Note: This poorly written post is currently slated for heavy revision or deletion. Read at your own risk.
One of the reasons that many believe in a god is because they cannot embrace the concept of randomness. In many religions, things happen for a “reason”, whether it is god’s plan, a test, karma, even sins from a previous life. Apparently making sense to some extraordinarily sharp minds, the reasoning is not something that mere mortals like myself can possibly comprehend. For example, the reason that the cat got eaten by the dog next door MUST be because God is punishing you, I mean your cat, for the Twinkie that you swiped from your coworker’s desk. After all, things do not just happen, so it must be God acting in another one of those mysterious ways specifically designed to baffle and confuse and to test your faith. Yeah.
How arrogant would one have to be to think that a God would not only be testing you personally on purpose, but also interested in your eventual choice, and doling out consequences should you make the wrong one? Why would a God, who allegedly knows everything, be interested in a non-perfect being’s thoughts and actions, which he technically should have already known anyway?
My theory is that our brains have not evolved sufficiently to handle multiple choices well. In the old days you had two choices mostly; fight or flight, eat or be eaten. It wasn’t that complicated. Consequently, our brains function best when there are only two choices. Try it for yourself – the best way to flabbergast someone is to present a myriad of choices. This leads to a common logical fallacy called the false dichotomy. If one is not true, then the other must be. It is black and white, right or wrong. Unfortunately that is not how the modern world is. There are tradeoffs and compromises and gray areas. Just because you can’t prove something 100% doesn’t mean the opposite is true. Just because science is not perfect and cannot fill ALL the gaps and provide all the answers, does not mean that all scientists don’t know what they are talking about and a god is the answer, however comforting that may be. Just because there seem to be holes or phenomena not fully explainable yet, does not mean that it absolutely cannot be explained (and by a huge leap in reasoning, MUST have been designed by god), and certainly does not necessarily prove that the Earth was created by god a few thousand years ago as the Bible claims literally and taken so by some Extraordinarily Sharp Minds. It also does not mean that the “young earth” theory deserves equal time in the classroom, just because evolution is not 100% absolutely positively proven (very few things can be absolutely positively proven). The weight and quality of the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution and a universe that is far longer than the Bible claims. Otherwise by creationist’s logic, the Flying Spaghetti Monster should also deserves equal time in the classroom, as that cannot be 100% conclusively disproven either. For example, if you fail at a quiz, there are multiple possibilities. The most likely one is that you didn’t study enough. Another is that you studied enough but god *made* you fail. Just because the latter is also a possible (but highly improbable) explanation doesn’t mean it merits equal time for discussion in an educational setting.
It is a lack of critical thinking skills that lead people to absurd conclusions. Someone sees a light hovering in the sky, and instantly believes with strong conviction, that it is a visit from aliens in a saucer. It fits into a comfortable spot in the person’s mind and becomes “evidence” due to preferential bias. Because it’s not anything that the person can explain, therefore it MUST be the most absurd and improbable explanation, which is an extraterrestrial being with advanced hovering technology with superior technology that remains neutral, non-threatening and visible to a human. I’m not sure I follow that line of reasoning, but to some Extraordinarily Sharp Minds it makes perfect sense.
Religion and reality do not mix well. Religion is based on a virtual hierarchy that heavily depends on unquestioned authority. In the old days especially, a strict social hierarchy had its advantages for survival. The alpha male or female is the leader of the pact and carries responsibilities, authority, and dominion. However authority and dominion do not necessarily imply correctness. But nonetheless the urge to follow and believe in authority blindly, regardless of evidence to the contrary, is deeply ingrained into our brains, and messes with our ability to reason clearly.
It is human nature to try to make sense out of something that has none. It is simply pattern recognition, which is discussed in another blog article. People remember the extraordinary events and not the mundane, regular ones. Inherent randomness ensures that extraordinary events will occur, like royal flushes and quad aces, and those are what people remember, not the junk hands.
“Random” is more of a western word and concept. Strangely enough, I cannot think of an equivalent word in Chinese that correctly conveys the message. As in, “that was so random”. Embracing randomness means that you accept that sometimes, shit just happens. There’s no one to blame, and not a higher cause or puppeting by a mischievous deity. It doesn’t mean that it is fate and final and you can’t do anything about it, it just means that it’s nothing personal, it’s random. You deal with it. Eastern philosophies view it more as karma or fate or luck or whatever. Personally, I think it is way too deterministic and passive.
“Faith” is also more of a western word and concept. It is defined, by Merriam Webster, as “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. It is also hailed universally, at least in the western world, as a virtue. That is something I strongly oppose. I think that belief should only be based on best available and highest quality evidence. It should be subject to revision, especially if there is newer, higher quality evidence that is discovered. Nothing should be so sacred that it cannot be examined, challenged, and revised, be it religion, a concept, a medical procedure, a relationship, or a policy. That, I believe, is a much better virtue than, say, faith.