Stupid!

One of the very few sit-coms I watch on the telly is “Young Sheldon,” the spin-off from “The Big Bang Theory.” It stars the truly remarkable child actor Iain Armitage and is in many ways more delightful (and funny) than its predecessor.

Young Sheldon is a nine-year old Sheldon Cooper who likes to brag (even in Church with his Fundamentalist mother) that he doesn’t believe in God: he believes in science. This is amusing when it comes from the mouth of a small boy sitting next to an adult, but it is also a bit stupid. As Pastor Jeff tells Sheldon in an exchange they have in Church, even some of the most brilliant scientists believed in God — to wit, Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin. In another episode, Sheldon comes across Pascal’s wager in which the brilliant mathematician explains that it is smarter to believe in God than to disbelieve in God because those who believe will be rewarded while those who do not cannot be. And even if God doesn’t in fact exist, those who believe will have lived better lives. This is a bit of a simplification, but you get the idea.

In any event, young Sheldon, for all his intelligence, has committed the fallacy of bifurcation: either God or science, not both. But why not both (ask Einstein and Darwin)? Indeed, it is a bit stupid to insist, as so many intellectuals do, that there is only one way to know anything and that is the way of science. This, of course, is what has been called “scientism,” and I have written about it before; it commits the fallacy of poisoning the well. That is to say, it rules out the possibility that there are other ways of knowing and it ignores the uncomfortable fact that there may be things we simply cannot know — mysteries, if you will. This, too, is stupid. We have already encountered two fallacies in the minds of those who, like young Sheldon, insist there is only one way to know.

But it is equally stupid to ignore the findings of science, including medical science — such things as evolution and climate change, for example. Science can deliver us a great many truths that simply cannot be denied without being completely stupid. And it is perhaps the fact that many people who identify themselves with religion insist that science is the work of the devil that intellectuals don’t want to acknowledge that there could be any semblance of truth in religion. This is guilt by association. Those people conflate the differences among religion, organized religion, and faith. This, too, is stupid — as Pascal would attest. But the fact is that a great many people who insist that faith is the only road to the Truth are as stupid as those who think science is that road. Either road requires a form of denial and an assumption that our way is the only way. There may, in fact, be many roads.

In a word, there are, as Hamlet tells us, a great many things in heaven and earth which we cannot explain with science. There are limits to human truth. But there is truth and it is available to those who are willing to search for it; while a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, the unexamined life is not worth living. Β And the start of that search begins with the acknowledgement that we do not know everything and may never know everything. Not in this life, anyway.

It may well be the case that we will only know the truth after we die. Heaven may consist of a world in which the Truth is revealed to us. And Hell, of course, may be a place where truth is denied and everyone tells lies, a world in which everyone makes everything up as they go along and in which there is nothing whatever that is solid and we are surrounded by incessant confusion and uncertainty — a world of Donald Trumps, if you can imagine.

In any event, I have no problem whatever accepting the very real possibility that I do not know everything and that there are things which I simply must accept on faith. But I also believe that there are things that are true, things that stand on a solid base of empirical evidence and intuitive truths that simply cannot be denied. In the end, though, there is only one certainty and that is that there is no absolute certainty. That much I do know.

9 thoughts on “Stupid!

  1. An interesting take on an eternal problem. Many scientists and thinkers have lots of difficulties with the moral certitude of some religions.
    They find them limiting people’s freedom in ways they cannot agree with and this causes much conflict . Some religious groups have changed and now accept the equality of women and same sex marriage but many still hold to the old values.
    Science itself is amoral it is humanity that decides on its uses , it cannot answer moral questions as they are subjective .
    Sam Harris the famous atheist attempted to set up a fullproof moral system in his book ‘ The Moral Landscape’ which uses well-being as a moral yardstick.
    The other sticking point is life after death and most secularists do not believe it , yet it is a dearly held belief of many religious people.
    I believe there is much that the human mind cannot grasp , we are limited in our abilities just as all other animals are.

    • The presumption that one has the Truth is the trap that so many of us fall into. It is easier to say all truth is relative, it’s mine, or that there is no truth whatever. But it makes sense to me to say there is Truth but we can only know it partially. This allows for the hope that there is a point to all investigation while at the same time we can avoid mistakes and the sort of false certainty that surrounds our president, for example.

  2. Absolutes and duality do not mix. There are no absolutes in this universe. Once that is realized and accepted we can begin to walk in freedom of mind. I can think anything I want; I can believe anything I want and as I develop a philosophy of life, it comes down to “what works for me.” That’s my truth, and the beauty of it is, it remains my truth though no one else may accept it. So truth and freedom walk hand in hand, but only for a self empowered individual. In order to avoid the “hell” of incessant confusion and uncertainty, “I” have to exist within a realm of moral certitude, as kersten mentions, on the understanding that such a realm is inhabited and ruled by one individual: me. Anyone is welcome to visit; anyone is welcome to take away anything offered here, it’s all free, but no one else can live here, all are tourists. That is how one avoids the pitfalls of indoctrination, brainwashing and controlling.
    BTW, Trump is the high priest, king and mayor of Menda City.

  3. Hugh, starting with the fun, we also enjoy “Young Sheldon.” Annie Potts makes the show sing in our view.

    Religious texts were written and interpreted by imperfect men with their biases and ignorance of science. So, there are conflicts between science and religion baked in.

    I tend to focus on the overarching messages of religion that encourage treating others like we want to be treated. But, we cannot deny science that tells us the world is a much older place and we are a small speck in the universe. We cannot deny evidence of what lived on this earth before humans and how we have evolved.

    Keith

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