Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reconciling the irreconcilable

It's interesting to consider what happens when acceptance of a particular set of religious beliefs runs you headlong into conflict with evidence from personal experience.

For some people, it can be agonizing.  I remember one student, a devout (and recently converted) born-again Christian, who was taking my AP Biology class.  His mental acuity made it impossible to dismiss evolution and the antiquity of the Earth as "flawed science" (as so many of the creationists claim); yet it flew right in the face of what he was being told at church, and what he had heartily embraced for other reasons.  The whole thing was a cause of considerable pain, and I don't know how it ended, as he graduated (and has since gone on to pursue a medical career) and I haven't been in contact with him.  But I still recall his expressing his anguish to me over the impossibility of reconciling two ideas that he very much wanted to believe, for different reasons, but which were mutually incompatible.

Just recently, I saw two other attempts to bring together beliefs with experience, in some rather odd realms, and I thought those might be interesting to consider. 

First, we have an article (here) in which a devout Christian tries to frame his experience of having seen a UFO in terms of biblical prophecy.

What I find interesting about this article is not the questionable messing-about with numerology and kabbalistic nonsense, but the part in which the author describes having seen a UFO (he refers to the object he saw as the "Moon of Memphis"), and wondering if this was heralding the Second Coming:
The “Moon of Memphis” was possibly the same object as the “Star of Bethlehem” but at a much lower altitude. The Book of Mormon states that a bright light appeared in the sky over Bethlehem. Was this the Star of Bethlehem at a much lower altitude like the “Moon of Memphis”? The “Moon of Memphis” ascended and appeared as a bright star until it ascended out of sight. The symbol of Islam is the moon and star. Was the “Moon of Memphis” trying to send a meaning to Islamic believers? At high altitude it appeared like a bright star reminding me of the “Star of David” or the “Star of Bethlehem”. It seems that the “Moon of Memphis” was trying to relay meaning to all of the religions of Zion; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This event also suggest that the "Star of Bethlehem" appeared as a very bright star from a distance but appeared as a full white moon to the people directly under it giving a moon-like light to the community below and baptizing the people with the Holy light of God.

Was the “Moon of Memphis” a sign to tell the believers of all religions that they have a common God who is known by many names? Was it a sign of peace or the return of the messiah? Much change in the human condition have occurred since 1964 suggesting that it meant both a sign of the living God and his commitment to the earth to improve the world.
I don't want to get into the veracity of the sighting -- the article gave nothing in the way of evidence other than the author's word -- but it is interesting to consider how such an experience would shake a person of belief.  And now that scientists are getting closer and closer to having the tools to find life on other worlds, how long will it be before Christians worldwide are forced to reconsider humanity's place within the cosmos, when we find out that we're not alone?

Next, we have a new blog (here) that the author is hopeful will generate a book -- on the topic of "the Christian perspective on Bigfoot."

"This will be the title of a new book, written by….you….and me….and other Christians who’s lives have been forever changed by an encounter with the creature called 'Bigfoot or Sasquatch'," the author writes in his introduction.  "As Christians in this situation, we are uniquely challenged in our faith, in our relationships with family and friends and particularly other Christians...  What have been your spiritual struggles because of your experiences?"

While once again I won't get into the question of Bigfoot's actual existence, as I've debated that topic in enough other posts, one has to wonder how someone who believes that humans are god's special creations would deal with receiving direct proof of the existence of a large, intelligent proto-hominid.

Or alien life.  Or anything else that, like science, further reinforces the idea that Homo sapiens aren't the center of the universe, we're just another animal species on a little globe spinning in the immensity of space.  That concept doesn't bother me -- I guess I'm too awestruck by the beauty and complexity of the universe to be much put off by our insignificant place in it.  But you can see how someone who was heavily invested in the centrality of humanity and the Earth -- as the place where god's truth was revealed, and as the species god chose to invest with immortal souls -- would be blown away by the revelation that there was something more out there, something outside the realm of biblical writ, something not explainable from within the paradigm.  It would take a lot of reevaluation -- and as with my long-ago student, it couldn't help but be painful.


  1. I've long thought there should be a drug for situations like that. Something that temporarily suppresses the part of the brain that generates the feeling of knowing, so that one could consider evidence without automatically cutting off any line of thought that leads to a conclusion you already 'know' is wrong.

  2. Maybe Sodium Pentothal?

    Taken from Wikipedia:
    "Thiopental (Pentothal) is still used in some places as a truth serum to weaken the resolve of the subject and make them more compliant to pressure.[21] The barbiturates as a class decrease higher cortical brain functioning. Some psychiatrists hypothesize that because lying is more complex than telling the truth, suppression of the higher cortical functions may lead to the uncovering of the truth. The drug tends to make subjects loquacious and cooperative with interrogators; however, the reliability of confessions made under thiopental is questionable."

  3. I've read that René Descartes struggled with this, too, as a devout Catholic, since transubstantiation and reason don't mix very well.