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Standing on the Edge: I am Skeptical, but I Still Believe

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    The way the education system is set up in this society, we learn to be skeptical through our educational experiences with science, math, English, and history. It is not only science that teaches us to be skeptical through the use of the scientific method process. Carl Sagan argues that people should be more skeptical of things that cannot be proven, things for which there is no evidence, and that a way to do this is by learning the art of real science: a science that gives you empirical evidence for human existence and all the things that go with it. Seeing as how all aspects of the education system teaches one to be more of a critical thinker more often than not, I believe that arguing for skepticism is not the route we should be taking, but rather we should be questioning the human tendency to believe in certain things that cannot be empirically proven despite their education. Why do people still believe or have faith in things that cannot be proven through the five senses, when the education system in place whole-heartedly promotes skepticism of such things?
    I had and have the typical and stereotypical Mexican parents when it comes to my religious upbringing. Both my mother and father, although not religiously religious themselves, raise my brother, my sisters and I to be grateful to God for having been born into this world. Having had to grow up fast (having been parents in their teens), they both did not really know how to raise us with one concrete religion such as Catholicism or Christianity. So they tried to raise us by making us pray every time we before we ate any meal of the day and every night before we went to sleep. I prayed to God and told him how I was grateful for all the gifts he has given me and how much I appreciated that he kept me in this world every day that went by.
    It was like having heaven’s door open up for my parents when guess who comes knocking at our door one day out of the blue moon. Two Mormon solicitors came wanting to speak to us about joining their church . They came by practically every week. They were from the Church of Latter Day Saints (far be it for me if I knew what this church was and what they worshiped). All I knew was that there was a God and he loved us, and he died for us and that is why we had to praise him, or at least that is what my mother and father reiterated to me everyday of my life as a child. Anyway, these solicitors came to our house, sat in our living room, and spoke to us about God. They told us who he was, why he was so important; they even read us plenty of scriptures form the Mormon Bible, so as to say that “of course God is real for the Bible tells us so”. All I can remember is sitting there listening to these members of the church talk, and thinking to myself: “this is so stupid and boring; why can’t they just leave so I can move on with my day?”
    It should come as no surprise to you that sooner than later my parents were dressing us up in big, fluffy dresses with flower designs and black little shiny shoes to go to church. By the time I was eight years old, I was getting prepared to go to church on Sundays to listen to the word of God being shoved into my face, in the Spanish language I might add. They separated my sisters and I from my brother when it was time to go to our bible study classes and I felt so lost and scared. I did not know the first thing about the Mormon religion, much less the Bible. I was not as well-versed in the Bible and my teacher always picked on me for not being a “good student”. It was a horrible experience, but I had to go through it; why?, because my parents said so, and of course because God was watching me and judging me.
I think what bothered me the most about my religious upbringing was not that I was being told to worship a God for giving me a chance to live on this earth, but it was the fact that I could not come to terms with the fact that there were so many things that my “religion” was telling me to do which I didn’t understand. I mean, why was it necessary to go to church every Sunday?; why did I have to dress nice every time?; Why did I have to pray to God for something I had achieved? I seemed to me that even something I thought I had achieved on my own, such as getting an A in a class, was actually God’s doing, It was God that possessed me and gave me the power to do well in school. Of course I though this was crap. I didn’t like being told that all my hard work was not actually mine. Moreover, I also had friends who unlike me actually grew up in the catholic church. They told me stories about what they had to do and I was stunned at how they had to keep from eating meat on Good Friday (whatever that was).
    School was another story. At school we were learning the story of evolution, and how we were an evolved species. How we--the human being--actually came of existence from a burst of something or another in outer space. This was fascinating to me. I liked learning about science it was cool and amusing to think that putting chemicals together could make something occur. I wasn’t very good at science, but I but I delved in it just as much as any other person. In essence I was being taught how to think skeptically and only believe in things that could empirically be proven real. In actuality it gave me great pleasure to learn that we just did not appear out of thin air, that there was something that had to occur in order for us to be here.
    In my English classes, I was being taught how to think critically about a story line and not just simply look at what was going on superficially. This was also a form of being skeptical. I was being taught to not accept what was given to me by an author, but question the deeper meanings. Take Lord of the Flies.; this book was a mandatory read as a freshman in high school. At first glance it is a book about a group of boys getting lost in a forest and having to find a way to survive. Their survival however, depended on there not being chaos and so they made a group of boys leaders and soon after a series of events occurred as a result of there being leaders that effected these boys negatively. You would think that that is what is expected of you to understand about the book, but as it turns out English class is not a place where such reading is fondly thought about. No, I couldn’t think of this story like that , I couldn’t think the author was just saying that these boys had lost their minds after having been stranded in a forest, I had to question the author’s intent. I had to dig deeper and question why this author would write a story like this and what deeper meaning it wanted to convey. As it turns out it was actually more of a story of the relationship between government and society.
    In my history classes I was being taught to be skeptical about the way our government controlled our nation. We looked at the history about U.S. interactions with other nations and about the governments actions in regards to their own nation. We questioned the role of government and how the history of our nation unraveled as a result of government.
Then when I arrived at college I had a more open and free space to discuss other and deeper issues about religion and the Bible. Here is where I began to explore the effects of the bible on people in society and further question our faith in it. I started to question my belief in a God that was depicted by the Bible. A bible that was written by man. I started to question our faith in a God that was described as man and I could wrap myself around the idea that we were worshipping a man for our being on this earth. Why is it that even in a super natural way, the male was still the most powerful of all humans?
    As you can probably already tell, I began to realize that maybe my skepticism about religion had arisen from contradicting educations. On the one hand I was being taught that God was our creator, and that we should never question him. And because my parents did not know how to separate God and religion, I was also being taught that religion was the way to God and that it was something not to be questioned as well. And on the other hand I was being told to question things to their limits. I was being told as Carl Sagan argues in his A Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, to question even more the things I believe in because they will prove to be unrealistic things. And so it was no wonder that I had questions regarding religion and God, and I could not accept what people were telling to believe in because there was something that felt wrong that I could not pin point.
    But despite my religious doubts, that arose from my education in the school system, I still have faith in a higher power. I cannot bring myself to call that higher power God because God has a story connected to it that is derived from the bible, and I cannot bring myself to believe in religion, for I don’t see the reason for it. But I also cannot bring myself to believe in science as the answer to all my questions and the be end and all or proof that I need to understand my existence. There are things science has yet to prove to me and to other and I don’t know if that is ever possible.
    As a part of my quest to answer my own question, I conducted a survey asking college students at Bryn Mawr College a set of four questions that I hoped would ultimately illustrate that people still believe in unexplained things despite their education in skepticism, contrary to what Carl Sagan discuses in his book. The four questions were set up as follows:
1. Do you believe in things that are cannot be seen, felt, heard, or smelled?
If you have one, please give an example of an experience you've had of something that was not the result of sensory input below:
2. Are you skeptical?
If yes, please give an example of something you question, and if no, please give of something that you refuse to question below:
3. If you answered "Yes" or "Kind Of" to the previous question, were you always like that?
If yes, what lead to your skepticism, and if no, can you explain why you believe in what you do below:
4. Do you think your education had an effect on your skepticism?
If yes, has your education made you more or less skeptical?; If possible, give a concrete example of a class, subject, experience or event that affected you in this regard.
If no, please explain why you think an education has had no effect on your skepticism.
Please Give an Example or Explain Here:

    Out of those that responded to the survey, a large percentage of them, to be exact 75% of the respondents, answered yes to being skeptical. Also, although not as many of them agreed and believe their education had an impact on their skepticism, there was still a large percentage of the respondents, to be exact, 62.5% of respondents, who did. Seen in larger scope, one would agree that education has a large affect on one’s skepticism. A shocking 87.5% percent of people however, responded yes to question number one, which asked whether they believed in things that could not be seen, felt, heard, or smelled. It seems interesting that although a large proportion of the respondents were skeptical and believed their education had something to do with their skepticism, that a larger proportion believed in things that one should , at least according to Carl Sagan, be the most skeptical about. Respondents who answered yes to question number one said they believed in things such as: Santa clause, ghosts, or God. The results of my survey made me question more why it is that people continue to believe in forces outside of empirical evidence despite the fact that they individually stated themselves that they are skeptical and that they believe their education (an education that is consistent and continues) has had an effect on how skeptical they are.
    What my survey still could not provide however, was a reason behind why this occurs. Why do people, as seen in the survey, choose to be “irrational” versus “rational”? According to Jonathon Haidt of the University of Virginia, in his essay “The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment”, people are not rational they are moral and intuitive. He is a proponent of what he calls The Social Intuitionist Model. “The central claim of the intuitionist model is that moral judgment is caused by quick moral intuitions, and is followed (when needed) by slow, ex-post facto moral reasoning.” According to Haidt, moral judgment is an evaluation (good versus bad) of the actions or character of a person that are made with respect to as set of virtues held by a culture or subculture to be obligatory, moral reasoning is a conscious mental activity that consists of transforming given information about people in order to reach a moral judgment, and moral intuition is the sudden appearance in consciousness of a moral judgment, including an affective valence (good-bad, like-dislike), without any conscious awareness of having gone through the steps of search, weighing evidence, or inferring conclusion.
    He argues that we make moral judgments based off of our moral intuition and that that intuition is influenced by moral reasoning that is established through primary socialization with a culture or subculture. Moreover, he argues that we use reason more often than not to defend prior moral commitments, moral commitments that are founded in a culture or subculture we identify with. In other words, people do not think “rationally” unless it is to defend their own original intuitional judgments. The “…goal of thinking is not to reach the most accurate conclusion; it is to find the first conclusion that hangs together well and that fits with one’s important beliefs” (Haidt 11). Reasoning for Haidt, does not occur before an action is taken, but rather it occurs more often than not after it an action is taken. We act with our gut at first hand and then rationalize what it is that we do, according to our own established beliefs and values.
    Therefore, it can be concluded that the reason one’s education in skepticism as established through the education system does not work, is because of one’s primary socialization in their culture, subculture, and sometimes the American culture. It is the primary socialization that makes it difficult for the individual to question what was already established in childhood. For instance, children who on the one hand grow up believing in Santa Claus, probably have a more difficult time trying to be skeptical about it; they are stubborn to change their belief systems. The same is seen in children who grow up knowing that it is really their parents that go out and buy them the gifts that are under the tree, probably do not fantasize about Santa Clause being real. However, although both were socialized differently, they each hold onto certain virtues that they do not want to recognize as being false or not real. Therefore, they each will go through life gathering rational information only for the purposes of upholding their own believes.
    Haidt’s proposal reminded me of how our non-fictional prose course laid out for us through the semester. I think some of us tried to be open about the fact that non-fictional prose could in actuality be fictional, but many of us could not open up and stuck to our notions of what fiction and non-fiction are and their “clear” distinction. However, whether you were standing on the side of the believers or the fictionality of non-fictional prose, or you were standing on the side of those that believed that there was such a thing as fact and you could find that in non-fictional prose, you were still arguing from intuition not from rationalization. In other words, no matter what side you were on, you “rationalized” your belief.