Yesterday, in the context of writing about Galileo, I explored a few ideas about free thought. This morning, when browsing through some unfinished essays, I found the following fragment, which seems substantial enough to publish on its own. I wrote this a few years back in response to an online discussion about how religion consists merely of stories but relies on the ability (?) of people to accept the stories as real.
I think that both "believing" and "story-telling" can be understood as ways of "explaining." Humans have the intelligence and ability to question, to wonder, to seek the answer to "why." Myths and stories (and that includes religion, of course) are old-fashioned ways of perceiving and describing our world and its origins, especially the parts of it that we didn't (or still don't) understand. Modern thinkers rely on science and reason to explain and describe what we know about the world, just as we use science and reason to pursue the answers to "why" and "how." Modern thinkers are able to see religion, myth, narrative, etc., as archaic means of explanation. Modern thinkers are comfortable with not knowing, and their pursuit of real knowledge is a pleasure. Archaic thinkers are afraid of the unknown, so they continue to rely on old stories that contain "answers" rather than accept the still-questing, still-learning, modern, wondering human mind.
It always amazes me that atheists, particularly scientists, are so often branded as lacking a sense of wonder about the world. I see it as precisely opposite, especially with scientists (of which I am not one): Scientists are motivated by wonder, by love of the real world, by a desire to understand it utterly, because they find it beautiful and endlessly fascinating. I may be projecting my own love for our beautiful and endlessly fascinating world, but that's how it has always seemed to me.