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Belief Versus Truth (Part 3 of Reflections on Truth & Belief)

Written by Zoe Weil | 2 Comments | Published on October 30, 2009 | Filed under Humane Connection
The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Humane Education website at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2009/10/30/belief-versus-truth-part-3-of-reflections-on-truth-belief/
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I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about belief. I believe what I know from my experience – that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that humans have the capacity for both kindness and cruelty, that pumpkin seeds will turn into pumpkin plants and apple seeds into apple trees, and so on – but I know others believe things that cannot be proven, and this perplexes me.

There are many who believe they will go to heaven when they die because they accept Jesus as their savior. Others believe they will be reincarnated after death. Some believe that the position of the planets determines our personalities at birth and many of our experiences throughout life.

I don’t believe these things. That’s not to say that I know that they are false; rather, I cannot know that they are true because they are not provable or knowable, and because no legitimate scientific studies have demonstrated them to be true. They may be true, but I cannot believe them on faith alone.

I often envy people their faith, but I also want people to be good critical thinkers, and I’ve seen “belief” supersede thinking too often. Belief can shut the door on deeper, more complex, more committed efforts to discover truth and seek not only rational, but also effective solutions to problems. It’s easier to follow the precepts or dogmas of a religion or the latest fad or trend in spirituality (or diet or health modalities) than it is to take a scalpel to the information and beliefs surrounding us and dissect them for truth with commitment and engagement.

We are faced with escalating challenges in our world, including human population growth, global warming, peak oil (at some point, whether past, present or future), alarming rates of species extinction, and so on. Beliefs about contraception, the causes of global warming, and faith in human ingenuity to find more oil (or replace it with new technologies), or in God’s ultimate plan, can actually prevent us from taking wise, courageous, compassionate, creative, and critically aware steps to solve our problems.

When beliefs stand in the way of truth – as they often do – we diminish our capacity to make choices that do the most good and the least harm.

I guess I have at least one belief: that we must challenge our beliefs in pursuit of truth.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

Image courtesy of jam343 via Creative Commons.

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About Zoe Weil

Zoe is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education She's the author of several books, including Most Good, Least Harm; Above All, Be Kind; and The Power and Promise of Humane Education. See her TEDx talk, "The World Becomes What You Teach": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5HEV96dIuY

Contact Zoe View all articles by Zoe Weil


Anonymous says:

The notion that measurable, quantifiable and observable events are somehow more real or more truthful than the murmurings of the heart is in fact a belief that should be suspect. Belief that the scientific method alone can best tell us about reality is in itself an unprovable kind of faith. Can science tell us love us true? I generally appreciate Zoe’s posts, but in this case, I think she misses the point of faith, which is not to close down or restrict the freedom to make wise choices, but rather to empower one to make the right choices when faced with intractable problems. Science can tell us what is possible, but what is possible is not always what is in our best interest as a individual or a society. Faith gives us the context to choose responsibly beyond our own self-interest.

Zoe Weil says:

I appreciate the comments of “anonymous” and when faith inspires people to choose responsibly beyond their own self interest, I’m very happy. Unfortunately, many people’s faith doesn’t have such positive outcomes as we all know. Do I believe in love? Indeed! I experience it all the time. Do I believe in Zeus? No, because I have no experience of him as real. While faith eludes me, I do sometimes envy it. How I would like to believe that I will see my father again after I die. What concerns me is dogma that causes harm, and faith that diminishes critical thinking. I recently changed my Facebook profile under religion. I realized that the MOGO principle: to do the most good and least harm to people, animals, the environment and myself is not only a spiritual practice and the guiding principle of my life, it’s also the best way to define my religion.