Wednesday, 10 August 2022

I’m no naysayer but just keen to believe in existence of facts

THE Henley Standard is leading the way. Thought for the Week is ahead of the BBC and its flagship Thought for the Day because this week you have a contributor who has no religious faith at all. I’ve been courageously asked to write this as the “sceptic” co-organiser of the Sceptics and Believers Discussion Group in Henley.

A ‘sceptic’ is not a naysayer deriding religion but someone keen to believe things because there is good evidence to support them and to withhold belief when there isn’t. Christians in our group can also be true sceptics if they wish, so long as they have questioned their beliefs and found them well supported by reason and evidence.

The Thought that I want to leave with you is the importance of thinking through your world view, whether it is atheist like humanism, a religion like Islam or Christianity, a New Age philosophy or anything.

We base our lives and our moral choices on our world view, we propagate it to our children and, to a lesser extent, to those around us. It behoves us to have one as true to reality as possible and not merely one that makes us feel good.

I might sound rather high and mighty in this, but I’m not as bad as the Victorian mathematician and philosopher W K Clifford who wrote a famous essay “The Ethics of Belief”. In it he argues for his principle: It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

Clifford uses a passenger ship owner as an example. Let’s imagine the owner decides to check the safety of the ship by consulting a séance instead of a marine engineer and he gets the answer he wanted. The rickety ship then sails full of passengers to its doom. The owner genuinely believed that the ship was safe, but he didn’t use evidence and so Clifford condemns his immorality.

When it comes to world views this becomes all the more important.

Our world view determines for us what the key problems with the world are: that people are going to hell or that they need ways to cope with suffering, or the practical issues of inequality, hunger and disease?

Of course, there will be plenty of overlap between religions and world views on this, but they can also give very different answers, especially when it comes to the afterlife.

So when we seek to act morally in the world, to help make it better or to avoid making it worse, our world view guides us. Should we support aid charities or missions or both? If our world view is wrong then choices like those will also be wrong. Our priorities will be wrong.

There is a moral consequence when deriving a world view, and so doing due diligence in getting it right is morally significant. Very significant. It behoves us to use careful reason and evidence when we adopt one, and not leave it to our upbringing, our culture, what feels good or even our hunches. Do your due diligence.

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