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Faith picks up where reason leaves off

That can be interpreted two ways.

First, that we can only know so much, and then we need to allow our faith to guide us to places that science is blind.  That's the charitable view.

Second, the rationalist would say that when people reach the limit of their understanding they start imagining things to make them feel better.  Or, in the case of religion, they buy into the fanciful stories of others whom they perceive as being profound.   They have no evidence, no rational basis upon which to base these beliefs.   Faith is simply an emotional crutch to fight the helpless feeling of ignorance.

Why do I care what other people think?

I've given some thought lately to why I feel it so important for me to challenge people on their religious beliefs.  The most concise way to put it is that believing in fictitious things is a manifestation of very poor critical thinking skills.  It leads one to make poor decisions.  Where that becomes really important is when those decisions affect other people's lives.  For example, children, if those people are parents.  And fellow citizens, when they try to pass laws to contstrain others' behavior.  Or even just friends, who waste a great deal of their time and money that could be put to better use.

In today's Politically Correct world, I'm supposed to respect other's beliefs.  I'm supposed to afford equal respect to scientific endeavors which have a mountain of evidence behind them, and fanciful tales for which there is nothing more going for it than an old book and people's subjective feelings.  Sorry, but that doesn't make any sense to me.

Right off the bat, I want to narrow this down to exclude the really serious zealots.   The idiots who refuse modern medical care.  The radical xenophobes who have managed to distort religious texts to justify outright physical violence against some minority of humanity.   These people are denounced as nut cases, even by the majority of the devoutly religious.

My point is aimed at the majority of people whom society considers balanced and reasonably well educated.  But those people have had it hammered into their heads their entire lives that anything they don't understand is no more real than, "God is mysterious."  They seem to think their gut feelings are as valid as actual verifiable evidence.  They refuse to acknowledge that they're uninformed.  Those gut feelings are based mostly on who has the best scare tactics and pithy quotes and sound bites.  That leads to irrational reactions to complex issues such as Global Warming, second-hand smoke, nuclear power, in vitro fertilization a few years ago, and most recently the possibility of human reproductive cloning.  Too often lately, public policy being based on polls taken before anyone has had a chance to study the issue, not that most people are even willing to study any of these issues.

Public policy is being based on the gut reaction of a largely-uninformed public.

In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, the queen used to believe in six impossible things before breakfast.  That's a fine attitude for someone who spends a lot of time trying to come up with new ideas.  If they spend a lot of time brainstorming new products, or generally needing to think outside the box, then that mindset is very important.  But when deciding on laws that will affect the lives of many other people, decisions need to be informed and educated.  People have a duty to consider the actual impact of their decisions, not the mythical nor vaguely wished-for responses.

Basically, religion is a clear example of the poor critical thinking so many people use to look at their world.  That same lack of critiquing ability leads one to believe in all sorts of quackery, such as astrology, ghosts, psychic readings, faith healing, remote viewing, homeopathic medicines, alternative medicine, magnet therapy, etc.  And, yes, even Creationism, Christianity, Hinduism, Shintoism, Wicca, Gaia, etc.

This refusal by so many people to acknowledge and deal with their own ignorance is making the world a worse place.

Religion and spirituality are very visible symptoms of that problem.  While one obviously cannot be certain, it appears very clear to me that people are simply giving in to wishful thinking.  And that's why I feel it's important to challenge the faith of those around me.  If I can get more people to recognize how tenuous the basis of their faith is, then hopefully they'll learn how to question their own preconceptions.  They'll learn to differentiate what they know, from what they think they know, and from plain old wishful thinking.  Then they might apply the lessons learned when dealing with issues that are actually important in the real world.


Editing history:

26/FEB/02 - Touched up the final paragraph

08/MAR/03 - Touched up why I care

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Last modified: March 08, 2003
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