Warning: This post is a little more opinionated than my previous ones and is really meant to be an examination of my beliefs and not an indictment of your beliefs. That said, please proceed cautiously!
I’ve been brought up by an engineer and a science teacher, a deeply religious parent and one that paid lip service to religion (don’t protest mom- you know I’m right :-))! As a child, I did what I was asked, I recited prayers, I read books about Indian gods and goddesses – in all fairness these were mainly comic books (Amar Chitra Kathas rock!) and for the longest time I thought that Krishna was blue!! Now, in my 40s, I consider myself a skeptic rather than a cynic – so, like Bill Nye (at 19:30 in this clip), I too don’t believe in ghosts – but I’d love to meet one!! Therefore I am willing to accept that if there truly is a Supreme Being then – upon my death – I will be in a much warmer environment than would be considered comfortable, or I will be reincarnated as a mosquito – choose your version of hell. I’m completely at peace with this – I fully expect to be on the receiving end of some heavy duty smiting! And while I am aware that people of faith, see miracles all around them, I see the beauty of Physics and Chemistry and Mathematics in the universe around me. The Venn diagram represents all the things on which I have yet to gather quantifiable evidence, so I remain skeptical.
I choose to have faith in science and the scientific method – and this explains my belief in evolution, the reality of climate change, the importance of vaccines, and astronomy [remember, astronomy is the science and astrology is hokum]. Recently, Nature magazine published an article that postulated a different theory on the universe – that it is not expanding, as was suggested by Nobel prize winning physicists, but that in fact it may be increasing in mass. Now, upon this announcement the scientific community did not get their collective knickers in a twist, or have the vapors, or call for the head of the cosmologist who had the temerity to question years of scientific research, or resort to name calling – I mean we are all geeks who have been on the receiving end of bullying for long enough to be able to hurl some pretty soul crushing nerdy put-downs! Like ‘yo mamma so big she expresses her weight in scientific notation‘! No – scientists got so excited, they welcomed a new hypothesis – some with more skepticism than others – but scientists know that its just more fun to be wrong than to be right! Being wrong actually advances knowledge – being right is just … boring!
Conversely, I find that organized religion, by and large, does not lend itself to change quite as easily. There’s a resistance to adaptation and the resistance seems to be based on texts and theories that were written and postulated centuries ago. In stories from some texts …ummmm god just seems to be a little….odd! Demanding strange forms of worship – 40 foreskins, life of first born sons, special underwear, women need to cover their hair. Indian gods have been known to break their own laws whenever convenient – yeah, don’t strike below the belt….unless the guy is big and that’s the only way you can kill him.
That’s not to say that science is infallible – when they were first discovered, X-rays were used as carnival entertainment until people’s limbs started falling off due to radiation poisoning! And lets not forget the studies done on why coffee spills when you walk with it, and how roller coaster rides can reduce the symptoms of asthma. The Ig Nobel awards do highlight some strange research! But in the end, the scientific method prevails – evidence based science corrects wayward trajectories.
A vast majority of my friends and family have a strong faith that plays a very important role in their lives and gives them a lot of happiness. And I am friends with them because they are made of awesome and it doesn’t bother them -hopefully too much – that I am an atheist pagan – or should that be pagan atheist – I’m not entirely sure. Here is my conundrum – which is probably shared by a lot of skeptics – when bad things happen to good people and the good people ask for their friends’ prayers – I want to help. I may be religion-less and godless but I am NOT heartless! I so want to help, but I’m pretty sure that I would be faking it if I did pray – I think that any self respecting Supreme Being would give me a haughty look of derision.
Also, what I really want to ask aforementioned, unsubstantiated Supreme Being is – what kind of power move is it to smite your most devoted believers with a Bad Thing? I mean, these people have done nothing but sing your praises, literally, and to bestow your grace on them in such a way seems so arbitrarily cruel. I guess you do move in mysterious ways and you don’t owe me an explanation.
So instead of prayers, I send love and hugs, I send my very best wishes that new scientific breakthroughs will help them fight the Bad Thing, and that the scientifically well characterized prayer placebo effect will help my wonderful friends overcome. At this point I need to apologize to my dad who is someone with a tremendous amount of faith, and prays and meditates every day – some of these prayers may even be that I come to my senses! In my opinion, he is much nicer and infinitely more principled than the deities he worships!