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.

  • Tom Walsh

    When questioning existence and reality over and over trying to solve the question, I felt I bottomed out and that’s where I found truth. Truth of the matter that everything changes based on additional information. You can think forward and try to prove theory or you can go back and try to disprove fact, but in the end the only thing I think you find is faith. Without faith, you can not trust your fact. In science and religion the willingness to learn and discuss is the only way to grow. Once I realize I have no control but there has to be one greater than me, my decision was made. I will not talk any more about this because it is based on faith and not scientific fact that the average scientist needs. I respect the discussion of all. When we die, we will find out who is right.

  • Tom, you lose me at “without faith, you can not trust your fact”. I have a working hypothesis that something exists and that I can know something about it. Under this assumption I get a working model of truth (not to be confused with Truth). I don’t need to have faith that my assumptions hold. Maybe they don’t. And if they don’t, my logical conclusions MAY not be valid still, but then again they may.

    The notion of “something greater than me” is a red herring, not relevant to existence or truth. It is possible that only I exist or even that I don’t exist. And it is possible that something “greater” than me exists and it is also possible that it doesn’t.

    Despite all this uncertainty, I can carry on. There is no contradiction there.