I monitor and occasionally participate in a number of LDS-related online forums, and frequently the topic comes up of what people believe once they have concluded that the unique foundation and teachings of the Mormon Church are not true. Some retain basic Christian beliefs, some become overt Atheists, others refer to themselves as Agnostic, with many others taking a wide variety of approaches as well. This is the general subject matter I wish to explore in this blog entry.
I guess it would be appropriate to provide a working definition for these terms. I understand “Belief” as being an idea somebody affirms as being true, without being completely grounded in evidence, and which needs to be differentiated from a “Fact” which is completely based on evidence, and can be demonstrated to be true to anybody willing to look. I can ‘believe’ that there is life on other worlds in the universe, but I can factually demonstrate that life is present on earth.
Faith is quite similar to Belief, and some see no distinction whatsoever. From a practical standpoint, I find it useful to see Faith as a more emphatic form of Belief, which often acts as the ‘core’ of somebody’s worldview - how they understand themselves, and their place in the world.
Hope is fairly straightforward - something an individual wants to be true, irrespective of any evidence for or against that claim. I think many people confuse their hopes and beliefs, which leads to all kinds of problems and difficulties.
A very crucial factor here is the strictness with which any individual holds their Faith or Beliefs. Some have a completely dogmatic rigidity, typical of “Fundamentalist” type religions, where their underlying Faith and Beliefs, are beyond question or doubt. Others are more tentative in their approach, and are willing to re-examine their Faith and Beliefs in light of additional information or Facts. You can find this same spectrum of approaches in any belief system, religious, atheistic, or otherwise.
With that somewhat lengthy introduction, let me address how I now approach these matters:
The only thing at all that I can honestly say I have “Faith” in is the ability of Science (which by my definition includes logic, rational thought and the use of the Scientific Method) to distinguish truth from falsity. I’ll be working on a blog entry on this specific topic, but as far as I can see, Science is the default and final arbiter of truth.
Now I am not dogmatic in this Faith - if somebody can demonstrate another legitimate way of identifying truth, then I’d love to include this in my thinking. But at this point in time, this is the central core of my understanding of myself and the world.
Regarding the frequent elements of religious belief systems:
Do I believe in “God”?
Obviously, the answer is heavily influenced by one’s definition of “God” but I’ll use that term to refer to the traditional Jewish-Islamic-Christian personal God. That is, a being who is not just the Creator of everything, but is also intimately involved in His creation, in an ongoing basis, actively intervening, answering prayers, etc., as He sees fit. He is usually spoken of as being Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenvolent.
I do not believe in such a God, as I find no credible evidence for His existence. I also find unresolveable paradoxes as I compare these attributes with the world as I experience it. There are many books on these topics, but I find these two to be among the best:
God: The Failed Hypothesis - Victor Stenger
God’s Problem - Bart Ehrman
Again, I am not dogmatic in this belief (or lack of belief). If evidence comes forward that contradicts this ‘working hypothesis’ I’ll gladly reconsider. But at this point, I agree with LaPlace, who when he was asked by Napoleon why he didn’t mention God in his landmark description of the universe said:
“Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.”
Do I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?
I am unaware of any credible evidence that would support that hypothesis. I have no more basis for believing in his divinity, than in the godhood of Zeus, Buddha, Krishna, etc.
As an aside here, I am curious about those in the Post- or Ex- Mormon communities who maintain their belief in Christ. For many of them, they have realized that getting a good feeling when reading the Book of Mormon has no bearing on whether that book is a legitimate ancient document. But it seems to me, they are basing their belief in Christ on similar feelings when they read the Bible. It seems inconsistent to me, and something I would be interested in exploring with them.
Do I believe in Life After Death?
I do not, again because I find no credible evidence for its existence. I am intrigued by, and have read much, about “Near-death Experiences” but along with many others, find that there is nothing in these experiences that justifies the conclusion that one’s consciousness survives the death of one’s brain.
There has been an interesting study on this subject, in a Coronary Catheterization Laboratory, where a computer laptop is placed high in the lab where patients have the potential of having ‘out of body’ experiences. If they truly left their bodies, and looked down from the ceiling, then the display of this laptop would be clearly visible, and they would be able to report Facts about it that nobody else in the room would know. So far, the results have been negative. But if there should be a positive report, that would be tremendously exciting, and would open up wonderful new areas of research.
All that said, I hope that there is life after death. I can see that as being wonderful. But in the absence of any credible evidence for that belief, I will live my life on the assumption that this is all there is. If I turn out to be mistaken, then that’s great.
But there are moral principles I do believe in, for which supportive evidence can be found:
• I believe in loving and being kind to my fellow-beings, both human and non-human.
• I believe in doing no harm, and avoiding violence whenever possible.
• I believe in the importance of families, and raising children to be loving, curious, and tolerant.
• I believe in hard work, and sacrifice for the sake of others.
• I believe that one of humanity’s highest goals is the relentless search for truth.
Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it demonstrates that one can live a worthwhile life, and be an asset to one’s community, while not holding the conventional beliefs of that community.
Finally, I hope that there is some ultimate meaning and purpose to our existence, even a ‘transcendant’ dimension we have not as yet discovered. If there is, I suspect it will have little in common with the teachings of current or past religious institutions (just as our current understanding of the universe is quite different from ancient guesses). And if it’s real, it will ultimately be discovered and verified through the patient, open-minded and persistent use of Science in the pursuit of truth.