Thursday, November 12, 2009

Things I am almost absolutely certain about

Let’s move on to the things I’m almost absolutely certain about. It’s a slightly longer list and not nearly as maudlin. It contains four items.

I’m almost certain that I am capable of reaching accurate conclusions due to my intelligence and my ability to reason.

This is sort of the fundamental requirement isn’t it? I’m not absolutely certain because I acknowledge that I may in fact be drawing conclusions dictated by what I have been taught or for strictly emotional reasons.

It’s possible, but it’s not very likely. That I’m intelligent is supported by a fairly wide range of evidence. That I’m using that intelligence to reach logical and objective conclusions is more debatable. It’s possible I’m a victim of my education, my environment or my emotions, but I doubt it.

I’m almost certain that the scientific method works.

Is it perfect and are its conclusions always correct? No, of course not, scientists can jump to unwarranted conclusions and misinterpret data just like any one else. But it tends to be self correcting, seems to eventually get around to repairing errors and its track record is impressive. The question I can’t answer is does it have a limit?

I’m almost certain that the Theory of Evolution is correct.

This sort of goes along with my confidence in the scientific method, but stands on its own merit because I’ve acknowledged that science isn’t always right in the short term. The doubt creeps in because I’m having a hard time accepting the mathematics associated with going from a single cell amoeba to the broad spectrum of life on planet earth.

I don’t care how many billions of years we’re talking about; random mutation and natural selection strike me as inadequate. I suspect that we don’t yet fully understand all of the mechanisms involved in evolution.

The doubt associated with the mechanisms of evolution is what leaves the door open for the existence of God.

I’m almost certain that Christianity is nonsense.

The problem with a statement like this is that Christianity covers a very wide spectrum, from Conservative Christianity, to so-called Liberal Christianity, to Mormonism to the weirder fringe sects like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Some parts of that spectrum I’m surer about than others. What one needs to do is ignore the religious dogma and focus on the core doctrines. So what are they? To my mind there are only four. In priority order they are God, Jesus, the Atonement and the Resurrection. Everything else is window dressing.

Allow me to explain.

Does God exist is the single most important question. Either there is a God or there isn’t. If there isn’t, then Christianity is by definition nonsense. The best argument for God is that there exists something. The universe certainly exists. God could have created the universe or he could have come into existence when the universe did. Perhaps he is the life force of the universe and will cease to exist at its heat death.

Christianity’s concept of God’s nature need not be accurate as long as he exists in some form. He need not even necessarily be benevolent and that is a thoroughly frightening thought. The concept of a malevolent God sort of short circuits the so-called problem of evil doesn’t it?

Either Jesus is God, or was sent by God, or he wasn’t. Notice that it’s sort of irrelevant to my mind if Jesus was God or God’s messenger other than the former possibility is far more awe inspiring.

My primary objection to this doctrine is why did God choose to send his message of salvation only to a third rate province of the Roman Empire? Was he operating on a limited budget or what? Why did he ignore the rest of humanity? Why didn’t he chose a more effective approach such as smacking Tiberius in the back of the head and saying “Yo, we have to talk.”

Either Jesus’ death atones for mankind’s sins or it doesn’t. This is the doctrine I have the most trouble with. No one has ever been able to satisfactorily explain to me WHY this was necessary. The whole concept strikes me as an extension of the ancient practice of blood sacrifice to appease the gods.

Either Jesus was resurrected or he wasn’t. This is sort of the money doctrine isn’t it? This is the old “what’s in it for me” answer. Men fear death. The Resurrection of Jesus is supposedly God’s promise that if you follow the rules you will have eternal life.

The problem of course is beyond that “promise” things get a little murky. Does it happen right away or do you have to wait for judgment day to be resurrected? How many will actually be saved? Some branches of Christianity claim almost everyone; others claim very, very few.

What is the nature of heaven? What is the nature of hell? Do these places even exist? If so, WHERE do they exist?

Keep in mind that your body undoubtedly consists of molecules that were once part of the bodies of deceased individuals. The fact of the matter is that our bodies get recycled. Are we going to get our old bodies back or some spiffy new models?

If our old ones then are the fat, the ugly and the dumb still going to be fat, ugly and dumb? If you had a genetic deformity will you still have it? Will you still be able to suffer pain, be tickled, get hungry or get tired?

If new spiffy new models, are we all going to look like Adonis and Venus? If we look so different how will our loved ones recognize us? Will we all be as talented as Bach, Michelangelo and Michael Jordan or are we going to be stuck with the same talents we had on earth? Are these new bodies going to get thirsty, hungry, tired and horny?

Do we get to wear clothes or do we walk around bare ass all day? Who gets to choose what clothes we wear? I’m not all that enthusiastic about schlepping around in those robes people seem to think angels wear.

Is there baseball in heaven? How can there be competition if we all have perfect bodies and equal talents? What are the implications of a heaven where we are unequal?

A spiritual resurrection doesn’t have these kinds of problems but consciousness, our personalities and our memories, all of the things that make us who we are, are most likely provided by the physical bodily aspects of our brains. What good would an afterlife be that didn’t preserve these things?

That’s about it actually. I thought about including social value stuff such as a woman’s right to choose, gay rights, equal justice under the law and so on and so forth, but I realized that these aren’t core beliefs. They are conclusions reached as a function of my core beliefs.

I guess I could have included other strong scientific theories, such as gravity and relativity, but without a unifying theory and a better understanding of the implications of quantum mechanics, I’m not at all that certain we understand these areas as well as we think we do.

So that’s about it really. Not a very long list at all. What really frightens me is the number of people, a lot less intelligent than I am, that are so certain about so much.

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