What if ancestors had a better grasp of the natural world?

Science, not faith, determines how the real world operates” by Richard Juday is a letter to the editor that ran only in the print version of the Times-Call and is reproduced at FRL with Mr. Juday’s permission. – FRL

Letter to the editor of the Times Call from Peter Gifford reproduced by permission of the author.

Hunter gatherers

Would society be different if they understood the physical world more?

Richard Juday’s piece and its responses bring to mind a question I’ve asked myself: If I alone could go back in time — only once — and do anything I wanted, what would I do?

I could put myself just outside the door of Jesus’ tomb when the stone was moved, clarify the Second Amendment, kill Hitler, establish Israel in a way that didn’t enrage Muslims, prevent JFK’s assassination or stop the 9/11 attacks.

But I always return to this: I would somehow convince prehistoric humankind that the sun, moon, stars, weather, seasons, beasts, trees, mountains, rivers, oceans, even earthquakes and volcanos, are all natural phenomena and not caused by spirits.

Would we still have religion today? Almost certainly, in some form. It seems like the human genome includes an indelible sequence for self doubt. Many of us would still be unable to cope, just among each other, with random misfortune and disaster, evil in others, our own personal failings, the world’s ills, being the highest known form of life or the age-old question “why am I here?” They’d need something more.

Would we still have nations and wars? Probably, but perhaps only for land, water and riches, without crusades, inquisitions, genocide or jihad. Would we still have rich and poor, vice and virtue, crime and punishment? Undoubtedly, but perhaps without so much arrogance, prejudice and intolerance.

Would we still have wondrous art, music, science and charity? Absolutely. Innate human talent, genius and altruism will always insist on expressing itself, like a weed breaking through concrete, religion notwithstanding.

But if our prehistoric ancestors had devised an explanation for their world that relied on even an inkling of actual nature, rather than the metaphysical, we’d all be a whole lot better off today.

Peter Gifford

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