The nature and danger of belief
I should have been spending time on Netflix – but over the last few hours (near midnight on 22nd Jan 2022), I came across the video below (which could disappear). It’s about Dawkins among a panel and a bunch of people in the audience. This triggered me to explore – again – the nature of belief. Of interest is that that video below has been on YouTube since 2015 and only has 585 likes on it. Obviously, I can’t know what the hit count must have been.
Throughout the debate/discussion/argument a fundamental set of things emerge among those of ‘faith’:
1 – The suspension of the basic rules of logic – and they are unaware of this.
2- Their reasoning which is built on defective logic, is therefore inherently flawed.
3 – Hard evidence therefore has no impact.
In other words, ‘you’ could pile up all the scientific evidence in the last 50 years for the world being much older than ~6000 years, and it would make no difference to a person of ‘faith’. At 01:14 the Man in the audience struggles, with a manufactured smile and what’s known as displacement activity (in body language). He’s uncomfortable with the direct question that comes back to him.
Did that happen?
I believe that Jesus believed the Old testament to be accurate.
Do you believe that happened?
I believe it happened because Jesus did.
[I do not apologise for using the word ‘man’. The person looks like a man, so I’ll call him a man!]
So – one is entitled to believe the earth is flat or the sky is green because one trusts another person in high regard, who believes in whatever. If an accepted representative of God somewhere, said the earth was flat, then loads of people would be right in ‘faith’ to believe that – because ‘he said so’. I’m not loads of people.
All that is fine, because the fundamental problem is belief itself. How we come to believe anything? We can either trust the word of someone else, or go for tangible evidence (or well researched opinions based on hard evidence available to everybody).
The easier way is to trust someone else or some authoritative organisation – because that method of belief requires no evidence, and no proof. What this means is that what you believe is often subject to trust in someone else. That was fine say 100 or more years ago, when we did not have access to so much information and evidence.
Those interested in belief, cognitive dissonance and doublethink may wish to read about Mrs Keech et al. And there’s more about it on YouTube.
On a rare occasion in 1992, after research by Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II officially declared that Galileo was right – that the earth was not at the centre of the universe. Prior to that all those of faith, were officially entitled to believe otherwise. The research took from 1979 to 1992, which is… 13 years! Very tough – isn’t it. What punishment did Galileo avoid? Do people read history any more? At para 10 the PAS states
From the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment down to our own day, the Galileo case has been a sort of ‘myth’, in which the image fabricated out of the events was quite far removed from reality. In this perspective, the Galileo case was the symbol of the Church’s supposed rejection of scientific progress, or of ‘dogmatic’ obscurantism opposed to the free search for truth. This myth has played a considerable cultural role. It has helped to anchor a number of scientists of good faith in the idea that there was an incompatibility between the spirit of science and its rules of research on the one hand and the Christian faith on the other. A tragic mutual incomprehension has been interpreted as the reflection of a fundamental opposition between science and faith. The clarifications furnished by recent historical studies enable us to state that this sad misunderstanding now belongs to the past.
and para 13
..What is important in a scientific or philosophic theory is above all that it should be true or, at least, seriously and solidly grounded. And the purpose of your Academy is precisely to discern and to make known, in the present state of science and within its proper limits, what can be regarded as an acquired truth or at least as enjoying such a degree of probability that it would be imprudent and unreasonable to reject it. In this way unnecessary conflicts can be avoided.
Fundamentally, belief and faith require no evidence even if evidence is available to all. But after 1992 The Church or one of them is becoming more ‘scientific’. How terrible! Now, believers may be able to seek evidence and question the authority of their God!
Science requires evidence and a coherent framework. It was not always like that. Science has done a lot of growing up in the last 50 years, and still has a long way to go.
But stick with this – belief as a human issue, does not require evidence. It relies more on trust. If you trust authority you have a high probability of believing what the authority says. Einstein himself had a very rough time with that when he as a mere patent clerk, upset the whole world of science – and I’m not going into that here.
Belief has survival value for the species. If people did not believe in some thing or the other ‘hope’ (that thing which I have trouble with), would fade or be non-existent. Motivation would fall away and we as a species would not have achieved much. Point? Belief is connected closely to survival drive. It is a ‘primitive’ yet powerful force in human nature.
Everybody – meaning most people – think or believe that they are the master of their own thoughts, beliefs and feelings, and they are mature enough to decide what to believe. I explored thinking before, so I don’t wish to go back into it today. People in general think/believe that they know how to think. The reality is that most of them do not. I’m at risk of being called arrogant again for stating a fact that is evidence based. Somebody out there is likely to feel ‘small’. That’s how the humans work. Who has the time or effort to find out the flaws in their thinking process, which lead them to beliefs? Very few.
How many would care to understand two broad sets of logical fallacies in thinking?
- Informal – argument is flawed due to content
- Formal – argument is flawed due to structure
Very few is my answer.
What does it mean
But we’re no longer living in caves (okay most of us). We no longer have to simply trust ‘mom’ or ‘dad’, that there is danger out there like some ferocious animal that might eat us. We have in most cases the luxury of time to say, “Hang on what’s your evidence? I want to see it.” We didn’t have that luxury 1000 years ago. If you called for evidence, you could be dead before you received it!
So it’s a very different world. And now we behave like ‘cave people’; just believing what we’re told instead of checking out the foundations of what we’re meant to believe. Caution: I did not say ‘everybody’.
If the human race is destroyed, no virus or asteroid would be the likely cause.
I say that the errors in our thinking and control of emotions, would be sufficient to do the job.
Did I say you have to believe me? I did not!