Posted by: Andrew G | December 21, 2009

Playful Monkeys

I’ve been reading a little on the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925.

What a clustermuck of terrible legislation and bad lawyering on all accounts. Want to make a mess of a legal trial? No problem, just add religion and a few egotistical banner-wavers that are guaranteed to take things personally. No better way to cloud up the truth of a situation than make up some farce of a duel.

Supposedly, “There is never a duel with the truth.” Au contraire, mon frere.

I still hold fast to the agnostic point of view. I’d like to think I know enough to know the limits of what I know.

But we should get a few definitions or premises out of the way as well now. For example, what are we going to do about this term “belief”?

“Belief” is not the thing that makes you right without justification. It is not a trump card. If anything, it’s a trust in something in order to move yourself to good action.

Belief is part of the way we process information, how we handle knowledge. We live in a fascinating time where we can very quickly look up any little bit of knowledge that interests us, where energy and power is literally at our fingertips. But at the same time, we have to trust that all the systems in place will remain working. We have to trust that Bob went to work at the hydro station and electricity is flowing to our houses so that we can make breakfast and coffee. We have to trust in the basic abilities of fellow drivers on the road, or else we couldn’t use the streets and highways at all. We have to trust the air we breathe and the ground we walk on. There is no way to actually know everything the world has to offer us. There are a million little things we have to trust in order to live the lifestyles we enjoy.  In short, we have to believe in each other.

So, what’s the other side of this? Critical thinking. Belief without critical thinking is blind. Critical thinking without belief is a bitch. That’s a bit of a paraphrase from quite a thinker.

Critical thinking doesn’t give you the right to be right, either, otherwise you are simply a critic. Critical thinking is comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evalution. When I was in teacher’s college, I was introduced to Bloom’s Hierarchy of Knowledge. It’s a useful tool of understanding. Teachers have been designing assignments and activities based on these levels for years in order to engage the minds of budding thinkers.

I was also told in teacher’s college, by one particular professor, that role of a teacher is to instill into students the fine skills of crap detection. I liked that, although I must admit that I am not sure if I managed to fill my students with such useful skills. I was an ok teacher. I wasn’t much of a manager, though.

So belief does not mean you have the answers. But in some ways it does allow you to proceed. This is in part the trouble with religious belief and where my criticism of religions begin. Religious belief clings too heavily to such ideas as authority, truth, permanent righteousness. They can be really, really comfortable, like a snuggie for the brain. Throw all that out; it’s getting in your way. Believe in something because it makes you do good things.


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