Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Nobody knows

The most effective way to find truth is not by accepting tradition, but by objective study.

It seems to me that an accurate understanding of reality is the most powerful means to well-being. If our ideas are erroneous, our actions based on those ideas are unlikely to accomplish our objectives. If I think my illness is the result of bad blood, it might make sense to drain some of it, but in reality that would be unlikely to improve my health.

Some people claim that there is no objective reality, only a subjective reality created by each person. That seems absurd to me—a careless exaggeration of the truth that each person has a different view of reality, which seems accurate to that person and on which that person bases all decisions.

There are so many things that so many people agree on that it seems clear that there is an objective reality. The repeatability of experiments is very strong evidence of this. It may be obvious that there is an objective reality, but comprehending it is far beyond our capabilities. To one degree or another, though, we do all have our own views of what it may be.

Since no two people agree completely on everything, it seems unlikely that my views are accurate and everyone else's are flawed. It seems much more likely that mine are not only inaccurate, but that many people have more accurate beliefs than I do.

I used to believe that we human beings were incapable of discovering truth on our own. The only way we could know the truth was by God's revelation to us. When I discovered that there is no belief that all Christians share, I began to realize that none of us can justifiably claim that any of our beliefs is certainly true. Considering the multitude of ways in which our knowledge can be defective, it seems extremely presumptuous to claim to know anything for sure, other than that we exist.

Although we can't assert that we have absolute knowledge, we can have some confidence that, on the whole, our body of beliefs corresponds with reality to a useful degree. We can have this assurance because most of our beliefs agree with the beliefs of most other people, but more importantly because many of our actions based on those beliefs produce the expected results. The unique contribution of science to our understanding of reality is due to its efforts to study things objectively by cross-checking observations and interpretations rather than relying on individual or mystical means. It seems to me that such approaches are the most effective way to discover truth.

It was most humbling to realize that the beliefs I had based my life on were supported only by tradition and anecdotal evidence. My distrust of science became an eagerness to learn from science, and I shifted the focus of my reading from books of Christian teachings to books about scientific discoveries.

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