On big questions, I prefer being uncomfortable to being wrong

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There has been lots of excellent heavy thinking at Eric MacDonald's (Canadian!) Choice in Dying blog, which he started in December, and which is not confined to his central goal of making it easier for people to die the way we want to. I particularly like his piece today, which makes a point I think often gets missed about the current New Atheism:

New Atheists [...] are really not sceptical about the existence of a god or gods. We have no question about it at all, and this, not because of unwarranted certainty, but because we have no idea what a god is, and we don't think that religious believers know either.

There are many mysteries in our universe, and always will be. Atheists like me, however, have no reason to think that religion or theology explain or solve any of those mysteries. MacDonald (who is apparently a former Anglican priest) again:

Of course, like real disciplines of knowledge they engage in rational discussions, but at the basis of those discussions lie propositions which are not based on any evidence.

They are based on scripture and revelation, but, in examining the origins of those—whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Shinto, or otherwise...

...We still go back and back, and when we get to the end of a chain of traditions, we find someone with a pen! A human being, just like you and me! So the church, just like the Muslim authorities, took some human writings, no matter how fenced round with sanctity, and then elevated these writings to a stature they simply do not and cannot possess.

Yet theology is founded upon them. Theologians are governed by them. So are whole societies! Not only that, but they can neither be added to nor subtracted from. These are the very words of God—whatever that is assumed to mean within the structure of various theologies.

Here's what's so puzzling to me, who has never been religious (as opposed, perhaps, to those who have "de-converted"): in the absence of evidence-based knowledge or understanding about something, it wouldn't be my choice to make up an answer instead, or to rely on an explanation someone else made up a few hundred or a few thousand years ago.

Yes, I would prefer a good explanation, a truthful one with good evidence behind it. But I would prefer to say "I don't know"—to accept that we are ignorant about many things, and that chaos is out there—than to accept a poor answer without evidence, just to have some answer at all. At their core, at their foundations, religious and theological "explanations" are based on ideas somebody made up, usually with what would now be considered a very superficial, misguided, and simply incorrect understanding of how the world works.

No one knows (yet) what dark matter and dark energy are. No one knows (yet) how life started on Earth. No one knows (yet) why elementary particles are limited to having quantum spin only of certain values.

These are fundamental and important questions. Maybe we will know the answers someday. Researchers have ideas, but those ideas need to be tested against reality before we know if they're right. Not knowing is uncomfortable for me, but as I've written before, "there's no rule that reality has to be comfortable."

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