In recent years, I’ve watched myself grow increasingly cynical and almost hostile towards irrational belief systems. This trend had me worried for a while… at best, it’s not nice to become cranky when people mention their beliefs, and at worst it appears to stand in direct conflict with human rights’ freedom of religion. I’m a most fervent supporter of human rights; that I might not actually adhere to what I fight for is a disturbing thought.

Before I go into details, let me briefly explain what I mean by a “belief system”. Any religion fits into that, obviously. But so does homeopathy, cloudbusting and pretty much anything that ends in -ism.

What I absolutely do not mean are atomic beliefs, that is a belief that stands on it’s own, or individual beliefs, that is a belief that you as an individual hold but that isn’t generally shared by others.

The thing that bothers me in belief systems isn’t that people believe in something, whether or not that is supported by fact. I’m all for people believing in stuff.

I, for example, believe that my business ventures will succeed, whether or not that is supported by fact. The reason for valuing that belief highly is quite simply that without it I would not start a business venture in the first place. There is only one proven way that leads to success and that is trying. Granted, not every attempt succeeds, but every time you do not attempt something inevitably fails.

Now I can argue that that’s not much of a belief, because it’s probability is fairly high. I can tell myself that I am a clever, hard working guy, so success is very likely. But really that’s just rationalizing my belief.

Atomic beliefs don’t have to be as positive as the above. Some people believe that whatever they’ll try will fail, for example. I’d file that under self-fulfilling prophecy, personally. But as much as I can dislike such a belief because it seems to be self-fulfilling, I cannot get angry at the existence of this belief. I can get frustrated with people clinging to it, but I don’t think there is something fundamentally wrong with it, it’s just not a very useful thing to put your faith into.

No, it’s the “system” part of “belief system” that upsets me. The systematic nature of a belief system manifests in various ways:

  • Belief systems are made up of atomic beliefs that support each other using circular logic.
  • Belief systems are dogmatic, that is not only shared by many, but deviation from the belief system is punished1 by the collective.
  • Belief systems hook into common fears. Religious promises of judgement after death is the most obvious example.
  • Belief systems claim support from unknowable factoids. Again, anything happening after death is the most obvious example.

Note that I did not really mention any particular atomic beliefs in belief systems that I find bothersome. I mention things happening after death only as an example; my own belief is that anything happening after my death is highly unlikely, and if something does happen, I’ll likely be fascinated. As much as I want my death to be as far away as possible, I do want to know what happens when and possibly after I die. If people believe they go to heaven, all the more power to them. Or rather, I really do not care.

The above points are entirely unrelated to such atomic beliefs, however. They are systematic, and I dislike them whether they exist in a belief system or … well, take for example science. I know scientists who will aggressively insist that death is the end, and that’s it, to go back to that example. The thing is, they’re right to the best of our knowledge with regards to biology. Our body “dies”2, and that’s the end of that.

What science doesn’t tell us is if there is indeed such a thing as a soul, that might live on after the body’s death. And that is the crux with science: whatever science does not explain does not exist within science.

As far as I am concerned, that’s fine, but that is because I do not treat science as a belief system. Science, to me, is a set of principles, an approach to examining the world surrounding us, that is fundamentally designed to doubt itself. Scientific progress happens when theories3 are shown to be incorrect, and new theories replace them.

Therefore it’s entirely compatible with the scientific method to believe in the possibility of souls. On the other hand, it is not compatible to believe that they must or cannot exist, because we lack strong evidence for either. Granted, evidence for their non-existence is quite a lot stronger, but still a far cry from proof.

The point? You can treat science dogmatically, at which point it ceases to be science and becomes a belief system in the sense that I despise.

  1. The type of punishment can vary, ranging from rolling your eyes to death, pretty much. []
  2. Actually, it doesn’t. Your body holds about ten times more cells that do not share your DNA at any given time, and those live on for quite a while after your death. []
  3. Note that scientific theories are not the same as the word “theory” is commonly used. To formulate a scientific theory, you need to provide evidence, by trying to disprove it and failing to do so. Others will join in in that. It’s not just a guess. []
  • Norman Liebold

    Very fine work, my friend! I think, it is in the end not so complex, if you’re going from a not so specific point of view. It is in my opinion the same thing with personal positions in political or special ways of live. I think, there is a thought, that make a little bit sense for all this terms of being in the world: We all are free. Noone has the right to tell someone other what to do, how to live, to belief – unless this way to handle delimited the freedom of other humans. Okay, this is a really important point for you: For you this law is also apply accordingly to animals. In this way, our point of view is not absolutely the same. In my opinion it is okay, to kill and eat animals. I love and respect animals more than the most humans, i live with them in a very free way: There is an marten under my caravan, and he comes time to time in and make his reference. There are a family of forest-mouses in my wall that cames often out an sitting on the top of my lounch an looking at me. Some cats of the village i live likes to come in and pinch a bit by me. You now my special correlations to dogs and wolfes. And there are many more like the cows i knowing all by name, there give me the morning milk. The horses from Walter i riding. I don’t “possess” any animal, i dont like the idea. Maybe, if i have kids in future and they will be 2 or 3 years, there will be one or two dogs in the family. Not as possesses things, i mean as compinions and friends.

    That’s in this kind of matter the point: If i kill a animal to eat it, i robbed him his freedom and his way of live, that is a fact. But, really, it is so? My marten an the village-cats hunt the forrest-mouses, for example. No one can live without affect the live of others. I hate the forms of industrial livestock farming, this is pervers. I think, we humans eat to much meal. I dont eat much “dead animal”, and in the last jears i bay from hunters and little farmers i know or hunting – really – for myself with fishing rod and my bow. In my feeling that’s okay, it is in my opinion – and only for my way of live – a part of being human to hunt. I know, you see this point completely different, an for me it is okay. That you make for you the decision, that you don’t want eat meat ore use products, that comes from animals, is an very fine way to live and it don’t delimit the live of other people. Only you become some of this stupid things you talking about, this things with the “-ism” at the end and make the demand, that all humans must live in your way…

    With best regards,
    your N-Point
    .-= » Norman Liebold’s last blog: =-.

    • unwesen

      Two points.

      First, no, this post is not about animal rights. At all. This is about my right not to be discriminated against because I don’t want to harm animals at all. Yet I am, and I don’t have the same legal basis to defend myself against that as religious people do. That is all this post is about.

      Second, “No one can live without affect the live of others.”. True, but that’s not a good excuse for not trying. I could use the same argument to kill and eat other humans, but I rather doubt you’d find that reasonable.

  • Norman Liebold

    Oh, okay, if you give this argument that consequences, you can say, that I or some people argue, that it is possible to kill people. But that is not, what I mean. I mean, and I think, it is a fakt, that all what you do, have effects. Effects on other people, of course. Maybe, in a special way, with consequences that in endeffect can stay in responsibility for the dead of a human. You can’t foreseen all the consequences of your actions, unless you ending action at all and end your own living. The toxic materials in your Computer maybe canker some animals or peoples, who knows. The electric power you use came out of a nuclear reactor, and that you use it, makes, that it will not shut down by the gouvenement – and then there is a accident – it is than your fail? You drive your car and if your are phobic on spiders an such a little animal is crabbling on your hand, you are panic for a moment and rolling over a kid – all, waht wie do, have consequences. That’s live. You’re a vegan and want eat many soybeans. The soy-industrie make gigantic soy-plantages that will robb exitential habitats of some rare animals, and they become instinct … okay, I think you know what I mean. ;.)
    .-= » Norman Liebold’s last blog: =-.

    • unwesen

      Of course everything we do has consequences. And of course we can’t predict all consequences, and therefore we will cause bad things to happen even if we want to prevent that. All vegans (that I’ve spoken to) understand that their life will, at some point or another, cause the death of an animal. Again, that’s no excuse for not even trying to avoid that. You just do as much as you can.

      Soybeans? That’s a bad example.

      First, most soybeans are not produces for human consumption. They’re produced to feed farm animals, intended for meat. So it’s not my lifestyle that would be causing the extinction of these rare animals you mention… at least not likely.

      Second, the second law of thermodynamics applies to the food chain as well. Every amount of nutrients you can gain from meat requires a larger amount of nutrients to be fed to the animal you’re eating. That means meat-based diets cost more land and more water, and produces more pollution that equivalent plant-based diets.

      There are plenty of studies to support that. is a good place to start.