My own scientific education was sufficient to make me understand the processes of evolution, and the title article in the June 2007 Scientific American about early replicators and their role in the origin of life pushes back my concept of what a creator would have to be responsible for even further. (It also contains an excellent paragraph or two on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and how living beings can increase in order.) Considering that I had already believed in a non-deific origin for life, this article was a godsend. ;-)
My sense of wonder and awe at the universe remains undiminished, but I do not believe that the variety of existance of life on earth some attribute to God required much more than the switch being flicked on. Life and the wonders of the cosmos are a natural byproduct of existence. I still don’t know how existence started, yet it is my thankfulness for the universe as it is that leads me to contemplation of the beginings of things and Deism, in the 18th centrury sense of the word.
I don’t think that I could reason myself into a strict interpretation faith in the Bible. I might be able to delude myself into such faith, but my reason rejects that position. I do not deny that there are other, more moderate postions that I might be able to accept, but I am not familiar with proofs that convince me of anything beyond Deism.
With regards to myself, I am more concerned with the negatives of religion, especially as concerns belief without thought and belief in things not supported by facts. My study of ethics leads me to conclude that moral instruction is important, but there exist alternatives to strictly religious instruction that do not have the aforementioned pitfalls. I find a critical mind one of the most important tools I use to confront the problems I face, and as a society I think that educating children to maximize these faculties is important if we wish to confront the massive problems confronting us as a species. And I agree that religion does not necessarily preclude free thought, but there are tendencies within most religions to oppose any thought which contradicts the tenets of faith. Revalation, in this sense, can oppose all the evidence science and reason can muster.
Self-rightousness and pride are sins as far as I can recall, and that contraditction is most telling. Though it must be admitted that many religious people do not display these behaviors, I feel that this silent majority does nothing to support rational thought as a pivotal societal value. I cite the decline of research funding, the policicalization of science, and the poor quality of education in america as primary evidence. Ignorance is on the rise.
I find the discussion of the cultural value of religion most interesting. I have a firm belief that groups of dedicated people can effect change within their communities, and I believe that many churches perform positive functions when they set themselves to good works. I also think that socialization is very important to the human experience, but when I look at (fringe) groups like the Westburough Baptists protesting homosexuality at memorial services for fallen servicemen, I have to wonder about the everyday impact of religion on our society. It’s a mixed bag, I suppose.
I suspect that the Unitarians are the proper organization to facilitate a prolonged discussion about the specifics of religion. I certainly enjoy the benefits of their community and the social engagement that their church facilitates.
Thank you for taking the time to discuss this with me, it has been most helpful.
I appreciate the follow-up and additional details about your philosophical experience. Regarding the origin of the universe, I think we are at a point scientifically where whether or not a reasonable person believes in a Deist-type creator pretty much boils down to your personal estimation of the probability of a supernatural being. I consider such a thing so unlikely in the face of so many non-supernatural possibilities that I don’t even worry about it. However, other people (perhaps including you) have their own opinions on the matter and I cannot say that my opinion has any more or less validity.
We run into difficulty when people consider a deity to be the most likely possibility and make a leap from there to the existence of the Judeo-Christian God. I don’t think that is a reasonable chain of thinking, and it is one that you nicely avoid.
Thanks again for writing.