The things i believe now

TL;DR

Do i believe anything anymore? Yes i do. I believe in the wonders of science, and it makes me happy!

Preamble – my spiritual history

My supernatural and spiritual beliefs have gone through many phases. I was brought up Christian and i believed unquestioningly. The idea that my parents could be wrong was unfathomable to me.

In my late teens i read “Conversations With God” by Neale Donald Walsch and turned to more esoteric beliefs, ideas like: we’re all equal with God, we are creating our own reality as we go along, there is no absolute right or wrong, only that which serves us and that which does not. I ceased to believe in the devil and hell.

On holiday in Budapest in 2007 i came across the book “The Whole Shebang” by Timothy Ferris. I began reading it in the bookshop and i was drawn in straight away. Although quite an old book, it gave me a glimpse of the wonders of the universe, and a taste for science. I borrowed many scientific books from the library and i really enjoyed learning the things we can know about our world and this universe.

My opinions on God at this point were mostly agnostic. I didn’t feel any real need to contemplate anything spiritual when i had so much of a scientific nature to think about. I wouldn’t say i disbelieved in God at that time.

However, on two occasions i felt myself craving the kind of unquestioning belief in God that i had during my childhood. I suppose i missed the feeling that God was a friend whom i could trust. I thought that i had drifted away from God and it was my responsibility to go back. I tried returning to church, but on both times i very quickly found that my ideas had changed so much, i could no longer blindly accept what i was being told by the church.

On the second attempt, which lasted about two months, something finally pushed me over the edge. I was standing at the front and someone was praying for me to receive the Holy Spirit. I really wanted to be able to give up rational thought and just entrust myself to God … but nothing was happening. The longer this went on, the more embarrassing it became. I remember that something suddenly just clicked. I thought to myself, “I don’t think there is a Holy Spirit!” and immediately all these spiritual beliefs just tumbled down like a house of cards. I walked out effectively an atheist.

The first thing i did was read “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. I needed to understand how my parents could believe something so strongly, if it wasn’t true. Dawkins explained to me the evolutionary advantage to believing what you are told, the power of group reinforcement, the self-delusion of only noticing things that support your beliefs while ignoring things that don’t. I learnt not to pity my parents for believing what they do, but i was no longer under the hold of their convincing influence. I was free to think for myself.

For a while i was a militant atheist. I think i rebelled quite hard against organised religion. Since then i have mellowed out a bit. I currently consider myself a humanist: i am more concerned with human welfare than i am with anything supernatural.

All of this is a prelude for what i really want to write about. Most people will have figured out that i no longer believe in God, and i have put aside all my supernatural beliefs, having become skeptical about anything that requires discarding rational thinking. I’ve not written about this in such detail before because i’ve had no need to. I try not to interfere with other people’s beliefs unless i can see that it has the potential to directly harm somebody. My dad and my stepmum are still firm Christian believers. My mum is mostly interested in new-age spirituality.

Getting to the point

This morning i received an email from my mum. It was something about the process of life, death, returning to the glory of Oneness, emerging as a new individual. My mum’s question: “this is reincarnation … do you believe this ? ( Or indeed do you believe anything any more !!)”

I was quite hurt by the question, do i believe in anything anymore? This is my response that i would have written in an email, but i decided it needed to be shared more widely than just with my mum.

What i believe now

I have come to believe in many wonderful things. Things that i knew very little about before i started reading and educating myself in science. Beautiful fascinating processes that can be explored, tested and verified. Things like evolution, natural selection, quantum physics, cosmology, the big bang, deep space, the fundamental forces of the universe.

Most importantly of all, i believe in the scientific method. It starts with producing a theory to explain the things we see … but unlike mythology and religion, it doesn’t stop there. It goes on to make predictions using the theory. Experiments are performed to test the predictions. Those experiments are repeated and verified by many people, and not just those with a particular interest in showing the theory to be correct. Any contradictions are welcomed and celebrated because it means the theory can be refined to become more accurate. This process never stops, and our knowledge about what is real gets more and more accurate over time.

Specifically on the question of reincarnation

I don’t specifically disbelieve in reincarnation, but i find it unlikely. You can make nice stories about it, which may be comforting to some people, but for me there is little point in dwelling on the theory since it makes no predictions that can be tested and verified by experiment. I prefer to spend my time finding out as much as i can about things that we know to be true.

Science has led me to believe that the most likely thing that will happen when i die is that i simply cease to exist. My body will decay and my consciousness will end there. Occam’s Razor tells us that given two possible theories, the simpler one is likely to be correct. I am not at all saddened by this conclusion, because there was no emotion or wishful thinking that got me there. It only makes me all the more eager to enjoy this one life that i know i have.

Of course i recognise that people like to believe their loved ones live on, and they may receive comfort from believing they are still in communication. I don’t really see anything wrong with that. I think of it more as recalling the memories of what those people were like, rather than their souls actually being present. Since there is no discernible difference in experience, it doesn’t really matter what you believe is going on.

Whew, nearly there …!

My journey of belief has shifted so dramatically in my lifetime so far. I would be foolish to assume that i have arrived at my final understanding. I accept that my beliefs will continue to adapt, but i suppose that from here on they will only change when presented with evidence that causes them to be reassessed. So, for example, if anyone can provide me with firm evidence for reincarnation, i will gladly accept it to be true and update my beliefs accordingly.

I am happy in my current understandings. I actually find that scientific knowledge is far more reassuring to me than any spiritual hypothesis ever was.

If anyone is unconvinced of the comfort that believing in science can bring, i recommend this wonderful video by Phil Hellenes: This Remarkable Thing.

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16 comments on “The things i believe now

  1. Hi Aimee,

    I have two quotes for you. The first one comes from Richard Dawkings himself, quoting a friend of his, who in turn was quoting her father. (So in C, it would be a char **** ! :) )

    “I can understand that my daughter doesn’t believe in God, but … an atheist!”

    Note that this isn’t verbatim, I’m getting it from my carbon-based memory, not the silicon-based one. I like how it is fun and sad at the same time. When I think about it, I tend to “iterate” between both states.

    The second one is a short passage from certain rollnecked science man. Actually, let’s hear it from the man himself:

    Pursuing the question courageously

    I like it because when I heard it the first time I thought it expressed exactly how I felt – but until then, I was not able to put it into words.

    Don’t get discouraged!

    • Haha, yes, i remember that quote! :) I suspect my dad and stepmum think i am a non-believer, but to actually say that i am an atheist might seem like a dramatically bigger step to them. I don’t know.

      That was a really good video from Carl Sagan. Thanks for sharing it. For me the most fascinating question in cosmology is what caused the big bang. It’s okay not to know, but it’s fun trying to guess what might possibly be! :)

    • WOW. Thank you so much. I just watched the entire show on youtube, and the Q&A! Utterly brilliant! :) Very much enjoyed, thank you!

  2. Thanks for sharing aimee!

    Having never been a believer in any religion, and always fascinated by science my journey starts from a different place to yours, although I have definitely trodden parts of the same path.

    One book I read which gave me some unexpected insights was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (http://amzn.to/e4FKTx). Its not a discussion of religion or even belief exactly. But it did leave me thinking that there is not one answer, that science or reason is not the only way to look at the world.

    Enjoy continuing your journey :-)

    • Thank you tooky. Whenever i think i have found my final resting point i always find some new direction to explore. Perhaps that is it! :)

  3. You’ve certainly had quite a journey. When I met you in university (which seems like a lifetime ago), I thought you’d probably spend your life with a happy, vague faith. So much for my powers of prediction.

    It’s difficult to be passionately atheist if you haven’t been a firm believer. Which is probably why I only get annoyed with believers when they try to convert me – though I have to admit it still feels good to humiliate the more hate-filled bible-bashers. Odd how they’ve never read their own book.

    I’m sometimes asked why I don’t have a faith. The answer I give to those who ask in genuine curiosity is that faith gives me nothing I don’t already have – not security, community, or a moral handbook. To adopt a faith would be like getting married to someone who doesn’t complete me in a any way.

    If you read ScienceBlogs, you might have come across this from Christopher Hitchens.

    • Thanks, that’s a really good way of explaining it.
      I will check out Hitchens’ Latest Offering.

  4. Aimee, this is a very clearly-written and heartfelt statement. I hope it will help your mum and others who know you to understand the changes you’ve made in your mind and in your life. I remember when I met you that you were still going to church but you told me of your doubts then, and it’s been very interesting to see you continue to embrace change and seek truth.

    I liked these words a lot: “I prefer to spend my time finding out as much as i can about things that we know to be true”. That sums up my own feelings very closely. I used to debate people online when I thought they were wrong, and I hardly ever do that now because there are literally MILLIONS of wrong people online (regardless of what you consider “right”, in fact). So I have better things to do with my time!

    In some ways I’ve come on a similar journey to yours, except that my parents were never very religious and although I believed in God as a teenager it didn’t really “stick”. I think I stayed a while because I was in the church choir and the momentum of the musical activities carried me along.

    Glad you found Julia Sweeney! I’m surprised I never mentioned her to you – isn’t she great?

    One more thing – have you read “Parallel Worlds” by Michio Kaku? I think you would enjoy that one.

    • Hey Mike, nice to hear from you. I’m really grateful for the support you’ve given me through the thought processes that i’ve been through.

      Yes, Julia Sweeney is amazing! I’m glad of all the resources that people have been sharing with me via this blog post.

      I have read Hyperspace by Michio Kaku and loved it. I also enjoy watching Kaku on television. I’ll have to borrow Parallel Worlds or get it for my Kindle! Thank you! :)

  5. Being a fan of evolution as an explanatory theory for a lot, have a look at applying evolution beyond the realms of nature.

    Look at in the business world. You see variation (people coming up with ideas). You see selection (people making decisions in meetings about what’s a good idea and what isn’t) and you see amplification when a good idea is shown in early testing to be a good fit and it then gets a lot more investment behind it.

    Evolution is a wondrous thing.

    A long and academic but eye opening read is The Origin of Wealth by Eric Beinhocker. He describes evolutionary processes being the underpinning of a coherent economic theory without having to make wacky assumptions about us all being rational.

    • Mr Darling! I didn’t know you read my blog!

      Thank you very much for your response. I like the sound of that book, thank you for suggesting it.

      How are things for you? :)

  6. Hi Aimee,

    Having just come across your blog because of a recommendation from a friend (Describing your amazing app. building skills), I had a chance to read over some of what you’ve written (Including the entirety of this article). I don’t know if you are still looking toward religion (I know you mentioned that if Reincarnation could be proved, you’d add it to your beliefs). In that light, I thought I would suggest a book that changed my life, The Book of Mormon. I truly have felt “The Holy Spirit” as you call Him and I do know that God lives. I have had significant events in my life that I cannot deny. These events have sometimes been small and sometimes been large and occasionally, they still come as I do everything I can on my part, and rely on the Lord for the rest. If you’re interested in learning more (And I don’t mean to push my faith at all, just to offer a suggestion that helped me), you can get a copy of the book at: http://www.LDS.org/ If you’re interested, I can also tell you more about my beliefs and how I came to a strong belief in God and his plan for all of us.

    • Hi Zach,

      i’m sure these events are very meaningful to you, but they don’t count as proof for me. i am glad that your beliefs are beneficial to you, and i wish you every happiness.

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