It's just that I personally believe it more likely that the "ultimate truth" of the universe will be discovered via the scientific method than via mystic guesswork, but then it is possible that one of the world's religions may have already discovered this ultimate truth. In the words of Douglas Adams (from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy) "In an infinite universe, anything is possible, even The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy."
I think of this because of my time watching jury selection the other day while serving jury duty. There was an interesting exchange between the defense attorney and a couple of the prospective jurors. The two in question had characterized themselves as persons of faith. The counsel for the defense asked if they could define what they meant by this. The first of the two didn't understand her question.
"Can you differentiate between your faith and the law?" She asked. What she was trying to get to was whether the man understood the different between forming an opinion on the facts of the case and what his personal religious convictions may be. Basically, could he distinguish between belief and faith? When he could not answer this question, she asked him if he was in an airplane did he "believe" or "have faith" that it would land him safely.
"I have faith that I will land safely," He responded. "because the hundreds of times that I have flown I have always landed safely." Which struck me as odd because this is neither faith nor belief… it is statistical probability.
The other man in the room who had defined himself as a man of faith was asked a slightly different line of questioning. He was asked if he could put his personal beliefs aside when judging the facts of the case if he should discover that the person he was hearing testimony about didn't share his beliefs. "I have no problem with anyone's beliefs," he replied "unless they believe something totally crazy."
Which is what made me think of Bill Maher… When he tries to make his point that The Bible cannot be taken literally (though he would put it a bit more emphatically than I do) he basically makes the sarcastic comment about "…belief in the talking snake…"; an obvious (if somewhat snide) reference to the book of Genesis.
But he raises an interesting point to consider: Who gets to say what is 'totally crazy?' I would assume that to Mr. Maher and many of my friends back in London, any religious beliefs not backed by empirical evidence are crazy. My personal belief is that that idea is just as unjustified as the "talking snake" belief. While I cannot point to any empirical evidence of the presence of a supreme being, there is no proof one does not exist either. I prefer the William Cowper viewpoint: "Absence of proof is not proof of absence."
The only thing I can say for the atheist crowd is that they are more sure of their beliefs than I am. I find it unlikely that there is a supernatural entity who has powers of omniscience and omnipresence as it seems unlikely. I have no proof that one does not exist, but the evidence presented for its presence is usually sloppy and based on a belief structure rather than on empirical evidence. Much of it is contradictory, spurious, apocryphal, or based on faulty logic. So, unless there is a reason to need a supernatural force or empirical evidence for one, there is no need to consider it. Ockham's Razor justifies agnosticism!
"It just goes to show you, there's nothing an agnostic can't do if he really can't make up his mind whether he believes in anything or not!" (Monty Python)Wherever you are, I hope that whatever you believe in, you at least can discuss it!
Don Bergquist - September 24, 2009 - Lakewood, Colorado, USA