Tuesday, November 24, 2015

the tedium of the chase

In the ongoing project to explore exactly how those who "should" know better continue to follow faith-beliefs—including me in the first years of my life—a central yet underreported explanation is the habitual unbending momentum of belief. Along with that are actual rationales they may have for either not seeking out conflicting information or for offhandedly discounting the information's implications. One is the sanguine confidence that all unearthed discrepancies from the faith-beliefs are superficial and temporary. I know that it's sincerely professed by individuals of superb intelligence, education, inquisitiveness, etc. It's probably rampant in religious liberal arts colleges/universities.

Given that the faith-beliefs are unalterable, the presumption is that every human method of investigation will eventually bridge the gap (or disprove it). In effect, knowingly or not, directly or not, those methods are said to be chasing the faith-beliefs. This chase's secondary value is a veneer of unworried participation in numerous secular fields. Provided that any chosen field can be tenuously embraced as a path to the same old set of faith-beliefs, then careers in those fields aren't frightening temptations. Especially bold followers might further boast that the picture of a "chase toward the One Truth" unifies everything in a tidy manner. And they have a valid point, from their perspective. Why is it unreasonable to them that, sooner or later, the fullness of human knowledge would seamlessly mesh with the ideas which they promote as ultimately fundamental?

When speaking to followers of faith-beliefs, I've previously discouraged referring to a total war between science and religion/spirituality and proceeding to demand an exclusive switch of their "loyalty". I'd rather nudge the thoughtful reexamination of the nature of verification and the standards that are acceptable before following an idea. But I'm not enthused by the effort to replace the war with a chase. For critics, its basic problem is easy to notice. If the chase is indeed happening...then it's turning out pitifully dull. It's not nail-bitingly close. For whatever reason, the pursuers aren't advancing. Worse, they're falling farther behind. With each passing decade, the overall trend is of increasing intervals. It's almost as if the pursuers are headed in the wrong direction.

I'm alluding primarily to examples of the empirical sciences not converging to a singular system of faith-beliefs, although needless to say the humanities aren't either. I realize not all faith-beliefs are identical, but very few of the top ones seem to have proposed an extremely old (and gargantuan) universe, containing an off-center, relatively younger yet very old planet Earth, where species that are approximately human have lived for a minute fraction of that time range. Very few seem to have proposed the common genetic ancestry among organisms from large to small, observable in embarrassingly similar genetic code. Very few seem to have proposed the continual failure of ubiquitous modern-day recording devices to ever capture unambiguous supernatural occurrences. Very few seem to have proposed that the idea of a soul is unnecessary to the study of the basis of human behavior and consciousness. Very few seem to have proposed the germ theory of disease (i.e. not an evil spirit theory of disease).

The attempts to disqualify these examples are less than satisfying, too. If these are disqualified because the topics aren't patently religious, then there isn't a chase at all: without even the faintest of overlaps in topics, the sciences can't be chasing the faith-beliefs in the first place. If these are disqualified because of how much time has passed since the introduction of the faith-beliefs, then the chase has stopped already and the chase doesn't help to address present issues. If these are disqualified because the original communicators of the faith-beliefs weren't privy to modern terminology and concepts, then that would mean measuring progress in the chase will always be vulnerable to inconclusive decoding of the intended future meanings of their culturally limited past communications. If these are disqualified because the chase is only expected to yield nonspecific subjective benefits such as greater inspirational appreciation of the "creator's mind", then the chase itself adds less value; it doesn't promise an end to concrete discrepancies. If these are disqualified because every discovery that clashes with the faith-beliefs is immediately assumed to be a mistake in one way or another, then the chase is a worthless pretense; the compliant remnant amounts to a mere shoe print of the faith-beliefs, not a discrete confirmation.

More likely than not, followers could invent more justifications to keep the hope of the chase workable, like conspiracy theorists who can swiftly digest incompatible data and arguments. Just as I can't utterly prove nonexistence from absence, I can't utterly establish that all varieties of human inquiry will never vindicate someone's faith-beliefs. I can state that I don't have nearly enough faith to suppose it will happen—my own adaptation of the half-baked quip, "I don't have enough faith to be an atheist". However, the suggestive trend is that the whole pack of pursuers is giving a horrible performance...and the performance is strikingly coordinated. A dawdling minority doesn't wreck the chase. But when a majority is teaming up to dawdle, the chase becomes tiresomely drawn-out. Evidently the group is more than lagging behind, it's lagging behind in lockstep. The increasing distance from the "target" isn't accompanied by increasing distance among the pack. In this chase, to be remote from this target isn't to be an unusual outlier; to be the outlier is to be the target.

At a high level, I'm pleased by the admission of the chasm that separates the content of beliefs that require faith and the content of beliefs that don't. I'm less pleased by the nominated remedy that the chasm will shut by itself someday (so in the meantime the chasm signifies nothing).

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