Noted non-believer Richard Dawkins provided a handy seven-point scale for us mortals to determine our levels of belief – or lack thereof – in a deity. Copied and pasted here:
- Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: “I do not believe, I know.”
- De facto Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. “I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”
- Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”
- Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”
- Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.”
- De facto Very low probability, but short of zero. “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
- Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one.”
Dawkins scores himself at 6.9, or 6.99, but short of a perfect seven. To my way of thinking, that’s logical. He is a person of science, and scientists are predisposed to reconsider truths in the face of new information.
Because if there’s anything that pisses me off, it’s certainty. Though it is less problematic with dyed-in-the-wool Atheists with a capital ‘A,’ there certainly is no shortage of strident non-believers who insist you non-believe as they do.
I think a central tenet of any faith – or lack thereof – should be, “But I could be wrong.”
My personality is such that I resist extremes of any kind. If I do a survey asking that I rate things or statements on a scale of one to five, almost none of my answers will be one or five. So as I rate myself on the Dawkins scale, I would place myself around three. But I reserve the right to change. Maybe I’m closer to six. Maybe I’m a solid four. Maybe my rating is fluid.
Certainty is my foe. I am an avowed un-Fundamentalist. I wholeheartedly reject the notions of infallibility and/or inerrancy of scripture. Not for Christianity, not for Judaism, not for Islam, not for Hinduism…. Every religion, major or minor, ought to adopt the overriding philosophy, “But I could be wrong.” Because plainly, you could. There are lots of people of lots of faiths (or lack thereof) who would insist that you are wrong. So how, in the face of significant disagreement, can you know?
You can’t. Pure ‘Ones’ and pure ‘Sevens’ are frauds. They are pretenders. If they could actually prove for absolute certain that God does or does not exist, they would do so. And they would convince the other extreme and everyone in-between of their error. No degree of bull-headedness can refute the irrefutable.
The pure ‘Ones,’ the True Believers, are most definitely an insufferable lot, and their insistence that the rest of us must believe as they do or we will be condemned to Hell for all of eternity does not in- and of itself make for any kind of convincing argument. In fact, it makes me less inclined to hear what they have to say.
But worse, these people are the dangerous ones. They are the ones who would kill or torture or condemn or persecute or shun for the sake of their beliefs. Conversely, no one ever says, “Death to the infidels… but I could be wrong.” No one says, “You are going to Hell… but I could be wrong.” No one says, “God hates you… but I could be wrong.”
And of course they could be wrong. Of course they ARE wrong! A god that requires you to kill and hate and condemn and persecute is a tyrannical punk neither worthy of worship nor praise. (Nor a capital ‘G.’) Their punk-god does not inspire me to believe. If anything, rigid dogma pushes me away from belief.
That does not seem to be the way publicly expressed religious beliefs work. People tend not to join a religion or a church for uncertainty. They want to know absolutely and unequivocally that their religion is the one that God truly favors, that their beliefs are the correct ones, and that they have found The Truth with a capital ‘T.’ God is on their side! God is against their enemies (real or perceived)!
The trouble with hardened, rigid beliefs is that they do not bend — They break. They crack. They shatter. I am more comfortable with a shatter-resistent belief system. I prefer to leave wiggle room for new information or new interpretations. I am NOT certain. I COULD be wrong. And if everyone on Earth strongly agreed with my views, I STILL could be wrong. Uncertainty is the only thing that makes sense to me.
So if you rate yourself on the Dawkins scale as a pure ‘One’ or a pure ‘Seven’ because you just KNOW that what you believe is true, no, you don’t. And you can’t. And you won’t know until it’s too late to report back with your findings. So kindly refrain from inflicting your unprovable belief requirements on me.