Microbiologychick sent me a link to an article written by a student at ETSU. I submitted the following response, but I have no idea if or when it’ll be published – so my friend suggested I post this here. Run over and read the article…my response will wait.
I would definitely agree that there’s a similarity between a tie-dyed T-shirt and some of the common conceptions of gods. The human mind is a pattern-seeking machine that attempts to identify, catalog and gain an understanding of the world around us. This is a critical skill, to be sure, but we’re also prone to imbuing patterns with meaning when there’s no good reason to do so. Our penchant for seeing face-like images in patterns (pareidolia) is a prime example and, in a slightly more metaphoric sense, so is your tie-dye analogy.
You began by pointing out that, in your eyes, a tie-dye shirt is more than just a pattern and a shirt. That’s a fair (and telling) observation. You’re actively looking for something more and if you can manage to create a connection, no matter how tenuous, that’s satisfying.
In reality, the pattern of a tie-dye shirt is entirely the result of the purely natural process that led to it’s existence. There was, most likely, no grand design that led to the resulting pattern. (NOTE: I’m referring to the standard method in relation to the resulting pattern…there are methods for making specific patterns.) The method was very likely the result of experimentation which weeded out the methods that didn’t produce such interesting and aesthetically pleasing results. It’s still a beautiful and interesting pattern, but there is no need to “open your heart” to see it for more than it is.
What’s wrong with just enjoying the beautiful pattern, taking pleasure in the creativity of the method and appreciating the natural laws that dictate the final pattern while allowing for great diversity?
A flower is a beautiful and glorious part of nature that can be celebrated and appreciated for exactly what it is – the result of a lengthy process of change filtered by natural selection that results in the current, beautiful blending of form and function. Why diminish that appreciation by claiming that the flower is the special creation of some supreme being? If there was some supreme being, couldn’t he have created something more glorious than we could comprehend? Wouldn’t a flower be a trivial bit of work?
Some might ask, “What’s the harm in seeing meaning that may not exist?” – and that’s a great question.
I’m a fan of art, poetry and beauty. I’m a fan of trying to understand the world as clearly as possible. I’m a fan of scratching below the surface…but I’m also a fan of reality. I actually care whether or not my beliefs are true – and not just whether or not they feel good. I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible and I’m baffled as to why everyone else doesn’t.
So, where’s the harm in Whitney’s particular style of pattern seeking? She seems happy, she has a positive outlook, she clearly enjoys expressing her views in the hope of helping others…what’s wrong with that?
There may not be anything significantly wrong with it. However, when I read her article I was able to appreciate the beauty of a human mind for exactly what it is. I’m able to appreciate the strengths, weaknesses, emotion, curiosity and wonder – and I’m able to attribute both praise and criticism directly to that individual without diverting any of that credit to a deity.
Whitney, though, feels that she couldn’t be anything without her god…and this means that she can neither take credit for her accomplishments nor own up to her failings. It’s a stagnating position that, in extreme cases, causes people to abandon their humanity.
Most people manage to enjoy mentally healthy, happy, reasonably well-adjusted lives, regardless of their religious/supernatural/superstitious views. I’d never argue that these views are, in all cases, to all people, poisonous views that cripple an individual. I do, though, think they very often can be and that in nearly every case they negatively and unnecessarily limit the mind to some degree. How could they not?
See the world for what it is, there’s enough beauty, passion, joy, intrigue, mystery and wonder without tilting at windmills.