People and Belief

Contrary to popular opinion, we do not live in a totally free society. Behavior in our society is in fact restricted by laws, laws theoretically made up by the people for the people, laws designed by the Founding Fathers to reflect a secular, i.e., non-religious, set of principles for acceptable conduct. Those Founding Fathers were so concerned about the adverse impact of religion on law that they insisted on the separation of religion from government.

What they either could not, would not, or did not foresee was that religion is merely one face of “belief.”

My seemingly ancient Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedic dictionary defines “belief” as “mental conviction of truth or actuality of anything without certain proof.” And certainly religion fits under “belief,” because it is based on the conviction, utterly without any form of physical proof, as Isaac Asimov once pointed out in detail, that there is a deity.

Unhappily, there are also other forms of belief, also without proof, that infect society today, and yet all too many “true believers” wish to restrict the acts and behaviors of others or to behave in a way that jeopardizes others on the basis of their beliefs. I certainly hold that people should be free to believe what they wish, just so long as (1) they do not force or attempt to use government to force those beliefs on others and (2) they or their beliefs do not do me, or others, harm.

The idea that there is a soul in two cells that one day may become a fetus and then a human being is not a fact, but a belief. To use that belief to deny a woman who has been raped, or who may die from a pregnancy, the right to determine her own future places a belief without proof above present and demonstrated harm to the mother. If that mother believes that, of course, and chooses not to abort those cells, that is her choice and right. But no woman should ever be denied a choice to preserve her life and her own control over it because of an unfounded belief. Likewise, once a fetus is viable outside the womb, there is absolute proof that another human life must be considered.

Some may insist that life is “priceless” or sacred. There’s absolutely no proof of that. There are far more miscarriages and spontaneous abortions than medically induced ones. In addition, every single day we calculate the value of human lives, whether through insurance, regulatory findings, lawsuits or wrongful death findings. All those are absolute proof that, for human beings, life is anything but priceless. As for the deity, at least deities in the Judeo-Christian mode, life also obviously isn’t sacred, not when various peoples have been supposedly instructed by the deity to kill others.

Anti-vaxxers believe that vaccinations are more dangerous to them and their children than the actual diseases. This is another deadly – and incorrect – belief, and there are scores of studies, as well as documented evidence, to the contrary. The problem here is that, because of this belief, those unvaccinated, particularly with regard to rubella [German Measles] and whopping cough, can infect children too young to be vaccinated, subjecting them to risk of death, or hearing and eyesight loss. The fact that, just this year, over 1,000 children in Madagascar died from measles obviously has no impact on such believers.

Scientific evidence continues to mount in support of the fact that the acceleration of global warming is human caused, yet global warming deniers choose to believe the opposite, and oppose measures to reduce, if not halt that warming. There’s massive evidence to support human caused warming… and virtually none to the contrary… and that warming trend is already causing significant deaths and massive destruction.

The problem, of course, goes beyond beliefs, because “true believers” almost always want others to share their beliefs, whether others want to or not… and whether there’s any real proof to support their beliefs.

Liberals, unfortunately, have the same problem. Faculties and students across the country protest when ultra-conservatives are scheduled to talk at their universities. While hate speech does indeed exist, having contrary views, so long as one doesn’t propose violence to others, is not hate speech. Telling students facts that they don’t want to hear, or giving them poor grades for poor performance, is not persecution, or creating a toxic environment, yet university faculty are being charged with just that because more and more students don’t want to hear facts contrary to their beliefs.

People react badly when their beliefs are challenged, even beliefs totally without proof.

That’s why the Spanish Inquisition tortured heretics to death. That’s why ISIS killed non-believers and destroyed historical antiquities that didn’t match their beliefs. It’s also why white supremists minimize and kill people of color, despite evidence that there’s absolutely no genetic link between “race” and intelligence.

That’s also why Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri legislators want women who’ve been raped to have to bear unwanted children, while sending doctors who perform abortions to jail. And, oh, yes, these are the same folks who oppose welfare, health care, and food for poor children, but they don’t seem to consider that “saving the [unwanted] unborn” results in more unwanted poor children that they don’t want to support. And that’s just one of the problems with beliefs that ignore facts.

13 thoughts on “People and Belief”

  1. geoff soper says:

    Lucid, clear and tight.

  2. Phineas says:

    I don’t think society could function if we insisted on a “certain proof” standard for establishing our worldview. We all, even scientists, have to rely on numerous beliefs just to get through each day. And a consensus that human life is precious or sacred protects us all, so I think it could be argued for simply on the basis of enlightened self-interest, without regard to whether it aligns with some metaphysical or spiritual truth. Any exceptions that are carved out of that principle weaken it.

    Also, have you heard about science’s reproducibility crisis? Many scientists have tried have failed to reproduce published experiments (or in some cases their own experiments) yet they “believe” the conclusions are still valid. Probably they’re even right most of the time, but it’s a far cry from “certain proof,” nor does it meet the standard of “physical proof” you want to hold religious believers to. There’s a saying about those in glass houses …

  3. geoff says:

    … There’s something in what you say.

    Concerning the reproducibility of science, well you seem to be confusing unverified science attempt. with some, most or all science. A very convenient argument for someone who needs to believe that science can be disregarded.

    There’s something in what you say, but mot much

    1. Phineas says:

      It’s a glimpse into the role orthodoxy plays in the practice of science. It’s not an excuse to disregard science, but it may suggest a reason to not look down your noses at religious people. Or not. The accusations of being “anti-science” seem very similar to me to charges of heresy we’ve seen in times past.

  4. R. Hamilton says:

    A fertilized human egg is at least a specific potential human being, separated only by time and successful development from being an actual human being. Insofar as the existence of souls (at any particular point) cannot be proven, it cannot be disproven either, not that their existence even needs to be relevant. Narrow definitions of “human” are a dangerous precedent for all persons, so a broad definition probably should extend to those who are at least a specific potential human being.

    That has ZERO relation to the status of the poor or needy (or being opposed to gun control for that matter), save only that an argument could be made, that if a pregnancy by rape or incest (with police report filed, and liability for perjury (at least) if willfully false) occurs in a case where it represents a substantial economic hardship, then PERHAPS medical and even psychological care until some months after the pregnancy, plus guaranteed adoption and compensation for lost work, might be justifiable at the public trough. But not otherwise. If someone voluntarily has sex, esp. without adequate precautions, the consequences are their responsibility, and any infringement on the definition of human is more severe than the infringement on the freedom of the woman to minimize the consequences to her. And as for the man, if he can be identified, he should be castrated, if his action contributed to an unwanted fertilization – no reason to let him be able to cause another.

    None of the above requires metaphysics at all.

    Moreover, “the same folks who oppose welfare…” is an imprecise statement. They may oppose provision for the needy on a compulsory (tax supported) basis by government, and yet support provision for the needy by private means, nominally voluntary but with a degree of private suasion. Indeed, they may even view that government support of the needy undermines individual or private support for the needs of others (and individual responsibility for a reasonable effort at self-support, too), by letting people think that as long as they pay enough in taxes, it’s not their problem anymore. Some of these are so supportive esp. within their associations as to be just about socialist, but without the compulsion of law or a society-wide scale of operation.

    _Government_ should pay the same for the same work, regardless of (list of categories). I’m not sure that private entities should be compelled to do so. Extend that concept, but not to the point of absurdity that results if attempting to attain equal outcomes in every situation where enough people complain.

    What government (IMO) should _not_ do, is interfere in private discrimination short of violence or intimidation or the denial of sale of life-essential goods or services, nor should it engage in attempting to perfect society or pursue social justice, since there are many incompatible models of what a perfected society might be, and unless one can take to court a specific living person for a specific misdeed, “justice” is probably in the eye of the beholder.

    For publicly traded companies, stockholder pressure plus the economic downside to discrimination, should ideally prevent most of them from practicing it as policy (rather than bias by individuals hiring or promoting, which takes sophisticated procedure to detect or deter, as well as active supervision also of those who make such decisions; at some point, the cost of the internal bureaucracy exceeds the benefit of the widest possible labor pool).

    For individuals and privately held businesses, telling them that they must provide equally to all what they provide to any, is a thinly veiled attempt at telling them how to think, an effort that will almost invariably be counterproductive.

    Equality and tolerance, although useful notions, can be carried to the point of no longer being useful – to the point of denying more liberty than they enable. We’re there already, by and large.

    1. Except you’re doing the same thing you accuse others of when you insist that a few cells are the same as functioning human being or even a six month old fetus. Your definition of human is extreme, and I’m more than a little tired of extremists on either side. Human society needs compromise, including compromise on beliefs, in order to function.

      1. Daze says:

        If a few cells is enough to define life, then menstruation is murder, and so is masturbation – oh, funny that, the extremists’ favourite books of the bible think the latter, too. And so, too, do Monty Python: Every Sperm Is Sacred – which ought to make it definitive.

    2. Ryan Jackson says:

      So may I understand that your are for abolishing the Organ Donor program and saying all corpses and their organs belong to the hospital and whomever needs them?

      In a similar note, you’re okay with forced liver transplants, Kidney donations, Blood transfusions? These are all procedures with no or minimal impact to a human being that will save another human being’s life. And in these cases we don’t even have the debate of when life begins.

      That’s the arguement that no one seems to realize. This isn’t about rather there is or isn’t life. This is about rather or not YOU have the right to say what happens with YOUR body. All of those things I mention require your consent. They need your blood? You can say no. Your kidney is a match? You can say no. You’re dead and no longer need anything but those parts can save dozens of others? You can say no pre-emptively.

      So if you’re not okay with abolishing that entirely then you have no business being anything but Pro-Choice.

      1. Phineas says:

        Let’s imagine you have a child with a fatal disease who needs bone marrow or a kidney or whatever. Your significant other is a match but you are not. You say it would be wrong to force them to undergo the medical procedure and I agree. But don’t you think it would also be wrong for them to stand back and let your child die when they could have saved them? Not illegal, but still wrong.

        I would like to think that most people would consider a parent who would not save their child’s life by donating bone marrow or a kidney, or anyone who would stand back and watch an immediate family member die rather than undergo a minimal impact medical procedure, as a pretty poor excuse for a human being. But the pro-abortion advocates like to think up reasons why the unborn baby is better off not being born, like they would have had a difficult life, being poor or disabled or whatever. So maybe your mom is getting old, your sister is homeless and your brother was born without his left leg. Why put yourself out for them? To my mind, that is the kind of fine human being who thinks abortion is anything but a tragedy.

        1. Your argument ignores one basic point. Those who want to make any type of abortion illegal aren’t allowing individual women to make the choice. They’re using law to force a specific action, and those who force a pregnancy to term are not the ones who will either bear the consequences or pay the price. Allowing women to make a choice doesn’t mean that they’ll all choose to have an abortion. Studies show that only a small minority of women who get pregnant choose to have an abortion.

          1. Phineas says:

            I believe I read somewhere that there are around 900000 abortions per year in the US. That’s around 20%. 1 in 5 is not a small minority, in my opinion, but among certain populations the percentage is far higher. But you’re right, the law is inherently coercive, even though anti-abortion laws usually focus on the abortion provider rather than the pregnant woman. Prolife groups do a lot besides trying to pass laws, though, such as providing support pre- and post-pregnancy through the network of crisis pregnancy centers. Even that support of pregnant woman is opposed and vilified by liberals, who I’ve noticed no longer say “rare” when they talk about their vision for abortion in America. Safe, legal, and plentiful? Maybe, like the city of Berkeley, they think there are too many humans in the world, and are in favor of seeing that number go down through whatever means they can convince society are unobjectionable.

          2. The current number of abortions has dropped to around 600,000, and it’s about one in ten. And you’re right. Abortion numbers are higher for poor single women… because they feel they can’t support a child.

  5. Frank says:

    I’ve listened to this debate/discussion/argument for over 60 years, and I still don’t see a “right” side to be on.

    My illogical, emotionally based observations include, but are not limited to: abortion is a disgusting and overtly destructive act. As a parent, it both sickens me and I find it intensely unpleasant. Also, the very idea that a woman impregnated forcibly, from rape, incest or any other form of forcible impregnation…is uncivilized, barbaric and about as “un-American” as anything I can think of.

    Having said all that, and realizing that the great “when does life begin” argument, and the apparent desire on the far Right, especially the Religious Right, to rush to protect the unborn fetus…the same fetus that they don’t want (understandably) on the dole at all our expense, seems to embody the contradictory and complex facets of this debate. So, I go with the “KISS” formula…and keep it simple: while the fetus is inside the mother, it is HER body and HER choice. That doesn’t solve all the problems, is not a satisfying answer to all questions and is definitely subject to projecting terrible “what if” scenarios…but I can’t get past the feeling that we are not equipped to decide this in anyway that would be acceptable to all. So, I suggest we keep in simple…the growing fetus is a growing fetus until it is living outside the mother…at which point it is a human being with all that entails.

    I wonder if this debate would be different if men had the babies? I can tell you that if someone decided to make a law of what I had to do with a growth (any growth: good, bad or potentially a viable person) in my body…I hope they would have the fight of their life on their hands to enforce it…and I don’t this women should be objectified into brood mares that we “men” have the right to control.

    My thoughts.

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