The Dangers of an Easy Answer

My wife has a friend who is a de facto creationist. By that I mean that she is a strong believer in Christianity and the veracity of the bible. Because of these beliefs and the insulating, isolating influence they can have she knows very little about the theory of evolution, let alone the various proofs for it. I find it very difficult to be in the same room as this person for the simple reason that she’s a perfectly lovely woman and I have no desire to make her cry and yet it is very difficult for me not to question her thinking.  In a conversation that touched on religion my wife asked her friend a series of questions that she couldn’t answer. She then uttered a sentence that absolutely flabbergasted me when my wife told me about it. She said “I know people who could explain what I think…” How, I ask you, can you believe something as a guiding principle of your life without having a strong enough grasp on it to be able to articulate it? Thinking about this brought me to the concept for today’s post: The dangers of the easy answer.

The oversimplification of the incredibly complex state of the universe in reality is, I think, one of the non-theist’s largest problems with theistic thinking. It is for me at any rate. My problems with it are A) that the easy answer is almost never the correct answer.  Ex: Humanity blipped into existence in it’s current state due to the will of an all-powerful entity. In fact, evidence shows us that the real answer is much more complex; humanity gradually evolved over a period of millions of years from a common ancestor shared with higher primates. B) The conviction in the easy answer actually blocks progress toward the discovery of actual, verified knowledge. There are a great many people in the western “civilized” world who honestly and deeply believe that the world is six thousand years old, in spite of more than a century of evidence to the contrary! C) Easy answers breed a sort of intellectual complacency that destroys curiosity, hinders inventiveness and causes a stagnation of forward movement.

If you’re one of those people like my wife’s friend who believe unquestioningly in the veracity of the bible (or other “holy” book) what incentive is there for you to explore, or question, or research? What possible inducement to study anything other than said book is there for you? The quick answer is: none. Why would you bother? In the case of my wife’s friend she openly admits to avoiding knowledge and situations that might contradict or challenge her faith. You’ve been told, likely from birth, that the pronouncements of this book are true and inerrant. You believe that. So what if a bunch of scientists say otherwise? They’re just people after all; you’ve got the ultimate source, a source which is incapable of error (insert deity here).

One of the major draws of religion, I believe, is that it simplifies things for the believer. It takes away the unknown and replaces it with comforting absolutes. No need to consider, instead have faith. No need to study, just believe. This aspect of reality makes you uncomfortable?  That’s OK, god doesn’t like it either, and those that do will get theirs don’t fret. Again, my wife’s friend admits to this line of thinking, especially the last couple of sentences.

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King said a mouthful there. The certainty and absolutism that religion provides is something that science just can’t match. Science isn’t based on certainty; it’s based on a reasonable, rational measurement of probability through observation and extrapolation. It tells us how things are or how things appear to be based on available facts. It also requires study, an honest effort to understand, and a willingness to alter our thinking if our ideas are demonstrated to be false. A scientific understanding therefore takes a great deal of work, study, and introspection. Because of that fact the religious view will always have an advantage because all that is required to be a theist is a willingness to embrace the various principles of the chosen theism wholeheartedly and without question, and because as doctor king states, most people just don’t want to think too hard.

The danger of the easy answer is simply this: an easy, all-encompassing answer insulates it’s holder from having to take stock of the reality around them. It shields them from fact by masquerading as fact itself, and leads them to believe that they know far more than they do. The easy answer is illusion. Real answers come only with great effort.


Posted on October 31, 2012, in Editorial, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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