Belief, huh? There's a great subject, and a very broad one. In the most general sense, every aspect of human cognition is based around beliefs, from the mundane to the extravagant. I believe that the thing in front of me is an apple, and I believe that it will taste a certain way. I believe that going to work earns me a paycheck. You may believe that if you pray and live your life according to certain tenets, you will go to Heaven after you die.
The human experience is encompassed by the formulation of beliefs and testing them against reality to determine which work. My five year old son believes in Santa and quite probably Dora and Ezio Auditore
(yes, I'm a bad parent, shoot me). Those are real beliefs, although the things that are believed in may not be.
The only things, to me, that distinguish the validity of one belief over another, are (a) their applicability to real life; (b) their ability to be falsified.
If I believe that the sun rises in the morning, that's pretty easy to test. If I believe that I can make a bus not hit me with the psychic power of my mind, that's also easy to test, although there are slightly worse consequences for being wrong.
When it comes to belief in things like Gods, Divine Law, and the like, the problem becomes evident: there's no way to test them against reality. I can't know if my belief is sane or not. I seek affirmation of my belief via the approval of my peers, which inherently leads to a kind of groupthink that is nearly impossible to debate.
To take a relevant modern example, if someone opposes gay marriage on biological or sociological grounds, I expect that I could take that belief and apply scientific procedures to (in)validate it. If someone opposes gay marriage on the grounds that it's a sin against God, how do I argue it? There's no way to prove or disprove such an belief, while at the same time it is reinforced not by investigation of fact but by one's social identity. Change your belief and suddenly you no longer belong
This is why I think that religious beliefs are dangerous — not because they are inherently more right or wrong than any others, but because they are not subject to the normal vetting processes that helps us tell reality from fantasy.
edited 10th Dec '11 9:05:47 PM by Fighteer