christian religious conservatives of this nation are hindering our personal freedoms, stifling important advancements in scientific and medical research, and imposing their belief system on the whole of the American public in ways that cannot be overlooked. If we as Americans continue to ignore this problem, controversies such as stem cell research, abortion or sexual education will no longer be of our concern.  This will instead be replaced with the concern of nuclear holocaust and a global war of religions.