I am unashamedly reductionist or — more to my liking — minimalist in my belief system. To me, it is sufficient to (I) have a narrative that probabilistically exposes the banality of present belief systems & (II) piece together a minimal set of rules that can both explain and guide our behavior. All else is accidental candy.
(I) An Explanation of Why We Believe
Conversion narratives from godlessness are incredibly compelling. They are, after all, the narratives that have survived generations — naturally selected over time. It’s unlikely that I’d come up with a counter-narrative that supercedes these evolved ones. No amount of facts will convert the average evolution “skeptic”.
“Douglas [Adams], I miss you. You are my cleverest, funniest, most open-minded, wittiest, tallest, and possibly only convert. I hope this book might have made you laugh — though not as much as you made me… Douglas’s conversion by my earlier books — which did not set out to convert anyone — inspired me to dedicate to his memory this book — which does!”
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
Not for us evidence and logic and … let’s stick to stories … instead, let’s kidnap a newborn and put him on a desert island with automatons to provide for his physical and mental nourishment. As this feral creature grows, it is given purely a “reductionist” (alternatively, “scientific”) view of the way a few randomly-selected things work. Can you imagine that he develops arbitrarily complex belief systems stitching together his unknowns? Of course! (Let’s ignore that it’s a natural side effect of a kind of creativity borne of aeons of evolution) Is it likely that the narrative is anywhere close to the baroque ones that humanity has thus far created? Probably not.
Why is this story so easy to believe? We intuit that the accidental wiring that makes connections and fantasies and theories is somehow baked into us. (It’s an evolutionary artifact) These connections, we stitch into complex narratives and the “sticky” among them survive generations. Had we the lifetimes, we might create so many beautiful narratives from so many feral seeds on desert islands. I don’t need Aquinus to Godel to build these. And which one to choose? None.
(II) How to Correctly Make Belief
Let’s make the least assumption given what we know of evolution — it’s easy to project that we wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for some of the evolutionary quirks that made us collaborate. That’s it. That’s a pleasantly minimal set of assumptions that might explain the way we are — the individuals that survive are the ones that behave “well” in a collective. “Good” emerges as merely interpretations of this evolutionary soup and dissolves in it. Identity and ego and “bad” and “evil” — those are still well within the bounds of possible (un)happy side effects of evolution. Why construct more than this facade?
And to wrap this up, let me assert one thing without evidence: Scientific thinking isn’t about knowing — it’s about being vastly content with not knowing about a tremendous amount. And preparing to uncover more using fragile, ever charging forms. Even with all this, our accidental wiring has its accidental joys. Here’s a snippet from the best among most men (in most ways):