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What Do You Believe Even If You Can't Prove It? 2353

An anonymous reader writes "That's what online magazine The Edge - the World Question Center asked over 120 scientists, futurists, and other interesting minds. Their answers are sometimes short and to the point (Bruce Sterling: 'We're in for climatic mayhem'), often long and involved; they cover everything from the existence of God to the nature of black holes. What do you believe, even though you can't prove it?"
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What Do You Believe Even If You Can't Prove It?

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  • Someday (Score:5, Funny)

    by doublem ( 118724 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:58PM (#11265089) Homepage Journal
    That some day, somehow, I will get the elusive First Post.
    • Re:Someday (Score:5, Funny)

      by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:02PM (#11265140) Homepage
      ep... you have your proof... no longer counts.
      • Re:Someday (Score:5, Funny)

        by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:08PM (#11265231)
        > > [doublem] That some day, somehow, I will get the elusive First Post.
        > [nine-times] ep... you have your proof... no longer counts.

        ...for proof denies faith, and without faith, getting a first post is nothing.

        "Oh dear", says doublem, "I hadn't thought of that", and promptly vanishes in a fog of (-1, Overrated) moderation.

        "Oh, that was easy", says nine-times, and for an encore, goes on to prove that (+1, Funny) is indistinguishable from (-1, Troll), and gets himself confirmed dead at the next Netcraft parody post.

    • Re:Someday (Score:5, Funny)

      by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:17PM (#11265379)
      I beleive that I am the only human posting to slashdot and the rest are all machine generated.
    • by rossifer ( 581396 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:58PM (#11266173) Journal
      To be a little more constructive than the parent:

      I believe, though I can't prove, that the universe presented to me by my senses is not an artifact of my own existence but exists separately from me, is consistent and will remain consistent after I am dead. (i.e. the universe isn't a figment of my imagination).

      I believe, though I can't prove, that other entities that resemble me in appearance and behavior (people) have the same kind of agency and observer status as myself and therefore have value similar in kind to myself. (i.e. contrary to the assertion of the psychopath, I believe other people really are people).

      Once you accept those predicates as lemmas (and variations, like having empathy for the pain of animals, or using tools to enhance your senses), a great number of things become "very likely". However, we don't need to "prove" any of it, because there's very little value to "proven" once you have "really, really likely". All we need is enough consistency to make predictions reliable and you can live a full and happy life in this world. Most/all of the people I've observed actually demanding proof for things are those behaving defensively in a "faith-based knowledge vs. reason-based knowledge" discussion.

      Yes, I am an athiest. No, I'm not hostile to Christianity or Christians: I just stopped accepting that there was a need for God and lost interest (except as a hobby of studying myth in literature and culture).

  • That's easy (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:58PM (#11265090)
    The female orgasm.
  • I believe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:58PM (#11265091) Journal
    in intelligent design.
    • Re:I believe (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nadadogg ( 652178 )
      Same here, I'm a firm believer that God and science can coexist, seeing as we don't know exactly how God works, and I'm not closed-minded on either end of the argument.
      Yes, slashdot, it's possible to believe in God and science without being a damned fundie that makes my faith look bad.
      • Re:I believe (Score:5, Insightful)

        by the_mad_poster ( 640772 ) <> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:11PM (#11265275) Homepage Journal
        Please note: I.D. is billed as an "alternative" to evolution in which god exists.

        The solidified and well-accepted portions of evolutionary models make no requirement, however, that you cease to believe in any gods.

        Intelligent Design, therefore, while perhaps a good example of things to believe in without proof, has nothing to do with science and god. It has much more, however, to do with politically empowered people who don't understand science, and the people they seem to think are somehow disproving god.

        Your ending statment, therefore, appears to have little to do with the rest of your post when it is put into the context of the post you replied to.
      • Re:I believe (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sergeant Beavis ( 558225 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:15PM (#11265349) Homepage
        Yes, slashdot, it's possible to believe in God and science without being a damned fundie that makes my faith look bad.

        You bet! Someday people will realize that the Bible is a book of THEOLOGY and not a book of SCIENCE.

      • Re:I believe (Score:3, Insightful)

        The theory of intelligent design is considered, by its proponents, to be proof that God exists. Believing in God & science usually means that you don't buy ID.
    • by dbrower ( 114953 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:05PM (#11265184) Journal
      in intellegent design

      So do I, but there seems to be darned little of it in the software that I see.


    • by GoofyBoy ( 44399 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:11PM (#11265273) Journal
      If you mean Intellegent Design, as in purposeful Creation by God: Mod - Insightful

      If you mean intelligent design, as in purposeful creation by programmers, analysts and end-users: Mod - Funny

    • Re:I believe (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sqlgeek ( 168433 )
      How much lab equiptment do you need in order to say "I don't understand, therefor God?" Mmmm, lets all call that science, shall we? I'm stealing Bradford DeLong's words, but I'm counting on folk around here not reading economists too much.

    • Re:I believe (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rheingold ( 2741 ) <wcooley@nak[ ] ['eda' in gap]> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:27PM (#11265560) Homepage
      How would you know what a universe that wasn't designed looked like? Have you ever experienced a universe that was designed? "Design" is one of those things that we as humans recognize in relation to things not designed; we compare, say, a chair with a fallen tree. Both can be appropriated for the task of sitting, but one is designed and other other not (presuming, of course, we're talking about a knocked over). How would you recognize if the universe werre not designed?

      BTW, if you're really interested in the question and not merely espousing it as a foundation for other less tenable beliefs, I recommend that you read Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not a Christian (And Other Essays)" and George Smith's ""Atheism: The Case Against God."
  • by Null537 ( 772236 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:59PM (#11265093)
    That eventually, somewhere down the line the US government will get better. (Howard Zinn says so)
  • WMD (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:59PM (#11265103)
    I believe that there are Weapons of mass Destruction in Iraq-

    G.W. Bush

  • I believe I will have another martini, please. Up, Sapphire, extra olives, and go easy on the vermouth.
  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:59PM (#11265109) Homepage
    Being a bit of a student of philosophy, my old favorite is "logic works", or, in other words, "a proof means something".

    I mean, go ahead and prove it, but you'll still be taking it for granted, or you wouldn't bother with a proof.

    • Re:Logic works? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:28PM (#11265576) Homepage Journal
      In fact, the opposite has been proven. Gödel's incompleteness theorem states that a powerful enough system cannot prove its own consistency. This implies that you can make any number of proofs that are valid within your system, but you can never know if the system itself is valid. Or, as I like to say, the only thing you know for sure is that you never know anything for sure.

      Of course, the incompleteness theorem itself is derived by a system of which the validity is unknown...
  • First Post. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:00PM (#11265111) Homepage Journal
    I believe in a kind and loving God. Keeping that belief is hard usualy because of the acts of man.
    Let the flames begin.
    • Re:First Post. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:08PM (#11265228)
      Let the flames begin.

      You know what? Good for you!

      I'm an atheist myself, but I'm not going to try and convert you. Nor do I want you to convert me. I don't believe in UFO's, ghosts, fortune telling nor anything else supernatural.

      BUT! I believe that if people were a little bit more tolerant, the world would be a much better place.
    • by TrevorB ( 57780 )
      I believe in a kind and loving God. Keeping that belief is hard usualy because of the acts of man.

      Or, occasionally, because of acts of nature.

      "It's all part of God's plan" my ass. This is all looking pretty random to me.

      (dons flame retardant suit)
    • Re:First Post. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hyecee ( 809818 )

      I've haven't seen so many AC replies to a single posting before. Methinks people are scared to be associated with such a "controversial" topic.

      It's a shame the topic can't be approached more open-mindedly, as the parent was neither malicious or forceful. Whether you believe in a God or not, is the idea so black and white that people can't even maintain a healthy, respectful dialogue about it?

    • Re:Check the News- (Score:4, Insightful)

      by xtermin8 ( 719661 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:32PM (#11265668)
      I find belief in a kind and loving God difficult because of events like the tsumani and the resulting suffering around some of the poorest areas in Asia and Africa. The acts of man, especially if one also believes in free will, doesn't afffect faith one way or another. Perhaps God is indifferent? That seems more of a challenge to me than disbeleiving God altogether.
  • by geekpuppySEA ( 724733 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:00PM (#11265118) Journal
    I don't, actually. I believe that they will eat me alive if I give them back their candy.
  • by thenerdgod ( 122843 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:00PM (#11265123) Homepage
    "I'm a good writer"
  • Redundancy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yahyamf ( 751776 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:01PM (#11265130)
    "What Do You Believe Even If You Can't Prove It?"

    The question should be simply "What do you believe?" Because if something can be proven, the issue of belief does not arise. And only idiots believe what what is proven as false.

    • Re:Redundancy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nebaz ( 453974 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:09PM (#11265238)
      Even in Math, proof involves an agreed upon set of axioms, and an agreed upon set of operations to derive theorems. Without these common axioms, proofs are not proofs. In the real world, 'proof' is even harder to agree with consensus wise. Even sight and sound can be fooled by a clever magician, and hoaxes abound. I believe that science, done in a controlled and disinterested manner, will validate useful models of the universe, and reject others, but proof? What is proof? And the very idea of science, that is that controlled conditions yield predictable results is a base axiom, and if you disagree with that, what common discourse is there?
    • Re:Redundancy (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JaxWeb ( 715417 )
      I believe the axioms of Set Theory are consistant, however Godel [] proved it impossible to prove.

      The most important problem in Mathematics is unproveable. This is worrying. You just gotta believe it is true.
  • by jhines0042 ( 184217 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:01PM (#11265134) Journal
    I believe that if you are nice to others, even in small ways, that the world gets better.

    I believe that if you are mean to others, even in small ways, that the world gets worse.

    I believe that I want the world to be a better place, and I live each day according to that.

  • Truth... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ites ( 600337 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:03PM (#11265152) Journal
    ... is just a tool for navigating a complex world.

    In some cultures, sacrificing a goat to the spirits is a truth that may help you survive the famine, if only by making your neighbours afraid enough of you so you can steal their food.

    In other cultures, knowing why the ride to work drives you crazy is a truth that helps you stay sane.

    Truth is any tool that works better. Scientific truth - that is, truth derived by the scientific method - works best of all, because it fits the physical world so well.

    Different truths can be in direct conflict (quantum vs. classical mechanics) and yet both be suitable tools.

    Even religion is a truth that helps navigate certain kinds of reality... it's a kind of fuse box for the mind, so to speak. When logic and science can't explain why the wave hit you, perhaps religion can.

  • Hard AI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:05PM (#11265176)
    I believe that "hard AI" is possible.

    That is, that Minsky was fundamentally right, and that the brain can be modeled as a computing device (although not necessarily a deterministic Turing machine) made of meat.

    Meta-belief: Just as I believe that mind is an epiphenomenon of certain configurations of matter, I believe that free will is an epiphenomenon of random processes in the brain.

    Side note: I do not believe we'll solve the Hard AI problem in the next 50 years. (I'd very much like to be proven wrong on that, however.)

  • by azav ( 469988 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:05PM (#11265187) Homepage Journal
    Simply put. As children, we grow up with "all knowing parental figures." With that as precident, when we grow up, we look for that figure. Therefore it is understandable and expected that humanity seek some type of all knowing figure to explain all they don not know and give them comfort when they are grown.

    We as humans look for a god, even though based upon complex systems and greater scarcity of complex working systems as the systems become more complex, it is unlikely that one exists.
    • by autechre ( 121980 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:19PM (#11265420) Homepage
      I don't really see how that stacks up. First of all, I'm not looking for God to explain anything, and while some people might be, I think that many see it in quite the opposite way. There are things that we don't understand yet, and also things that are impossible for us to understand as we are now. And that's OK.

      If you're talking about philosophy, guides to life, etc., this can certainly be separated from theology. Look no further than Jefferson's Bible.

      I also don't understand how you take a complex system as an argument against intelligent design; I would tend to see it the other way. Or, as someone else said it: "It's unbelievable that something so mind-bogglingly useful evolved all by itself." In other words, it would take something incredible to set such systems in motion.

      Do I believe with absolute certainty in a quantifiable vision of the Almighty? No, and I think that's how it was meant to be. I don't think that any one religion is supposed to get it completely right, and I think we're supposed to be responsible for living our own lives (but I don't fully agree with the Deists either). Based on the things I've encountered in my life, adamant total disbelief seems...unbelievable.

  • Christ (Score:5, Funny)

    by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:06PM (#11265197)
    I believe in Christ Jesus and the "End of this Earth" as we know it today. I also believe that many of us will go to hell (the lake of fire) believe it or not.
  • P != NP (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JohnGrahamCumming ( 684871 ) * <> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:07PM (#11265206) Homepage Journal
    I wish I could prove it, but it seems to me that it is unlikely that P == NP.

    There are various points of discontinuity in mathematics and I think this is one of them (for example, we know that the number of integers is less than the number of reals and .

  • I BELIEVE! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by go$$amer ( 218906 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:07PM (#11265212)
    That the world's religions will have their armageddon - and it will be entirely of their own making and have nothing to do with the divine.
  • ZFC (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Inf0phreak ( 627499 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:08PM (#11265224)
    ZFC [], of course. What other reply is possible when you study math? :)
  • by AceCaseOR ( 594637 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:08PM (#11265232) Homepage Journal
    God and that Global Warming is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • by haplo21112 ( 184264 ) <<haplo> <at> <>> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:11PM (#11265277) Homepage
    I refuse to believe that our world contains the only life in the entire Universe. There have to be other planets with life on them out there some place.

    As for the question of them visiting us, I am not so sure on that one.
  • by benja ( 623818 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:11PM (#11265278)
    P != NP.
  • by HenryKoren ( 735064 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:13PM (#11265310) Homepage
    The semantics of your faith vs. my faith degrade into condemning and those who are different. It is not so much what somebody believes in, but the effects those beliefs have upon their actions.

    The problem with many modern belief systems is that those who sin, repent, and sin again. It's a vicious cycle that gives people an excuse for evil deeds. Repentance only serves the goal of a supposed salvation. It does not in any way correct an evil deed. These beliefs cause people to sin against each other confident that their slates can be wiped clean in the confessional.

    I have different beliefs. Their foundation is karma, a form of spiritual energy that connects life, the universe, and everything. What we do in our lives causes repercussions that are instantaneous, and those that echo into eternity long after our flesh is decomposed.

    I first began to believe all this nonsense after doing something that was very evil and destructive. Not more than 24 hours after my transgression, something horrible happened to me. Could this have been a complete coincidence? Indeed it could; but what I did, and what happened was destructive, traumatic, and totally unrelated as possible. This led me to believe that there must be some underlying power that isn't properly described by Christian theology. Since getting slapped by karma I've changed my life. I haven't been perfect, but I've done my best. Now I find myself incredibly fortunate and happy in my life. This could be a complete coincidence.

    Most modern religions defy science... mine embraces it. Physics has conservation of energy... What about conservation of karma or conservation of souls? If earth was once a cloud of stealer particles brought together by gravity, where did all the souls come from? From the billions of other systems that support life in this universe.

    As far as "reincarnation" verses "afterlife", the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. For a soul that might have come from a distant star, or found its way into a different species; their lives now fit all the classic definitions or "afterlife". So with my beliefs it's impossible to say that the core concepts of most organized religions are wrong. But it becomes easy to tell that arguing the semantics of these concepts is pointless.

    A final component of my belief system is that it could all be complete bullshit... But if it lays down a good moral code sans religious fanaticism, is it really that bad?

    Who is God? A man sitting on a cloud passing judgment? Or a vast entity far beyond our comprehension? Why do religions have to weave such intricate and detailed pictures of what this deity is? Why must people comfort their fears of death by fabricating an imaginary world that lies beyond the grave? Why can't we realize how totally insignificant we and all of our complex illusions really are?
  • Karma (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:16PM (#11265364) Homepage Journal
    Chaos theory may one day reveal that the concept of karma is based on scientifically valid underpinnings. Until then, I just believe it because I've experienced it. Cause and effect, baby.

    • Re:Karma (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JohnnyCannuk ( 19863 )
      I'm with you on that one....

      And if it turns out we're wrong, Buddhists will simply change their philosophy to match reality rather than the other way around.

  • by duffbeer703 ( 177751 ) * on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:16PM (#11265370)
    I believe that little elves are responsible for all of the world's ills. Kennedy was killed by an elf, for example.

    Even now, the elves are working on igniting a great volcano under yellostone park!
  • Reality (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Listen Up ( 107011 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:19PM (#11265429)
    I believe in reality and only reality. Make believe is exactly that...make believe. The universe is not determined by mysticism outside of the human mind. The universe exists, is determined by unbreakable rules, and nothing in the universe is above those rules. End of the story. All of those rules can be determined and eventually will be.

    As far as 'unprovable', the term is highly misleading. To be more specific, if there is a fabric which exactly explains the universe, mathematics, so be it. If the physical results of that fabric are repeatable, predictable, and disprovable then that is it.
  • OK, my turn to reply (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TrevorB ( 57780 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:21PM (#11265474) Homepage
    I believe that the existentialists are wrong, and that the world and the universe do indeed exist even if I can't prove it.

    After all, if the observable world didn't exist, what the hell, the concept of truth itself is questionable, you might as well believe whatever you want.

    Everything else is suspect.

    I kinda like theories that don't falter under repeated experiments. Scientific method and all that. It's a good thing.
  • by whoda ( 569082 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:25PM (#11265524) Homepage
    Have fun bitch.
  • call Ohio (Score:3, Insightful)

    by oliphaunt ( 124016 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:28PM (#11265590) Homepage
    I believe that Blackwell stole the election for Bush, the same way it was proved that Harris and Scalia stole the election for Bush 4 years ago. How long will it take before we see the proof this time?

    Oh, and I also believe that Dick Cheney is a cyborg.
  • by thomasa ( 17495 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @03:03PM (#11266249)
    The Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) is an approach to quantum mechanics according to which, in addition to the world we are aware of directly, there are many other similar worlds which exist in parallel at the same space and time. The existence of the other worlds makes it possible to remove randomness and action at a distance from quantum theory and thus from all physics.

    This gives new meaning to the concept of re-incarnation.
  • by WinterSolstice ( 223271 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @03:08PM (#11266342)
    Yup. I believe that in tense situations groups are only as smart as the dumbest person there, and that all people are fundamentally like sheep.

    I can't prove that, but I do fervently believe that :)

  • A simple universe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tgibbs ( 83782 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @03:09PM (#11266368)
    That the universe is understandable by man, and furthermore that its fundamental principles, when properly formulated, are conceptually simple.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?