Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why Faith?

There are many motivations for believing in something that our senses can't quite reach. One is just that, the idea that there is something more to this life than just life itself. Specifically, because we have a consciousness. I will save the idea of consciousness for another post. But with our conciousness comes an understanding of the world from a different point of view, namely, it allows us to ask the question: why are we here? While I can't know for sure, I don't see any reason to believe that there is such an answer. Why do we need a purpose? Is the life of a monkey any different whether it lives it in the presence or absence of a cosmological purpose? Is ours? Is our humanly purpose any more than to live a successful life, reproduce, give our offspring the opportunity to have a successful life, and aid in the survival of our species? What more purpose does anyone really need?

Of course, all this bears in mind the fact that most people on this planet have a "faith" in something divine, or at least outside of the physical realm in some fashion. So it seems that this is some trait that is inherent to who we are as humans, at least to some degree. But why is the case? Faith could be selected for in evolution, or it could be a by-product of another trait that was selected for, and our innate faith was linked to that trait through similar genetic combinations. As Dawkins puts in the The God Delusion, faith in a parental sense would be a desirable trait. If the parents of a child tell it two things, don't go to the river because of crocodiles and to dance in a circle to bring rain, a child will not be able to tell the difference between what is faith for good reason, and faith for the sake of faith. Evolution would select for children who trusted everything their parents told them, which would make them dance in a circle but would also keep them away from being eaten. Or it could be a side effect of something else.

But in modern times, with our current understanding of the universe and planet far exceeding what people knew even one hundred years ago, why do we still believe in something like a god? Indeed, an ever increasing percentage of Europeans are atheist, but in America and Islamic ruled countries, religion is as strong as ever. But why does anyone actually believe it? It's been almost 300 years since the advent of the scientific method being employed to discover things about our existence. We have discovered that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old, the universe is 14 billion years old, our solar system formed from earlier stars that died, and humanity has evolved along with all other life from a singular instance. We know about the laws of physics, thermodynamics, and mathematics that explain nearly all events we witness in the cosmos and everything we experience on this planet. We as humans rely on evidence to live life. Some of it is obvious to daily life, such as why we don't knowingly walk in front of a moving car (taking inertia, momentum, force, pain, injury, and death into account), to the not obvious, such as our understanding of electricity and magnetism. Before the advent of modern science, our evidence was based on experience. Now, there are many things we have come to accept through science that we cannot see or fathom, such as stars, galaxies, black holes, atoms, electrons, quarks, neutrinos, etc... But just because we can't see them doesn't make them any more relevant and important to our lives. As Horton the elephant would say, "A person's a person, no matter how small." And we experience their effects, which give rise to our own existence. So given all this evidence, what we see, what we do not see, what we experience directly, and what we experience indirectly, why does anyone believe in a god or have faith in something that cannot be seen, detected, or tested?

What reason do we have for believing in a god or gods? If all we have is text written by humans purporting to have divine origins, and a mass of people that believe it, why is anyone convinced? This question goes beyond asking for proof of God, but in the complete absence of proof of any sort, why is there faith in such a thing? Realistically, it probably traces to a time where people didn't know the answers that we know now, and so in order to explain these things they made up stories. These stories told a point. The story of Adam and Eve explains why bad things are in the world and what we must do to be good. The story of creation explains the perceived order in the world and the "purpose" of humans. But one must realize they are just stories, ones that were conceived four thousand years ago or more initially. To lose perspective of this is to lose both the meaning of the story and the answers that we know have in our possession. If someone was born today, with no influence from their parents or peers, they would probably come to learn the leading scientific theories of today explain most of the aspects to our life, and would probably find very little use for existing mainstream religions. However, there are many distractions to lead people to question the valid scientific theories in favor of something that is completely and utterly unsupported. I truly pity people who are so blinded by religion to not be able to appreciate the advances and knowledge we have acquired through science. Then there are those who believe God lies in areas which we can't explain, again relegating him to the gaps. But I think the first question I ask myself now, devoid of religious belief, is why I ever believed it in the first place.

Question of the Day: If God is truly beyond comprehension, what exactly can you have faith in?

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