June 1, 2013

I'd rather be uncomfortable than wrong

Lots of interesting discussion around this piece on Eric MacDonald's blog. It discusses something that often gets missed when people talk about New Atheism:

New Atheists [...] are really not skeptical about the existence of a god or gods. We have no question about it at all, and this, not because of unwarranted certainty, but because we have no idea what a god is, and we don't think that religious believers know either.

There are a lot of mysteries in our universe, and there always will be. However, there's really no reason to believe that religion or theology explain or solve these mysteries.

MacDonald on theists:

Of course, like real disciplines of knowledge they engage in rational discussions, but at the basis of those discussions lie propositions which are not based on any evidence.

They are based on scripture, but, in examining the origins—whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or otherwise...

...We still go back and back, and when we get to the end of a chain of traditions, we find someone with a pen! A human being, just like you and me! So the church, just like the Muslim authorities, took some human writings, no matter how fenced round with sanctity, and then elevated these writings to a stature they simply do not and cannot possess.

Yet theology is founded upon them. Theologians are governed by them. So are whole societies! Not only that, but they can neither be added to nor subtracted from. These are the very words of God—whatever that is assumed to mean within the structure of various theologies.

What puzzles me is that in the absence of evidence-based knowledge and understanding, it wouldn't be my first choice to make up an answer, or to rely on an answer someone else made up a few hundred or a few thousand years ago.

Of course I would prefer to have a good explanation, a truthful one backed by reliable evidence. But I would much rather say "I don't know"—accepting that we are ignorant about many things—than to accept a poor answer with no evidence, just to be able to have an answer at all. As far as I'm concerned, theological "explanations" are based on ideas someone made up many generations ago, usually with what we would now consider a very superficial, misguided, and incorrect understanding of the world.

No one knows (yet) what exactly dark matter and dark energy are. Likewise, no one knows (yet) how life started on Earth.

These are big questions. Maybe we'll know the answers someday, but as of now we do not. Researchers have plenty of ideas, but those ideas need to be tested against reality before we can accept them as truth. Not knowing is uncomfortable for me, but I'd rather be uncomfortable than wrong.

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