Monday, December 8, 2014

Faith: Certainty in Uncertainty?

The evidence for and against religion is, for the time being, inconclusive. Religion, because of the way it is structured is unfalsifiable, so that no matter what arguments one brings against it, or scientific discoveries one uncovers that contradict it, religion will remain impervious, beyond the reaches of empirical proof or disproof. Of course, this says nothing of religion's validity, quite the contrary; in my opinion it weakens the argument, or rather makes it a mute point. It must be placed among the many unanswerable questions, put on the shelf, and taken down and dusted only when reality becomes a bore, and one wishes to stimulate the mind with unanswerable questions.

As an unfalsifiable, unprovable concept, religion becomes nothing more than a philosophical conundrum, tantamount to the question of individual existence, zombie brains, and the subjectivity of color. The God debate vanishes and the philosophical discussions begin: "Does God exist? Well, we can't know, but it would be good if he did. Or if they did. Or perhaps it wouldn't be good..." Any sort of concrete knowledge of the subject simply disappears into guesses, theories, and personal opinion. It certainly would not be a convincing reason to give up your life or, for that matter, take the life of someone else.

Though it is oft said, and not hard to imagine, that religion offers comfort to a great many people, if one is committed to living truthfully, a healthy skepticism seems to be the only reasonable route to take when a question is unknowable. If I cannot prove god, nor disprove him, how can anyone reasonably make a decision? Is it not the greatest hubris, and indeed, stupidity, to presume that your religion is right without sufficient evidence to prove it? Is it morally acceptable to teach children, indeed indoctrinate them, with fables of miracles and divine intervention, based on claims that were simply told to you as a child with equal conviction? 

It doesn't matter whether one is comforted by religion, repelled by it, or simply indifferent to it, the only rational approach to unknowable questions, is that of doubt. Regarding anything else in the world, would anyone ever be tempted to pose an argument to this point?

Indeed, it is quite perplexing that religious faith has survived as long as it has. Well, only perplexing until the secret of religion's success is revealed: "And these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children..." (Deuteronomy 6:6-7) Religion has always targeted the vulnerable minds of children. In this way it fills the young child's head before the child knows to doubt, to administer reason, even in the face of the authority of his parents or teachers. The child, believing without question, follows the path chosen for him by his parents and teaches the subsequent generation, and thus, religion survives. 

The only honest response to the question of God, is that of doubt and honest skepticism. To respond any different is to be dishonest; the reason for the belief, be that what it may. What could our world be like if only people were more in doubt about their religious convictions? How much could society have progressed if only people could admit to themselves that their faith in God is nothing more than a personal feeling, a whim, planted in youth, or received through contemplation, but a personal feeling, no more. As Bertrand Russel aptly wrote: "The whole problem with the world is that the fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves, and wise men so full of doubt." 

People who base their certainty of God's existence on personal experience or intuition have simply shut off their minds in favor of the comfort religion offers them. They consider the warm feeling in their heart as sufficient evidence for their faith. Yet, most of these people simply discount the thousands of people in other religions claiming their own experiences and intuitions. Such hypocrisy is tragically commonplace. 

I have heard religious people who find that leaving religion to accept atheism, is to them, just replacing one dogma for another. To them, though there is no sufficient evidence for God, he also can't be disproved, so why not continue to practice religion since no one knows the truth anyway. This is a great fallacy. Atheism is not a dogma. There are no principles one must accept on faith. Atheism is the removal of religion, returning your mind to a neutral state. It is ridding it of the dogmas placed upon it, to view the world with child-like innocence again. The sinister people who convinced the overwhelming masses that atheism is a religion did a great evil to truth. Atheism, is precisely the opposite of faith, as Bill Maher wittingly said: "Atheism is a religion, like abstinence is a sex position."

Atheism is looking at the world with eyes of wonder and applying your mind to understanding the majesty of the universe. It is having the courage to live in doubt about the questions that have no answers. It is being skeptical about fantastical claims, while remaining open to have your common sense proven utterly wrong (as science continues to do to us). It is not, when defined properly, a religion in any sense of the word.

One can, if one wishes, ponder on whether all of mankind is hooked up to the matrix, prisoners of a computer simulation. This is an unknowable point, that the majority of humankind simply does not think about. We do not spend our days obsessed with trying to break free of the computer program. Rather, we live as if it does not exist (and it probably doesn't). The same needs to be our reaction to God and any other claim that lies beyond the scope of reason. We can ponder it all we like, we can formulate fascinating theories about gods, aliens and robots, but to act on those theories is nothing short of lunacy. 

Faith traps your mind. It shackles your ability to critically think about anything that contradicts your faith. And for what; to retain certainty about that which has no evidence?! Could there be anything more backward! Should not every person who wishes to be intellectually honest simply say "I don't know" about that which is unknowable?!

It seems clear that the most honest, indeed noble, course for humankind to take is that of healthy skepticism towards religion and any other supernatural claims. Perhaps, if we do, we will yet see the end of the ideas which originate from the infancy of our species.