June 2nd First Monthly Service on BELIEF: WHAT WHY WHETHER

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June 2nd First Monthly Service on BELIEF: WHAT WHY WHETHER

Post by tim »

Our June 2nd service featured a MOMENT OF SCIENCE concerning recent archaeological discoveries that validate some material from Herodotus' Histories. We compared this to claims by Christian believers that various archaeological finds validate their theological beliefs.

We then enjoyed a wide-ranging presentation and discussion of the subject of BELIEF.

We considered what may be thought of as "background beliefs" that really fall into a category of unquestionable assumptions without which no further thought or belief is possible. If one accepts solipsism, for example, the idea that one's own mind is the only thing that exists, then there is really nothing else one can seriously think about or believe. We also considered delusional beliefs that are "involuntary" in a special sense since they apparently relate to neurological glitches or defects but that supply hints about how our brains work to establish and maintain beliefs. There are also implicit beliefs in addition to explicit beliefs about various propositions and statements. And the truth is that much of what we believe are really just things we have heard or read, not things of which we have first-hand experience.

We then moved on to the many ways that beliefs can be approached. These include the neurology of belief, the psychology of belief, the sociology of belief, that even music influences the credibility of messages aimed at getting us to accept beliefs. Then there is the especially interesting subject of the phenomenology of belief, of what it is like to believe, doubt, or disbelieve things and how to cultivate an attitude that is receptive to giving up beliefs for better ones, which is the whole point and purpose of the religion of Freethought. We considered two important slogans that our church has used since its inception in 1994: "You can't believe when you're thinking" and “you can't think when you're believing." There is meaning in these ideas that goes deep and bears important implications for our everyday lives.

Finally, we delved into the Ethics of Belief and the 1877 essay of this title by the 19th Century mathematician and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford which is online at http://www.memelyceum.com/documents/eth ... belief.pdf. Clifford's key point, after considering many aspects of his subject, is known as "Clifford's Credo." He stated it as:

"It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."

Clifford's response to any who might complain that they "don't have the time" to consider evidence was 'Then [you] should have no time to believe." The linkage between morality and belief had also been earlier referred to by the 19th Century scientist Thomas Henry Huxley, who asserted that:

"the most sacred act of a man’s life is to say and to feel, ‘'I believe such and such to be true.' All the greatest rewards and all the heaviest penalties of existence cling about that act. … I . know what I mean when I say I believe in the law of the inverse squares, and I will not rest my life and my hopes, upon weaker convictions. I dare not if I would."

The connection between morality and thought/belief is really the central core of Freethought. It is a recognition that reason, as such, cannot be rationally justified. And the only thing that can justify something without itself needing to be justified, is something that is "good for goodness sake." That is, a moral value. Therefore, to rest reason on a moral choice is also a recognition that any departure from reason is immoral.

During discussion we all agreed that, yes, we all - even Freethinkers - have irrational beliefs. BUT that the idea of "Clifford's Credo" and Huxley's passionate version of the same idea, is nevertheless an important and worthy axiom on which to base our lives. It is something we do and should continually strive towards.
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