(ir)Rationality in Beliefs and Necessity in Assumptions

September 29, 2008 at 2:07 am (Wrongs of the World) (, )

I am Jewish by blood, but as a recent (1996) immigrant from Russia I hold no theism: my parents did not participate in organized religion as per government dictates and so I was not exposed to organized religion until we immigrated into New Jersey. Luckily.

So I have lived my life relatively free of beliefs in general, and frankly find them useless. Allow me to explain before the offense level peaks. Semantically, belief is equivalent to assumption in meaning and usage. However, I want to make the following distinction: an assumption is made to explain some observable phenomena. Two protons repel, so we assume they have charge and their charges are the same. We also know this, but back in the day we had to make some assumptions about nuclei, about atoms, etc. Beliefs, then, are assumptions made without a necessary reason, as in just for the sake of believing. This makes me rather unhappy.

In science we seek to explain things, and until we can prove something (that we believe to be true) we postulate it and assume it to be true. If we were wrong, then we reconsider everything that the assumption led to, when we are right we find something new to assume, test, prove or disprove. Whenever I find myself making assumptions I always ask myself why I am making them. What am I trying to explain, and why is that important?

Most of the reasoning for “believing” in any sort of deity seems like a waste of time to me. What does that belief lead to? That the world was created spontaneously rather than evolving from big bang dust? I could understand rationalizing a god if we were first given proof that the earth was, indeed, created. If all of science pointed to one great incongruity that the earth only is seven (or whatever) thousand years old, then yes, the question posed would be “How did the seven year old earth come about?” and possible answer would be God. Contrariwise, the preemptive belief in god seems like a waste of rational thinking: a lazy answer requiring little thought.

Some deities seem to want their believers’ repentance, love, fear, whatnot. I don’t cite examples because I don’t care (or admittedly know) about the nuances of specific organized religion. So more often than not, these deities require that believers gather and show their love and following to their god en masse. Why? Does it make them better people? Religious beliefs are independent from ethics, especially when priests can molest altar boys and atheists can participate in anti-pollution endeavors, among many other examples of crossconnection. So what are churches for? To promote ethics? If that is the case, then perhaps ethics can be instilled via other means, like schools, work places, internet forums. Why label the moral-providing-facilities with faith flags? Or are churches for the purpose of bringing the community together? Religion is such shaky business that it requires reinforcement, so attend weekly or you are no longer a believer in good standing! While yes, humans do not always accept easily things that are true, maybe here breaking from religion is a valid response. If churches and such are for the purpose of bringing the community together, giving them unity, why add beliefs to the label of faith? God and creation are not necessary assumptions for friendly interaction between members of the community.

Religion is a crutch or an impediment: it either helps those weak of reasoning get a leg up on their day-to-day lives, or it prevents those indoctrinated into it from getting past it. The only religious people that I have seen that are not negatively affected by their faiths are those that don’t let those faiths rule their lives. They take the ethics and morals learned in the stories of their holy books, the lessons read and preached by their reverends and rabbis and pastors, and they apply them to their day to day lives. They don’t spend time worrying about God, the afterlife, creation, nor do they spend time arguing with atheists and theists of other religions about who is wrong and right.

The thing about those people is that God is not a necessary belief for them to be as they are. Instead, their belief in God is a necessary assumption to give them entrance to their religious communities, and thus access to those ethics, morals, etc. Given a community with similar but non-religious gatherings I have no doubt that they would with the same conviction not believe in God while maintaining their life styles.

Assumptions are often necessary, but also often incorrect, causing us as scientists to constantly rethink what follows. But the assumption of God has only one result, and only is some religions: afterlife. Which leads me back to a question of how do you know there is an afterlife, and how do you know that you image of the afterlife is correct? If we had some sort of scientific observation of afterlife then I might ask “What determines one’s qualification for the afterlife?” and I would still not necessitate the assumption that there is a God. Just as like charges do not need to be dictated by some higher power to repel one another, so wouldn’t any “being” be specifically necessary for the universal laws to classify my as deserving (in a good way of bad) of an afterlife. But we have no observation of afterlife, so believing in God to explain it is wholly unnecessary. More on incentives (and how they make the world a worse place) another time.

The moral of the story is that beliefs are useless. A person can (and should) be an ethical being regardless of their faith (or lack thereof), and more often than not faiths seem to transcend the bound of social ethics with some facet or another, some interpretation or misinterpretation, and thus be seen as unethical generally and by other faiths. So why bother with it? Make only those assumptions that are necessary to explain observable phenomena, and then yes, find God if it becomes necessary. From what I have seen and from the observations and data that we have, God is not yet necessary in the least.

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