Monday, December 15, 2008

Quid Est Veritas

Every true faith is indeed infallible; it performs what the believing person hopes to find in it, but it does not offer the least support for the establishing of an objective truth. Here the ways of men divide. If you want to achieve peace of mind and happiness, then have faith; if you want to be a disciple of truth, then search.”

---Friedrich Nietzsche

“What is truth?” asked Pilot to Christ, and though Christ had his own opinion the question must still be asked.

I have always been impatient with the human capacity for self-deception. In so far as the believer dares to reason, his reasoning is biased in his favor, something I like to call Jackoffhistry, a form of pleasing self-deluding sophistry.  But perhaps I am being too harsh, it is only our nature.

I was amused to create a comforting dogma for myself. What if it was widely believed that gravity was a myth, and that every man, woman, and child was kept tidily stuck to the ground by a multitude of divine fingers pushing down on our heads? We could add the charming intuitive connection that this is why babies have soft spots. It is a delightful tale that could give comfort to millions, and just as ridiculous as many another thing people believe without good cause. But, I must ask: do you believe in the value of truth? If you answer yes, but argue for something like the above out of comfort, then what is the difference between lying to yourself and others lying to you? At what point does comfort become an acceptable argument for laying down our duty to the truth?

To be fair, the capacity to reason is equally capable of forming chains of thought to tie one down. Much in the fashion of the circus elephant who, being chained when young, by habit and indolence remains chained ever after. Like all tools it is only as useful as the ability of the one who wields it. To lack basic critical thinking skills is to be prey for any con-artist or unscrupulous soul, so it is in everyone's best interest to exercise daily their critical muscles. This is why all things are open, or should be open, to criticism. And the believer must not frown but prove.

A little practice at basic reasoning would clearly do most people a world of good. Few follow the implications of what they believe to its ultimate end, and this is demonstrated by a simple thought experiment. When the child of a, for lack of a better term, ghost enthusiast comes to them from a nightmare seeking solace, do they reply honestly with what they believe: “yes sweetheart, the Bogey-man really is under your bed”? If so, they are at least being true to their convictions if not at the same time revealing their inadequacy's as parents.

When I was a boy I was fascinated by the supernatural. Finding a book at the library on palm reading I took to my classmate's sweaty uncertain hands, and divined their future's. I had a passionate interest in UFOs, spirits, and all things unusual, and readily believed whatever confirmed my desire to believe. When others scoffed I became defensive and indignant, and asserted my claims to the point of tears.

Thankfully, my natural curiosity was inoculated by an even greater love of science. I began to submit my belief's to the same rigor as any question should be, and found in each case a myth with no foundation.

I am still waiting for the ghosts to appear, the aliens to land on the White House lawn (not those trimming the hedges of course), and for a Bigfoot in a cage that the world might marvel at and the believer's at last receive their overdue praise. I have been waiting for some decades but, in this at least, I have no doubt I shall be waiting very much longer.

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