Sunday, June 10, 2007

Faith and Responsibility

What good is faith in a divine creator if good evidence doesn’t exist there even is one? I’ve already suggested a few: teaching people common, shared values that enable them to interact productively (or at least non-destructively) with each other; enabling better communication between the subconscious and conscious parts of the mind; fostering a deep respect for other people and other species, even without direct knowledge of them; and reducing stress caused by fear of the unknown.

But there are also some bad things associated with faith. Among these is the encouragement of incuriousness and mental laziness (when you believe you have access to the answers to the big questions, you tend not to test your assumptions by learning more). Another is the potential of abuse by people who claim to be a conduit for the power and wisdom of the deity, effectively enslaving the faithful to their leaders. And, of course, there is the holding on to bogus knowledge that can result in people taking inappropriate action to achieve their goals and hurting others in the process.

Judging from statistics about the prevalence of religion, it is clear that the majority of people consider faith to be more beneficial than detrimental. Having been one of them, I can still agree – to a point. When any of us acquire enough power to affect more than our local group of people, we have a responsibility to rely more on facts than opinion, and to constantly work to improve our understanding of the world while increasing and refining our respect for other people and species. Technology has bestowed this power on a substantial fraction of the human population, yet far too many of the powerful have been slow to rise to their responsibility. It is the immaturity of the powerful among us that makes faith a liability, keeping us from meeting the monumental challenges to global survival that we face today.

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