Convincing our fellows using reason and evidence is a bridge too far.
A few recent encounters out on the wide world of the internet, as well as social media, have enlightened me to a great failing in my personal perspective and my assumptions when dealing with others. That failing, that misjudgment, is in believing that other people value reason, demand evidence of claims, and have a desire to discover the truth. That failing was revealed through hateful and emotional reactions that people had to simple claims that went counter to their own stated position. The immediate reaction to reasonable claims, which was almost entirely irrational sophistry and fallacies, was perplexing to me, not just because I didn’t act that way, but because I couldn’t conceive of anyone else being persuaded by such behavior.
The assumption that another person would value reason and evidence was, I reflected, not a good assumption. I had failed in my own logic – I had no evidence that these other people valued truth or would ever respond to arguments that were in pursuit of truth. The result was a null hypothesis – people do not value reason and evidence, at lease when that reason and evidence challenges a previously held belief or conclusion. Instead, they act with hostility toward the person who brings forward the evidence. There is actually research to back up this perception of reality – I remember some of these findings coming to light last year (http://digest.bps.org.uk/2015/01/when-our-beliefs-are-threatened-by.html is a current summation) and a recent Stefan Molyneux video that sited the same study (embedded below) renewed this idea in my mind.
The New Mission – A Greater Challenge than We Ever Thought
Our mission should no longer be to use logic, reason and evidence to convince others of the good. The new mission of the logical, skeptical, rational person should be to convince others of the value of reason itself. Resistance to change or to information which alters the perception of reality will likely always remain, but if we can convince more people that logic, valid external measurement, reason, and neutral evidence are worth trusting, than we will have a fighting chance at changing minds and hearts in a world that desperately needs rational, level-headed individuals raising rational, level-headed children to resist the ignorance of truth that encroaches from all sides.
This task, however, is a greater task than merely convincing people using evidence. In a well-reasoned debate, the contest is between the validity of evidence. The methods used at arriving at the truth are already established, and so the path to truth is easily traceable. The path I would ask you to take with me is a wandering one, difficult to navigate and not readily marked for the traveler.
In the United States, most people are subjected to at least thirteen years of public schooling which does not thoroughly teach the validity of logic, reason, and evidence, nor does it teach youths to critically assess research methodology or to be skeptical of claims in general. Public schooling, at best, leaves students without any of the intellectual tools necessary to understand a complex and dynamic reality in addition to leaving them bereft of any marketable skills. At worst, it discharges them at the age of eighteen as an illiterate sociopath, unable to interact positively with the society. Those that fare best go on to enroll in a college and university system that does very little to correct the failings of the school system, and may themselves be full of anti-rational thought that is unencumbered by the neutering effects of political compromise in deciding public school curriculums. University teachers are free to promote political radical political positions that public school teachers are not. (Full disclosure: I am a public school teacher and have also taught at the college and university levels.)
The reasons behind the failing of public schooling to achieve even its own stated missions is best left for another article, but for this one, it is important to note that most students arrive at the end of a public education without an understanding of the validity of logic and reason. They are not, however, blank slates. The thirteen years that were spent being schooled have impressed upon them other sets of knowledge, much of it flawed or even false, which may create resistance to logic and reason as a system and also inhibit the intake of valid information later on.
Arguing for Valid Arguments.
How do we go about convince people that reason and evidence are valid, or that they should pursue objective truth? I haven’t developed a clear path to such a goal, but I will be attempting to reinforce some ideas:
- Things can be said to exist if they can be measured externally.
- The scientific method is a method that uses external measurement to determine the truth of a physical hypothesis or claim.
- Reason is the process of figuring out what “makes sense.”
- The goal of reason is to find consistency. Those things which are inconsistent cannot “make sense” and must either be discarded or improved upon.
- We should all want to make sense of our world. It will help us improve our surroundings and our personal lives.
- All the great technological things in our lives – electricity, computers, cars, and markets, to name a few – exist because the world operates in the way that science and reason has predicted it will operate. These are proofs of the claim that reason and evidence are valid, rather than just opinions.
This list, as well as possible methods for spreading the good word, will be updated and expanded upon. I have attempted to further the goals of reason in some previous articles in the “Everyday Skeptic” series, which I will link below. I appreciate any and all feedback in regard to this goal and the mission, as it is, of awakening the world. Thanks for reading!