There is an interesting post at BCC today called “On Faith and Choice.” The thing I find most interesting about it is that I feel like I wrote it in another life or something. It just sounds too much like me.
Though the post doesn’t really make any specific point (the author notes this), let me see if I can make a related point.
I do believe that faith and choice are universal. We all do both — and we all do both in large measures, though not necessarily in the same way or even in the same amounts over the same things.
I seem to be a very natural skeptic. I joke that even legitimate prescription drugs won’t work on me because of the nocebo effect. Luckily I am not a cynic, however (though after this post you’ll wonder if that’s true or not!)
Not all of us have the same capacity for spirituality nor the same capacity for belief in a spiritual world. Sam (the posts author) points to the very same D&C passage I use to talk about this. We don’t come to earth with the same spiritual strengths and gifts.
We do, however, all have a capacity to improve our spirituality — that is to say, we are all spiritual to some degree.
Ever since joining Mormon blogs I’ve heard numerous people claim that they really had no choice but to disbelieve based on looking at the evidence. I think I understand what they mean here and I don’t want to downplay their pain of loss of faith — having gone through that myself — but I really honestly don’t believe that they could possibly be literally correct when they say this. I think what they really mean is something more like “I’ve lost so much faith that there isn’t much here for me any more” or “I don’t really want to chose belief given what I know believe.” Or perhaps even “I don’t know how to go about rebuilding my lost faith.” (Or maybe even “I’m more comfortable having faith in X rather than Y.”)
The reason I believe they can’t be literally correct is because I’m convinced that all human beings are positively wired for faith in certain ways that are deeply meaningful to us — despite the fact that our current best science seems to undermine all of them. A few examples:
- Belief in objective morality that we are all subject to and have a duty to submit our own personal preferences to. 
- Belief in the possibility of real (and permanent) moral progress and a better future.
- Belief in “free will” that makes a “personal choice” different from one’s “nature.”
- Belief in “immortality” through being remembered for making that better future (or perhaps “immortality” through your work persisting in that better future.)
- Belief in the special moral value of “Truth” — and that the acceptance of truth is always preferable to a falsehood.Belief
- Life has meaning and purpose
The above items are very nearly universally believed yet none of them have — as far as I can tell — even the slightest scientific support within our current best scientific theories.
I always get a bit of a giggle when people start talking about Gould’s “non-overlapping magisterial” that some intellectuals so strongly hold to. The idea is supposed to be that science is about the physical world and tells us nothing about important human concerns like morality, spirituality, and ethics while religion tells us nothing about the physical world (per se) but is how we develop our morality, spirituality, and ethics.
Now don’t get me wrong — I like Gould’s idea from a utilitarian standpoint. But it is just obviously not true, unfortunately. Our current science does tell us all sorts of things about morality, spirituality, and ethics. For example, our current best scientific theories claim:
- Objective morality has no place in the physical world (i.e. you can’t get “ought” from “is.”) But that is a good thing that evolution built this little delusion of the existence of moral facts and objective morality into our heads or we’d have been unable to build societies.
- The second law of thermodynamics tells us that our future is bleak beyond comprehension. The only reason we can build a better future right now — very temporarily– is because the second law hasn’t truly reared its ugly head yet. But when it does, the greater our civilization becomes, the harder it will fall and the more lives it will destroy. In fact, given the exponential growth of life, the best assumption is that far more people will live horribly unthinkable lives than those of us lucky ones that live so early on in the history of the universe. (See the Michael Shemer quote in this post.)
- We are all just chemicals that quite literally just follow the laws of physics. We may be a mixture of laws and randomness at best. So there is, in fact, no difference at all between “one’s nature” and “choosing.” If someone doesn’t change by the time they die, there is a very real sense in which they quite literally couldn’t change.
- Because of #2 above, there is no such thing as “immortality” period. Even if you are remembered directly for a trillion years, a trillion is infinitely more approximately zero than it is approximately infinity.
- Truth has no special moral value. There is a good reason why evolution endowed us with all sorts of false intuitions and beliefs, like all of the above items — it’s because there are many cases where falsehoods are better than truths. In fact, if a human being is wired to see things too realistically we stamp various labels of mental illness on them. Therefore, belief in the special moral value of “Truth” — and that the acceptance of truth is always preferable to a falsehood — is simply not true at all. The best we can say is that statistically truth is better than error. But there are numerous exceptions.
- The purpose of life is to replicate genes. There is no purpose of replicating genes. It’s just a funny side effect of the laws of physics mixed with a great deal of chance.
Now believe me, I don’t believe a single one of the above. But they are all cases of taking science to its logical conclusions. This is the truth about how our current best science describes our reality. So the problem isn’t that science says nothing about things like morality, spirituality, and ethics, it’s that the answers it gives us are so completely unacceptable that no healthy human being could ever accept them. We are right to buck the scientific worldview on these matters!
I confess, I have yet to meet even a single human being that actually takes science to its (current) logical conclusions. And those that claim they do are simply being delusional. But if science is in fact the final description of reality, then that’s a good thing that they are delusional!
We all have chosen to make various sorts of leaps of faith that create a view of reality that is in part at odds with our current wholly materialistic scientific theories. We ALL have already done so many many times.
Science — as much as I love it — does not draw a positive world picture just yet. I believe science eventually will draw a more positive picture of reality, but I believe that as a faith-based choice, not because science in any way currently insists on that.
So, yes, we are all capable of making belief and faith as a choice — because everyone you have met this side of asylum walls already has done so more than once throughout their lives.
 Objective morality. Yes, “objective.” Perhaps, in a nod to Jeff G, morality is in fact not “objective” but rather “universal.” But the way we experience it psychologically is without a doubt “objective.” Studies show, for example, that unless someone has been specially trained religiously otherwise, if asked if God can decide what is right and wrong even children don’t believe that he can. In other words, we seem to be genetically wired to see morality as literally an object outside ourselves. We feel that “moral facts” exist objectively. Of course, that ‘wiring’ could easily be wrong and there is no particularly reason to believe it is correct. Evolution endowed us with all sorts of false intuitions. So Jeff G’s views on morality might well be the correct ones. (I admit I do find them sort of appealing.) But that is my point — human intuitions about morality are not necessarily the same as true morality.