Believing is Seeing
As far as believing goes, it’s hard to know what to call myself. I don’t have enough faith to be an Atheist, or even an Agnostic. But, to some extent, I admire and envy people who do have strong beliefs — so long as they don’t try to impose them on other people. But there’s the rub. The history of the world can be written in terms of violently conflicting beliefs. After all, what’s the good of knowing the unquestionable truth, if you can’t be free to sway other people towards your version of it (or otherwise, if necessary, to wipe them out)?
As has often been said in many ways and times, “God’s on the side of the big battalions.” Physical power used to be the determining factor. But power can now be seen residing in technology — as was demonstrated by the totally unexpected way in which World War II ended. The Japanese had been prepared to defend their island nation to the last. In terms of belief and devotion to a cause, they had no equal. But technology changed their minds in a very short time.
But what, after all, is belief? I would call it acceptance without proof. But what is proof? Aren’t some things so obvious that they don’t need to be proved? Isn’t it irrefutable that two plus two equals four? I am no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure that it’s all based on assumptions — that ultimately nothing can be proved. As we all know, Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.” But how can I prove to anyone else (or even to myself) that I really think? That, of course, with all we now know, or think we know, about the brain, is a much trickier question today than it was in Descartes’ time 400 years ago. In any case, I too may be dead by the time you read this. Does that make it a case of “I thought, therefore I was”?
Some religions find direct contact with God too much for ordinary people to believe, and therefore choose to have faith in an intermediary in human form, some Buddha or Jesus or Mohammed, someone whose actual earthly existence can at least be proven more or less beyond question, even if many of the related circumstances are debatable.
But the technology I referred to above is really applied science, and science has its believers just as devout and committed as any other religion. In fact, in our era, it is the only “religion” which is generally allowed to be taught in public schools. This is a relatively new phenomenon. I myself, as a child, attended public schools (in Toronto) in which we had daily readings from the Bible. But I was something of a skeptic even then. When we heard about the followers of Moses worshipping in the desert, I couldn’t understand how those warships ever got into the desert.
And, of course, you know about what should have been a turning point, a century ago, when a Biology teacher in Tennessee was put on trial for breaking a state law by teaching his students about evolution. But, although sensational at the time, it was not a turning point. The teacher was in fact found guilty, a decision which was later upheld by the state’s Supreme Court. And even today such issues ripple through our educational system.
But even science doesn’t have all the answers — not even to some very basic questions like: Are there any kinds of “intelligent” life-forms anywhere else in the universe besides this little planet? Is teleportation possible? Can human brains be transplanted? What about time travel?
And despite all the marvels of modern medicine, we still have no cure or reliable preventative for the common cold, to say nothing of Alzheimer’s, cancer, aging, and that ubiquitous affliction called mortality.
But there are those who believe that through science, all these wonders will come to pass. At the same time, we have those seekers travelling in the other direction – such as astronaut James Irwin, the 8th man to walk on the moon, who, after his return to Earth, became a devout Christian, and was quoted as saying, “Jesus walking on the Earth is more important than man walking on the moon.”
After that, there’s really little more to say on this subject, except the words of that eminent authority W.C. Fields: “A man’s got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.”