The guys at MemeTherapy have been running a series of interesting threads about Strange Beliefs over the last few weeks. It’s a fun read. I thought the kind folks here at the Bastard’s might like to give it a try.
“What is the strangest thing you believe to be true?”
At first glance this question appears simple enough. I can think of many fascinating subjects I have read about over the years; nanotech, “gray goo”, 11-dimensional space, relativity, the possibility of time travel, quantum entanglement, wave particle duality, virtual reality. There flows a never ending stream of ideas that wells up from the spring that is the Mind of Man. I could have selected any item from this list, or more, and would have provided a reasonably interesting response. How does one choose from such a fantastical array of knowledge? Technology can indeed appear strange or magical to one unfamiliar with a particular field of study. Some feel that medical wonders, from stem-cell research and genetic engineering to face transplants, are the definition of the word “strange”. Others may perceive the political and ideological mindset of their “enemies” to be the pinnacle of the eldritch.
But to ask an atheist what he “believes” to be true introduces quite a different “texture” to the question posed. The meaning of the word “believe” may easily be misconstrued. I am often bewildered by the multiple usage of some words from the English language. To some, “belief” is only given to that which has overwhelming evidence to support it, such evidence that there is no point to even use the word “believe”. Does one say: “I believe the sky is blue”? No. We say: “The sky is blue”. We can test this statement through many types of observation, experimentation, and verification. We know the sky is blue. Some use the word “believe” in the same manner that they use the word “think”, e.g. “I believe I’ll have another beer!” – the two words are interchangeable here. Then we come, of course, to the most common meaning of the word “believe”, that equivalent to “faith”; acceptance of a proposition without any need, or desire, for supporting evidence whatsoever.
I avoid the use of the words “believe” and “belief” because of their imprecise usage. There are, however, certain words I’ll use in spite of their misuse. For example, I have no qualms stating that I’m an “atheist” even though that word has been intentionally misused and demonized, perhaps since its inception. An atheist is simply one who does not believe. To be an atheist one need only answer “no” to the question “Do you believe [in god(s)]?” No further assertion is made.
I prefer to use the verb “know” instead of “believe” and, like Great Lady Science, accept that knowledge can be transitory and must evolve as new evidence is discovered. Ironically, my answer to the question “What is the strangest thing you know to be true?” would bring me back to the issue of faith.
The strangest thing I know of is the ability of the human mind to accept the most incredible of statements by the simple application of the magic word “faith”. How is it that, in the 21st century, we still have people that believe the world is only 6000 years old in light of the evidence from various fields of science in support of its vastly older age? How can one ignore mounds of fossil evidence for the progression of evolution and only see the “gaps”. What is it that allows the brilliant scientist who, otherwise, demands empirical data to advance his theories, to assert that there is a god when no one has presented any evidence to corroborate the existence of said deity? Is it a mental blind spot, a type of intellectual laziness used to avoid investigating fully the reason one believes one fable over another?
This strange thing called faith intrigues me. I have studied several of the mythologies of various civilizations throughout history and I find the subject fascinating. The majority of us appear to be so desperate for answers that we will accept any concept of reality that we are subjected to at an early age. We indoctrinate our children into a system of thought handed down by our progenitors and our children will usually teach their own children the same vision; the meme propagates. The evolution of religion presents the prime example of this strange ability to close the mind to healthy skepticism and reason. I wonder if we have herein evidence for the existence of a parasitic meme, one that propagates from the pulpit and lives in symbiosis with those that hunger for its anesthetic affects.
I look forward to a future where such strange ideas as faith and belief have faded into obscurity and disrepute as have the gods of old. A future where the unknown is regarded as an opportunity, not an enemy to be feared and obscured by the blinders of myth.
What’s the strangest thing you “believe”?