This is not a defense of “believing in gravity” or “believing in love” or “believing in balancing one’s checkbook”. The discussion is what is needed in order to believe anything.
The simplest reason for believing anything is the acceptance of the evidence for that particular facet of reality.
For most of us, belief in gravity is from personal observation and experience. One notes when an object is dropped from the hand or pushed off a table, such object always falls to the ground. Technically, such object moves toward the source of gravity, the most predominant source nearby being the center of the Earth; as a child, this detail may be lacking. One notes one’s body also falls toward the ground when unsupported. One determines an innate concept of ‘up’ and ‘down’.
One notes this is not dependent on outside instruction. One’s parents do not have to teach the bare fact of the ‘attraction’. Often, parents or other more experience people will supply the words and labels for the forces and concepts – ‘gravity’, ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘concussion’ and so on, but the idea is self-evident.
Then one day, one notices a helium balloon falls ‘up’ when released – intentionally or unintentionally. This is strange as objects fall down.
The answer is helium is lighter than air. The total answer is helium has lesser weight per volume than air – visibly when the helium is contained – and the heavier air settles underneath the object, displacing the lighter object upward. (This is also why wood and even ships of metal float on water.) This explanation is not observable in the same manner as ‘things fall down’ and needs be explained. For the explanation to be believed, one must accept the concepts given. The ‘authority’ – the one giving the explanation – can be a parent or instructor or other person trusted. One must accept the authority as trustworthy in such matters.
Obviously, a physics teacher should be more worth of trust – on this subject – than an English teacher. This distinction may be lost on a grade school aged child; a teacher is a teacher. Should one have serious lack of trust in a parent, one might not accept the (or any) explanation from the parent.
As life goes on one finds all sorts of phenomenon to be sorted, then believed or denied as appropriate. At the same time, one finds different categories of ‘belief’.
Many are similar to the above example of factual information.
One has an inborn desire to believe the protestations of love and fidelity from friends and sweethearts. One learns this is not always reliable.
One learns salesmen (sales persons?) are not always reliable or trustworthy. Especially car salesmen. Especially used car salesmen. Especially used car salesmen who call themselves “Honest somebody”.
Then the issue of trust is complicated in that some friends and some sweethearts are trustworthy and some are variably trustworthy. Some salesmen are open and honest. There is no foolproof, prior manner of determining. So one falls back on deciding who to trust based on those one trusts already.
What about ‘science’? There are those who believe, rather enthusiastically, anything presented in the name of ‘science’. Conversely, there are those who flatly deny anything of scientific origin.
It is good to differentiate ‘science’ from ‘science’. Science is a manner of finding out composition, structure and function. The study of genetics is as much science as the interplay of numbers as the structure of the Universe. However, they are not interchangeable. A geneticist is not one with whom to discuss the latest findings in ‘black holes’. A mathematician probably doesn’t know much about which species of cow gives the best milk.
One also notes the scientific method has limits. For instance, the scientific method cannot be falsified. That is, there is no way to demonstrate this is the only way to determine reality. It does work as far as can be seen, except it cannot reconcile “Quantum Mechanics” and “Relativity”. Nor can it deal with anything that cannot be physically (including calculated, based on prior knowledge) measured or analyzed. For instance, ‘love’ cannot be fully identified or described.
Lastly, the scientific method cannot ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ the existence of God. The only possible answer it has is ‘insufficient data’.
Possibly the best way to learn is to experience the subject on one’s own. I doubt if this is really possible, the Universe is too vast and complicated. Therefore, in some matters, one must trust the experience of others.
Which brings up the question “What is trustworthy?”
The source of evidence presented. This is the raw facts of what we accept as reality. What I intend in this is to provide background to give reason to double check raw facts in some cases and conclusions in nearly all cases.
News Media: Any item of ‘news’ goes through essentially the same processing.
- The initial report of the matter is verbally transferred to the initial reporter. This can be a matter of scientific fact, a criminal or disaster matter reported by a police officer or authorized spokesman, a civic or commercial matter and so on. The originator of the information provides a statement of explanation and answers some questions by the interviewer. The originator may or may not use terms and phrases of ‘jargon’ with specific meanings suited to the subject at hand, which the interviewer may or may not grasp. Therefore, the interviewer must make sense of the jargon in order to transfer the information. The originator may or may not give the full context of the statement. The originator may or may not withhold some bit of information (for instance, the police will not reveal information in the expectation of not alerting suspects).
- The reporter – either by written word or electronic means – then must assemble the report in words and terms understood by the reporter, and presumably to the audience. Should the reporter not fully comprehend the initial report, some confusion of terms can occur at this juncture. In all fairness, I trust the reporter to be as accurate as circumstances allow. But confusion can manifest. For instance, in ‘quark theory’ some quarks are identified as ‘sour’ quarks. This is simply a term applied to differentiate a ‘sour’ quark from a ‘sweet’ quark and has no further meaning. But I trust the reader can see the potential confusion. The reporter – in good faith – may not understand how statement A connects to statement C, and therefore invents statement B to do so. Statement B is inferred logically – according to the reporter – and may or may not belong in the sequence.
- The report is then delivered to an editor who evaluates the report and wording for (what strikes the editor as) clarity and sizes the report to fit in the space available. Depending on the values and predilections of the parent reporting organization, and the type of information in the report, the editor may introduce a bias, intended or not, into the descriptions in the report. Somewhere in the editorial process, conclusions may be inserted, either overtly or covertly which may or may not follow from the initial report given by the source.
From this process, I suggest all ‘news’ be carefully scrutinized for the following conditions. Can the information be corroborated from other sources? Read other reports of the same ‘event’. Compare the information given. (Watch for simple repetitions of the same account.)
See if the information agrees with prior reports of the same type. For instance, a ground based speed vehicle might move at the speed of sound, but that would be a serious leap from extant abilities. Not impossible, but subject to confirmation. Also subject to checking if the decimal point is in the correct place.
Check for bias. Look at who funded and generated the information. One expects certain leanings from different organizations with different goals. Determining the source of the information may cast light on the presentation of ‘facts’.
Statements of Authority Figures: An authority figure – in this sense – applies to anyone in a position of being considered reliable and truthful in general. It is a wide and vague label.
Parent or Guardian: As children, parents are supposed to know all the necessary information. “Label goes in back”, “Other shoe”, “Don’t touch that! You’ll get burned!” For most of us, that early trust is a conditioning which lasts our entire lives. Quite often, it bears out. “Never draw to an inside straight” is pretty good advice. However, parents have limits. Parental knowledge does NOT extend infinitely. My late father had been a hunter in earlier years. He solemnly told me no handgun could hit a mark further than about twenty yards. He was partially correct. HE couldn’t hit anything further than about twenty yards with a handgun. I can.
Parents have certain skills pertaining to their careers. However, those skill sets may have faded in time and the information derived may have been changed by technology. And, parents may have biases of which they are unaware. Both my parents were what could be called protestants and had little good to say about the Catholic Church. To be fair, they were quite congenial and outgoing to individuals of any stripe.
Teachers or Instructors: Normally, one expects this sort of person to be quite knowledgable. However, educational training has limits. Grade School teachers typically are well educated and well rounded. But their level of ‘complexity’ only extends to Grade School levels. One does not expect a seventh grade math teacher to handle tensors. Some might, and quite well, but tensors is not within the normal scope of seventh grade mathematics. High School and College level instructors tend to be more specialized in their field. Somewhat less scope of knowledge, but greater detail and depth.
Teachers of any level are subject to biases unaware. Some biases are assumed to be universal and all pervasive. Much is mentioned regarding Colleges and Universities leaning to the left, politically. I have met and dealt with instructors who assumed they were more intelligent and more competent in all fields than any student. When I was getting a basic college degree (AA) I was working as a Patrol Agent of the U. S. Border Patrol. One instructor assumed he was smarter than I was as I carried a gun and performed physical actions. He was horribly shocked when I bested him in debate and he resorted to threats of scholastic revenge.
Pastors and Biblical Scholars. One expects anyone to have a good grasp of one’s field. However, Bible students are extremely influenced by their doctrinal background. One notes some graduates seem to be indoctrinated in the opinion of their instructors only. One of the problems is the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic (a Semitic language similar to Hebrew) and Greek. All translations, in English or other language, is a translation from the original. The original word meanings do not always match the English (or Russian, or French or Swahili) words on a word-for-word basis. This has been overlooked in the past and seems to be slighted currently. Bible teachers are human. They are subject to the same biases – unaware – as other humans.
Friends also give advice on various matters and provide insight into events and subjects. This can range from very useful to dead wrong. The most dangerous views are those which are ‘nearly right’. I once had a friend in the Marine Corps tell me all women cheated on men if they had the chance. I was saddened to realize that was probably true in his experience and setting. He could not stretch his mind to recognize his experience was not universal. He did, however have a lot of practical knowledge about the Marine Corps and various sub-sets of skills therein.
All of this is to point out two facts: All human knowledge is limited and all humans are biased in some way.
So why does a human being believe anything? Ideally, one believes ‘something’ due to an overwhelming amount of evidence regarding the ‘something’.
Most everyone ‘believes’ in gravity due to personal experience. Which is not to say everyone understands all the nuances or limitations of gravity. Not many recognize the limitations of “Newtonian” gravity compared to “Einsteinian” gravity. Still, nearly everyone ‘knows’ things fall down. One should note a sentient creature who lives in space, removed from gravity sources probably understand gravity in a different form.
I know my parents loved me. Again, this is a matter of experience and personal involvement. No one else has much question about this, as it applies almost exclusively to me and doesn’t really affect anyone else. Some parents are remarkably lacking in love for their offspring, but usually they do.
A chemist believes acid and base liquids interact to form water and specific salts. Chemists know this from two sources: Demonstrations or experiments of the combination and from the various theories of chemical interaction. This can be demonstrated repeatedly to anyone willing to observe. Unlike stage magic, the witness can participate and observe from any angle. No special setting is required. Other scientific understandings, beliefs or theories are similar.
In many instances, the evidence is not quite so obvious. The reaction of acid and base liquids may be observed, right ‘here’. The concept of ‘dark matter’ is less obvious. “Dark matter” is a mysterious effect or condition of galaxies to explain why the galaxy in question weighs more than it ‘should’. Let me attempt a brief explanation.
Astronomers have made estimates of the total weight of galaxies. These weights are based on what is observed and measured of those astronomical bodies ‘we’ can observe relatively closely and determine for instance the average weight of ‘our’ sun. By determining the general weight of a square meter of Earth, ‘we’ can calculate (allowing for rocks and magma) the total weight of the Earth. By calculating the gravitational attraction between the Earth and the sun, ‘we’ can calculate the weight of the sun. By observing what we can of ‘our’ galaxy, ‘we’ can estimate the number of stars and planets in our galaxy. ‘Our’ understanding of the Universe is that the laws and make up of the Universe is ‘universal’ and ‘that’ galaxy has the same average density as ‘this’ galaxy. Just as ‘we’ expect mixing acids and bases on a planet ‘way over there’ would react just like it does on Earth. So, ‘we’ can estimate the weight of other galaxies.
Separate calculation: Dr. Einstein’s theory of General Relativity predicts that gravity ‘bends’ light. This has been verified in physical experiments on numerous occasions. The higher the gravity, the greater the light ‘bends’. ‘We’ can see other galaxies further away by using this effect called ‘gravitational lensing’ caused by closer galaxies. It works.
But the ‘lensing’ effect is greater than expected. Therefore, the weight of said galaxy must be more than the estimate based on the average density of stars and planets (and moons, and asteroids and stuff). The difference is not a matter of ten to thirty percent error, but of two or three times the estimated weight of said galaxy. So, ‘we’ have done the calculations several more times in an attempt to find an error. So far, no error has been found. So, it is theorized there is more matter in Universes than what can be directly detected. This ‘more matter’ is called ‘Dark Matter’ for convenience and it sounds mysterious and sexy. And it’s more convenient than “X matter” (which sound like something from a rather puerile science opera).
There is no question Dark Matter exists, but no one can show anyone else a pound of it in a jar. Astronomers ‘believe’ it exists, because it has to exist. Even if they cannot fully describe it or determine the chemical structure of the stuff.
So I, personally am confident it exists on the basis of the observations of Astronomy. I rather think it will be further defined in the future and will probably be something rather ordinary.
No doubt there are some who refuse to believe anything of the sort, claiming it’s all made up or ‘they don’t know what they’re talking about!’ I point out that is exactly the reason many atheists and agnostics deny the authenticity of the Bible. Curious how similar the thinking.
I believe in God. That is, I believe God exists AND He has an interest in humans in general and me in particular. Mostly from personal experience – I deal with Him, or He deals with me is probably more correct – every day. God is more real to me than – say – Richard Dawkins – whom I have never met or seen in person. I’m pretty sure Mr. Dawkins is a real human being, but out of my personal experience. Since God has a particular interest in me, and I’m not particularly special (save in my own estimation), it is reasonable to believe God is interested in all humans particularly.
There are other reasons I believe in God. The formation of the Universe seems to require an intelligence outside the Universe to create or ‘start off’ the Universe in some manner. Yes, “M-theory” postulates a ‘beginning’ but requires a back ground Universe – the Bulk – which has existed forever, will exist forever and is therefore immune to entropy. Which is so similar to God I find it remarkable. Except the Bulk doesn’t issue a moral code. Far more convenient.
Life has no meaning without God. If all living things are merely the result of natural laws or occurrences, what is the point of being alive?
Self gratification, according to some. That isn’t a God or Bulk appointed reason, but it is self determined as no other reason can be found. Yet one notes many people have an innate drive to be better than they are. Some by service to others, some by making more money, some by collecting more what evers. However, being here to serve, glorify and be Sons of God seem to fit the ‘drive’.
So. What you you believe and why?