“You know what I believe ? I believe I’ll have another drink !” If this were true, you would know that what I am about to write is likely to be under the influence, like its author, of a glass or three of Glenlivet. But you believe me when I remind you that I went on the wagon four years ago – before both the Book and the Blog.
The three most important words in that paragraph are “you believe me”. Are you sure you can take the risk ? What if I told you that I have just had a vision of soon-to-be-canonized Pope John Paul 2, and that he told me that unless I stop writing this blog right now, I will die on December 9 on the operating table ? Why do you believe one statement and not the other ? Why do we believe anything or anyone ?
1. I do not believe that 2+2 = 4. I KNOW they do. I can PROVE they do. I can SHOW you why the axiom is true. We do not take the statement on faith. It is a verifiable, proven fact. We are CERTAIN it is true.
2. “97% of all (!) scientists favor the proposition that the increase in Global Warming is man-made.” Wow ! So it must be true ! But who made the claim, and on what basis ? When you discover that the statement is based on a questionnaire to which (only) 3000 scientists replied, and that of those 3000 only 75 were climatologists, climoskeptics have a field day. Ignorant, naïve, credulous people (and their name is Legion) are often impressed with statements that begin with “Science tells us …”, or “The scientific community is agreed that …”. The example mentioned should give them pause for thought. (I offered my own opinion, for what it is worth, favoring the significant contribution of humankind to Global Warming, under “Climate Change and God”, in my book “From Illusions to Illumination”, pages 80 – 81).
3. I also suggested in the book, under the heading “Credulity Quotient” (pp. 59 – 60), that we should be cautious in giving credence to politicians whose religious beliefs indicate a certain credulity. Obviously, however, electing non-atheist politicians to office is not counter-indicated — so long as we are sure they would give the right answer to what I have called in that context the “Kennedy question” (What to do in case of conflict between a pol’s personal religious convictions and the laws and interest of the State ? JFK said he would resign). But what about non-atheist scientists ? Are they worthy of the same trust we would have in equally competent atheist scientists ? I have already, several times in my book and this blog, touched on the subject of the “compartmentalization” in the brains of believing scientists, and on atheist-scientist John Haswell’s suggestion that right-brain/left-brain research may help us understand how, as Susan George puts it (see “From Illusions to Illumination”, page 206) some scientists succeed in leaving their faith outside the door when they enter their laboratory … But all scientists, just like the rest of us, atheists and non-atheists alike, are obliged to accept vast quantities of information on faith. We are all believers. Even scientists have to accept propositions based on research which they have personally neither performed nor verified. Why do they, why do we, believe what people tell us ? It depends on what is being said, but also on the person saying it. The point is too obvious – even coming from me – to be spelled out. But clearly religious faith is based on the credibility of the holy man, the prophet, the priest who is asking us to believe him and accept the literally incredible claims he makes. That credibility is usually reinforced by supposed works of wonder, miracles, healings, predictions witnessed by the first generation of his disciples, and taken on faith by subsequent generations in such sheer numbers that current belief is often based on shibboleths like “1.2 billion Catholics can’t be wrong”.
4. We cannot function without believing many of the things we are told. But it is up to each of us to decide whether or not it is reasonable and rational to accept them as statements of fact. We know that we are easily deceived, even by ourselves, and are fair game for the manipulators and exploiters of human credulity. In everyday life we wisely exercise doubt when there is reason to suspect that fraudulent, or even innocent, claims are unfounded. Religious beliefs are based precisely on such unfounded claims.
P.S. If I do not survive my upcoming operation, don’t jump to conclusions about my supposed vision of Pope John Paul 2. My death will prove it was true, right ? In fact, I was not telling the truth. It was not John Paul 2 but John 23. See how credulous you are ?