Thursday, November 03, 2005

I Hate It When Lightbulbs Go Off In My Head

Last night, I was talking to my lovely wife when a light went off in my head. At first, I thought I was having an epileptic seizure, but I wasn't shaking. Then I thought that maybe I was having a stroke, but I could still talk okay, so that wasn't it, either. Then I realized that a lightbulb had just gone off in my head, because an idea came to me so full-force that I was amazed. This doesn't happen very often, but I'm an intuitive processor of information, so occasionally my brain likes to give me these little surprises. Gee, thanks, brain.

Anyway, here's what hit me like a glowing ton of bricks last night. You might want to sit down. It's mind-blowing. Seriously, sit down. I mean it.

Are you braced? Okay, here goes.

Religious people are intellectually lazy!

I know. I know. That's nothing I haven't said before, here and in other venues. But I finally understand how and why they are intellectually lazy. I finally get it. You see, I have acquaintances that are very religious and not drooling idiots, and I've never been able to understand how they could be both at the same time, even though I was once a True Believer myself. I just never understood them. And they never understood me. I know of at least one of these acquaintances who has said, "You're a smart guy. I don't understand why you can't see why Christianity is the right way." (That's a paraphrase. I can't remember the exact wording because I was laughing too hard on the inside and trying not to insult this person.)

I never understood before how these religious people could stand there, be rational in every way except the biggest one, believing in something that is completely irrational, i.e. supernatural beings with amazing powers.

But last night I finally put it all together. You see, I think this is how it works. A skeptic tries to apply rational thought to every fact that he comes across, look at it through the filter of reason, then mold his opinions around the facts of which he is aware. As time goes by, these opinions are reinforced or discarded, depending on new facts or better explanations of things. So, a skeptic builds up a mountain of opinion that is supported by facts and other opinions, but all of those things are vetted by reason and rationality. Of course, that's an idealized view. No skeptic is completely skeptical. Reason and rationality are goals that we strive towards and work hard to achieve, not innate things that we are born with. So even skeptics fail at this process sometimes.

But the religious, be they Christians, Wiccans, Muslims, Astrau, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists or Hindus (etc. etc. etc.), go through life using a different process. They view every fact they come across through the filmy haze of their own opinions, and then force their reason to accomodate the new facts to those opinions. So, the religious person takes a fact and looks for a way to make it fit into their world-view. If it doesn't, they reject the fact. But they don't change the world-view. It's akin to a two year old trying to force a square peg into a round hole. If it doesn't fit, he bangs on it for a while, and if it still doesn't fit, he throws it away.

This is where a lot of the really weird religious ideas come from. Some religious person, or group of people, have banged on a fact for so long in their attempts to make it fit the spaces in their world views that the fact itself is well-nigh unrecognizable. Thus, young earth creationists believe God either created the universe with photons en route to earth or else the speed of light is wrong. That's the only way the observed facts can fit in with their world views. Thus, Intelligent Design proponents claim that complexity is a sign of a designer, because otherwise, there's no need for a designer. Evolutionary theory makes one obsolete in the biological world. And it denies humanity's special place in the world. ID is no more than the modern day equivalent of the geocentric model of the universe. It's an attempt to make us special again.

Of course, all this doesn't mean that the religious can't change their world-views. Obviously, they do. But the religious do it for emotional reasons, not rational ones. I stopped being a True Believer because it didn't seem right to me to discard data just because I believed something that contradicted it. So I became a skeptic and an atheist not because of reason, but for emotional reasons. I just got lucky and changed my world-view to one that slowly evolved into a skeptical, reasonable, rational one.

It's ironic in a way. An emotional response led to a lifetime of reasoned response.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home


"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain


Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu