Lionheaded figurine from Stadel in the Hohlenstein cave in Germany

About the origins of religion

Humans are the dominant species on this planet because we collaborate flexibly in large numbers. Other social animals like monkeys and dolphins cooperate flexibly, but only in small groups. Ants and bees cooperate in large numbers, but only in fixed ways determined by their genetic code. Language makes large-scale flexible collaboration possible. Some animals use signs and calls, but we use far more words than any other species.1 We make agreements and communicate them. Flexible large-scale collaboration also requires imagination and shared beliefs. Societies founded on religion thus had a competitive advantage in the struggle to survive.

We imagine laws, money, property, corporations and states. We believe there is a law, and that is why the law works. The same is true for money and corporations. I can tell a dog about the benefits of using euros to pay a corporation to produce dog food, why there are regulations to guarantee the quality of the product and governments to implement these regulations, but a dog does not care. You cannot make dogs work together in a corporation to produce dog food by paying them money. Our ability to imagine things existed before there were civilisations. Archaeologists uncovered a 32,000 years old sculpture of a lion head upon a human body. These lion-men only existed in the imagination of humans.

Gods are imagined too, just like laws, property, states, and lion-men. People who share a religion can go on a holy war together and slaughter infidels. Religions can also motivate people to do charitable work and provide for the poor. And religions promote social stability by justifying the social order and promising rewards in the afterlife for those who subject themselves to it. The alternative could be endless class struggle or civil war. Indeed, our imagination makes us do things other species are not capable of. You cannot make a dog submit itself to you by telling that obedient hounds will go to heaven and enjoy everlasting bliss after they die while unruly canines will be fried forever in a tormenting fire.

Small bands of people can cooperate because their members know each other personally and see what everyone is contributing to the common cause. In larger groups, this becomes harder, and people will cheat, rendering large-scale collaboration between strangers impossible. That is where states, money, and religion come in. They facilitate collaboration between strangers. As there is a survival-of-the-fittest-like competition between societies, those who cooperated most effectively survived and subjugated others.

Early humans were hunter-gatherers who believed that places, animals, and plants have an awareness, feelings and emotions. For instance, a deer hunter might address a herd of deer and ask one of the deer to sacrifice itself for the hunt. If the hunting succeeds, the hunter asks forgiveness of the dead animal so that its spirit will not trouble him later on. These early beliefs concerned visible objects like animals, plants, rivers and rocks. Early humans felt that they were more or less on an equal footing with the plants and animals surrounding them.1 Over time humans began to imagine fairies and spirits. A crucial step in the development of religion was ancestor veneration.

The first humans lived in small bands based on family ties. Their ancestors bound them together. And so, people may have started to venerate the dead. It was a small step to imagine that the spirits of the dead are still with us and that our actions require the approval of our late ancestors. Ancestor veneration opened up the possibility to imagine a larger-scale relatedness in the form of tribes. A tribe is much larger than a band. It is also held together by a belief that all members share a common ancestor. Tribes are much larger and could muster more men for war. That is how tribes replaced bands. It can help when people attribute magical powers to their ancestors and fear the consequences of angering them. In this way, ancestor worship evolved into the worship of gods. The Bible features two mythical ancestors of humanity, Eve and Adam, effectively turning all of humanity into a single tribe, which may turn out to be an instance of great foresight.

Hunter-gatherers can move on in the case of conflict, but farmers invested heavily in their fields and crops. Losing your land or harvest usually meant starvation. With the arrival of agriculture, territorial defence became paramount. States provided territorial defence and could afford larger militaries. Kinship was an obstacle to a territorial organisation. States defend their realm and enlist the people within their realm, regardless of their family ties. As people favour helping family and friends, this may require coercion. States thus needed a new source of authority, and the worship of gods may have replaced ancestor veneration. When humans started to subjugate plants and animals for their use, they needed to justify this new arrangement. And so, myths emerged in which the gods created this world and ordained that humans rule the plants and animals. The Bible has such a commandment too.

The religions we now have, originate from agricultural societies. The need for the defence of land and crops may explain why these religions are patriarchal, limit the freedoms of women, and shame unfaithful women more than men. The men defended their village. They may be more willing to protect women and children they consider their own. Men can never be sure that they are the father of a child. It can explain their desire to control the sexuality of women. Men can also walk out when they doubt their fatherhood. This may have given men a position of power.

Religions may have emerged out of ancestor worship so gods could be like mothers and fathers. People usually gave devotions to several ancestors. Each ancestor may have had a specific quality. As a consequence, early religions may have come with several gods, each with a distinct role. Monotheistic religions arrived when people became emotionally attached to one particular deity. They began to imagine that their divinity is the only one that rules the entire universe. When Christianity was promoted in areas where people still worshipped several gods, the church invented saints to replace them. Each saint came with specific qualities. For instance, if you are on a voyage, you can pray to St. Christopher for protection because he is the patron of the travellers.

Monotheistic religions may have been successful because monotheists were intolerant. If you are fond of a particular deity, other religions can be an offence. When you worship several divine beings, you can easily accept that some people can be fond of only one particular deity. To monotheists, there is only one divine being worthy of worship, and devotions to other gods is often forbidden.1 Yahweh is a jealous deity, the Bible claims. Those who had different beliefs had to be forcefully converted or killed.

We prefer a god who cares for us and answers our prayers. That creates logical difficulties. Prayers often are not answered, and many bad things are going on. So how can an almighty creator allow this to happen? The obvious answer is that there is no god or that God does not care. That is not the answer we want to hear. And so people imagined Satan, God’s evil adversary, who makes all these bad things happen.1 And we hope that evil people receive punishment. If it is not now, then in the afterlife or a final reckoning on Judgement Day.

Then came science with a sobering message. Our existence appears to be the result of accident and evolution. Religions were invented to promote cooperation. Over time the belief may have taken hold that all humans are unique and valuable individuals. Indeed, we are unique. Our imagination makes us do things other species are not capable of. At some point, technology may have enabled humans to realise their fantasies. They may have turned into gods when they became immortal and created virtual reality universes for their entertainment. We may be living in one of these universes. God is a good term for the owner. And God might use an avatar to appear as an ordinary human to us.

Existing religions tell us very little about God and the plan God has with us. All gods are fantasies. On a rare occasion, your imagination can come true. So, if you believe that this universe has an owner who has a plan for us all, you may be right. Still, everything else you think to know about God most likely is a delusion promoted by established religions or your desires. The current predominance of Abrahamic God appears not to be a historical accident, however. That justifies a closer look at the origins of Yahweh, the God of the Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Summary:

  • Societies founded on religion had a competitive advantage in the struggle to survive as religion facilitates collective action.
  • Religions developed gradually from spiritual beliefs via ancestor veneration to the worship of gods.
  • Political needs and psychological desires shaped the development of religions.
  • Religions may be patriarchal because agricultural societies required defence and because men cannot be sure of fatherhood.
  • Hence, existing religions tell us little about the possible owners of this universe or what is going to happen.
  • It may, however, be no accident that the worship of the God of Abraham has become predominant.

Featured image: Lionheaded figurine from Stadel in the Hohlenstein cave in Germany.  J. Duckeck (2011). Wikimedia Commons.

1. A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.

New Book: The Virtual Universe

Religions claim that a god or gods have created this universe. More recently, the simulation hypothesis allows us to explain how the gods might have done this. We could all be living inside a computer simulation run by an advanced post-human civilisation. But can we objectively establish that this is indeed the case?

There is sufficient evidence that we live inside a simulation, and this evidence allows us to establish the most likely purpose of our existence. This book is an exercise in applying logic to the evidence. It does not promote a specific religion. It goes along with science, but there are limits to what science can establish. God is beyond those limits.

This book addresses the following topics:

  • Why our existence is not a miracle that requires a creator.
  • How the possible motivations of post-humans can help us to establish that we live inside a simulation.
  • Why there is not proof in real life, not even in science.
  • Why the simulation hypothesis is not scientific.
  • How our minds can trick us how to avoid pitfalls in our observations and reasoning.
  • How the laws of reality can help us to ascertain that we do live in a simulation.
  • Why the evidence for the paranormal is not scientific but strong enough to count.
  • How to explain premonition, evidence suggesting reincarnation, ghosts, ufo’s, and meaningful coincidences.
  • How coincidences surrounding major historical events indicate that everything happens according to a script.
  • Why many people see 11:11 and other peculiar time prompts.
  • What predetermination tells us about our purpose.

By reading this book, you will discover that the world makes perfect sense if we assume it to be a simulation and that it does not make sense to presume that this world is real.

You can find it here:

Jesus and Minas Coptic icon dating from 6th or 7th century

From Jesus to Christianity

An enigma

Understanding Jesus of Nazareth and Christianity requires understanding the time and place in which Jesus lived and Christianity emerged. But that may not be enough. Christianity is more enigmatic than Judaism and Islam. Jesus may have believed he was the Son of God and that he had eternal life. Muhammad and the Jewish prophets did not view themselves in this way. This universe could be a virtual reality created by an advanced humanoid civilisation. Therefore, we might exist for entertainment and it may not be an accident that the religions of the God of Abraham came to dominate the planet.

Jesus seemed to have believed that he had a special relationship with God that no other prophet ever had. He may have thought that he had eternal life and a bond with God from the beginning of Creation until the End Of Times. Jesus may have had his reasons for these remarkable beliefs for 2,000 years later he turned out to be the founder of a religion with 2.2 billion followers. Also 1.8 billion Muslims believe he will return. It is an enigma that remains to be explained, unless you assume that Jesus was delusional and that the spread of Christianity and Islam were just historical accidents.

Apart from an historical account, a plausible explanation for Jesus’ beliefs may be needed to understand Jesus as well as the spread of Christianity and Islam. The earliest extant sources of Christianity were written decades after the alleged death of Jesus. Early Christians depended on oral traditions and writings that do no longer exist. Oral recounting is notoriously inaccurate and there is evidence of redactions in the New Testament. And so scholars agree on very little about Jesus of Nazareth, except that he really existed and preached for a few years around 25 AD.

In search of the Jesus of history

The German scholar Hermann Samuel Reimarus realised there is a difference between what Jesus did and preached and what his followers came to believe about him. Around 1760 AD Reimarus was the first to investigate the historical Jesus. He claimed that Jesus could only be understood in the context of first-century Judaism and that Jesus was a typical Jewish apocalyptic prophet of his time.1 For instance, in Matthew Jesus claimed that he didn’t come to abolish the Jewish laws or the prophets:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.2

This statement from Jesus clearly differs from the teachings of Christianity. There are several other discrepancies. This raised questions for scholars to work on in the centuries that followed. They were in search of the historical Jesus and tried to deal with questions like who was Jesus and how can his teachings and the beliefs of early Christians be explained in the context of first-century Judaism?

Reimarus was influenced by the Deists who believed there is a Creator and that there should be a rational explanation for religion. The Creator has defined the laws of nature and therefore has no need for the supernatural. The Deists also claimed that the universal religion of the future should emerge from rational explanation rather than revelation. Revelation is without evidence and can never be credible to everyone.

Jesus and the early Christians were influenced by Jewish traditions like the Pharisees and the Sadducees but also by Greek culture and philosophy. Other religions already had concepts like virgin birth and sons of god. Scholars nowadays surmise that Christianity took over those concepts but it remains an mystery why Jesus seemed to have believed that he was God’s immortal son and why he was called the Bridegroom.

It also remains a mystery why Jesus was so respectful of women. Jewish culture in the first century was decidedly patriarchal. Some Jewish writers of Jesus’ time, such as Philo, taught that women should never leave the home except to go to the synagogue.3 Jesus spoke to women in public.4 He was also compassionate for women and respected their dignity, even when they were sinful.5 In doing so Jesus ignored traditional Jewish law. Plausible explanations for his conduct have yet to be found.

The missing link

The missing link in the research of the scholars is God. Science doesn’t assume anything about God and for good reason. But if this universe is created by an advanced humanoid civilisation for entertainment then leaving God out of the picture would be a serious flaw while researching the origin of religions. Perhaps God is a real person from this advanced civilisation who can use avatars to appear like an ordinary human to us.

Including God in the explanation can solve a few mysteries. Mary Magdalene may have been an avatar of God. She may have made Jesus believe that she was the reincarnation of Eve and he was the reincarnation of Adam. She may have told Jesus that Eve was not made out of Adam’s rib but that Adam was born as the first son of Eve. Jesus was son of God because Adam was and because he was Adam’s reincarnation. In this way Eve is Mother of all the living and Christians are born of God.

Who was Mary Magdalene?

Mary Magdalene has become a bit of a cult figure as there is a lot of mystery surrounding her. She may have been the most important person in Jesus’ life.

Read More

This is an explanation that doesn’t require revelation. The technology to make virtual realities and the romantic desires of women in combination with the available evidence in the scriptures can make it appear plausible. There is evidence suggesting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, even though it is never explicitly stated that he was.

The identity of God

The Gospels state that Jesus had a personal and intimate relationship with God. Scholars agree that the Gospels have been edited.

Read More

The prophet Muhammad married his boss Khadijah. He remained her loyal servant, and perhaps in more than one way. Like Jesus, Muhammad may have been married to God.

Khadijah, mother of the believers

Khadijah bint Khuwaylid was a wealthy merchant and Muhammad’s employer. Muhammad was twenty-five and Khadijah was forty when she proposed to him. Their marriage was both happy and monogamous.

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According to the Jewish scriptures God ordered Abraham to grant the wishes of his wife Sarah. Hence, Sarah may have been an avatar of God. Even though historical evidence for their existence is lacking, several Jewish prophets may have been married to God.

Sarah, mother of the Jews

The will of God coincided with the wishes of Sarah several times. God summoned Hagar to return to her mistress Sarah and God told Abraham to send Hagar away when Sarah wanted this.

Read More

Paul’s role

Paul of Tarsus turned Christianity from an obscure Jewish sect into a religion with a universal appeal. He modified Christianity so that it was not only meant for the Jews, but for everyone. Theological foundation may have been that Eve is the Mother of everyone. To that aim Paul made several compromises, for instance that gentiles didn’t have to follow all the rules of the Jewish religion. Paul also was a Roman citizen and could travel freely throughout the Roman Empire. This allowed Christianity to spread but it made Paul a controversial figure with Jewish Christians. Over time the gentile Christians began to outnumber the Jews so that Paul’s views won out.

Paul and his followers may have tried to resolve the conflicts between existing fractions of Christians with a unifying theology. On the one hand they brought Christianity more in line with the Jewish theology by making God male and invisible. This might have prompted him to make Jesus the Bridegroom of the Church instead of the Bridegroom of God. By referring to the Jewish concept of God being married to Israel, and replacing Israel by the Church, Jesus may have become deified in this new theology. Jesus being married to God may also explain why Christians believe that God is love.

God is love

There is an explanation why Christians believe that God is love. Only, there may be something very troubling about this love.

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Paul may have turned Jesus into a god who sacrificed himself for his bride who in a sense was also his mother as he was believed to be the reincarnation of Adam and Mary Magdalene was believed to be the reincarnation of the Mother Goddess Eve.

Mother Goddess Eve

According to the Bible Eve was called ‘mother of all the living’ by Adam before they had any children. It is also odd that Eve was made out of the rib of Adam. Eve may have ben a Mother Goddess and Adam may have been Her son.

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Paul came from Tarsus where the mother goddess Cybele was worshipped. Her husband was also her son, a shepherd named Attis. Attis castrated himself as a sacrifice to her. Attis’ self-mutilation, death and resurrection represent the fruits of the earth which die in winter only to rise again in the spring. The parallels between Attis and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, may have inspired Paul to apply an Attis-like imagery to Jesus.

At the time the gospels were written most first-hand witnesses were gone and different stories were circulating. It may therefore have been possible for the Church Fathers to destroy or modify texts that didn’t fit in the new narrative. The Gospels do not suggest that the Bride Of Christ was the Church. It may not have been Paul who brought his up. Ephesians, the letter in which this idea is introduced, appears to have been written a decade after Paul’s death by one of his followers. The modifications in the gospels were probably done in several stages over several decades.

Gospel of John

The Gospel of John differs from the other gospels. For instance, it contains the phrase ‘born of God’, suggesting that God could be a Mother. Is is also the gospel in which Jesus calls his mother ‘woman’. That makes sense if the word ‘mother’ was reserved for God. This gospel also contains a few references to a Beloved Disciple. And the gospel suggests that there had been rumours that the Beloved Disciple was immortal.

Born of God

The phrase ‘born of God’ can be found in the Gospels and the letters of the Church Fathers. It is now believed to have a spiritual meaning but the origin may have been quite different. The God of Christianity could be a woman.

Read More

The Gospel of John is believed to have been written around 100 AD but it contains some historical accuracies not found in the other gospels that contradict this late date. Therefore this gospel might have been based on an earlier source written by a first-hand witness.1 Scholars believe the Gospel of John has been redacted three times.

Perhaps the role of Mary Magdalene has been changed from God into the Beloved Disciple in the first redaction. In a subsequent redaction the evidence of Mary Magdalene being the Beloved Disciple may have been removed. And a third redaction may have been needed to tie up some loose ends. The Gospel of John may have been part of an early distinct tradition in Christianity in which God was a Mother.

Featured image: Jesus and Minas Coptic icon dating from 6th or 7th century. Clio20 (Anonymous). Wikimedia Commons.

1. Jesus Christ: The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith. J.R. Porter (1999). Duncan Baird Publishers
2. Matthew 5:17-18 [link]
3. Jesus’ Extraordinary Treatment of Women. Franciscan Media. [link]
4. Luke 7:11-17 [link]
5. Luke 7:36-50 [link], John 8:3-11 [link]

The "Darnley Portrait" of Elizabeth I

History is Her story, part 2

If God is a woman and history is a script then history is Her story and the pun could be intended. In that case it is possible that God uses avatars to play a role in Her story. Several important women in history may have been avatars of God. In the previous episode, History is Her story part 1, it is explained who they might have been.

Isabella I Of Castile
Isabella I Of Castile.

Isabella I of Castile

Isabella I (1451-1504) was Queen of Castile and one of the most influential persons in history. She was the second child of King John II of Castile. He already had an heir, Henry. The king’s second wife also gave birth to a son, Alfonso, making Isabella third in line to the throne. John died in 1454 and Henry became king of Castile but he was unable to produce an heir. He remarried but when his second wife gave birth to a daughter, there were doubts about the girl’s paternity.

Henry made his daughter Joanna heir to the throne but an influential group of nobles preferred Alfonso. Isabella sided with Alfonso. Henry then came up with a compromise and named Alfonso as his heir as if Joanna was to be betrothed to him so that both would share the crown. When Henry attempted to back out of this arrangement, a group of rebels crowned Alfonso king. The rebellion failed and Alfonso died, leaving Isabella as his heir but she was savvy and didn’t pursue the throne by rebellion.

Spain was divided into several small kingdoms. Marriage was a way of forging alliances. Henry forced Isabella into several betrothals because of his political needs. He attempted to marry her to King Alfonso V of Portugal but Isabella was wary of the marriage. As part of an agreement to restore peace, Isabella was to be betrothed to Pedro Giron, Master of the military Order of Calatrava. Isabella prayed that the marriage would not come to pass. Her prayers were answered when Don Pedro suddenly fell ill and died on his way to meet her, which was convenient to Isabella.

Isabella made Henry sign an agreement in which he made her his successor to the throne. Henry made another effort to arrange a marriage but Isabella refused and secretly arranged a wedding with Ferdinand of Aragon. By doing this she created Spain. After Isabella had secured the throne, she initiated a number of reforms in the areas of government, finance, legal code, and policing.

Isabella’s largest impact on history was sponsoring the mission of Christopher Columbus to reach the Indies by sailing west. In this way America was discovered. A film about this event was made 500 years later, titled “1492: Conquest of Paradise”. Apart from the word Paradise, the number 1492 is the combination of the initials and the birthdate of the lady from the dormitory. This could be another clue.

The
The “Darnley Portrait” of Elizabeth I

Elisabeth I

Queen Elisabeth I of England (1533-1603) was one of the most successful monarchs ever. During her reign the foundation was laid for the Anglo Saxon world domination that lasts until today. Great Britain became the dominant nation of the world until the United States took over. During her reign, the Spanish Armada was defeated and the remainder was lost in a storm, which ended the Spanish dominance over the seas.

A curious sequence of events made her Queen of England. Upon hearing of her accession to the throne, she reportedly quoted the 118th Psalm’s twenty-third line: “It is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes”. Elizabeth’s unmarried status inspired a cult of virginity. She said she was married to England. This is similar to God being married to Israel. In poetry and portraits Elisabeth was sometimes depicted as a virgin goddess.

Computable article about Armada
Computable article about Armada

During a walk in 2009 I was pondering whether or not Elisabeth I had been an avatar of God. When I returned home, a magazine named Computable was in my letterbox. The frontpage featured an article about a distributed database system named Armada that operated like a 16th century Armada fleet. This could be a clue.

Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon
Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon

Françoise d’Aubigné

Françoise d’Aubigné (1635-1719) was the second wife of Louis XIV, who is known as the Sun King. Louis XIV was one of the most successful rulers of France. He was vain and waged many wars. He believed he had absolute power because his rule was the will of God, and that only God can judge a king and that his subjects must accept his rule.

During his first marriage Louis had a number of mistresses. He was more faithful to his second wife Françoise d’Aubigné. She never became queen but she had considerable influence in the royal court. She may have been an avatar of God.

At secondary school I was elected into the school council. That was not a great feat as there were no competitors for the position. The school council was a kind of parliament meant to bring democracy to school. Of the fifteen seats, three were reserved for pupils. The meetings gave some insight into how bureaucrats entertain themselves at their jobs.

There was a dispute about something the Cultural Board had done. I don’t remember any more what it was, but they had not followed proper procedures. The conflict was the most pointless bureaucratic fight I ever witnessed. It dragged on for months and several meetings of the School Council were spent on it. The critics of the Cultural Board called it an I-am-the-state-situation, referring to a famous statement of Louis XIV.

The critics alleged that the Cultural Board had acted like the Sun King by deciding to act without consulting all the bureaucrats they needed to consult. The Cultural Board was willing to admit that their action wasn’t chic but the critics insisted that the Cultural Board had to admit that what they had done was wrong. The clue was a bit dubious so I tossed a coin. The result was that Françoise d’Aubigné made it to the list.

Catherine II of Russia by J.B.Lampi
Catherine II of Russia

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great (1729-1796) took power after a conspiracy deposed of her husband. Most likely she was not involved in the conspiracy. She was one of he most successful monarchs of the Age of Enlightenment. During her reign Russia became one of the leading powers of Europe. Catherine took many lovers. Her last lover Prince Zubov was 40 years younger. There is also a lack of clues on her being an avatar of God but she is an obvious candidate.

Empress Josephine in Coronation Robes
Empress Josephine in Coronation Robes. François Gérard

Empress Joséphine

Joséphine (1763-1814) was the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. Joséphine was Napoleon’s greatest love. After her husband was executed during the French Revolution, she had affairs with several leading political figures. Napoleon, who was six years younger, fell in love with her. He sent her many love letters. Napoleon’s love for Joséphine cooled somewhat when he found out that she had an affair while they were lovers. He then had affairs of his own but remained in love with her and married her.

Through the children from her first marriage Joséphine became the grandmother of Napoleon III and the great-grandmother of later Swedish and Danish kings and queens. The reigning houses of Belgium, Norway and Luxembourg also descend from her. She did not bear Napoleon any children, which was why they divorced. Nevertheless Napoleon’s last words on his death bed were: “France, the army, the head of the army, Joséphine.”

There are some remarkable parallels between Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler. Napoleon Bonaparte was born on Corsica, an island that became part of France, while Napoleon Bonaparte became the leader of France. Adolf Hitler was born in Austria, a country that became part of Germany, while Adolf Hitler became the leader of Germany. Both men were involved in a coup on 9 November (9/11 in European notation). Both started a military campaign in Russia that led to their downfall.

Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler both came to power by a coup ending an unstable republic. They both turned Europe into a battlefield. Both ventured into Africa and both were repelled in Egypt. They both waged a war on two fronts because they both attacked Russia while England had not been defeated. Adolf Hitler may have been a husband of God, so these parallels might be a clue.

Lucretia Garfield
Lucretia Garfield. Library of Congress.

Lucretia Garfield

Lucretia Garfield (1832-1918) was the wife of US President James A. Garfield. President Garfield was assassinated in 1881 shortly after he took office. He lingered for two and half months before dying. She stayed at his bedside and received much public sympathy. They were both 26 when they married on 11 November 1858, a reference to 11:11. During the Civil War James Garfield had an affair while he was a general. He confessed this to his wife and she forgave him.

On 12 January 2010 a previously unknown life insurance policy on the life of President Garfield was discovered. It was found in a family scrap book and had a benefit amount of $10,000. It was opened 45 days before Garfield was shot and was surrendered and signed by Lucretia Garfield and the private secretary to the President. This is a bit peculiar as it might indicate foreknowledge of the assassination.

My son Rob was fond of the comic character Garfield. In 2006 a mysterious parcel addressed to him was delivered to us by mail. It contained some Garfield items including a coffee cup with lettering “It is good to be king.” The parcel was sent anonymously. We made several enquiries to reveal the sender but nobody conceded to have sent the parcel. Until today the sender has remained unknown. This incident could be a clue.

Featured image: The “Darnley Portrait” of Elizabeth I. Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Aruba sunset

Predetermination issues

Whether or not we have free will is an ancient philosophical question. We have the impression that we make our own choices. So if I have decided to go out to buy a garden gnome yesterday, I am inclined to think that I could as well have decided not to go out, or alternatively, to buy something more useful instead. If the clock was set back I might have made another choice, or so I believe. That is, unless I felt an uncontrollable urge to buy a garden gnome. In that case I would have considered myself to be subjected to forces beyond my control.

Our options are limited by our biology and culture. You can’t simply stop breathing. And it is hard to make choices that go against the will of society, or alternatively, your family and friends. You still have a choice, it appears. Other choices, like buying a garden gnome or not, are not so controversial, and you appear free to make them. Recent advances in neuroscience allow us to observe brain activity associated with making decisions. It shows that our choices might originate in our brains several milliseconds, or even longer, before we become aware of them.

So if our choices are already made before we become aware of them then there is no free will in the way we traditionally believe it to exist. This traditional concept of free will is rooted in the idea that we have a mind, a spirit or a soul separable from our bodies. It is at odds with evolution theory and other scientific findings. It doesn’t rule out that we might make different choices if we go back in time. We appear to have options to choose from. Some scientists and philosophers claim that isn’t even possible as the laws of physics don’t permit it. And if we exist in a simulation running a script, this most certainly applies.

We experience that we make choices. These choices may be mere illusion but we do experience them as real. It is the experience of choice that we commonly understand as free will. In that sense we have free will. For instance, if there is an emotional struggle preceding a choice, the outcome may be predetermined, but the emotional struggle is real, even if it consists of mere chemical processes in the body. And so free will exists as experience even though these choices may be predetermined.

It raises some interesting questions. The first deals with punishment of criminals as a form of retribution rather to protect the public or to serve as a warning to others. The desire for retribution is a human emotion but it is moral injustice to hold people responsible for actions that are beyond their control. In human experience moral rules and punishment do matter, just like free will, and people do experience choice otherwise there is no point in punishing criminals to deter others. It may in many cases be better for society to address social problems and to try stop crime happening in the first place, but not addressing feelings of justice and the desire for retribution might undermine the fabric of society.

The second question deals with fate. If you will die on a certain day then what’s the point in going to see a doctor. Alternatively, you could opt for a hobby like mountaineering because the date you will meet the Grim Reaper is already set. Only, you don’t know the date. If you go to the doctor and he cures you from an illness that would otherwise have been fatal that would be predetermined, but if you choose not to go and die, that would be predetermined too. The same can be said about a fatal accident on the Mount Everest.

The third deals with premonition. If someone knows the future, this person can’t inform us in detail about it. Predictions that are too exact can influence the future in such a way that something else will happen, unless they remain hidden like the licence plate on Franz Ferdinand’s car. If I were to know that I am going to have a car accident tomorrow then I will remain at home tomorrow so that the accident won’t happen.

Predetermination does make it possible to do predictions that are more accurate than chance allows for. These predictions should be vague enough so that it is not possible to prevent them from happening. Actions taken to prevent it from happening may even help to make it come true. For instance, Oedipus fulfilled a prophecy that he would end up killing his father and marrying his mother and bring disaster to his city and family. Oedipus didn’t know that the couple he believed to be his parents weren’t his true parents. Fearing the prophecy he fled, leading to a sequence of events in which the prediction came true. And many prophesies of ancient Greek oracles only made sense in hindsight.

Featured image: Aruba sunset. English Wikipedia.