Who to believe? And in what?
I finished my career teaching Religions. I trained a Mathematics teacher, taught English and side-swiped through Science, Geography and History. Nobody wanted to take on Religious Education, except me. I was, and still am, fascinated by the whole range of human beliefs. Everyone believes in something, even if that is nothing. Some have faith in God, or Gods. Some believe in the Truth, whatever that is. Others will say there is nothing, it is all a construct, some go on to claim that it is a way of power and control. I have discovered a breadth and depth to our explorations of the physical and metaphysical that had left me astounded and with the big question that, at some point in a lifetime, demands answer. Who should I believe?
The world, the universe, the multiverse is unimaginatively huge, its boundaries expand with every new discovery. The discipline of Science is refining descriptions of the world around us, from the tiniest singularity to expanding limits on the edge of the big bang shockwave and beyond. In esoteric levels, Physics and Metaphysics combine, as in the classic conundrum of Schrodinger's Cat. I am not going into the details, suffice to say that the cat is locked in a box and is both alive and dead. It is a 'thought experiment', not actually done, but the logical outcome is, strange, to say the least. Quantum Indeterminacy is the scientific label and leads to the question: what is happening and what should I believe? A quantum physicist would say you should believe that the cat is both alive and dead. By extension, you could both believe and not believe at the same time.
It appears that ever since Homo Sapiens first walked this earth there was some sort of belief in an external force, that could be contacted. There are also scraps of evidence that suggest that our cousins, the Neanderthals, may also have been developing explorations, thought experiments, into the supernatural realm. Humans' perception of their world must have been coloured by the imperative to survive. It was a big, dangerous, unpredictable world, where life turned on random events. Was it being directed by some agency? Could anything be done to tip the scales in their favour? Would it work again? Nature is capricious, on a daily basis the weather can storm or be calm; an earthquake can rock the land; a fire may decimate the forest. Equally, the sun always rises, the moon changes shape as it arcs across the sky, the seasons change in order, all as if directed by some intelligence. Early man was as scientific as modern man. He, or she, observed, gathered data and made theories. If it rained on dry ground, grass grew and the beasts arrived to be hunted. If you welcomed the winter sun on the shortest day, summer would come. Stories grew, deities were identified, ceremonies to please and invoke them came into being. Belief in a non-physical, supernatural world, populated with beings who shouldered the responsibility of keeping the world running burgeoned and took some of the responsibility for when things went wrong. They knew who and what to believe. Yet, you can bet your bottom dollar, that there were rebels and dissidents driving change.
Nowadays, there are thousands of religions and, for each, as many interpretations of their messages. I have observed a commonality of beliefs: the concept of a soul and its immortality; deities with superpowers to control the physical universe; the need for ceremony and worship; and a set of rules to abide by. As always, there are those who do not believe, in Western culture, it is acceptable to voice aloud your atheism, it is ok to believe in nothing. The vast majority do believe in god(s) and most will identify with a particular religion. Needless to say, there are always people who think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and convert. And those who could not give two hoots and simply get on with their lives, giving lip service as and when. There is one belief that is universal: I believe in the Truth. My truth is the Truth. Unless you believe in my Truth, you are wrong. Believe what I believe or face the consequences. There is no question of who to believe. Until you change your mind.
Science tells us the facts. Science can fix this. This kind of statement implies that 'Science' is a being, omniscient and omnipotent, a God. Scientists are the priesthood, filled with arcane knowledge. Science has been elevated and got too big for its boots. Science is simply a way to think about things, dispassionately, and scientists are supposed to be trained to do the thinking. Religion is way of examining the world and defining a person's response to it, via God(s) and priests. There is nothing to stop a scientist being religious, and there are whole orders of priests who are scientific. It is like Schrodinger's cat. A person can believe in Divine Creation and the Big Bang Theory at the same time. They could claim that the act of creation was the big bang, wrapping up the who and the how in one parcel. It becomes a bit more tricky when the existence of the immortal soul is debated. A scientist demands proof of its existence and its immortality. A believer has faith. Does the act of faith, in itself, bring into existence the reality of the belief? Do not ask me, open the box and ask Schrodinger's cat. But as soon as you open the box, the cat is dead. Quantum Indeterminacy becomes determinate. Douglas Adams in his book, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish, sums it up quite neatly when he tell us that God's Final Message to His Creation is, 'We apologise for the inconvenience.' Maybe belief is all that is necessary and the source of that belief is an inconvenience that gets in the way of faith.