Believing in something does not make it true. Disbelieving in something does not mean that it cannot exist. Admittedly, on the quantum level, the act of observing often changes or fixes what is, but so far, at least, the question is not whether a particle or wave or photon exists, but in what form and exactly where.

The problem in human behavior is that belief has consequences, often deadly ones. I cannot imagine that a Supreme Being, should one exist, could possibly care whether the correct prophet happened to be the son or the nephew, or whatever, of the old prophet. Nor do I think that it is at all rational that rigid belief in one set of rituals about a God will give one worshipper eternal favor while rigid belief in another set of rituals about that same God will damn a different worshipper eternally. And I have great difficulty in thinking that any deity will grant one eternal and blissful life for slaughtering those who believe differently, particularly those who have done nothing to offend one except not to share the same beliefs.

All that said, in human affairs, it doesn’t matter much whether I or others have difficulty understanding why people would care about such differences passionately enough to kill to attempt to force their beliefs on those who would choose to believe differently — or not to believe in a deity at all. The fact is that, both now and throughout history, millions upon millions of people have been killed over beliefs, not just religious beliefs, but political beliefs, cultural beliefs, and even economic beliefs.

Yet there is no true proof behind these beliefs, especially religious beliefs. Oh, there are books, and testimonies, and prophets, and visions, and unexplained phenomena, but true proof, in the scientific sense, is missing. Even for some well-accepted political beliefs, solid verifiable proof of their efficacy is scant or lacking altogether.

Science, at least in theory, is supposed to test propositions and to verify them. We apply such methodology to every physical aspect of life in modern society, yet there is no comparable test for “belief.” All one has to do is to say, “I believe.”

And so, despite astronomical, atomic, chemical, and geologic evidence that the universe is close to 15 billion years old, there are those who choose to believe that it was created far more recently than that. Despite a long fossil record documenting evolution, creationists cite lapses and faults in the fossil chronology, yet dismiss the counter-argument that there is no physical record at all suggesting “instant” divine creation. Nor is there any true physical evidence suggesting an afterlife.

So… what’s the problem with belief? Everyone has some belief or another.

Beliefs have consequences, and not just the obvious ones. Take the widely held belief in some form of an afterlife, a belief held by close to seventy percent of all Americans and eighty percent of Americans over 50, according to recent surveys. What does that mean? One of the greatest dangers of this commonly held belief is that it allows cruelty in the name of all manner of rationales. After all, if there is a supreme deity, if there is an afterlife, well… all those folks who got slaughtered have another chance to repent and redeem themselves. It’s not like it’s forever.

But… what if it is? What if one life is all anyone gets? There’s lots of belief about eternal life, but there’s no proof, not scientific proof. We want all sorts of tests about whether our food is safe to eat, whether our cars are safe to drive, whether our water is pure, whether our air is clean. Yet, we believe in an afterlife without a single shred of scientific proof. Are there two standards in life? Those for the physical world, where everything must be proven and proven again, where lawsuits abound over the tiniest discrepancies… and those for beliefs, where, regardless of the consequences, we accept something totally unproven?

Is that because we can’t face, and don’t want to face, the truly toxic aspect of belief in an afterlife — that it allows us all sorts of justifications for cruelty, for oppression, for suppression? If the life we have now is the only one we will ever have, and if we accept that, could we live with all that we have done to others?

Then, too, the truly terrifying possibility is that we could, and that the results would be worse, far worse. Does that mean that belief in unproven deities is preferable to the alternative? If so, what does that say about us as a species?