I sometimes come across someone who takes much exception to my nonbelief in their pet claim, or confuses it with a denial of their claim, or thinks I’m infringing on their right to believe by expressing my views on the subject when asked. If one doesn’t like the answer, one should not ask the question.
Well, given the notorious lack of evidence for most odd claims one will come across, I’m of the view that provisional nonbelief of a claim, any claim unsupported by real evidence, any evidence admissible in science, at the least a court of law, needs no justification.
My particular approach to knowledge is one in which reason and experience work together to build a tentative, continuously updated view of the world. This means that I place a premium on accepting claims as true if I have reasons to accept them, if some sort of valid, demonstrable evidence, direct or indirect, supports the claim.
My rules of rational engagement do not require me to prove anyone’s beliefs wrong, since that is not my aim. This is because I’m not the claimant, and the burden of proof falls squarely on the shoulders of the one making the knowledge claim, not the critic.
That’s not just a pronouncement from the chair, as with many questionable claims, but simply the way science works.
Consider — The rules of science are there for a reason, and were not just thrown together arbitrarily — they are the way they are because they allow science to be as effective and reliable as it is.
What’s my basis for knowing this? Seven years spent informally educating myself on the nature, purpose, process and history of science, formal symbolic logic and argumentation theory, and a good layman’s understanding of the psychology of belief, all of these gained from the work and writings of professionals in their respective fields.
I’m still learning all these and more, and will continue doing so until my death.
I will not debate anyone lacking the integrity to abide by basic standards of logic and intellectual honesty. People are certainly welcome to their cozy beliefs, but failure to abide by the ethics of good argument will get you ignored; persistent disregard will win ridicule, in the most tongue-in-cheek, civil manner deserved by the claimant.
My nonbelief in The Great Cosmic Dragon of the Metallic Hydrogen Seas of Jupiter™ needs no justification; I’ve obviously just made it up, so I’ve no reason at all to believe it exists.
Perhaps there is a giant alien sea monster of titanic proportions and cosmic origin living on Jupiter at this moment, but as it currently stands, no evidence points to that conclusion — no reason exists for anyone to justifiably say it is real.
The idea would quite rightly not be taken seriously by astrobiologists or astronomers who specialize in the study of gas giant planets or hypothetical life-forms on other worlds.
It would be surprising if I turn out to be wrong about this, but it would not shake the foundations of my world.
I could be wrong about Xulleus the Bunny God — He Who Nibbles Annoyingly at the Center of the Universe. Perhaps such a strange, irritating, and disgustingly cute being does exist, but I’ve no reason to believe he does, and no need to justify the fact that I don’t believe.
Regarding religious belief and nonbelief of other religions on the part of believers:
Does a Christian feel any need to fully justify a nonbelief in Indra or Quetzalcoatl or Shiva or Weng Chiang?
I think not.
Does a Hindu think it’s important to have rigorous logical proofs for supporting a nonbelief in Thor, the Dagda, or Zeus?
I don’t think that’s the case either.
Do Muslims feel it necessary to have a rock-solid defense of their nonbelief in Marduk, Kadaklan, or Freya?
The quick answer: No.
Do Scientologists think it matters to have an airtight, knockdown argument refuting the reality of Cthulhu or Ishtar?
Most religions don’t give much thought to the gods of others, except to dismiss them out of hand, or with some fundamentalist sects, consider them ‘real’ entities, but (lesser) evil beings in disguise.
Fear is as good a motivator as faith, and they often feed on each other.
The most rigorous standards of proof are demanded of and by believers for the gods of other religions, and the position of those with no religion, but typically I’ve noticed that one’s own religion always gets a free pass.
Interesting double standard there.
I could be wrong. You could be wrong. We could all be wrong. But if I’m wrong, I want to be SHOWN wrong.
Historically, most of the criticisms of any religious belief system have come from outside the belief system, most of the defense of any religion has come from those with a powerful vested interest in supporting it from within.
Yes, some traditions do encourage debate on certain matters within the faith, but by far, questioning the fundamental tenets of the religion is frowned upon, sometimes severely, sometimes fatally — the price for heresy in powerful, entrenched religions is high, sometimes involving excommunication, imprisonment, torture, and/or execution.
Even in the 21st century. It all depends on where you live.
Science, on the other hand, is intensely self-critical, with the proponents of any idea vigorously debating their findings with their colleagues and rivals in the same field; not a good environment to foster groupthink and ‘hide the data’ conspiracies.
Science is a fiercely competitive free market of ideas, and open to anyone willing to abide by its rules of logic and evidence.
The rules of science must be obeyed if its practice is to work well, but they do not have to obey themselves.
Religious apologetics and indoctrination have been around as long as religions themselves have, for many thousands of years, while science communication and education are relatively recent, and science itself only a few hundred years in a recognizable form.
Religious apologetics, like religion itself, is a lucrative and influentual industry, undertaken by those with a strong vested interest to defend the faith on the part of powerful and often ancient organized religious bodies.
In contrast, science communication and education are often poorly funded and struggle against attempts to politicize them by entrenched legislative bodies, wealthy corporations, think tanks, tireless, well-funded lobbyists, and clergy antagonistic to the findings of science and their implications.
Presently, there’s still no consensus on a metaphysically certain justification of science, and neither it nor its methods are true or false in any logical sense, but I’ll issue a challenge here:
Show me something, anything that works better, more reliably, more effectively, more efficiently, and I’ll switch my advocacy and support to that. But I’ll be up front: I’m not holding my breath…
…for by the time someone does come up with something better, I’m of the strong suspicion that I’ll be long since dead. I’m also of the strong suspicion that it will bear some resemblance in output if not methods to what we currently call science, only more so.
Prove me wrong.
- Atheism among Anglophone scientists. II. The UK (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- Rabbi Wolpe impugns Dawkins’s status as “world’s leading intellectual” (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- My path to Secular Humanism. (jamesmsama.wordpress.com)
(Last Update: 3:30 AM, 2013/06/19 — Grammatical Corrections/Meaning Unchanged)