Living the True Life

Faith and dogma are bad, because they corrupt our sense of reality and our sense of morality. By faith I mean believing something to be true, disproportionately to the best currently available evidence, either because you want to believe it, or because you are afraid not to believe it.

By dogma I mean believing something to be true, or insisting that others believe it to be true, without questioning its truth by impartially applying reason to the best available evidence. Reason and unbiased inquiry are good, because they challenge our personal biases about what we would prefer to be true about reality and morality. We can never know for certain what is true, but we can gradually move ever-closer, often by ruling out what is most likely to be untrue.

With philosophy, we can apply reason to our beliefs, by questioning how we arrive at our beliefs, including our underlying beliefs. With science, we can apply reason to the universe, by testing and adjusting our beliefs based on the outcome of repeatable experiments. With ethics, we can apply reason to our behavior, by taking into account our impact on the other sentient beings with which we share our lives.

Among the most harmful faiths and dogmas are belief systems by which we lead our lives and structure our societies, whether they are secular or religious.

Secular faiths and dogmas, such as communism or the unregulated free market, eventually bump into reality. We notice that they are not working, and we can change our beliefs. But religious faiths and dogmas hide much of their testability in an imagined afterlife, and thus they can continue for longer than secular faiths and dogmas.

We normally believe that claims are true or false by assessing the evidence. As claims become increasingly implausible, we proportionately raise the bar of the evidence that we require. But with religion, we often do the opposite. As the claims become increasingly implausible, we instead lower the bar of the evidence that we require. Religion encourages us to structure our societies based not only on implausible claims, which would be bad, but literally un-testable claims, which is even worse.

However we choose to live our personal lives, we should try to live our collective lives on the basis of our most objectively reliable understanding of what is most likely to be true. To do that we must challenge all faiths and dogmas, and move ever-closer to the truth about reality and morality, by using reason, unbiased inquiry, and empathy for others. —Michael Nugent