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Skepticism as an Element of Worship
Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin's chief apostle in the 19th Century, was a strong proponent of evolutionary theory, but had his doubts about the mechanism -- natural selection.
Though time and research have proved Darwin right about that, too, Huxley's great value to the cause of science came from his abiding skepticism about even his own chosen crusade. He warned of his and Darwin's disciples, generations on down the line, turning their theories into dogma and making a religion of them.
Huxley was prophetic. With Rational Religion I am doing something like that; with an important Huxleyan difference.
Unquestioning acceptance of anything, Huxley felt, was a cardinal human failing.
I do not propose unquestioning acceptance of the ruling "facts" of our time. Time has shown many sets of facts to be fluid and full of holes.
But most people don't have time or inclination to ask the necessary questions. It is acceptable for them to believe in logical, non-metaphysical propositions which adhere strongly to the best wisdom of the day; PROVIDING they always remember the cardinal rule.
The only constant is change.
And we must leave room in any system of belief to accommodate it.
There may be UFO's and haunted houses. Your beloved grandma and your childhood doggie may both be in heaven, waiting for you. An occasional professional wrestling match may be an honest fight, unrehearsed and with the outcome in doubt.
That these things are unlikely in the light of modern physics and a finely-tuned antipathy for the mawkish and superstitious, by no means makes any or all of them impossible; just as the fact that many people believe religiously in some or all of them cannot make them real. Except, of course, to the believers.
Keep in mind at all times that the customary dodge that scientists and agnostics use to avoid being publicly tarred and feathered is as accurate as it is evasive.
In public these a-religious souls are wont to spout about how "Science and religion are not in disagreement because they involve entirely separate areas of human thought."
On one level, Balderdash!
What these people usually mean is "I think religion is a crock, but I have no proof; therefore it is impolitic to alienate 95 percent of my audience."
On another level, the prudent evasion is quite logical.
Science and religion, besides both being artifacts of the human central nervous system, are pretty nearly mutually exclusive. The same human central nervous system may entertain both, but not at the same time. That's what the above dodge really means.
Scientific thought bends every effort (albeit imperfectly) to divest itself of metaphysics.
Religion, of course, is codified metaphysics.
The same consciousness can deal with both, interchangeably and sequentially, but not simultaneously. A religious scientist is simply a person who has successfully compartmentalized his brain, isolating one cerebral technique from the other.
A scientific religionist is probably an oxymoron. (Christian Science, notwithstanding.)
If metaphysics takes precedence, the wetware likely has too much work to do getting rid of it to do good science. Science is hard to do. It cannot tolerate too many distractions.
This goes for the Rational Religionist as for any other.
If you believe too dogmatically in What is Known you will be unable to let go of it when - somewhere down the line - a new proof or a new measurement renders it obsolete.
It isn't easy to be a Rational Religionist. It's kind of like being a historian in the old Soviet Union; every change of leadership involved rewriting all the history books, so the prudent historian knew that what he knew today might change tomorrow.
The metaphysical religionist has no such problems. With no proofs or measurements involved, it is simple to believe in all manner of nonsense, without doubt, forever (or unto the end of the subject's life, which for that subject equals forever.).
Any System of Belief is as valid as any other; in the mind of and for the purposes of the individual believer.
In the cause of empirical investigation and the search for Universal Truth they are by no means of equal value. Most of them are smoke and mirrors; illusion serving the cause of self-delusion.
But most of the individual souls on this planet are not laboring in the service of empiricism and Scientific Method; nor are they intellectually, or emotionally, served by it.
We must abandon these creatures to their illusions; many of which involve elaborate ceremonies of worship and multi-millions of adherents.
(We have already established that is probably impossible that any two people believe in exactly the same thing, but ritual and ceremony provide a common denominator for those whose convictions are similar).
We must grant them their rights to believe and celebrate as they wish.
But we must insist that their rights, as individuals, end precisely at their physical interface with the rest of the Universe! And their influence, as a group, do not extend one micrometer beyond the physical limits of their congregation.
The problem, here, is that large groups of people tend to assume temporal power in proportion to their physical numbers. They tend to do things "their way" because they are big enough to do so. This is a basic recipe for tyranny, as history has taught us, over and over.
This is why an intelligent skepticism is a necessary part of any system of belief.
In case there is some misunderstanding, I am not talking about skepticism of other people’s beliefs, but of one’s own.
Always be aware of the chance that your most passionately held convictions are in error. It may help to preserve someone’s life or liberty; even your own.