Sometimes I am asked about what I believe (rarely, but it happens), so I thought I would gather my thoughts on what I believe to be real into one place. These are my positions on matters that religion generally delves into. Warning: if you are afraid to question your own faith, you probably shouldn’t read this. Don’t worry about it, you already know the Truth. Go back to your spiritual family and stay comfortable. May your gods bless you.
In order to change my mind on any of these ideas, all you have to do is show me sufficient evidence. I like warm, fuzzy feelings as much as anyone, but feelings are not enough to convince me. Show me the facts. Sure, I sometimes have to proceed on scanty evidence, because that’s all there is. Still, I use the best knowledge available, and incorporate new information when it is uncovered; I’d be foolish not to.
On the other hand, I probably can’t change your mind. It is your mind, after all. If you trust the scientific method, you don’t need me to tell you what is real, but if your knowledge is based on faith instead of reason and observation, I have no reasonable way of convincing you to believe differently. So I won’t try. I will simply present what I believe, and you can do what you wish with that information.
What I Believe
I do not have faith (see Definitions), in the religious sense. I believe that what I experience is real—the love of family, the joy and the pain of existence, the value of friendship and constructive work, the idea that each human being is worth more than any amount of money or property. These things are important to me because of what I have encountered in my life, not because of any abstract philosophy or theology, nor because of any religious or political authority.
Although I am not a follower of the legendary Jesus of Nazareth, I have learned much from his teachings. His words (or those attributed to him) led me to a religious conversion experience, which ultimately resulted in what you could call my scientific enlightenment. I am not in any sense a fundamentalist. In fact, I reject all the principles of fundamental Christian doctrine, as I understand it—I am sure that the Holy Bible is often in error, including many of its teachings on moral issues, and I see no reason to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. There is no evidence to support the occurrence of miracles, either now or in biblical times. I think that the crucifixion of Jesus was an example of selflessness and a sense of mission, but it could not have been an act of atonement* that satisfied a divine requirement for justice. That would require a god whose nature would inspire disgust, not devotion. I am pretty sure that such a god does not exist.
Why People Believe (on patternicity, Michael Shermer)
You may call me an atheist, if you wish. It’s not very descriptive, but it is a reasonable shorthand way of describing my point of view to those who may not want to go into detail. I don’t deny the existence of some kind of god. I simply see no reason to trust ideas which are unsupported by evidence. I am open to the idea that there exist things that I am totally unaware of, or have no understanding of, that don’t fit within the laws of physics as we know them. I’m comfortable with that. I don’t have to know everything.
I am a naturalist. It is increasingly apparent that everything that exists can be described in scientific terms; that there are no ghosts, fairies, angels, demons, or supreme being separate from the universe but interacting with it in undetectable ways; that there is no human “soul” that survives the death of the body, and no supernatural heaven or hell. I can’t prove the nonexistence of all those things. I just see no evidence of them. Stories about ghosts, angels and gods can be inspiring. Mythology and poetry are part of the richness of existence. It is a mistake to confuse those stories with reality, an error that has led to much evil in the world.
I am comfortable with my own mortality. Will my “essence” or my “spirit” continue after I die? According to what I have experienced, no. From what I understand, my particular consciousness will end when my brain ceases to function, and the only parts of me that will continue living after that event are the bits of me that have become part of the thoughts and personalities of others. That is, to me, a freeing concept. I can live now, while I am alive, without having to give any consideration to an afterlife. Instead of focusing on reward or punishment in the hereafter, I can simply do what I know to be right in this life, as much as I am able.
I am not a “true believer”—I am willing to change my beliefs when the evidence warrants it. I welcome conversation with those who agree with me and those who disagree, and I will discuss any personal faith issue or belief system you wish. I don’t take offense easily.
If all your beliefs are immutable, or if you can’t take reasonable criticism, you might not be comfortable with my ideas. That’s okay; you don’t have to leave! You are most welcome to stay and be a little uncomfortable. That’s how we grow.
I have more thoughts on issues of spirit, consciousness, morality and such here at the Real World Blog, and at Chiefy’s Word under the Enlightenment category. My own thinking on these matters has changed substantially over the years. I am always willing to discuss other viewpoints.