In the last two posts, a heated debate emerged about whether it’s right to believe in an afterlife. And the opposition to that belief kept coming back to one thing: “Prove it! Show me it’s real!” The demand for empirical evidence, if you like, which on the surface seems reasonable. But it isn’t.
Consider the ET question. Is there life on other planets? Many of us believe there is. This belief is based on the knowledge that there are between 200 billion and 400 billion stars in our own galaxy. Not only that, but we can look through a powerful telescope and discover there are an estimated 200 hundred billion entire galaxies out there beyond the boundary of our own. In all of that, surely there must be more than one Earth-like planet able to sustain life?
But if you apply the rigid principle that some people in the last debate applied to the question of the afterlife (the principle that the burden of proof is the be-all and-end-all of rational thought), it works like this: I’ve never seen an alien, therefore I choose not to believe. “But the universe is so big! What about the likelihood of …” Oh, ho, ho! Hold on a minute, there, buddy. I didn’t know we were allowed to consider likelihoods, or weigh up possibilities. Surely you mustn’t contemplate how probable or improbable alien life is. Your only standard is the burden of proof. And without proof, you are required by law to choose the negative – to deny what may or may not be reality. I certainly wasn’t allowed to contemplate the ultimate futility of the human race. Likewise, if you are consistent, you should not allow yourself to contemplate the absurdity of this universe being 100% devoid of life save humanity. It’s an open and shut case: no empirical evidence = no permission to believe and no further rational thought allowed to weigh in.
How much better it is to abandon a rigid belief system and be open to possibility! Not only better, but how much more rational. To consider possibilities and probabilities, to look deeply into the implications of things, to theorise based on imagination. Ultimately, to have permission to believe in something, not on the burden of proof, but because it makes sense. Not so long ago, I used to say things like, “I don’t believe in extraterrestrial life, because the Bible says that man is unique and made in the image of God, and that doesn’t leave room for ET.” I ignored the sheer volume of the universe, and allowed my rigid belief system to dictate what is painfully apparent by reason of staggering probability: We are not alone. I looked out at everything through a closed mind, through a view of reality that I had already set in stone, shut off from possibility. See, I’m as guilty as anyone.
But just recently a light has switched on in my head, exposing subtle ways that my mind has been conditioned all my life. My thinking has now become both sharpened and opened up to possibility. Everything is possible, and nothing is exempt from being called into question – not the athiesm of others, not my own belief in God, nor my belief in Christianity. And it’s not sacriligious to suggest such a thing. Whatever is true should have no fear of scrutiny. I refuse to look at the universe from inside a mental prison, whether that prison is the narrow path of modern science or religious doctrine. This revelation in my thinking has made me feel more excited and inspired than I’ve felt in a long time.