"You don't believe in me," observed the Ghost.
"I don't," said Scrooge.
"What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?"
"I don't know," said Scrooge.
"Why do you doubt your senses?"
"Because," said Scrooge, "a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"
"A Christmas Carol"
Two links on freedom and belief:
1. Courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily, an intriguing article on the brain's reward system describes the case of a woman who suddenly developed pathological gambling after taking dopamine for Parkinson's disease. This sort of story punctures our more overblown conceptions of free will (as did the obesity post a few days back), even if we can't do without some form of it, albeit perhaps in shrunken form.
The article also argues that gambling, including that heretofore respectable form of the stock market, deprives the dopamine system of its rationale by disconnecting effort from emotional reward. Throughout evolutionary history effort did not always pay off, obviously, but effort and skill were proportional to success--spearing the prey or winning the girl or guy--often enough to make dopamine's rewards meaningful. Both gambling--by making the payoff random--and drugs such as nicotine and cocaine--by making the payoff guaranteed--short-circuit the meaning-making function of the dopamine system.
2. At A Commonplace Blog D. G. Myers mounts a worthy defense of theism and tolerates my agnostic remonstrations. As usual, I argue that the quandary is not belief in God in the abstract, but rather the extreme multiplicity of religious conceptions across geography and history; absent the accidents of disposition and upbringing, there is no compelling justification for specifying God beyond the ultimately absent and inscrutable place-holder of value. That is, we cannot justifiably specify God in sufficient detail for belief in "Him" to make specific moral or metaphysical differences in our lives. We are left with mere wonder.