Beliefs are memes and memes only exist in the neural networks of brains. When people talk about their beliefs, they often do it as if their beliefs are facts that anyone can see.
Facts are things that can be sensory perceived by anyone.
● The Statue of Liberty and the Rocky Mountains exist. That’s a fact. They can be sensory perceived (seen, felt, smelled, tasted) by a group of people with very different belief systems.
● The Trinity and Original Sin are beliefs. They cannot be sensory perceived (seen, felt, smelled, tasted). They are not real for people with different belief systems.
In order to view beliefs in the evolutionary contexts required to evaluate them, we must anchor them to the world outside the brain. We do this by anchoring them to times, places and people. This is very useful and scientists do with facts all of the time. Below is an example using the Statue of Liberty.
● mid.1865 – In an after dinner conversation, Édouard René de Laboulaye, president of the French Anti-Slavery Society is supposed to have said to Frédéric Bartholdi, a sculptor, "If a monument should rise in the United States . . . .”
● 07/1884 -- Construction of the statue completed in France.
● 06/17/1885 -- The crates holding the disassembled statue on board arrive in New York on the French steamer Isère.
● 10/28/1886 – The Statue of Liberty dedicated.
We now understand how the idea of the Statue of Liberty originated in a conversation in 1865 and follow its dedication in 1886. We can dig deeper to understand it better by gathering more facts and fill in the gaps between the dates above.
We use the same model for understanding beliefs. Let’s take a look at the belief called “The Doctrine of the Trinity.” Below is a brief overview:
● Bishop Alexander of Alexandria (d. 326 or 328) gave a sermon stating the similarity of the Son to the Father.
● Arius (256-336), a priest in Alexandria, argued that "if the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he [the Son] had his substance from nothing."
● Bishop Alexander called a council of bishops. They decided against Arius’s position and excommunicated Arius and his supporters.
● Arius continued to teach and Arianism spread to many other places.
● 05/325 -- The First Council of Nicaea was convened by Emperor Constantine the Great and charged with investigation of Arian controversy. Archdeacon Athanasius argued “Christ was co-eternal and con-substantial with the Father.” Arius argued “God the Son came after God the Father in time and substance.” The two sides argued and debated for about two months, with each appealing to Scripture to justify their respective positions. The Council ruled “the Son is true God, coeternal with the Father and begotten from His same substance.”
● Late 320s – Bishop Athanasius develops the doctrine of the divinity and personality of the Holy Spirit.
● 335 –First Council of Tyre ruled in favor of Arius – Christ was completely human and only a man, not God. It fully restored Arius to his position and by 350 the Arians were almost completely triumphant.
● 07/359 – Council of Rimini reverses the decision of First Council of Tyre and ruled “the Son was true God, coeternal with the Father and begotten from His same substance.”
● 381 - Council of Constantinople called to deal with the question of the whether or not the Holy Ghost is to be worshipped. The Council ruled “the Person of the Holy Ghost is to be worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son.” However, this sparked a debate about who and what the Holy Ghost is in relation to the Father and Son.
● 10/08/451 -- Council of Chalcedon ruled “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all of the same substance.”
● 11/07/675 – Eleventh Council of Toledo ruled -- "For, when we say: He who is the Father is not the Son, we refer to the distinction of persons; but when we say: the Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, and the Holy Spirit that which the Father is and the Son is, this clearly refers to the nature or substance"
Beliefs about the Trinity evolved through a series of conflicts from the 4th to the mid-5th century -- and it is still being debated in 2019. It didn’t exist at the time Jesus and he did not teach it. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t known by Christians for centuries after him.
Instead of endless arguments over whether a belief is true or false, using the model above has proven to be a much better use of time and energy – and it also results in new friendships and relationships between those involved too.
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