Everyone believes in something.

“I’m not religious. I don’t have any beliefs. I base my life solely on science and reason.”

With all the positive effects of the Enlightenment, perhaps the most negative impact of that revolution in thought was the growth of the concept that reason, and reason alone was a sufficient and objective course to arrive at truth. The idea was that a rational thinker could, without preconceptions, examine and observe the world, and arrive at logical and truthful conclusions. The contrasting assertion was that those coming from a religious perspective could not be objective and thus their conclusions would be more prone to logical error because of their religious premises. Today that perspective is still prevalent throughout our society. It’s amazing that people think that it is possible to approach life without premises, without beliefs.

There is the common argument that is often put forward that it is wrong to impose “your morals” on someone else through legislation as if there is legislation that does not arise from someone’s morals. From the speed limits on interstate highways, to laws concerning prostitution, alcohol and drug use, the environment or education, all laws somehow reflect at least the basic moral beliefs of whoever framed and passed the legislation. Even the most extreme libertarian who still wants to be free from undue interference from the government in their lives and having their rights infringed on by others is making moral, not amoral, claims to those rights of liberty.

There is no one, whether religious or not, who is purely objective about anything. Everyone has beliefs about the world and life that cannot be proven, but are instead just accepted as true. Now, they may have given a great deal of thought to their beliefs, and they may have weighed all the available evidence in coming to their conclusions, but ultimately everyone has foundational beliefs which cannot be proven.

Now I would hope that any thinking person would utilize all the available evidence to ascertain the reliability of their beliefs, and I would certainly assert that I have done that to the best of my ability. However there are still foundational concepts that are beyond our ability to know for certain, and thus we must say that we believe those things.

What we must remember is that reason is a tool, and while I think it is an indispensable tool, it still remains a tool. All arguments are made up of three parts: premises, inferences and conclusions. Inferences are where reason comes in. Inferences are the process of using reason to get from point A to point B. And if you use faulty reasoning then you are going to have poor results. However, your conclusions are also dependent on your premises, the very foundation of your argument. And when it comes to our ethics and the understanding of our lives, it is our beliefs that give us the foundation from which we use reason to reach our conclusions. And anyone who asserts that their premises do not involve beliefs, that their premises are the product of pure reason, are either dishonest (with themselves and/or others), delusional or haven’t really thought through what they are saying.

So what things are matters of belief? That’s for the next post.

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