Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dragons, dinosaurs, science, faith and fiction

I've been meaning to post this quick piece of information for a while. Who would have thought that so much of my efforts to promote better understanding of God would involve having to teach so much about basic logic and science? I don't mind, but I mind how the schools and lack of genuine education (both secular and faith based) has let these past generations down.

Young people, I know many of you are fascinated by dragons. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I know that many of you must wonder why dragons are mentioned in many of the world's cultures, if they never existed. Then again, you must be confused why the dragon is an emblem of "good" in Chinese culture, while an emblem of "bad" in the Bible during the Apocalypse. The answer is really very simple and used to be taught in schools. I don't know what is taught in schools anymore instead of simple facts and explanations of human development.

People all around the world believed in dragons because that is what they thought the dinosaur bones that they found were the remains of: it really is as simple as that.

For tens of thousands of years humans, who are perfectly intelligent hunters, who captured and killed even large animals such as mammoths, and who had to fight off attacks in turn by large animals such as the saber toothed tiger and large bears, know very well what sized bones these large animals had when they were killed and skinned.

Thus when they found tremendously huge bones, including what look like wing bones, they had a realistic idea of what size and shape those animals must have been. Thus when they found dinosaur bones they pieced together in their mind what they must have looked like, and came up with images that are dragons. This is why dragons pop up in many cultures, especially those where many dinosaur bones were easily found since they were plentiful. And yes, is not China one of the best spots for finding dinosaur fossils? Imagine how plentiful dinosaur bones were, easily seen on the ground, back before humans just plowed them under, or ignored them.

Far from being ignorant, prehistoric and early humans "lived off the land" and thus had a really good idea of what animals lived around them, how they were constructed (as they butchered a carcass for food and clothing). So dragons were not just the imaginings of dumb primitive people. Nor were they some *insert here appropriate spacey music* some alien or magical beings. Duh! Every generation of ancient people found, in the course of their settlements, dinosaur bones, and marveled at their size and bizarre shapes. Thus they imagined mythical beasts, such as dragons.

This used to be taught in science class. *Sigh*

So the point is to understand that the simple, logical and sane answer is almost always the correct one, especially in an open and well ordered physical universe where it is so easy to observe how life "works" and how humans piece together the facts based on their experiences.

Dragons, therefore, are in a way an amalgamation of whatever the culture observed about dinosaur bones and passed on to their descendants, plus working the dragons into both myths and cultural symbolism. The Israelites, having a personal relationship with God, did not go for excessive animal symbolism, since they did not need to "imagine" the mystical: they were in tough with it. Therefore the dragon (remember, seen by them too only by the "remains" of demised ones, which were dinosaurs) came to be understood as symbolizing the defeated forces of Satan. When God spoke in symbolic terms to his prophets and people, he used the common animals of the time so they could understand the parables: lions, eagles, sheep, goats.

However, compare this to the Chinese. They had a keen interest in ancestors, and venerate the spirits of their ancestors. Thus when they found tremendous numbers of "dragon" remains (dinosaur bones), they worked the idea that these were very ancient and great flying animals into their own lineage. They logically concluded that the emperors and other royalty were descended, at least spiritually, from "dragons." This is also, of course, the origin for the belief in the phoenix. The Chinese observed various types of "dragon" or "phoenix" "remains" (different types of dinosaurs) and quite logically developed theories about what they were like and how they lived.

For example, they might have thought that dinosaur bones found near volcanoes indicated that they were born in flames (the phoenix), while other dinosaur bones that appeared to have wing structures were, of course, the remains of dragons.

It is important to remember that people who live off the land are very intelligent, observant, knowledgeable, and diligent about passing on their discoveries to the next generation. Humans all around the world, including prehistoric humans, do the best they can within a sane and factual world, which is what they lived in.

It is only later humans who delude themselves and cannot understand the difference between thought based on reality and totally crazy fantasies. This is because people are so separate now from reality that they think that "anything can happen" and "anything could have happened." Um, no, not exactly. There have been two billion years of life on this planet (starting with microbes) that have not been "anything goes" and "anything could have happened," but follow real, genuine, factual, not imaginary, prosaic, plodding life rules that really never change. For two billion years animals need: respiration (air exchange), fluids, food, shelter. I mean, duh. They all then reproduce and expire with their species related life spans. Some rot and some leave remains. They can be held, examined and measured, but only in recent years have people had the chemistry and tools to carbon date and otherwise determine history. Ancient people had to use their great powers of observation, their familiarity with predator and prey, and their ability to imagine what an entire animal might have looked like and how it lived, and what it's "purpose" might have been.

Israelites handled "purpose" quite well: all animals are created by God, but some are "clean" for humans and some are "unclean." That is why God's dialogue with humans focuses on the clean animals and how they symbolize, through their traits, parables that humans can understand, such as the loyal sheep contrasted to the stubborn goat.

If the Israelites were Amazonians, for example, perhaps goats and their stubbornness would not have been a useful analogy and God would have instead have compared unbelievers to monkeys, or crocodiles, (but of course they would be unclean, so perhaps God could have used clean but stubborn native animals for the comparison). You get my point, though.

Even scripture (by this I mean monotheistic Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam) is hugely practical and reality based. God does not invent mythical animals to explain things to humans; God uses what humans already observe through facts and what they believe based on those facts (such as dragons). Scripture was given to humans who were eminently practical: farmers, hunters and fishermen. Scripture was not given to humans who sit around the campfire making up stuff to tell spooky stories to each other. So people must stop thinking that scripture is "made up" if it seems to have "elements of mythology." Um, no, it is not "mythology." It is based on the real world as humans during that time knew it to be true and deduced as best as they could what they did not know.

For example, scripture recorders had no idea what stars really were (glowing balls of high temperature and pressure gas like the sun), yet stars are mentioned in the Bible in realistic, not mythological, ways and the context is always quite correct. Nothing in scripture is "mythological" or use of "made up" symbolism. Angels are real beings, not symbolic. Goats are real beings, used for milk, food, and fiber, and having certain personality traits they make a useful analogy and parable in scripture, but that is based on their factual and real existence, not modifying their "purpose" or "meaning" on earth.

So it is "OK" to "like dragons." I like them too. But I understand where they "come from," which is ancient humans' attempts to visualize the animals that "left behind" what we know to be dinosaur and other prehistoric animal bones. It's "OK" and even sane and appropriate to enjoy the Chinese symbolism of the dragon, and also to understand to what use the image of the dragon is used in the Bible. There is no conflict, no problem, no "hidden meaning," no "secret alien history," and no "loyalty test" involved in appreciating the intersection of facts and cultural or faith based perspectives that utilize those facts.