Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy

    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Archive for November, 2009

Avoiding leaps of faith into conclusions

Posted by robertpriddy on November 29, 2009

It is remarkable how many people believe many things on rather insubstantial evidence, but just as remarkable is how so many reject things out of hand without having even investigated at all, let alone as fully as possible!  I have observed more and more clearly in latter years – many people will believe just about anything, especially if it suits them, their lifestyle, their habits and accumulated opinions. This cuts both ways, of course, both as to believers and unbelievers. When the facts cannot be established and an issue is still in the balance, most people prefer a certainty than a continued state of uncertainty… even if it is a false certainty. Most people are very poor at questioning their own beliefs, especially those held most dear. But any genuine search for truth must question beliefs, however deep-rooted – and this is most demanding. It calls for a patient condition of inconclusiveness and tolerance of the uncertainty caused by reservation of final judgment until certain knowledge is attained.

There are always pros and cons in any matter, increasingly so the larger and more important the subject. To keep in the mind all of them from both sides, yet not to conclude in favour of one side or the other is a feat of conscious tolerance of uncertainty that few people can sustain for long… at least when the issue is at all crucial. Only when the evidence is so powerful as to make its factuality believable to the well-informed can reservation of judgement be concluded. One should be wary of the fact that belief is endemic, and it takes many different and new shapes which also often shift as experience proceeds.

An even-minded approach allows us not to pre-judge – whether the prejudice be for or against – and helps us takes the rough along with the smooth. But this requires restraint in reaching conclusions together with continuous reflection upon one’s own mind and personal, experiential knowledge. It is not easy to remain open-minded towards all evidence and various interpretations of it, by many-sided reasoning. While investigating the case against Sathya Sai Baba, I have always borne in mind how further questions and answers of which I had not yet thought might arise. This was because I wanted to follow a most stringent method of seeking the true facts.

In general, I do not believe that all or even most of my convictions represent absolute certainties or that what is apparently incontrovertible fact cannot ever prove to be otherwise. Yet personal responsibility requires that I hold to convictions that I have been able to reach after thorough examination [and repeated reexamination as new information emerged] until the cogent reasons for them have been shown to be incorrect by stringent methods of proof. I am aware that some of my important convictions have been overturned by the facts again and again in the past and that many a ‘scientific fact’ and theory have been modified, superceded or rejected in my own lifetime. This applies all the more to human acts and historical developments, as distinct from natural events and processes. That I have moved with the emerging truth and not stuck in a belief that fact has superseded I consider an achievement.

The hardest part of the search for truth, I think, is to remain undecided when sufficient facts and evidence are lacking… for most people everywhere like to get rid of uncertainty quickly and would even prefer to live with false certainties than with inconclusiveness.

Posted in Belief, Intelligence, Media, religious faith, Science, Spiritual propaganda, Uncategorized, Understanding | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is religion necessary to humanity?

Posted by robertpriddy on November 23, 2009

“As my friend Matt Ridley has written, ‘Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance which drives them on’,
Mystics exalt in mystery and want it to stay mysterious.”
Richard Dawkins ‘The God Delusion’ (p. 151f, Black Swan 2007 edition)

The reasons for supposing the benevolent existence of a caring God are very many and powerful, not least the need of adults to assuage anxiety and fear about existence and death, of suffering and possible divine punishments over and above those exacted by our own kind (or for the weak-mind, that of an eternal hell run by demons or a devil). Whether faith in religion has an overall positive or negative function for humankind is inseparable from the ultimate question of the existence of a God, whether as a Supreme Intelligence, the Creator of the Cosmos, and Omniscient and Omnipotent consciousness – or the like expressed in other terms.

To place faith in a being that does not exist cannot be genuinely fruitful in the longer term.  It may certainly have a temporary or even quite extended   consoling or uplifting effect on people. Yet it is really an expression of ignorance which, obviously, cannot be fruitful for humankind and whatever future it may have.

As science continues, decade after decade, to fill more and more of the gaps in our knowledge, there is less and less space for the mystical explanation and the supposed ‘divine hand’. The process of cumulative human knowledge based on massive observation and experimentation – instead of superstition and speculative theology – has continued since earliest human history, when the actual causes of some natural phenomena began to be understood. In the last century it has been progressing geometrically and shows no sign of slowing down.

“If the history of science tells us anything, it is that we get nowhere by labelling our ignorance “God”.
Jerry Coyne, US geneticist, reviewing the legally discredited ‘creationist’ theory of Behe.

Creationism – the belief that the world was created by one or more intelligent beings (usually God, spirits or deities) – was almost (though not entirely) universally believed before European science and philosophy progressed. The creationist belief came under strong attack as the science of evolution  advanced to become accepted by most world scientists and intelligentsia. The body of knowledge explaining the development of all living beings has developed and grown by leaps and bounds at an ever-increasing rate. It is so many-sided, so empirically fact-based that religionists’ counter-arguments have fast narrowed down to a very limited scope.  The so-called ‘unknown’ causes – which were the main support of creationism and other forms of mysticism (including belief in evil deities like Satan) – have been largely explained in phenomenal detail and tested by observation and experiment. The once universal awe and fear of a Divine Creator whose planned and rules the natural order – red in tooth and claw – and the near endless series of calamitous hells that world history had recorded became less and less convincing and effective. 

Beliefs in supernatural phenomena and beings has most often been due to sheer ignorance of causes of what are natural phenomena and events. The sense of being looked after by an omnipotent protective parent is natural and all but unavoidable for children to survive until adulthood, but many cannot make the transition and find some other imaginary being as a substitute – angels, spiritual beings of all conceivable (but unobservable) description and not least the most often vague catch-all belief in ‘God’. Such conceptions formed and became ritualised and a part of a primitive developing culture, and remained in the long run (though constantly modified in the transition of cultures – even beyond recognition).

When science gave rise to the versatile alternative form of understanding of the universe and superstitions were shed on a huge scale, the keystone idea of all traditional religions – an all-powerful, all-knowing God creator (and destroyer) – appeared more and more superfluous, even ridiculous. The idea of such an insuperable (and often most fearful) being was used to control people, whether or not cynically was discredited. However, even today the priesthoods are powerful influences and even belief in a strong, determined and clever person as being holy, divine, or even God Himself in human form is most common in history. (Rama, Jehova, Jesus, Roman and Eastern emperors… and countless more since). Today there are plenty who profess to be holy, divine and even to be God Incarnate, and they often have very large followings (especially in the East) and countless charlatans proclaims they are God’s Messenger, God’s Mouthpiece, or God’s Representative on Earth (e.g. not forgetting the Catholic Pope as ‘Vicar of God’, meaning ‘deputy’).

Posted in causality, Environment, Evolution, Science, Spiritual propaganda, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »