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First Person Personal

My personal views on a variety of matters ranging from popular culture to quantum physics to religion to politics to history to bushido to ... well, whatever I feel like, really. Warning: we all have agendas. Trust no one totally, myself most specifically included. Email me at wbrerwolf at gmail.com

Friday, July 15, 2005

Doubting Thomas

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Did'ymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

John 20:24-29 Holy Bible, King James version.

A lot of people look down on “doubting Thomas”, but I am saving up to buy an icon of him to keep at my workstation. For me, Thomas is the patron of scientists everywhere: he had to be shown the truth, he did not take unsubstantiated claims from anyone, not even Jesus Himself.

I think that faith is a bit overvalued. Faith without a certain leavening portion of reason allows hypocrites to rule fools with impunity. Worse things than simple exploitation can happen as well. If you are absolutely convinced that you understand God’s will and are acting in accord with it, any excess can be justified. Consider the Inquisition or the events of September 11th. Note that faith does not necessarily mean religious belief in the conventional sense – it means that you have a very strong belief in something that cannot be proven to be true or false. If you take that interpretation of faith, the people who created the Soviet Union acted on the faith that their actions would eventually make the world a better place for everyone, or at least for everyone who was still alive when the Paradise of the Working Class became a reality. For an examination of these people and how the road to Hell can be paved with the best of intentions, read Dimitri Volkganakov’s book on Lenin.

Faith is something that needs to be approached with more caution than a pile of nuclear bombs. Faith can lead you to lie down in front of tanks to try to stop an advancing army. Faith can lead you to spend your life trying to make the world a better place for everyone. Faith can also lead you to strap on a bomb and blow yourself up in the middle of a group of total strangers.

Still, faith is a vital part of life. Even the most devoted skeptic has to take something on faith, whether the love of his family and friends or whether the bulk of the information in his reference books is correct. People simply do not live long enough to carefully examine every element of their environment and must rely on the findings of those who came before us. However, a certain level of caution must be observed and if a source proves to be unreliable in one instance, everything else from that source must be either independently confirmed or treated with suspicion.

On the other hand, pure logic and rationality has its limits. Logic is a tool, not a prime mover. Computers built on pure logic will simply stop if something unanticipated occurs; it is desire that inspires us to try to work through things, to improvise some sort of cure for our problems. There is no logical reason to get out of bed in the morning. There is no logical reason to value another person’s wellbeing above our own. There is no logical reason for most of the things that humans do. Emotion provides the fuel and hopefully logic steers, but faith has its uses as well. Faith keeps the gas pedal pressed to the floor. We keep working because we have faith that there is some solution to our problems, that there is some cure for our pain and that there is some way to make things better for ourselves and for our loved ones. Faith can also have its negative side, despair. When faith becomes despair, we loose the ability to slog forward through obstacles and instead simply give up. This is not necessarily bad: sometimes the best way to deal with a problem is just to walk away from it.

I spend, like most Americans do, a lot of time in traffic. Often I see various bumper stickers based on the Christian fish logo. In the early days of the Christian religion, Christians identified each other by the use of a simple fish logo rather than the cross logo. About fifteen years ago Christians started putting the fish logo in various forms on their bumpers. Shortly after that, other people started putting the Darwin Fish logo, a fish with feet, on their bumpers, perhaps to demonstrate their belief in science over faith, perhaps simply to rattle some Christian chains. A bit later some Christians started displaying a logo of a big fish, often labeled “faith”, swallowing the Darwin Fish whole.

I would like to suggest a new bumper sticker.

Consider the oriental Tao symbol, a circle split into two commas, one white with a black spot, one black with a white spot. This symbol represents the union of opposites to create a whole and also represents the fact that even the opposites contain elements of their partner. Make a Tao symbol out of a Faith Fish and a Darwin Fish and put it on your bumper. You need both faith and knowledge to be whole.