Friday, January 12, 2007

The Difficulty in Finding Truth

Many people from all different religions and non-religions want to believe in the truth, and many believe they have found it. The problem is: these beliefs conflict with each other in numerous ways, including in what they think about God or gods, the supernatural, what happens to people after they die, who God's prophets really were, who really is speaking from God and so forth. Because the beliefs conflict, and because the truth cannot be inconsistent, a great many (if not most or all) of the beliefs are false, and hence a great many people are deluded. How can this be?

I do not think it is because Satan has deluded the masses (which is what I heard when growing up). That is surely a copout. What evidence is there that Satan deludes anyone? What is the mechanism by which he does this? If this is possible, how do you know that Satan hasn't deluded you?

It seems to me that this must have something to do with our tendency as humans to develop loyalties to a particular cause or group. Once we develop this loyalty it is very hard for us to crically evaluate claims of the group. Rather we tend to give it the benefit of the doubt, often to a very high degree. Just consider the crazy things done by members of small cults on the orders of their spiritual leader; once they develop a loyalty to the group or leader it is very hard for them to objectively see the teachings and see how crazy they are. Of course none of us would consider himself deluded by a cult, but nevertheless we have the same human nature and the same processes could be biasing us in favor of our beliefs. To illustrate this, consider how strongly many people feel about their political party, even though the parties are often not very different from each other. It is easy for a Republican to see the mistakes and foolishness in the Democratic party, and similarly it is easy for a Democrat to see the mistakes and foolishness in the Republican party. The strange thing is that while they can see their opponents errors clearly, they are usually blind to their own party's failings. It is this inability to critique one's own beliefs that leads people astray. It is not good for political parties, but more importantly for this discussion, it leads to people being over-confident in the truth of the teachings of their religion.

To conclude, my explanation for why many people who want to know the truth end up following a particular religion or ideology that is filled with errors is that they develop a loyalty and attachment that makes is very hard for them to be properly critical of its teachings.

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