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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Understanding the Other Side

After frequenting a number of religious conservative sites (such as BrothersJudd) and non-religious liberal sites (such as Left2Right), I've come to the conclusion that the religious people have a very good understanding of non-religious people and their associated ideology, but many non-religious people are utterly clueless about the religious and how they think. Indeed, it often seems that non-religious people simply assume that religious people are morons because they believe things without much, or even any, empirical evidence. As a result, the non-religious frequently underestimate and misunderstand the religious.

Though I'm personally agnostic when it comes to religion, I'm definitely not anti-religious and have come to respect the worldview of the religious. The purpose of this post is to begin characterizing my interpretation of that worldview in order to identify the basis of the asymmetry of understanding mentioned above.

Let's say you believe in a deity that has created the universe, the earth, life, and so forth. It would follow that this deity is pretty powerful. Indeed, so powerful as to have been able to create and recreate whatever historical evidence has been observed.

While it's inherently circular logic, if one believes in such a deity, the most rational explanation for the state of the world and its historical context is that the deity created it that way. Why did this Creator do things like create fossils that seem to be hundreds of millions of years old and erase any sign of the Flood? Who knows, He has His reasons, perhaps He was testing our faith. Whatever. Keep in mind that circular logic is always inherently self-consistent. Just like tautologies are always true. Therefore, if you believe in a Creator style deity, it's perfectly rational to conclude that the Creator created the universe, the Earth, and life.

"But", you say, not believing in this Creator, "there's no evidence that He exists or did any of this creating." Well, that depends on what one counts as evidence, but it's immaterial (so to speak). The belief in this Creator cannot be proven to be False. And your assumptions about Deep Reality, whatever they are, cannot be proven to be True. In other words, you don't really know how this observable reality came to be, what causes it to continue to be, and when it started either.

"But", you say, "I consider only observable reality, not Deep Reality or supernatural forces, and thus my worldview is more rational and valid." Rationality is sometimes a good thing, but rationality that builds on flawed assumption can be downright evil. Marx was perfectly rational, for example, but the logical outcome of his thinking caused an awful lot of misery and death. But more importantly, everybody has no choice but to consider things beyond observable reality. Everything has a historical context, without which, it has no meaning. Nobody alive directly observed anything before 150 years ago and nobody ever observed and recorded anything that was prehistoric. You believe in Evolution and Common Descent? Fine, but that belief requires faith that the past, which wasn't observed by anyone, has been correctly deduced by the high priests of archeology.

"But", you say, "that's the only explanation for the plethora of lifeforms that exist." Well, no, it's not. Creationism and Intelligent Design are two immediate examples that come to mind. They may well be wrong, but they are still explanations. I also like the "Matrix" example, where we're all part of some computer simulation, version 5.2, which was just rebooted yesterday (in our time). In fact, there are an infinite number of non-proveable and non-disproveable explanations for why the world and life exist. Because they can be neither proven (with certainty) nor disproven, they require faith, just like you have faith in Evolution and Common Descent.

"But", you say, "Common Descent via Evolution is the only explanation for the plethora of lifeforms that doesn't rely on supernatural explanations." Certainly not true again. If we sat down and spent a lot of time and effort, we could come up with an alternate, but likely substantially more complicated theory that explains the plethora of lifeforms. It may well require resorting to superempirical explanations, but not supernatural explanations.

The asymmetry in understanding between the religious and non-religious comes from the fact that religious people know that they have faith in the unprovable and accept that while many non-religious people have faith in the belief that they are not relying on having faith in unprovable beliefs.

All existence and human perception starts with superempirical or supernatural assumptions. The religious understand that and many religious people perceive and understand the contortions that many non-religious people go through in order to convince themselves that they don't rely on superempirical assumptions. Because those non-religious people are so busy with their contortions they don't notice the religious people on the sideline staring at them and laughing.

Category: cat_religion