How We Decide What to Believe

Gerald R. Baron
13 min readJul 24, 2023
Image: unsplash

We don’t know if monkeys, dogs or spiders have belief systems, but we know that humans do. Perhaps the transition from ape to human was the development of and awareness of a personal belief system.

What we believe to be true about the world we live in, our community, our nation, and ourselves is one of the most important things about us. It determines much of our personal behavior, our votes, our interactions with others, and our fears and hopes for the future. What I’m wondering here is if we do enough to think about how we create and modify our belief systems. If we do, how do we decide what to believe?

It seems we live in a time of increasingly splintered and fractious belief systems. Long held beliefs are being tossed off at ever increasing rates, and the passion and antagonism surrounding conflicting systems threatens to erupt into wars between nations, but also within our nations, states, communities, friends and even families.

We should take note that this is not entirely normal. As I read history, most humans have lived within communities and cultures that shared basic values and ideas about what was real. Outliers holding significantly different views were not only considered oddballs, but were often ostracized, exiled or even killed.

Major shifts in ideas that alter the entire belief system of a unified cultural group take a long time to take effect. Most were of the opinion that when Columbus set off for India heading west he would fall off the end of the flat earth. It took his voyage and that of others to finally convince them that no, the earth was not flat. When he and other travelers returned with news about the new world, most were thrilled and eagerly participated in the effort to take full advantage of the opportunities this world provided. Now, we tend to see this as one of the greatest examples of greed and the destructive action of humans against other peoples and cultures.

We can’t easily see the major shifts in world views or belief systems as they are taking place, especially if it is within our group, community or world. It takes a backward look for the really major changes to come into focus. We now see that the belief system shared by the Western world from roughly 400 to 1700 CE, a view referred to as Christendom, was fundamentally changed by…

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Gerald R. Baron

Dawdling at the intersection of faith, science, philosophy and theology.