Friday, March 25, 2011

Belief and Assumptions

I'm going to take a step back from some of the particular topics I've been discussing in this blag to get at something I think lies underneath them all. Lately I've been occupied with the question, why do people believe what they believe? If we all live in the same objective reality, how can a belief system seem obvious to one person and unbelievable to another?

What brought my attention to this question was a talk last night on truth and relativism. The speaker presented the same disproof of relativism that I'd heard so many times: the statement 'All truth is relative' is an absolute statement, but it says that there is no absolute truth and refutes itself. Since I've studied apologetics and this was a familiar argument to me, I guess my mind kind of wandered and I started wondering, in light of this proof, why do so many people still adhere to a relativistic worldview?

Of course, the hole in the assertion of relativism is easy enough to patch: just change it to "All truth is relative except this statement." Or, to put it another way, "There is no absolute truth except this one." Not so easily disproven, but perhaps even more difficult to prove. As far as I can imagine, this is an impossible task. This statement, if believed, must be believed by blind faith--and, quite honestly, I think it raises more questions than it answers and is in fact quite difficult to believe. So why do so many people believe it?

Another example: the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics have been commonly accepted among scientists for the better part of a century and have been tested and proven many times. Yet I don't believe them and think there has to be another explanation, because they violate my belief in a rational, logical universe. There's a slim chance at best that I'm right. But I still believe I am.

I think that every one of our worldviews is based on these unproven assertions, often several of them. For instance, though some would claim otherwise, virtually everyone lives from the assumption that we are able to perceive and interact with an objective reality, not a dream. Similarly, to function in society you are practically required to hold the assumption that the basic laws of logic work as commonly believed. You might hold more mundane assumptions, like that a certain political party knows best or that your favorite sports team is the best. All these things cannot be proven--or if they somehow could, it would have to be on the basis of some deeper assumption which would itself have to be proven. You see where I'm going with this. In the search for truth, we have to start somewhere.

I think these assumptions are closely related to faith. There might be no difference. I don't think it's possible to prove there is or is not a God (which is probably an assumption itself); people hold to either of these assumptions on faith. They might find considerable evidence to back up their faith, but at some point a logical leap has to be made to believe an unprovable statement.

One other assumption that has been on my mind: the Bible tells that in the days after His resurrection, Jesus appeared bodily to hundreds of people. Defying all explanation, a man who had been unmistakably dead was unmistakably alive and performing miracles. In light of this, the religious leaders come up with an alternate explanation and bribed some soldiers to spread it. They tried to start a hoax that someone was dead when He was, in fact, still alive and being very public about it. That's a pretty big denial.

I'm going to keep exploring this topic. I hope you'll follow with me. Until next time, what unproven assumptions hold your idea of truth together?

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