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Subject: A random spectator’s theology
From: datapacrat@gmail.com (Daniel Boese)
Date: Thu, 20 Apr 2006 17:30:57 +0000 (UTC)
Message-Id: <e28ggh$a71$1@pyramid.sjgames.com>
Newsgroups: sjgames.chatter

The current thread(s) on Gibson’s “The Passion” has given me reason to
re-examine my own religious beliefs, and whether they need any updating.

Depending on which definitions are being used, I’m either an agnostic
or an atheist. I do not believe there is any supernatural power
outside of the laws of physics, or in a theological afterlife. (I’m
still hoping for a technological one, though; time travel seems to be
mostly ruled out, so my current hope is for a computer-simulated
re-creation of my mind.)

I use a very simple sentence to explain that [lack of] belief:
Whenever somebody presents me with some idea, whether it being aliens
crashing at Roswell, illuminated conspiracies, whether to buy Coke or
white-cranberry/strawberry juice (I rather like the latter), I ask myself:

“Why should I believe that?”

What reasons exist for me to believe the presented idea, rather than
to disbelieve it, or ignore it?

I’ve looked at cells through a microscope, and at stars through a
telescope. The periodic table and its chemistry work well enough to
make materials and pharmaceutical companies rich; quantum physics (of
some flavour or other) seem to do a good job explaining why that is.
I’ve used a GPS receiver, which uses the math of general relativity,
and they seem to work. In other words, the general process called
Science seems to work – which is a good enough answer to the above
“Why?”. (I’m not insisting that current theories are the be-all and
end-all, either; for example, the Heim-Droescher theory, though not
generally accepted, seems to do a better job of explaining the
universe as a cellular-automata-machine than string theory’s hazy branes.)

And then, we move to religion. The various faiths each make certain
claims, often contradictory – and whenever I ask “Why should I believe
/that/ claim?”, I have yet to find an answer that doesn’t suit some
other faith’s contradictory claim at least as well; in other words, I
reject the reasoning “because the Bible says so” unless I can also
accept the contradictory “because the Qur’an says so”, “because the
Torah says so”, “because the Vedas say so”, and “because the Iliad and
Odyssey say so”.

There is one claim that I don’t refute: “because of a personal
experience of God”. However, I’ve never had such an experience, so I
have to leave any debate over such experience to those who’ve had one,
and with neuroscientists who artificially induce such experiences.

Thus, I find much discussion on the details of religion – eg, whether
a certain semi-historical figure (possibly historical, possibly
mythical) had one thing happen to him or another, or had one attribute
or another – mainly of abstract interest, mostly sociological. (The
interest becomes somewhat sharper when such discussions are used to
justify a religion’s interference in my own life, or the lives of
other people; for example, a particular religion’s definition of what
is and isn’t a “person”.)

Relatedly, simply because I lack faith, doesn’t mean I lack an ethical
system. It just doesn’t necessarily share the same axioms as those of
a religious person. And, oddly, even based on a purely rational
selfishness, what I consider ethical behaviour often closely matches
up with what many religious people consider good. (“If #DEITY says
something is wrong, is it wrong because #DEITY said so, or because
it’s wrong in and of itself? If it’s because #DEITY said so, would it
then be right if #DEITY were to say it was? If it’s wrong in and of
itself, then why do we need #DEITY to tell us it’s wrong?”)

(For an example of a non-religious ethical system, feel free to browse
the one described at http://www.importanceofphilosophy.com/ .)

So… have I written any of the above poorly enough to be unclear? Is
anybody actually still reading this message, or have I put you all to
sleep? Have I missed any reasons to believe in one religion that don’t
apply to contradictory religions? Should I simply go back to reading
my copies of Robert Graves’ “The Greek Myths” and imagining a world
where the island of Sicily used to be a giant?

Thank you for your time,

Daniel Boese, aka DataPacRat
“Why should I believe that?”

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