Sunday, October 26, 2014

An escape hatch for your beliefs

I don't know about you, but I hate the idea that I might currently believe something that isn't true. While some of my beliefs are fairly secure, I try to not lock myself down on to anything so tightly that there's no way that I can ever change my mind on it.

One of the reasons why I try to engage in conversations rather than debates over various issues lately is because debates often don't go anywhere - even when you have the facts on your side. Too many times, people are so convinced that their particular side of an issue is the correct one that it doesn't matter what you show them. For instance, I recently got into a conversation with somebody about climate change, and he gave me some links to a couple of videos that supposedly debunk the idea. I didn't have to get very far to realize that these arguments were pretty specious, and I provided him with a link that went into specific details as to why climate change hasn't actually been debunked at all.

His response? The whole thing is a hoax, and sites that debunk the talking points of deniers are part of the hoax. In other words, the sheer fact that it contradicts what he believes is proof that it's not true.

Where do you even go from there? It's not that he was able to go into detail as to what was wrong with the links I provided. Why is that necessary when you already know that it's wrong?

It seems to me that if you genuinely care about whether your beliefs are true or not, you can think of a way out of them. For instance, a friend of mine recently told me about a debate that he got into with some anti-vaxxers. I'm totally pro-vaccine. My wife, my son, and I get our annual flu shots. My son is fully vaccinated. I think that people who don't vaccinate their children are creating a public health crisis, and their actions (or lack thereof) border on being criminal. They are dangerous.

So, yeah, I definitely feel pretty strongly about this. But is there any way to see my way out? I think that there is, and it's not too hard to come up with a really obvious way for that to happen. If the data shows that children who are vaccinated are more prone to having specific ailments and diseases than those who are unvaccinated, then that's pretty much the end of it, isn't it? Of course, you're not seeing anything like that, and in fact, you're seeing the return of life-threatening illnesses like the measles in communities where there is a high rate of unvaccinated kids.

But hey, maybe that's not even true. Do you have a reason for me to doubt that? I'll consider it, I'm not holding my breath, as it would involve a really deep conspiracy which would require some extraordinary proof, but if you've got it, then what do I have to gain by believing something that's not true?

I could give other examples as to things that I believe - ranging from things I feel pretty certain about (evolution) to fairly certain (GMOs are safe for human consumption) to somewhat certain ("conservative" economic policies don't actually work). I'm not going to bother though, or this blog would be ridiculously long. But let's just say that I can't see the harm in thinking of what would make me change my mind. If I have good reasons for believing what I believe, then how can it hurt to contemplate my way out of my belief if it's ever necessary to do so?

Am I wrong? Is there no good reason to have an "escape plan" for your beliefs? Can you show me a reason where something was gained by simply locking on to a belief without considering that it might be wrong?


Fidem Turbāre, the non-existent atheist goddess said...

I suspect that the "locking on to a belief system" may very likely be indicative of addiction for [at least] some people.

Addiction, it seems, requires more than just escaping -- the other part of the equation that can help addicted individuals (as far as I'm aware) is finding some activity to fill the void that is often left after abandoning an addiction.

Anonymous said...

I think you make a good point about not debating and about discussing. I am going to incorporate that philosophy moving forward. What seems to work for me is when I can show people consistency in my argument and point out where their's is inconsistent. Then I challenge them to show me a better way.

Lance Johnson said...

Good to see you over here on this blog, Deech!