Many years ago I dined out with my daughter, who was 12 years old at the time. My children and I have been dining out a lot, since when they were quite young. But at this occasion I suddenly found myself in an adult conversation with her for the first time. This must explain why I had kept notes, which this post is based on. The photo, by the way, is not of my daughter. It’s me in the diner we were at. It was taken before my eyes started to lose their sparkle. This was some years before they started to die. I was wearing my hair shorter then. Now it drops all the way to the small of my back.
My daughter broached the subject of reincarnation, which she said she liked to believe in. Oh, there are so many things I like to believe in, I said (leaving open whether reincarnation was among them). But to actually believe in something is a different thing altogether. You can believe in a person’s goodness, her wisdom, her sense of responsibility. It means you have reason to assume she is good, or wise, or responsible. You can believe a person telling you a story. It means you have reasons to believe the story, or that you are willing to accept its veracity, let’s say because you trust that person, or because whether or not the story is true is irrelevant to you. You can even believe in a theory, on the ground (subject to falsification) that, in your estimation, the indications that it is correct outweigh indications that it is false. But believing as an act of faith is destructive. Every religion, every creed, every penchant for the super- or preternatural, is horribly nihilistic in its contempt of reason and human potential, its contempt of humanity.
We went on to talk about the importance of Popper’s falsification principle, the hilarious if rather abundant argumentation Dawkins stacks up in The God Delusion to refute the existence of a god or other such ‘higher entities’, Darwin’s evolution theory, the Alma Witthaker character in the Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Gilbert’ s elegant playfulness in dealing with 19th century natural science.