When I think about my beliefs I recognise that there are trivial ones like "my shoes are by the door", moral ones like "torture is wrong" and fundamental ones about the nature of the universe. My trivial beliefs are obviously in a state of flux. My moral beliefs have changed slowly over time but have gradually settled into a pretty stable set. My fundamental beliefs about the nature of the universe seem different - basically I have come to the position of believing only scientific conclusions. So is science my religion?
Well science is not obviously a belief system. It is a discipline, a methodology, a quest for knowledge. But it is generating and constantly refining a core set of beliefs about the nature of the universe and I believe that the methodology is sound, and that fundamental physical laws are the essential cause of everything that happens in the universe. My worldview is essentially naturalism - but is naturalism a religion?
I think of a religion as a core set of beliefs and practises that are actively shared by a group of adherents. A typical belief is that we are immortal souls temporarily inhabiting physical bodies. Typical religions also share characteristic elements such as ritual, prayer and communal worship. Most have a well developed organisational structure with churches and priests or some close equivalent. They may have sacred sites, texts and relics. It may be possible to trace the ancestry of a religion back to an individual "founder". What about gods? A person who believes in gods is a theist and a religion that incorporates a belief in gods is a theistic religion. There are also atheists and atheistic religions. Overall I do not consider naturalism to be a religion.
With my naturalistic worldview I believe that humans are a recent chance appearance in the universe, evolved from earlier life forms. Like Einstein I feel that "everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler". The existence of gods is not implied by any scientific conclusion so I do not believe in gods, or to put it another way I believe that gods are products of the human imagination. I guess that makes me an atheist but I don't like characterising myself using a word that specifies what I don't believe in.
By the way, theists will often point to Einstein's famous statement that "God does not play dice" as evidence that Einstein was a theist. However, in a recently revealed letter he wrote "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."
The long and the short of it is that if asked to state my religion I say "none", naturalism is my worldview, and I do not deny being an atheist. But that is enough about me:-)
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www.zenatode.org.uk Ian Gregory 2010