The content below was written in April of 2012. Since then I've publish a couple of updates. The most recent one can be found here.
In an earlier post I defined belief as "a last resort to turn to when the currently known facts and the best available explanations of them don't answer you questions and you must have an answer on which to base your decisions. Beliefs should be avoided at all costs, much better to admit that we don't yet know and just continue searching. But the world being what it is, there are many decisions that must be guided, at least in part, but nothing more substantial than belief."
So you might expect that I don't believe much. But as I said, the world being what it is, there many decisions to be made and we don't always know enough to base those decisions on knowledge. So one has no choice but to formulate a belief, based on little more than an gut feeling -- intuition if you will. There is actually quite a bit to be said for intuition in the many cases where there is not better way of knowing.
It's time that I 'fessed up and shared some of those beliefs with you.
To put a name to it, I am a monistic materialist (or materialistic monist, same thing). This means I believe there is only one thing, and that is the material universe that we see around us and that we are part of. That's where the materialistic part comes from. The "monistic" part is important too -- there really is only that one thing and everything is part of it. The many "dualisms" that people believe in are serious errors in thought, with big and nasty consequences. Here are a few of them:
1) That there is a god separate from and outside of the material universe, who is it's creator. This unnecessarily complicates one's thinking. If the universe had to be created by someone, then so did god, and whoever created god and so on in an infinite regress that get's harder and harder to believe. Stop at one hard thing to believe: that the universe simply is. Furthermore the idea that the world was "designed", that the way things are is "meant to be", is a fallacy. The way things are is a combination of natural law and chance. When applied to life, we call this evolution. But something very similar has been going with the inanimate part of the universe as well. And it is very important not to start making value judgements about how things are. Because there is no creator and no "intention", one way is not inherently superior over another.
2) That mankind is a special part of nature, created to have dominion over it. This is the source of much of our current abuse of the environment. I would say we are a part of nature, with no special status or role, and actually totally dependent on nature -- it feeds, waters and clothes us and provides for us to continue breathing. When I was younger I thought that we would someday have the technology to overcome this dependence, but now it's looking pretty unlikely.
3) That our soul is a separate thing from our bodies with an independent existence that is eternal. I would say our consciousness (and that is as close as I will come to admitting we have a soul) is essentially a computing process running on the "meatware" between our ears. As long as the meatware is running, the soul exists as an emergent property of that process. When the meatware stops running, the soul ceases to exist. Spirituality is an emergent property of the process of consciousness and an important part of being human. It surprises a lot of conventionally religious of people that an "atheist" is big on spirituality, but I am.
4) That there is a material universe and a separate spiritual or mystical one. Our soul is not separate from our brain and can act on the material world only through our bodies. No funny stuff!
There are probably more of these dualism that are messing up people's thinking, but that's what comes to my mind at the moment.
Duty calls me elsewhere, but I will be adding more here, so be sure to check back later.