Three Things to Ask a Believer

Here are three questions I think you should ask yourself about your own beliefs. I will elaborate on them by applying them to religion, but the principle should go for most beliefs; for instance belief in science, philosophy or politics too.

1. Why do you believe the things you believe, and when did you start believing them?

If you take a look at different cultures and nations around the world, it becomes apparent that our beliefs are heavily influenced by the people around us. Perhaps especially what our family and the community we grew up in believe. The question then becomes: How much of your beliefs have you actually come to on your own? Many people come to question their beliefs during their lifetime. Some people choose to retain their beliefs even after careful consideration, and many people never question them at all; maybe because they are not beliefs that are important to their everyday life, or they are simply never challenged.

The point here is: Do you actually have a reason for believing what you do, or are you just “going with the flow”? If everyone around you believe in God, that belief rarely gets challenged, and doubters are usually guided back to the established truth by the community. No one wants to be the odd one out.

2. Is what you believe in one matter consistent with what you believe in other matters?

Or in other words, do you suffer from cognitive dissonance or cognitive disequilibrium? Do you hold your dearly held beliefs up to the same standards as you do any other claim or statement presented to you? If you believe in the Christian god, but no in Allah or Zeus, what makes the difference? Or consider this: Are you more likely to believe in a story about a miracle performed by a believer from your own faith than by someone from another faith?

Many people would believe a claim about someone being miraculously healed by prayer without skepticism and critical inquiry, but would be very skeptical to a story where someone got healed by, say, a shaman. Though realizing that conflict, they may just claim it’s demonic, thus avoiding the issue.

Or let’s take a more everyday example: If you lose your car keys, you would probably assume you mislaid them. You would probably not assume they were stolen by a demon, vanished in thin air or was teleported into space by aliens. So why then are everyday random incidents interpreted as interventions by God? If your flu symptoms go away after prayer, was it God? or is it simply that usually flu symptoms go away on their own anyway. People are very poor at separating causation and correlation.

3. Is there any evidence that would cause you to change your beliefs?

Are your beliefs dogmatic? Can you imagine any possible evidence that could be presented to you that would cause you to change your beliefs? Non-believers are often accused of being close-minded. Believers on the other hand consider themselves to be open-minded. But in reality a dogmatic position is the very definition of close-minded. If your beliefs are fixed, you are very far from open-minded. These people are only open-minded to ideas that are in line with their already held believes. An important point of being scientifically minded is the ability to change your beliefs when new and contrary evidence is presented.

Science may be slow to change its mind, and it should be; but when new evidence is presented, the change does occur—as has been seen many times throughout history. Religions tend not to do this. Partly because they are based on claims that someone simply made up at some point and thus are not supported by evidence in the first place—just tradition, nor can they usually be rejected on those same grounds. They are unfalsifiable.

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