18 Jul


Little Me photo image0-17-1.jpg
I know a man who would swear that black was white if it helped him come to terms with the irrationality of his prejudices. Quite a lot of people are like that in one way or another – I probably am myself. But taken to extremes it can be quite disconcerting and I don’t think there’s much that’s extreme about me.

Conviction is one thing and belief is another, though the two do often get confused as they barley-twist a dance through life together. And they can both be horribly wrong.

One of the things that dominates the pseudo-intellectual warblings on the Internet is religion. You either believe it or you don’t believe it (I don’t at the moment, but that’s by the by). But I have read through multi-syllabic crap on philosophical sites because A is a man of conviction (i.e., he’s been convinced by argument or evidence) and B is a man with belief (i.e., he believes without the need for proof or further input) and neither can agree about anything except the fact that they don’t agree.

I tend to have fairly strong atheist leanings myself and yet I’m quite happy to confess that we non-believers are among the worst because the barley-twist dance between conviction and belief is closest to the surface with us. We probably believed either fully or half-heartedly in the array of fancy notions disguised as a particular religion and then after a bit of Deep Thought we became convinced there was something wrong with them and once we’d concluded that nonsense and brain-washing on an immense scale were involved we hated ourselves for being taken in by it all. It’s only natural, I suppose.

But all this doesn’t mean I’m right. I might believe that I am, but I hope I’m honest enough to admit that belief might be as spurious as the opposite beliefs that once fluttered around inside my head (because education and vicars and the BBC had put them there) were. No – I’m as likely to find my present beliefs are wrong as I was when I found my religious ones were. Not that I’d return to them unless presented with a gigantic pile of incontrovertible evidence in support of them.

No. My mind’s rather open.

Let me tell you about a small note-book I had when I was at Junior school. I bought that notebook (I rather suspect it was from Woolworth’s and cost around a penny) and wrote really important stuff in it, mostly about space and space exploration (I’m talking about around 1950, before any real exploration of space had begun). But I was excited by the possibility and wrote down facts by the score, in quite small writing because I was no longer a small child and didn’t want it to look childish.

I read avidly. Science fact and science fiction both excited my developing brain. That’s not an attempt to make me look particularly bright as a child but because reading was, in fact, really all there was for a half-way inquisitive child to do.

And I came, in those young-boy, short trouser days on my first discovery that not all is well in the world of knowledge, because my teacher, in an attempt to provide a bit of perspective in a subject she probably knew next to nothing about explained that the sun was a hundred times bigger than the Earth and the Earth is a hundred times bigger than the moon. At a guess there was an eclipse of one kind or other just round the corner and she wanted us to make some sort of sense of it even though we were ill-equipped with experience to do more than marvel.

But I wrote her statistics (a hundred times bigger, a hundred times smaller) in my notebook and discovered, soon after that they were WRONG!

I had recorded an inaccuracy. The sun is a great deal bigger than a hundred times the size of the Earth and the moon quite a lot larger than a hundredth of the size of the Earth, and before long I discovered that it is 1/4 Earth’s diameter, 1/50 Earth’s volume, and 1/80 Earth’s mass – I doubt I understood the difference between volume and mass but was bright enough to notice that the number 100 didn’t appear anywhere.

At that point I lost my faith in teachers. I had been lied to! I had been taught misinformation! And by one who should have known the true facts!

And at that point I started questioning everything, and eventually God came under the microscope of my mind. I spent ages with him because the impregnation of belief had been so comprehensively eased into my brain. But in the end he had to go, to join lunar statistics as something I should never have been told in the first place. After all, he didn’t make sense and anyway there were inconsistencies in ancient books I’d been told held the absolute truth.

My original belief morphed into a conviction that the opposite to God was true.

So what did I shove into the vacuum (that one thing abhorred by nature and my own common sense) left by God?

I poked around, looked here and there, mused over big bangs, read about the expanding Universe and, you know, nothing cropped up. Oh, the scientists smile seraphically as they intone glorious facts about that tiny point that exploded in the beginning and out of which, with a big bang, emerged all of matter. They dress the Universe up with a life-expectancy after which there will be nothing, and before which there was probably nothing.

And, you know, it’s no more convincing than God. So I don’t know. I’ll have to think it over before I’m convinced of anything but I do know this: it could be there’s a force or a power at work that we might call God and that, despite all the blabbering by pseudo-philosophers on the Internet, I might just start believing in it.

After all, as I said, my own common sense abhors a vacuum and God’s just a name for something.

© Peter Rogerson. 18.07.15


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