Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Believing Brain Part 1: Journeys of Belief

"Whether you are a believer or a skeptic, the meaning of life is here. It is now. It is within us and without us. It is in our thoughts and in our actions. It is in our lives and in our loves. It is in our families and in our friends. It is in our communities and in our world. It is in the courage of our convictions and in the character of our commitments. Hope springs eternal, whether life is eternal or not." - Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain

Notice: Fortunately for all of us (particularly you), it appears that rather than writing a post per chapter, I will wait until the end of each part of the book, since the chapters within each part appear to be more closely related than I had anticipated.

Part 1 details three stories of--you guessed it--belief: Shermer's friend's sudden unwavering faith in a "source" outside the world that loves us, Dr. Francis Collins' conversion from die-hard atheist to confident Christian, and Shermer's own journey in the opposite direction-- from incessantly obnoxious evangelical to all-around skeptic.

In some ways, I'm learning more by observing myself in the act of reading this book than I am from its contents I was able to brush off the friend's experience-based faith easily, but scientific credential-ridden Collins was far more convincing--even though his essential argument appears to be "It's scientifically possible, so why not?" It wasn't until reading Shermer's own story--and started disagreeing with some of his views-- that I returned to my own head and thoughts.

Why did I respond to Shermer more rationally than I did to Collins? Because even in the cases in which my views differ from his, he spoke in whys rather than in why nots. He supported himself with good arguments, and that's a language in which I can handle myself. Faith, by definition, can't be argued either way-- which is why I leave it up to the individual to decide. However values (as I've said before) and the methods by which the tangible world functions, can.

The main thing I've gotten out of this part of the book, though, is that what and why people believe is far more complicated than scientific evidence/lack thereof, or as many atheists like to think, intelligence/lack thereof. 

As Shermer says,
"Smart people (sometimes) believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons...Reason's bit is in the mouth of belief's horse. The reins pull and direct, cajole and coax, wheedle and inveigle, but ultimately the horse will take its natural path."

While the full story of my own "spiritual path" is too complicated (and private) to go into here, I love the last paragraph of the section:

"...if there is an afterlife and a God who resides over it, I intend to make my case along these lines: 
'Lord, I did the best I could with the tools you granted me. You gave me a brain to think skeptically and I used it accordingly. You gave me the capacity to reason and I applied it to all claims, including that of your existence. You gave me a moral sense and I felt the pangs of guilt and the joys of pride for the bad and good things I chose to do. I tried to do unto others as I would have them do unto me, and although I fell far short of this ideal far too many times, I tried to apply your foundational principle whenever I could. Whatever the nature of your immortal and infinite spiritual essence actually is, as a mortal finite corporeal being I cannot possibly fathom it despite my best efforts, and so do with me what you will.'"

No comments:

Post a Comment

Talk to me.