Is there a Reasonable Mind in the Debate?

Anyone who engages on the non-debate over such subjects as anthropogenic climate change, evolution and vaccination hears, from “both sides” (I hate the term – but it accurately portrays such events for what they are; sport for entertainment) the assertion “reasonable mind” or “rational mind”.

Everyone insists they have reached their conclusions by reasonably and rationally reviewing the available data. The obvious flaw here is that some sort of debate persists, so someone must have reached their conclusions less reasonably and less rationally.

So what is it to be reasonably minded?

The Jo Nova’s of the world would insist they are being reasonably minded because they ask questions. The Donna Laframboise’s would think so because they employ free speech on the subject of committed scepticism. Of course, asking questions is not enough, nor is receiving the answers, as I’ve written with Jo Nova’s obvious lack of understanding of science. Likewise one can dispel the free speech argument by simply referring the Westboro Baptist Church (having an opinion and voicing that opinion doesn’t make that opinion sound or, in many cases, even ethical), but I’ve done a lot more on that subject in this piece and the referenced links.

Perhaps, as I hear often, it’s about being open-minded. Maybe I’m close-minded to what might possibly be true…

This sounds appealing and indeed logical. Science after all proceeds by great minds thinking, “what if…” and testing outside of the box. Are we right to thus reject anything, because, for all we know, it might possibly be true.

This is a favourite of the religiously bent individual which allows for the god-of-gaps. It fails, again, to understand the science method. We need to make three simple assumptions; 1) we exist, 2) the universe is bound by certain rules/laws, and 3) we can learn about the universe by discovering these rules/laws.

With this in mind, no-one can seriously suggest that, perhaps the Earth is really flat or that gravity isn’t really a constant law of attraction (ie. changing unpredictably). It’s not close minded to reject such hypotheses without wasting time on investigating them in depth (and at great expense), but reasonably minded to accept that the body of work is largely done and dusted on these matters and, if anything, it’s in a stage of fine turning (eg. the Earth isn’t a perfect globe, but more pear shaped and there is still a lot of work in understanding the force of gravity).

We also know about the misadventures of Mr. Credulous.

The great appeal for others to be reasonably/rationally minded quickly becomes, with only a general review, a complex matter from this perspective.

However, I don’t really think such appeals are anything about a methodical and critical review process, as the ego of such people suggests it is, but rather one hooked on personal values which filter acceptable data.

Listening to such discussions, it’s clear that the “debate” is really one over where the individual deems the appropriate height for the bar of possibility. A creationist, to render their ideology plausible, requires the bar to be set low, for instance, appealing to the mentioned “all things are possible” mantra. A committed climate sceptic probably has the bar a little higher – sensible on most subjects but low enough so that if they cannot understand the science in its entirety and if there isn’t universal agreement on every little detail, well then the jury is out on the subject and we can get on with business as usual. Even higher still perhaps (but unlikely from my experience) could be the bar for the anti-vax individual; it needs to be low enough just so that hear-say and YouTube videos render their objections sensible.

If others refuse to set the bar at the required height, they must be closed minded, not (what is really the case) that the quality of the data isn’t of the quality required to make the bar.

A lot of what my writing these few years has been on addressing these short comings. The links provided above to posts on the likes of Jo Nova and Donna Laframboise are about me looking at their claims and the “ergo…” conclusions drawn and finding the original position either false or irrelevant, which strips away the foundations to their conclusions.

It’s an unpopular approach because it doesn’t engage – for the blood thirsty trolls – but only exposes genuine shortcomings. It also taps into personal values which is most easily ignored by characterising me as close minded.

So what is it, in my opinion, to be reasonably/rationally minded?

First and foremost, it requires one to understand critical review and investigation. One needs to understand the scientific method and review the actual study articles, perhaps some of their underpinning studies as well as relevant review papers. It’s not glamorous nor is it as easy as reading a post on WUWT or Jo Nova and parroting that off anywhere that will let you.

Secondly, one needs to remove emotional ties to desired conclusions. By doing so, one is often more easily able to take the next step and change one’s mind after critical review of the available data. Two personal examples I offer are my views regarding invasive species and religion (separate, below).

Many of the debates we encounter are nothing more than emotionally fuelled beliefs in how the world ought to be – or is perceived to be doing us harm. God loves us. Hidden bankers are out to take over the world. The “environmental movement” is nothing more than a thinly veiled socialism uprising. Governments are always trying to find ways to undermine rights of the individual. Reasonable parental love and care coerced  into illogical fears propagated by anger/upset individuals whom have latched on to anything rather than the truth (ie. “we’re just starting to understand autism, but it shows no relationship to vaccination”) message of science.

In each and every debate we encounter on such topics, we find such beliefs entwined intimately with them. For instance, no committed climate sceptic has discussed the validity of their conclusions without including conspiracies involving the government, secret agents or devious scientists (all without a shred of evidence). Why is that? It’s because their argument cannot be justified or explained without such conspiracies. There’s no point for it.

Remember this the next time you find yourself in such a debate. You cannot win, nor are you likely to alter the position of the other – you both are likely to have the bar set at a different height. Who is really reasonable and rational? That’s open to later reflection.

Just save yourself the effort, as you would on a troll insisting on a flat earth.

________

In the case of the former, I chose my degree (and hoped-for career path) based around a deep love for the environment through which I hiked and explored. I have come to understand that it is not always feasible – indeed sometimes impossible – to remove invasive species and in a few cases, such species provide valuable services to the surrounding ecosystem. In the latter case, I was raised a Lutheran. In my teenage years, I began to question the validity of the stories I had grown up with. I started to discover how the fundamental points of the doctrine (most notably, the book of Genesis) just didn’t match the facts known about the world, thus muting the rest of the doctrine. I also discovered vast amounts of the good book, that had previously been overlooked in Sunday school etc, to be immoral. After researching a number of other faiths, I had to conclude that none represented any verifiable truth. I became a non-theist (not an Atheist, who I see to hold a religious stance, albeit negative; my position is more like zero – it’s a nonissue) which had many of its own hurdles to overcome (ie. rationalising death, morality, meaning etc).

 

 

 

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