Weather or not.

English: Cliffs of Moher - Inclement weather a...
English: Cliffs of Moher – Inclement weather again! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(One day late again – this is becoming annoying!)

The human race probably evolved language for the single purpose of being able to discuss the weather. It’s one of the first things that people learn about when learning a foreign language. Obviously, when language had been evolved, the human race found other uses for the facility.

Weather would have been very important for early man, as it would be next to impossible to hunt animals in a downpour as rain washes out tracks and scents and makes the task of getting from point A to point B difficult in itself. Heavy rain cuts off hunters from possible hunting grounds.

English: Forest track in spruce plantation I s...
English: Forest track in spruce plantation I suspect this would look bleak regardless of the weather, but mist and heavy rain certainly doesn’t help. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Visibility is also reduced by rain making location and tracking of prey difficult. Also, prey hunkers down in inclement weather, hiding away in inaccessible dens, or perching in inaccessible trees.

When early man developed techniques of agriculture, he would have been aware that his crops were dependant on the weather. Too much rain might cause the crops to rot in the ground or not develop properly, while too little rain (and more sun) would dry out and kill the crops and prevent them from fruiting.

English: This is a Tsuga canadensis in zone 6 ...
English: This is a Tsuga canadensis in zone 6 that may be suffering from early drought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The early farmer would have had to consider carefully where to plant his crops. It would not be a good idea to plant crops in area prone to flooding (unless the plant, like rice needs flooding, during its development). It would also not be a good idea to plant the crops too far from water, so that watering them would not be too onerous.

Being able to predict the weather would enable the early farmer to take actions to look after his crops. The ancient Egyptians, one of the first societies of whose agriculture we have some knowledge, lived in the Nile basin and took advantage of the annual floods, and developed a complex system of irrigation. This led the Egyptians to develop mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences in order to predict when the floods were likely to happen.

Arguably the need to predict the weather had a lot to do with the fact that the Egyptians developed civilisation in the first place. Arguably the rise of civilisation goes hand in hand with such developments of science and technology.

Predicting the Nile floods is prediction of the weather on a long time scale, and it is likely that the floods could be a little earlier or a little later than predictions. Such large scale weather patterns are both easier and harder to predict than smaller scale weather patterns, because the floods would come sooner or later in most years, but the extent of the floods would likely vary from year to year.

Embed from Getty Images

Since the exact timing of the floods and the extent of the flooding was not predictable, it was almost inevitable that the ancient Egyptians looked for supernatural guidance, and religion became associated with agriculture, and this appears to be a general rule. In a culture, supernatural beings, gods, are associated with agriculture, often a pantheon of them.

As part of the tasks associated with agriculture, the gods were considered to be responsible for the weather both short and long term. Interestingly while the gods were supposed to be responsible for the weather, this did not stop enquiring minds looking for the mechanisms of the weather, how the gods worked, so to speak.

Embed from Getty Images

We know a great deal more about the weather and how it happens, now. Science has moved on a great deal and we have discovered more and more about how the gods create and manage the weather, to the extent that we have taken the task away from them and given it to the scientists. I’m not debating religion per se, but some people think that we have taken everything away from the gods, removing their very necessity of being.

If forced into a corner and asked for my opinion, I’d probably agree, but there is something comforting to many people in the concept of gods or a God, and billions of people express a belief in a deity or deities, or some other supernatural influence. This may be something that we will leave behind as the human race matures, we can’t tell. It may be that science, with its laws, theories and predictions is just the latest in a succession of descriptions of the world, and may itself be ultimately seen as a simple rationalisation of what we see around us.

English: "The ancient Egyptians were accu...
English: “The ancient Egyptians were accustomed to appease the god of the Nile and induce him to bestow a bountiful inundation by throwing as a sacrifice into its sacred water a beautiful virgin.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It appears that the weather is getting wilder. Scorching temperatures are measured in some places, while other places are in the grip of freezing temperatures. Storms are continually being labelled the biggest in so many years. Flood protection schemes are being overwhelmed. Crippling droughts have hit many countries and ice is reportedly retreating in the Arctic and Antarctic.

This is, for good reasons, labelled global warming and the temperatures do seem to be rising all over the globe. I’m aware that controversy surrounds the whole topic, with allegations of bad science, conspiracy, and manipulation of data on both sides of the “debate”.

Temperature predictions from some climate mode...
Temperature predictions from some climate models assuming the SRES A2 emissions scenario. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The trouble with the global warming discussion is around the time scales involved and the rates of temperature rise. The period of time when we have reliable temperature measurements doesn’t go back very far, and the temperature rise is small and difficult to measure.

Those opposed to the idea of global warming point out that while measured temperatures may have risen slightly, if there is any rise it could be explained by natural changes unrelated to human activities, such as variations in the output of the sun, and that in any case, the data is insufficient to show any upward trend at all.

Embed from Getty Images

Those in favour of the idea, counter that with the claim that the temperature rise is real and that the fact that it has risen in such a short time is a concern, and that action is essential.

It may never be formally decided. As we get better at predicting the weather it may turn out that the models which fit the data may solve the problem, and that one or the other side in the debate will fade away. As in the debate on evolution, the opposition to which gradually faded in favour of Darwin’s theories as time passed, I believe the same is likely to happen in the global warming debate.

English: Human evolution scheme
English: Human evolution scheme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the little gods’ sake…

(Spoiler alert: This post contains commentary on “Small gods” by Terry Pratchett and as such gives away vital plot details.)

Cover of "Small Gods (Discworld)"
Cover of Small Gods (Discworld)

I often use the phrase “For the little gods’ sake…” as an expression of frustration. I got the expression from the Diskworld novel “Small gods” by Terry Pratchett. The premise of the story is that everything has a god or goddess,  and there is even a Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers, Anoia. These deities are constantly jostling for prominence and for followers, because followers equate with influence and without influence a god will fade away into a sort of background of powerless whispering.

Drawer pulls
Drawer pulls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anoia is lucky in this respect as much of her influence comes from the annoyance that people feel when they open a drawer and it gets stuck. She doesn’t have to rely on believers. In the stories minor deities who do not have enough followers are served by priests of more major deities on an agency basis.

Although Anoia’s cause if peripherally helped by the events in the book, the book’s main theme is another small god, who is in desperate straits as he has only one follower and is accidentally incarnated as a tortoise. He regains his deity by persuading an eagle to drop him on the head of the villain of the story, thereby killing both himself and the baddie.

Tortoise 05
Tortoise 05 (Photo credit: Wikipedia) 

Pratchett is obviously drawing on the story of Aeschylus’ death as a result of a tortoise being dropped on his head. The interesting thing is the theology that Pratchett weaves around the incident where everything has a god or goddess and there is a hierarchy of gods who continually jostle for position.

PANTHEON (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A huge pantheon seems, well, wasteful. One single Deity seems more logical, as gods are supposed to be all-powerful, all-seeing, etc. One way out of this dilemma is to see each member of the pantheon as being mere aspects or manifestations of the one Deity. Many religions seem to make this compromise.

English: The Maya rain deity
English: The Maya rain deity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A god is supposedly a non-physical being, and supernatural. A deity is supposed to be able to subvert the laws of nature and cause unexplainable things to happen. Most if not all deities are thought of by believers as anthropomorphic manifestations – in other words, like people.

हिन्दी: Nature
हिन्दी: Nature (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, a non-physical being presumably cannot have physical attributes, like people, so it seems to me to be wrong to believe that a deity is in any way like a person. One consequence of ascribing attributes to deities is to make them fallible as people are fallible. One only has to look at descriptions of the supposed behaviours of  the Greek, Roman or Norse mythologies to see the consequences of your deities having human characteristics.

Captioned as "Balder und Nanna". The...
Captioned as “Balder und Nanna”. The god Baldr and his wife Nanna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gods are powerful beings and in most cultures power equates to ambition and ambition leads to conflict. Goddesses, if the religion has them, are generally idealisation of the status of women in the society, the mothers, the sisters, the daughters, the wives and generally the peace makers and the artists.

The head of an Egyptian goddess. The gender is...
The head of an Egyptian goddess. The gender is suggested by the lack of a beard, and the simple hairstyle points to the divine status of the subject. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The pantheon of many religions are an unruly bunch with cheating, back-stabbing, sex, killing and many other unsavoury pursuits, but these are stories made up by us humans about the deities. These behaviours are mirrors of our own best and worst characteristics, but on a heroic scale.

Obviously the stories come from the minds of the adherents to the religion, but where do they get the stories, how do these legends arise? They arise as a result of humans attributing human characteristics to their deities, and then wondering what they would do with these characteristics. The legend makers will see the goings on of the rich and famous and will see their deities behaving the same ways but writ larger than life. Others then pass these stories on as facts.

Illustration from a collection of myths.
Illustration from a collection of myths. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Deities are supernatural entities and have the ability to transcend the laws of nature. While many examples exist of unlikely, improbable and apparently impossible things happening, in the majority of cases it appears that there are physical explanations of these events. For a deity to perform a genuine miracle, then, the miracle should be without possible explanations.

English: Ruins of Santa Maria del Miracle Chur...
English: Ruins of Santa Maria del Miracle Church inside the Roman amphitheatre of Tarragona, Spain Français : Ruines de l’église Santa Maria del Miracle (Sainte Marie du Miracle) à l’intérieur de l’amphithéâtre romain de Tarragone, Espagne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Roman Catholic faith has a church body which is concerned with verification of miracles called the “Congregation for the Causes of Saints.” They take miracles very seriously. Most modern miracles it seems are cures of illnesses, and documentary evidence of the state of health of the beneficiary of a miracle, both before and after the event are required.

English: Roman Catholic church, Târgovişte, Ro...
English: Roman Catholic church, Târgovişte, Romania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am uncomfortable with the concept of miracles as it is hard to see how a non-physical cause can cause a physical event. I’m not even sure that “a non-physical cause” makes sense. All causes are physical, aren’t they? An effect without a physical cause would not then make sense.

All physical effects seem to have a physical cause, even if the statement is softened to an assertion that the state of the Universe now is caused by the state of the Universe before and the tendencies or laws of nature.

Laws (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The concept of a miracle changes this to something like “the state of the Universe now is caused by the state of the Universe before and the tendencies or laws of nature, or something else, outside of the framework of the physical Universe and the laws of nature”.

This pretty much means that anything can happen, but we don’t see this in practise. The Universe follows the laws of nature, be they classical or be they quantum physical.

Quantum-atom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If a deity cannot have physical attributes, because a deity is not a physical entity, then what attribute can a deity have? Certainly a deity would not have a gender as that is a property of physical biological entities, such a animals and plants. I’ve said above that I don’t think that there can logically be more than one deity, but singularity or plurality seem to be physical properties (but numbers may not be).

If we work back from the definition above, a deity is “something else, outside the framework if the physical Universe that allows things to happen that are not the result of the laws of nature operating on the Universe”. I think that’s a round about way of saying that we don’t know what a deity would be like if there is such a thing.

English: Basic physical properties of soil Čes...
English: Basic physical properties of soil Česky: Základní fyzikální vlastnosti zeminy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)