Author Topic: Footsteps of the gods get their feet swept out from under them .... by science  (Read 374 times)

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Offline kin hell

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http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/science/fairy-circles-in-africa-may-be-work-of-termites.html?_r=0
worth clicking for the images alone

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The reddish barren spots, thousands of them, are called fairy circles, the name itself an invitation to try to solve the mystery of their origins. They dot a narrow belt of desert stretching from Angola through Namibia into northern South Africa. For no obvious reason, the round patches of sandy soil interrupt the arid grassland, like a spreading blight on the land.
To the Himba people who live in the region, however, there is nothing to explain. That’s just how it is, they tell anthropologists; the circles were made by their “original ancestor, Mukuru,” or more poetically, they are “footprints of the gods.”

But "the gods" seem to be reduced to the size of ants

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New research may now have yielded a more credible explanation for the fairy circles as examples of natural ecosystem engineering by a particular species of sand termites, Psammotermes allocerus.

Those ignorant and superstitious peoples who promote ignorant superstitions as a legitimate world view cannot be blamed for their stupidity as they have no tools with which to rationally adjust their beliefs.
Those educated peoples who promote ignorant superstitions as a legitimate world view are self indulgent anti-rational sub humans who chose the act of lying to oneself in the face of contradictory evidence to avoid the loss of an arbitrary world view they have "chosen" to believe in.
"...but on a lighter note, demons were driven from a pig today in Gloucester."  Bill Bailey

all edits are for spelling or grammar unless specified otherwise

Offline kcrady

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Huh.  IMO, the "termites engaging in large-scale eco-engineering" model sounds a lot cooler and more amazing than the "footprints of a god" or "dragon with bad breath" models.

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Over the 1,200-mile length of the Namib Desert, especially in parts of Namibia, Dr. Juergens wrote, “P. allocerus turns wide desert regions of predominately ephemeral life into landscapes dominated by species-rich perennial grassland supporting uninterrupted perennial life even during dry seasons and drought years.”

Now if only we humans could learn how to make our habitations as beneficial for surrounding life...
"The question of whether atheists are, you know, right, typically gets sidestepped in favor of what is apparently the much more compelling question of whether atheists are jerks."

--Greta Christina

Offline Quesi

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Those ignorant and superstitious peoples who promote ignorant superstitions as a legitimate world view cannot be blamed for their stupidity as they have no tools with which to rationally adjust their beliefs.
Those educated peoples who promote ignorant superstitions as a legitimate world view are self indulgent anti-rational sub humans who chose the act of lying to oneself in the face of contradictory evidence to avoid the loss of an arbitrary world view they have "chosen" to believe in.

I would come at it from a different angle.  Throughout all of recorded history, on every corner of planet earth, human beings have asked the huge questions of "why" and "how" and "what" about their physical environments and about the events that impact on their lives.  This characteristic is part of the human legacy.

For ancient people, science and philosophy and religion were all interchangeable.  Why is this flood/ drought/ storm killing our crops?  How do we prevent sickness / keep our society strong?  What is on the other side of this uncrossable ocean/ desert/ mountain range? What are the stars and the moon?   

And each ancient society came up with answers.  Today, we look at most of those answers as easily disprovable superstitions.  We know about weather patterns.  We know about bacteria.  We've studied and created models for various social and governmental and economic structures, and even though there is not a global consensus on what is best, we know there are models that work somewhat, and models that fail.  We know a great deal about the geography of our planet, and we know more and more every day about the nature of the stars and the moon and the planets that populate our solar system and our galaxy. 

So we are quite a bit less ignorant than our ancestors. 

There are lots of questions we don't know the answer to.  The nature of the universe.  Does it end?  Is it infinite?  Are there multiple universes?  The experts speculate, and those of us who are not experts either fall into the camp of current experts or decide that we are just going to accept that we don't know.

But these folks in Angola have looked at these magical circles for countless generations, created their stories and explanations, and quite frankly, since this is a very localized phenomenon, no one from outside the region has ever really investigated the causes.  And the local people, plagued with wars and post-colonization issues and poverty and rampant illiteracy in the context of a developing world, have not had the resources to investigate this wonder of nature.  It has not been a priority.

So I guess I sort of agree with you.   Educated people who promote the concept that god is sending hurricanes to punish the masses for our sins are offensively ignorant.  But I don't know that I would call these folks in Angola ignorant.  They are just telling the same stories and giving the same explanations that their ancestors told countless generations ago.  And no one every bothered to provide a viable scientific explanation until recently. 

Here is an NPR piece to go with the NY Times piece. 
http://www.npr.org/2013/03/28/175369153/whats-behind-the-fairy-circles-that-dot-west-africa



Thanks for sharing this fascinating story. 

Huh.  IMO, the "termites engaging in large-scale eco-engineering" model sounds a lot cooler and more amazing than the "footprints of a god" or "dragon with bad breath" models.

Now if only we humans could learn how to make our habitations as beneficial for surrounding life...

I couldn't agree more!

Offline kcrady

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More amazing termites:





"The question of whether atheists are, you know, right, typically gets sidestepped in favor of what is apparently the much more compelling question of whether atheists are jerks."

--Greta Christina

Offline kin hell

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But these folks in Angola have looked at these magical circles for countless generations, created their stories and explanations, and quite frankly, since this is a very localized phenomenon, no one from outside the region has ever really investigated the causes.  And the local people, plagued with wars and post-colonization issues and poverty and rampant illiteracy in the context of a developing world, have not had the resources to investigate this wonder of nature.  It has not been a priority.

So I guess I sort of agree with you.   Educated people who promote the concept that god is sending hurricanes to punish the masses for our sins are offensively ignorant.  But I don't know that I would call these folks in Angola ignorant.  They are just telling the same stories and giving the same explanations that their ancestors told countless generations ago.  And no one every bothered to provide a viable scientific explanation until recently. 




I should explain that my description "ignorant and superstitious" was not a deliberate slur in any way. It was only an acknowledgement of exactly the position you've described.
If they(the locals) have neither time/culture/tools/resources to improve their scientific understanding of the phenomena they've always lived with, then I addressed only the resultant inevitable scientific ignorance regarding that phenomena, not their personal judgement or philosophy.
The "superstitious" is a catchall in the way any unverifiable belief system (guess) adopted as a "truth" is superstition.

I meant no  disparagement whatsoever, and now realise that my comments were written as a much more generalised observation applying to the whole generic theme of the creation of belief systems by guesswork rather than any societal comment/judgement aimed at this specific local crew.

These fabulous constructs (myths), when confronted by the scientific evidence that debunks them leave the "believer" with a terrible choice.
Either change the entire structure of one's world view and give up the superstitious ignorance, or dive into the great cognitive dissonance generator of wilfully denying the evidence in order to maintain the myth.

I also understand the likelihood that many/most/possibly all of those who tell the "footsteps of the gods" myth today probably don't hold to it's accuracy with real zealotry (much the same way the bible's lunatic stories are falling into disrepute), but specifically acknowledging that did not serve my intent of my OP comment.

I'll rephrase so as to remove the ambiguously generated unintended slur.

Those who don't/can't know any better cannot be blamed.
Those that do know better but continue to sell the lie are the worst of us. :)

"...but on a lighter note, demons were driven from a pig today in Gloucester."  Bill Bailey

all edits are for spelling or grammar unless specified otherwise