April 30, 2017

30 04 2017

From the moment we are born we are trying to figure things out. First it’s the basics, like, how does my body work and how do I interact with this world. We move on to more complicated stuff, driving our parents crazy with our constant questions. If we are lucky (most of us aren’t) when we go to school our inquisitiveness is cultivated, and our teachers try their best to answer our endless questions. What causes the seasons? What are the stars? How do computers work? Why are there wars? How do we know about dinosaurs? What’s it like to be a fireman? What’s it like to be on the moon? Where does our food come from? Where does our trash go?

And on and on. More and more complex. Until we get to the really difficult ones. How do we know what is right and what is wrong? Why do people believe so many different things? Where do we go when we die? What does it mean to be a good person? Does God really exist?

I remember hearing my grandmother complaining one time about how science took all the wonderful mystery out of the world. She preferred to see the Moon as something marvelous and romantic. She hated that astronomy spoiled all that by telling her it was just a dead rock.

Her attitude is common. Many people want to cling to fantasy, to preserve a child-like wonder and naivete about the world. They’d rather believe in fairies and spirits and all manner of spiritual and supernatural phenomena. They resent Science for telling them there is no evidence that such things exist. (There is no harm in clinging to such beliefs, until these people try to make public policy that affects all of us based on their dreams and fantasies.)

Perhaps I can no longer believe in unicorns, angels, ghosts, or magic. I don’t consider myself inconvenienced at all. Quite the opposite. For every imaginary bubble that Science punctures, it offers me a dozen more possibilities and realities far more wonderful. Okay, so we know now that the Moon is not a goddess, not a silver world of hidden mystery, not made of green cheese. But it is fascinating to find out what it really is and how it came to be. And now, given the tantalizing hints provided by our probes, we can begin imagining what marvels might await us on far-off worlds like Jupiter or Saturn, and their divers and mysterious moons. And beyond.

Children might be delighted by make-believe, by Santa and the Tooth Fairy. But eventually their inquiring minds want to know the truth. They figure it out whether we want them to or not. Parents try to keep their children believing their own myths and fantasies, home-schooling them or sending them to special schools that don’t contradict those beliefs. They desperately try to keep them from questioning whether their spiritual and moral equivalents of Santa Claus really exist. Sometimes it works. They grow up believing in Santa Claus despite all evidence to the contrary. They refuse to consider any other point of view, and think their stubborn ignorance is noble.

But most eventually feel the pull of their inquisitive nature. They want to know the truth. It’s difficult having to admit that the glorious work of imagination you loved is not real. But then you begin to realize just how wonderful the world is, just as it is. And in the process of exploring that wonderful world, you realize there is still plenty of room for imagination. You can still believe in Santa Claus, but in a far more sophisticated way that fits neatly with how the world actually works.

No need to put your fingers in your ears and cover your eyes, recited dogma repeatedly so nothing else can creep in and spoil it. No need for mental gymnastics to try to hold on to contradictory beliefs. No need to go in terror that your children won’t grow up believing as you do. No need to worry that your life will be empty and meaningless if you let go of what you believed as a child.

Embracing truth and not hiding from it will fill your life with new meaning. You will not be losing your child-like nature, you will be fulfilling it. Asking questions. Getting answers or working the answers out for yourself. Moving on to the next bloom of questions.

Figuring things out.

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4 responses

5 05 2017
Paul Sunstone

Fascinating post! People live in such a strange mix of old and new ideas these days.

7 05 2017
Leslie Miller

I just thought I would offer a different perspective; hopefully that’s okay! Not all people who embrace faith are those who discard the discoveries of science. I have a son in his late twenties who happened to be home schooled. (We chose to home school for several different reasons, but we most certainly didn’t home school so that we could make our child believe our “own myths and fantasies.” Our home schooling led him to a few advanced degrees, and he presently is a researcher at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT in Boston.) Our son spent several years researching various perspectives so that he could decide for himself what he believes. He came to the conclusion that, for him, science very clearly points to a Creator. Unfortunately our present-day culture is rather hostile to the idea that there are many brilliant scientists who firmly believe that science and God are not mutually exclusive; I hope one day we can tolerate varying perspectives without condemning one another for beliefs that may be different from our own (that most certainly includes those on the “political left” as well as those on the “political right.”) On a different note, you most certainly have a gift for writing, and I thank you for reading my response!

7 05 2017
justinegraykin

I applaud your courage in commenting, and in expressing your case so well. Indeed, there are many intelligent people in the sciences who have found no contradiction between God and Science. I apologize, I should have made a clear distinction between those who homeschool in order to shelter their child from “contaminating” beliefs, and those who do so for other valid reasons. May I presume that your confidence in your beliefs allowed you to let him explore freely. You did not feel threatened by science, or by his interest in it. He owns his theism, having come to it after considerable introspection and questioning. He is not blindly following dogma without question, but embracing the truth as he has come to see it. I respect him for it.

I agree with you whole-heartedly that both the “left” and the “right” have done themselves and society a disservice by their intolerance of beliefs different from their own. And you are quite right, there is an unfortunate hostility between religion and science that is completely unnecessary. We must accept one another and respect those whose sincere reflections and soul-searching have led them to conclusions that may be different from the ones we ourselves have come to. What I deplore are those who would deny any child their right to explore freely, to make their journey. Is the God of these believers so weak and vulnerable that He needs to be protected from the truth of science? Many devout theists of the past embraced science as the means to become closer to the Creator by understanding His creation.

Again, I thank you for entering into this dialogue. It is only through carefully listening to one another and exploring different perspectives with curiosity and openness that we can truly embrace understanding. The greatest strength of humanity is in its rich and glorious diversity.

I wish you and your son well.

7 05 2017
Leslie Miller

I agree with you, Justine, and I appreciate your receptivity to my point of view. Thank you for your thoughtful response; thank you too for your kindness! All the best to you. Sincerely, Leslie

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