There, that was easy. Those purveyors of religiosity would have you accept belief, faith, as a virtue. Become as a little child if you want pie and cookies.
But that’s not right, is it? It’s certainly beneficial to the smoke salesmen to have bevys of susceptible folks waiting with bated breath for someone to fill their heads with nonsense. But what’s the benefit for the individual, the group, the world?
If believing is accepting propositions as true without sufficient evidence to do so, and knowledge is a collection of facts, I certainly know which set I’d take seriously. But others don’t seem to have my particular bent. Jesus died, came back to life, and flew up into the sky. Yes, and Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse.
Seen any winged horses lately? A rare breed, no doubt.
How is it that people can be so irrational? I can understand the heathens and the pagans – those folks from the country who rubberneck at the big buildings – buying into fantastical stories, but why do the city folks do it, too? (These are metaphorical groups – not to be taken literally!)
We think of the ancients as superstitious and ignorant. Yet we seem to be as ignorant and superstitious as they were. Belief is a component of the human experience and for some reason we don’t seem to be able to outgrow it.
Whenever a believer begins a sentence with “I believe . . . ” I ask him to please not tell me what he believes, but to tell me what he knows. I don’t care if he believes that the moon is covered with pigeon feathers, and someone probably does believe that, because people can and will believe anything that they can imagine. And when they say to me, “I know . . . ” I am sure that they do not know because it requires knowledge to know anything, and the next thing that follows that phrase will certainly be something egregiously foolish.
Worse, the phrase, “Jesus said . . .” is one of the worst starting bits for a rational statement, because, if there was one, there is absolutely no way that we can possibly know whether or not he said a particular thing. Or when. Or why. What we can know is that gospel writers were not afraid to put words into his mythical mouth.
I try to avoid the use of belief in reference to myself. I do not believe in evolution. I do not believe in the Big Bang. I do not believe in black holes or singularities or particles or atoms or molecules. These things are all a part of a body of science and together they make up an unfathomable and wonderful body of knowledge – and this knowledge is always shifting, changing, and that’s a good thing.
It’s a good thing because science cannot remain static, and that’s why I don’t believe it. Tomorrow, a better theory may replace the Big Bang. Another set of laws may replace quantum physics, which superseded Newton’s laws and gave them more depth. My world is ever-changing and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort.
I’ve been reading the letters of non-believers who wrote to the freethought paper, The Blue Grass Blade, in 1903. Some of them are so written that they could have as easily have been written today as over a hundred years ago. The grasp of science and its importance is amazingly clear. Others are caught in the perception of science of the day, where planets come out of stars and will go back into them and so on – ideas that were perhaps never really accepted but these people were reading them, at least, and trying to understand the world around them rather than joining the head-nodding sheep at the local brainwashing factory.
And so I think that we, today, may also be thinking that some of the claims we hear are the truth when they are as likely to be supplanted with something else in the future. When they change, I’ll change with them because it gets better all the time.
Don’t tell me what you believe. Tell me what you know.