Know And Believe

Comments and Suggestions

Contact Ken

What We Know and Believe of our Existence in the Universe

Ken Hessel, Ph.D. EE


There has been, and is, much disagreement about the existence of the human species on earth and how our universe came to exist.  Is there a reason why we are here?  Are we the result of some higher intelligence, natural evolution, some combination of the two, or is there a more complex explanation?  In this article we will refer to these issues as “our origin” and “the origin question.”  While we may not be able to agree upon an answer, it may be useful to separate what we know from what we believe.  In following the objective logic we reach some interesting implications.

It is very important to separate what we know from what we may believe.  We know exactly six things about our existence in the universe.  They could be expressed differently in other frameworks, but this list is easy to understand and, I think, agree with:

These are the facts we know

  1. We have an individual consciousness.  There is something somewhere that each of us identifies as “me”.
  2.  This consciousness has the ability to send signals “out”.  We clearly do not know exactly what our consciousness is doing, but our common perception is that our brain generates nerve impulses to move our muscles, etc.
  3. This consciousness receives signals from outside itself.  Again, we do not know what is going on, but our common belief is that our brain is receiving signals from our five senses.
  4. There is usually some correlation between what our consciousness is sending out and what it is receiving.  This correlation seems to us to be usually consistent and predictable.
  5. There is an ordering between what our consciousness sends out and what it receives.  This ordering is normally understood as the concept of time.
  6. Our consciousness has the ability to associate and evaluate the results of sent and received signals, over time and, from this, independently choose what additional signals to send (actions to take) as time progresses.   This is usually described as the ability to think and “free will”.


That’s it.  That’s all we really know; even this limited knowledge is not universally accepted; however we will accept these as known facts.  Our consciousness has been sending and receiving signals for a long period of the concept we call time.  These signals have often been complex and involved ideas and concepts which our consciousness developed.  As a result, we all have a belief system which is based very little on what we know but extensively on what we believe as a result of our conscious experiences.

This is an important concept.  What we know about our existence clearly does not exclude the “big bang” and evolution, creationism, some combination of the two, or much more complicated possibilities for our origin.  Anything we choose to believe can be put together in the framework of the 6 things we know and other things we believe as the result of our cumulative conscious experiences.  In truth, almost everyone considers many of the beliefs they have formed, from whatever external sources and whatever methods, to be fact.  But we should remember there are dozens of other belief systems that are just as valid, based on what we know.  Other societies around the world with their own customs and religious beliefs are examples.  The one thing they have in common is that parts of every belief system appear highly unlikely and are not objectively verifiable.  But some belief system of our origin, possibly one not yet proposed or even comprehensible, is correct.

For the remainder of this article we will first discuss how our historical tendencies to act on beliefs not supported by facts have influenced our treatment of the origin question.  Then we will comment on how we might individually choose what to believe about our origin.

Our Historical treatment of the Origin Question

Mankind has always had a preoccupation with the origin question.  This has often influenced dramatically the character of the societies and their interactions with each other.  Unfortunately, there has never been a reliance on what the individuals or societies actually knew, or concern for objective evidence. By “objective” we mean unbiased, repeatable results which conform to the scientific method.  Several tendencies have dominated the treatment of the origin question.

Choices are usually limited to an intelligent creator or evolution.

It is common for us to embrace simple explanations for complicated issues when they are available.  In early civilizations a Sky God, Mountain God, or other accessible deities involving animals and the forces of nature, was easy for them to understand.  Almost always the deities were attributed to have extraordinary intelligence and power.  In our society today the choice is usually between some variation of intelligent design and evolution.  One of the most significant problems with this is that an intelligent creator, if that is part of the answer, would not necessarily create the universe and living creatures in anything like the simplistic way envisioned by the Christian bible or by other popular religions.  By implication the intelligent creator had the ability to create our existence the way it is, for whatever reasons he/she/it chose, and they need not make sense or even be comprehensible to us.  Moreover, the universe could have been created at an arbitrary time, not necessarily in the distant past.  Most importantly, he could define the laws of physics and the interaction of living entities with the universe however he liked.  To make a challenging existence for our species and to provide us with an intriguing physical environment, but with a dearth of actual knowledge of our origin, seems reasonable. All that would have been required is a setting up of the universe with the appropriate state of initial conditions for the time chosen and physical laws, as needed, which would make it impossible, at any later point in time, to discern anything different from what we now observe.  So attempts to prove evolution by scientific observations would make sense only if we could be sure an intelligent creator was not involved in our origin.

But there are a large number of other possibilities for our origin if an intelligent being is responsible, in whole or in part, for our origin.  There is no reason for the explanation to be simple, or even understandable to us.

If evolution, coupled with the natural operation of physics as it is now understood, in some form is the explanation for our origin, the number of credible scenarios is much more limited. 
But there is no objective reason to believe our origin is due to an intelligent being, to evolution, or some combination of the two.  Quantum physics and string theory point to possibilities that are well outside our comfort zone of intelligent design or evolution explanations. As much as we would like to reject the unknown, there could be limitless other possibilities for our origin which we do not yet have the ability to understand and enumerate. We simply have no objective information on which to make a decision.  

Societies, or groups within, believed they knew the answer to the origin question

  In most societies the answer to the origin question has taken the form of an accepted deity or deities, with little tolerance for dissenting views.   The beliefs were varied and complex, but all had several points in common.  None of the widely accepted beliefs of their day (For example sky god, sun god, mountain gods) had any objective basis in fact.  But they were embraced by the society as reality and fact nevertheless.  The tendency has always been that the group as a whole somehow arrived at “the truth”.  Any question or dissention by individuals was usually suppressed or persecuted.  This continued throughout history, and as recently as 1600 the penalty for not believing that the sun was the center of the universe was to be burned at the stake by the religious experts.  Many people today consider ourselves to be living in a more “enlightened society”, but you can be sure that, at the time, past societies considered themselves to be knowledgeable and enlightened.  We may well wish to remember these historical tendencies.  There is a strong tendency for groups of members of a society, or the society as a whole, to form a common set of beliefs which are not knowledge-based.  In addition, an open examination of the basis and validity of the belief system by its members or outsiders is almost never encouraged or even tolerated.

The influence of numbers

There are many religions which claim millions, if not billions, of members.  The members of each religion all believe virtually the same reasons for our origin.  The association of these people with each other is powerful reinforcement for the validity of their beliefs.  There are many historical examples of erroneous beliefs held by large groups of people.  For example, before 1500 AD the idea that the earth was the unmoving center of the universe was believed by virtually everyone, especially astronomers. 

Unfortunately, in any area where there is no objective knowledge, a belief system that is formed, often synergistically, by a group is no more likely to be correct than the belief system formed by some other group, or individual.  Since objective knowledge explaining our origin does not exist, almost all belief systems of our origin are equally likely to be correct. 

The preference has always been to prefer simple explanations

Virtually everyone, including scientists and other highly educated individuals, seek the simplest answer to any question they are considering.  The simplest answer which does not conflict with observable data and does not result in complicated answers to related questions is normally accepted as correct.  It is not required that the answer convey a true understanding of the phenomenon, only that we have an answer we think we understand.  For example, the accepted answer to “why don’t we fly off the earth” is “gravity”.  But the real issue of “why is there gravity?”, which would meaningfully answer the  original question, is ignored because no one knows the answer.  Simple answers are fine, but it should be understood that it is not accurate to extend that to conclude that many of nature’s processes are simple and easily understood.  Astronomers, quantum physicists, high energy physicists and others seeking to truly understand our universe generally agree that the underlying description of our universe is quite complex rather than simple.

So while popular explanations for our origin have gone beyond the sky God or mountain God to complexities such as Intelligent Design and Evolution, there is no assurance the answer is not much more complex.

This article will not, nor is it intended to, change the beliefs of those who have subjectively evaluated the origin question.  The intent of this article is to point out that what we know about the origin of the universe and our role in it is very limited and may be quite distinct from what we believe


So what are we to believe?

If we accept that what we objectively know of our origin is virtually non-existent, we still have the free choice of what to believe.  Or, some may choose to ignore the issue completely. 

Probably the most important point to remember is that what anyone else, or any group, tells you are the facts of our origin, they are in reality only expressing their beliefs.  And these beliefs where formed with exactly the same lack of true knowledge that you have.  Any proof or evidence others use to support their beliefs, on examination, will be found to depend upon implicitly assumed knowledge.  And this knowledge will not be part of the six items we truly know, as discussed previously.

Perhaps the best set of beliefs on the origin question for each of us is one that at least:

  1. Makes sense and is easily believed by us.  What others believe is their choice and irrelevant.
  2. Adds to the enjoyment and pleasure in our own live, those around us, and our whole society.


You can add and change all aspects of what you believe as you like.  But the choice should be, and is, yours.     


There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers
exactly what the universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly
disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened. -Douglas Adams


 Submit a comment or suggestion


home || contact Ken || Know and Believe ||Comments and Suggestions