This heading is a compilation of the words of René Descartes and my partner Lee. A mixture of aged wisdom and contemporary thought that goes very well together indeed.
René of course meant that because he can think, he therefore must exist to be able to do so. Lee goes a little further, stating that the end result of rational thinking has to conclude that the existence of a god is only an unproven and unprovable concept. Put very simply, that is what all supernatural notions are. They are conceived in the minds of adults because we have an innate ability to do so, and then the minds of the young are indoctrinated in endless generational repetition. The intelligent make no claims of proof of god. This is unlike the many who are unaware that critical thinking procedures are not an inbuilt part of evolutionary reasoning ability. Critical thinking is learned, with most never mastering it completely, but it is surely a case of ‘the more the better’. Some intelligent people believe in a god and they have some very intelligent prejudices to account for that thoughty position, but very few believe because of proof.
The critical thinking that is required to conclude there is no God is remarkably simple. Let us then look at why it is not a ubiquitous human trait:
If one presumes we are special creatures of a creator, that assumption implicitly places us hierarchically above other animal species with separation from them. Biology refutes that assumption completely.
The Godly then follow this line of thinking, with us as the end result of evolutionary processes. Biology does not support the idea of the human species as an “end result”. We are just one of millions of life-forms and our claim to fame of special creature status is no more justified than would be of birds, fishes, or other animals, some of which have inhabited Earth for tens of millions more years than ourselves. There has not been a slow progression from the initial “slime” to an end result of us. Biology, once again, is in total support of this.
All creatures specialize in some way to maximise survival. Some by having wings, others by the use of fins and a multitude of differing physical and chemical tricks. Our “trick” is the ability to reason. The catch is that this marvellous mechanism can be very selectively used.
To be convinced that we are “special” creatures of a creator produces a false impression that our rational thinking is innate and total, as a god had planned. So wrong!
Humans can be very logical but more often than not are swayed from its use by many traps. Our long evolutionary history of reliance on the “herd” has compromised rational thought in favour of going along with consensus of opinion. To not do so places us outside the herd and thus into an unfavourable survival position. A mentally graphic example is the burning of “witches”. When this abysmal practise was extant, it would have been the extremely foolish person who was in opposition to it. Their lives could be forfeited because of protest. The killing of witches is an extreme example of following the dictates of the herd. If we then observe other cultures, it is easy to see the same processes at work. Apartheid, women and children as chattels, religious intolerance, mistreatment of animals, environmental destruction etc. Many of these “other culture” wrongdoings would not be tolerated in ours. Of course, other cultures looking at ours would also find us wanting.
It is very obvious that humans will discount the use of reason when perceived necessary for self-advantage. Vested-interest decisions show this clearly and that is why others view such decisions with suspicion. We have evolved with extremely flexible thinking, so much so that the wiring of the brain can tolerate and accept the irrational, by overemphasising weak argument for, in preference to strong argument against, especially if the perception is one of herd or personal advantage. We are good at kidding ourselves.
To confuse matters more, the inner turmoil experienced by the human animal, with fear of death, for loved-ones, the future, day-to-day survival and the like, primes us to want some kind of superior protector. This is an understandable primordial wish but one that must be recognised as just that; a wish. All people of the Earth have similar feelings and every culture from recorded history has created a superior being(s) to fill this position.
One of the least studied parts of humanity, although well known about in other animals, is the susceptibility of the young to be indoctrinated by adults. An excellent tool that evolution has used to good advantage for learning and retaining essential knowledge. With unwavering adult sanction, such programming is difficult for any child to resist. So first-rate is this process that once information is acquired as a child, it takes on the semblance of instinctive thinking later in life. Herein lies the understated key for keeping religions going. There does seem to be enormous difference in human susceptibility to childhood inculcation, suffice to say, it all works to some extent. With just the small amount of knowledge we have today, regarding what is forced into the unsophisticated minds of the young and its effect on them, should have us all alarmed. Instilling unproven and ludicrous propositions, as though they were truths, onto the least able to mentally defend themselves, is amongst the worst kind of child abuse. The United Nations stands condemned in failing to recognise the seriousness of such behaviour and in not outlawing it. The world will find it very difficult to go forward in peace, and individual lives and rights will forever be inhibited until it does so. Interestingly enough, the UN is in opposition to forcing religion onto adults. How powerful is religion!
Critical thinking has a final stumbling block in some very simple phrases bandied around ad-nauseum: “Of course there is a god.” Or “There must be a god.” Or such like.
Because our existence deals primarily with survival, the larger questions of: ‘What started it all”? “Where did we come from?” “What happens when we die?”, leaves many people in a state of confusion. Our experiences in life are very temporally orientated as that is the way we have evolved. We find answers to all our physical problems even though we may not be able to solve them. Our wonderful brain, if given enough time, eventually asks the above questions and finds it cannot answer them. This is an untenable situation for human minds and we unfortunately make up solutions. Since the questions go beyond the physical parameters of our knowledge of living , they cannot be answered using understood worldly information. Nature refuses to reply to our requests. It is a simple next step to inquire beyond nature, for we have a strong psychological need to know, and ask of super-nature.
The interferences to how we perceive the world obviously belong to a many-edged sword, controlled by a number of factors inherent in humanity, but once they are unmasked and recognised as such, they become less likely to confuse the honest critical thinker.
By David Nicholls