Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.
I admit that I have a man-crush on Tim Minchin. This song/beat poem/thingy was my introduction to his music, and I think it’s still my favorite. If you’ve never heard him before, take some time to go through everything on youtube. It’s worth it.
Most of us freethinker types have had an experience like the one in “Storm.” There are a lot of people like the girl in this song, many of whom seem to have an overdeveloped attraction to patchouli. The moment they find out that someone considers himself a rationalist — or worse, an empiricist — they launch into a diatribe about how we can’t “know for certain.” It would all be well and good if that was the extent of it. That’s the whole point of rationalism and empiricism. Our beliefs change based on changing evidence.
Unfortunately, that’s as far as the agreement goes. The true colors bleed through when we’re told that homeopathy, faith healing, psychic powers, reiki, and colloidal silver are the real answers to curing cancer. Oh, and something about drum circles and channeling the mother spirit.
This is faith. Pure and simple. It is the denial of evidence so that belief can be preserved. It is giving in to what “feels right” as opposed to what is demonstrated to be true. I don’t normally spend much time on New Age Quackery, and I’ll admit to a bit of political pandering as the main motivation. I’m just as aggravated by this kind of nuttery as belief in talking snakes and zombie saviors, but there hasn’t been a recent attempt by hippies to take over the government, and most New Age Quackers (yes, I meant Quackers. I’m trying it on for size.) voted for Obama. I’ll admit that I don’t like pissing off my political allies.
But every once in a while, I think it’s important to point out that I’m not on a crusade against religion, per se. I’m on a crusade against bad thinking. And yes, aging liberal hippie douches often use bad critical thinking and come up with nutty ideas about how the universe works.
But there’s more wisdom in “Storm” than the rant against pseudo-science and post-modernism. I love the resolution. “Isn’t this enough? Just this world?”
I get frustrated and tired of trying to explain that I can trust the evidence and still have a sublime existence filled with love, wonder, beauty, and mystery. I don’t need for there to be a magical aura around me. It’s enough that my brain is composed of around a hundred billion neurons with about a hundred trillion synapses. Some are tonic, some are phasic, while others are thin-spike or fast-spike. In concert, they send an immensely complex and dynamic pattern of chemical and electrical impulses racing about the inside of my cranium, and for as long as they continue to do so, I think. I perceive. I feel. I love.
Other people with brains similar to mine have been accumulating knowledge for thousands of years. No single human could have ever done what we have done collectively. When I look at my new IPhone 3G and ponder the number of scientific discoveries we had to make so that I can get “an app for that,” my mind boggles. Sometimes, I think about how lucky I am to live in the only period of human history when I will probably live two to three times as long as 99% of all the humans who have lived before. Again, my mind boggles. In a few days, I’ll undergo a minor outpatient surgery for something that probably would have killed me two hundred years ago. How amazing!
This universe is immense and amazing, and I’m just a little bit of stardust. But I’m lucky enough to be a sentient bit of stardust, capable of appreciating the majesty and beauty of the natural world. That’s enough for me. I don’t need to believe I’ll live after death, or that my great-great-great-great grandma is sitting in heaven looking down lovingly at me. (Seriously, I don’t want her watching me masturbate. That’s creepy.) I don’t need a spirit, or psychic powers. The world is exciting enough with things we can prove.
For me, with the acceptance of reality has come a certain peace and tranquility. With the profound knowledge of both my limits and my insignificance has come a beautiful sense of just how lucky I am to be alive and to create my own happiness and significance. Here’s another Tim Minchin song about it.