Believers and Atheists Need Not Apply
If you truly believe in God or if you are a staunch Atheist, you will not get anything out of reading further than this sentence.
In my experience there are very few discussions I have had with believers (in anything) that have lead to much more than frustration on both sides and a re-entrenchment of existing beliefs. Invariably I have learned the most when I have allowed myself to let go of attachment to my current beliefs, and tried to take in what is coming at me with only low-level critical thinking. As a very analytical person (scientifically and academically trained) who tends to bristle at “fuzzy thinking”, emotionality, and especially anything that smacks of pseudo-science or new age philosophy, it is often difficult for me to have any breakthroughs in understanding. For similar reasons, those who claim to have unshakable faith in one thing or another — be it religion, science, self, love, whatever — tend to have even more difficulty learning past a certain point in their development.
I do not hold scientists or academics to any different standards than I do religious believers. Often times it is the former that are least willing to question their assumptions and open their mind to unseen possibilities. But because of the type of “faith” that scientists and academics have, in which they are trained to question assumptions, they are more likely than those with religious convictions to be open to discovering something new.
Some religions and belief systems are less dogmatic than others, such as Buddhism. Others, like Judaism, do not require faith, only practice. But in the end, all belief systems have some atomic, indivisible core, which if successfully challenged, destroys their ultimate truth. To put a fine point on it, there is at least one core belief that Science holds, which it cannot do without: Truth exists.
The paradox of what I have said and what I will say should not escape anyone. If there is no such thing as Truth, everything becomes pointless.* Descartes wrestled with a similar conundrum when he allowed himself to challenge all of his assumptions and beliefs, including the existence of God and of himself. Ultimately he wondered if ANYTHING really exists. He eventually bottomed out with “I think, therefore I exist“, which everyone recognizes as a very clever (perhaps fundamental) self-fulfilling prophecy. But Descartes failed to define “Existence”, “I” and “Thought”, leaving open the possibility of an epiphenomenal universe without any underlying physical reality. Study of the nature of language and cognition, as well as results in symbolic logic, suggest that it may ultimately be futile and intractable to “bottom out” into something fundamental as Descartes tried to do. How would you define Existence or Truth? Think hard before you answer.
*Contrary to what some people may conclude from the above, I am not a Nihilist or even a nihilist (with a small “n”). And I am one of the happiest people I know.