After over fifty years of pursuing spirituality in one form or another, I've come to one firm conclusion. I'm nothing special.
And neither are you. Nor is anybody else.
Now, I'm not saying that everybody is the same. Obviously every person is different. We all have different thoughts, emotions, talents, likes and dislikes, appearance, and so on.
What I mean is that we're all material beings living in this material world, to sort of quote Madonna.
So whatever we know about the world, almost certainly other people possess the same knowledge. Most of us like to think that in some way we're special when it comes to what we know.
But the truth is that we're not.
Some would say that our beliefs can be unique, shared by no one else. But a belief is different from knowledge. Knowledge is a true statement about reality, while a belief isn't.
Sure, we often say things like "I believe the Earth goes around the Sun." Actually that is something we know. It's a fact.
Whereas "I believe in God" is a genuine belief. It isn't grounded in reality. There's no demonstrable evidence for that statement.
Beliefs are limited only by our imagination. Knowledge is limited by what is true.
Of course, a belief can be transformed into knowledge through evidence. And evidence can transform knowledge into belief if what once was thought to be true turns out to be untrue.
For example, almost everybody used to know that the Earth was flat. Now we know it is round, so that confident initial knowledge actually was a shaky belief.
Yet there's still a Flat Earth Society. Untrue beliefs take a long time to completely die, if they ever do.
A few days ago I wrote "A Bayesian argument against miracles." The takeaway quote by Steven Pinker in that post was Which is more likely -- that the laws of the universe as we understand them are false, or that some guy got something wrong?
This relates to the notion that no one possesses special knowledge. Over thousands of years, humanity has built up a store of shared knowledge.
It is ever-changing, which is the nature of knowledge. The more we know, the more there is left to know. Sometimes this is described as the Island of Knowledge having a vaster shoreline as the island expands in size.
Science is by far our best means of arriving at a shared understanding of what is real and true. Sure, scientific knowledge is constantly changing, just as our individual knowledge does.
But science has ways of correcting errors that individuals don't. It may take a while for an untrue theory to be overturned. However, there's no doubt that science steadily progresses toward a more accurate picture of reality.
This accomplishment means, in Carl Sagan's words, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
During the seventeen years this blog has existed, I've debunked a great many religious supernatural claims. This doesn't stop people from continuing to believe in them.
Almost every day someone leaves a comment on one of my posts that amounts to an extraordinary claim about the nature of reality. If true, it would overturn much of modern science, since the claims people make go against the well-proven laws of nature.
But those extraordinary claims always lack extraordinary evidence. Or even ordinary evidence.
The big question is, why do people continue to believe things that lack demonstrable evidence? There are plenty of reasons. Here's a few of them.
-- They want to believe in the supernatural so badly, they ignore the lack of evidence for it.
-- They enjoy the attention other people give them when they make supernatural claims.
-- They like to feel they possess knowledge no one else has.
-- They are out to make money from followers who revere them.
-- They have deluded themselves into mistaking belief for knowledge.
Having been a religious believer for thirty-five years, I understand the appeal of considering that God, spirit, heaven, angels, and such are as real as rocks, goldfish, iPhones, and clouds.
But eventually I grew out of my unfounded religiosity, because solid truth was more important to me that flimsy belief. This is why I put so much emphasis on being honest about what we actually know, versus what we would prefer to be true.
Wishes are one thing. Reality is another.