The more we understand about human intelligence the more we realize how much room for doubt there is in our conclusions. But it seems to me that whether it be in relation to religion or science or politics, I’ve been hearing “I don’t believe that” more often these days than I used to. Why?
There is always room for legitimate doubt in whatever field we look. Science is based on observable evidence, and as our observations expand, so do our interpretations. Which means that what we think of as “facts” change, and science is constantly re-assessing the validity of earlier conclusions. Today, quantum physics and the Standard Theory, both theories about the very nature of matter and the universe are not even in agreement with each other, and both are being questioned by recent findings.
But the areas of scientific dispute are almost without end. Is drinking alcohol in moderation good for health? What about fats? or more than 3 eggs a week? or various grains? or super-aerobic exercise like jogging every day?
Religion, of course, is a completely different matter. Religious beliefs, by definition, cannot be verified. They are accepted on “faith” without proof. Believers think that their beliefs are divinely revealed and are the true ones, but since so many religions believe so many contradictory things, somebody must be wrong.
So how do we decide what it is that we believe, or not believe? And what determines how certain we are that the beliefs we hold are right?
I don’t know the answer to this. When I was young, I thought it was a question of intelligence and education, but that obviously isn’t so. It’s partly culture, both secular and religious. I was reared as a Roman Catholic, which argues even today that it is the one and only true Church. As a young person, I thought, therefore, that I had all the right answers to all the fundamentally important questions. Today, I see the Church’s position as limiting. (I would even use the words arrogant, destructive, and ignorant, if I might not be misunderstood to be saying that all Roman Catholics are arrogant and stupid, which obviously they are not.)
Of course on a daily level we cannot go around questioning every aspect of reality. If we did we’d never get anything done. But we are engaged in mass killings of our fellow human brothers and sisters simply because they disagree with our religious or political beliefs. Why are we so varied in our ability to tolerate uncertainty on such a profound level?
In part, I wonder if it’s economic. In societies where men, particularly, cannot get employment, religious and political fanaticism seems to proliferate.
If that’s so, then understanding economics and creating systems where swathes of the population are not disenfranchised is critically important to human survival. It’s what America thought capitalism was about, but research shows that it is not as automatic as we thought for so long. Without government intervention, the wealth of that 2% may be entrenched. Creating equality is what Communism set out to do as well, but it also has not succeeded. The temptation of various forms of contemporary socialism is to take from the rich, variously defined as anything from the top 2% to anybody who has more than anybody else. And I’m dead wrong if Trump has the answers to “make America great again.”
In the long-term, we have not yet found a system that sustains development and opportunity across the board. But in my old age, I find myself tending to study the problem from the point of view of economics rather than from theological or psychological perspectives.