Sometimes I am asked about what I believe (rarely, but it happens), so I thought I would gather my thoughts on that, and related things, into one place. Here you will find my positions on matters that religion generally delves into. Warning: if you are afraid to question your own faith, you probably shouldn’t read this. Don’t worry about it, you already know the truth. Go back to your spiritual family and stay comfortable. May your gods bless you.

If you want to change my mind on any of these matters, all you have to do is show me sufficient evidence. I like warm, fuzzy feelings as much as anyone, but that won’t convince me to believe something that hasn’t been shown to be true. I agree that sometimes you have to proceed on scanty evidence, because that’s all you have. Still, you use the best knowledge available, and incorporate new information when it appears; you’d be foolish not to.

On the other hand, I probably can’t change your mind. If your faith is not based on reason and observation, I have no reasonable way of convincing you to believe differently. So I won’t try. I will simply present what I believe, and you can do what you wish with that information.

What I Believe

I do not have faith (see Definitions), in the religious sense. I believe that what I experience is real—the love of family, the joy and the pain of existence, the value of friendship and constructive work, the idea that each human being is worth more than any amount of  money or property. These things are important to me because of what I have encountered in my life, not because of any abstract philosophy or theology, nor because of any religious or political authority.

Although I am not a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, I have learned much from his teachings. His words (or those attributed to him) led me to a conversion experience, which ultimately resulted in what you could call my scientific enlightenment. I am not in any sense a fundamentalist. In fact, I reject all the principles of fundamental Christian doctrine, as I understand it—I am sure that the Holy Bible is often in error, including much of its teachings on moral issues, and I see no reason to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. There is no evidence to support the occurrence of miracles, either now or in biblical times. I think that the crucifixion of Jesus was an example of selflessness and a sense of mission, but it could not have been an act of atonement* that satisfied a divine requirement for justice. That would require a god whose nature would inspire disgust, not worship. I am quite sure that such a god does not exist.

Why People Believe (on patternicity, Michael Shermer)

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You may call me an atheist, if you wish. It’s not very descriptive, but it is a reasonable shorthand way of describing my point of view to those who may not want to go into detail. I don’t deny the existence of some kind of god. I simply see no reason to trust ideas which are unsupported by evidence. I am open to the idea that there exist things that I am totally unaware of, or have no understanding of, that don’t fit within the laws of physics as we know them. I’m comfortable with that. I don’t have to know everything.

I am a naturalist. It is increasingly apparent that everything can be described in scientific terms; that there are no ghosts, fairies, angels, demons, or supreme being separate from the universe but interacting with it in undetectable ways; that there is no human “soul” that survives the death of the body, and no supernatural heaven or hell. I can’t prove the nonexistence of all those things. I just see no evidence of them. Stories about ghosts, angels and gods can be inspiring. Mythology and poetry are part of the richness of existence. It is a mistake to confuse those stories with reality, one that has led to much evil in the world.

The Future

I am comfortable with my own mortality. Will my “essence” or my “spirit” continue after I die? According to what I have experienced, no. From what I understand, my particular consciousness will end when my brain ceases to function, and the only parts of me that will continue living after that event are the bits of me that have become part of the thoughts and personalities of others. That is, to me, a freeing concept. I can live now, while I am alive, without having to give any consideration to an afterlife. Instead of focusing on reward or punishment in the hereafter, I can simply do what I know to be right in this life, as much as I am able.

I am not a “true believer”—I am willing to change my beliefs when the evidence warrants it. I welcome conversation with those who agree with me and those who disagree, and I will discuss any personal faith issue or belief system you wish. I don’t take offense easily. If all your beliefs are immutable, or if you can’t take reasonable criticism, you might not be comfortable with my ideas. That’s okay; you don’t have to leave! You are most welcome to stay and be a little uncomfortable. That’s how we grow.

don't panic, just believe
I have more thoughts on issues of spirit, consciousness, morality and such at the Real World Blog, and at Chiefy’s Word, under the Enlightenment category. My own thinking on these matters has changed substantially over the years. I am always willing to discuss my ideas and other viewpoints.

*Atonement refers to the forgiving or pardoning of sin through the death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion, which made possible the reconciliation between God and creation (Wikipedia).
Credit for the title image: a re-imagining of Da Vinci’s art by Nick Farrantello. I think Leonardo would be pleased. I’m sure Jesus would get a chuckle out of it, too.

5 thoughts on “Enlightenment

  1. Thought provoking. I have the opinion that not everything can be scientifically explained. I’ve had a handful of events in my life, especially later in life, that have me wondering about the existence a spirit world of some sort. And I have had doctors here in Rochester tell me that some things can’t be explained in their field, other than to talk about possible “outside” help. Perhaps some day we can have a face to face chat about how our beliefs evolved since the early days.

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    1. I fully agree that not everything can be explained. Physicists have theories about other universes and other dimensions that we will never be able to detect. But when you bring up a spirit world, you are implying that it can interact in some way with what we can observe. A miracle can’t be impressive if it can’t be detected. In order for me to assign a spiritual cause to some phenomenon, I would need some valid evidence of what is happening. I haven’t yet heard a good explanation of what spirit could be.

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      1. Wasn’t it only a couple of years ago that you thought that we would never be able to empirically test the big bang? So too will we be able to detect other dimensions. I think also we will come to a point of understanding awareness where we realize that space itself is aware.(At least given the M-theory paradigm, that is what we are, space)

        I also think that my religious faith is your secular faith. I believe in myself. Thus, the only faith I have is in the perfection of myself.

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      2. Did I say that? Maybe, I don’t remember. I need to be more careful about using the term “never.” It is a bit too absolute. Yeah, our faiths may be more similar than that of any two Baptists. We’ll see. If you can figure out a way to communicate with space in a way that’s measurable and intelligible, we can found a religion on it.

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