Hi Glenn and everyone else,
In the spirit of conducting a productive dialog along the lines you spelled out, I have a couple small points about your post that I would like us to elaborate on.
1. You said "[Success] will only be possible if all participants keep firmly in view the goal of human happiness. Does a particular position, approach or belief advance the human condition, or does it drive it back?"
In trying to define or identify the "goal of human happiness", or in measuring "advance[s in] the human condition", I wonder what part the sheer number of human beings plays. In the formula "the greatest good for the greatest number", the number of humans plays a multiplicative role. That is, if the individual happiness is constant, the "good" is proportional to the number of people: Twice as many people means twice as much good.
But, as is becoming evident with the population of the earth as it is, it doesn't seem that the human condition will continue to be improved by continuing to double our population.
What do you think should be the goal for the human condition?
2. You said, "...we don't really have a choice of whether to believe or not."
I agree with that.
Then you said, "We can choose, however, what to believe, what the substance of our faith will be."
I agree with the second part of this; we can choose whether or not to invest our money in the stock market. We will invest our money if we have sufficient faith that the investment will be good for us.
But I can't agree with the first part. I don't think we can choose what to believe. Try this experiment: Try to believe, even for 30 seconds, that the moon is made of cheese. I don't think you can do it. You may say that you believe it, but we will both know that deep inside you, you are convinced that the moon is not made of cheese and therefore you do not really believe it.
But, I believe we can influence our beliefs, even though we can not deliberately choose them, by choosing to experience new information that will tend to support a new belief. This is done all the time by listening to sermons, reading certain selected literature, etc. Most of the time, these choices are made to reinforce existing beliefs, which I think is unfortunate.
I think it would serve us well if we understood that we cannot choose our beliefs, but that our choices of how to lead our lives will inexorably lead to our holding certain beliefs. If we understood that, then we might make different choices as to what we studied and paid attention to.
My question to you is do you still think we can choose our beliefs? Or have I given you some reason to doubt it?