Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My first sermon

On Sunday morning, I gave a 20-minute talk during the service of the First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo. My talk was entitled "Beliefs on Trial". My main point was that we cannot trust our own subjective impressions. There are many cognitive traps that we fall into, and they can lead us to believe in things that just aren't true. I gave a number of examples, including optical illusions, confirmation bias, and change blindness. Here is a video I showed, courtesy of Prof. Richard Wiseman.

The people there were very nice, and I really enjoyed myself. If I were a church person, THIS is the congregation I would belong to.

It's kind of a strange thing... many of the members are atheists and agnostics. And yet the service starts out with "Call to Worship". Begging the question, worship who?!

My sense is that this kind of church is meant for those who have rejected the other supernatural forms of religion (ie. ones that explicitly worship a supernatural God). But not going to church left a hole, so the Unitarian church is a way to have the community of a church, but without the guilt, hell and blind faith of most religions.

I thought my talk went well, and many nice folks approached me afterward saying that they enjoyed it. I appreciate that.

I had some interesting discussions after the service. In particular, I ended up talking to a woman who said she was a physician and a therapist. We talked about beliefs and how science does not know everything. True enough. But when the conversation turned to homeopathy, it came out that she is a believer. I said that there is no known mechanism for water memory. She retorted that "water memory" was just a place-holder description for an as-of-yet undiscovered phenomenon. That may be true. But there's still no evidence that it does anything. She seemed convinced that homeopathy works. But I reminded her of the main point of my talk, that it's easy for us to fall into the psychological traps and believe in the untrue. I was happy that someone else in the conversation saw things from my perspective.

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