Subscribe for updates and more.

Separating belief and science

A note on belief and humanity

I stay away from social media “politics” where you’ll find the loudest voices arguing about bound party questions. This post was inspired by a statement I’m hearing more and more of. “I can’t understand how they believe that.”

We’re missing a key understanding about each other, about us as humans. We’re missing recognition of our shared humanity.

Take into consideration that: rational beings exist for one another; doing what’s right sometimes requires patience; no one does the wrong thing deliberately; the number of people who have feuded and envied and hated and fought and died and been buried… and keep your mouth shut.” — The Meditations

A child is not wrong for believing in Santa Claus. Their beliefs are justifiable, a natural course of action for many. Nobody has trouble seeing how a child believes in Santa Claus. But if the child were to claim that Santa Claus is real, now that is a falsifiable claim. Maybe their friends tell them, maybe they see their parents order gifts online or plant them under the tree. The belief that gifts came from Santa Claus is easily able to shift into believing that presents are planted by parents due to these external pressures of doubt.

The problem we face now is a widespread attraction to the non-falsifiable—ideas that spread precisely because they can’t be proved. These ideas use confusion to create a sense of comfort and control especially during times of pain and uncertainty. But you can’t productively question such conspiracy theories and they hold no useful insights to reality.

Unfalsifiable claims are faith-based. But reality doesn’t care whether or not you believe in it. And reality is more useful for all of us when we understand it.

We do things based on what we believe. No one is wrong in their belief that their actions are right. Just as you wouldn’t criticize a child for believing in Santa Claus, you shouldn’t criticize someone for their actions based on their beliefs.

Instead, listen without assuming you’re right, listen to change yourself, and listen to open the possibility of solving problems that matter.

Don’t be irritated at people’s smell or bad breath. What’s the point? With that mouth, with those armpits, they’re going to produce that odor. —But they have a brain! Can’t they figure it out? Can’t they recognize the problem? So you have a brain as well. Good for you. Then use your logic to awaken his. Show him. Make him realize it. If he’ll listen, then you’ll have solved the problem. Without anger.” — The Meditations