Why do humans have beliefs and religions? The answer, “to help us solve moral problems and make moral decisions,” only introduces other questions. Why do we have moral problems anyway? Clearly, everyday living requires us to solve many practical problems, but where do moral problems come from?
To understand why humans need beliefs and religions we must first investigate how we think—particularly how we solve practical problems and make practical decisions. Understanding these matters explains why solving abstract problems of morality requires us to invoke beliefs and construct religions. And this, in turn, equips us to examine, with some impartiality, the religions we now employ (we attempt to do this in Part Two, Religions And Their Source).
Thinking, tackles the first task. It discusses the brain, moves to the idea of a mind, and ends by exploring what we usually mean when we say we are thinking. We will find that a great deal of our thinking has to do with solving problems.
Solving Problems, shows that all problems originate in, and are structured by, the various environments that we inhabit; practical problems devolve from the practical environment, social problems from the social environment, and so on. But moral problems, issues of “right” or “wrong,” originate entirely within our minds, and it is the mind’s lack of an environment (other than the one each of us constructs—more about this in Part Two, Religions And Their Source) that makes these difficult to solve.
Making Decisions, discusses decision-making. It points out that the desire to attain a purpose is basic to making any decision, be it practical or moral. Moral judgements are metaphysical judgements, so we must have some metaphysical purpose in mind (and also want to attain it) before we can make moral decisions. Religions provide such purposes. They also provide various metaphysical environments; these create and structure our moral problems, as we shall see.
In short, this part of the book demonstrates that we cannot solve moral problems or make moral decisions without valuing the attainment of some kind of purpose (which can be spiritual or secular). We do not do this because there is (or is not) a god. We do not do this because we follow a religion. We do this, as we will shortly discover, because we try to think rationally when solving important problems and when making important decisions.