So I have this friend. We don’t hang out so much anymore, given that he’s now 1000 miles away, at a different college, but in high school we were close. We still talk a lot, and I went to visit him over spring break. He’s been back to visit his friends here a few times.
You could say that we’re close.
But I have a constant problem with this friend. If he believes something, or if there’s an emotional connection for him to something, there is no convincing him he’s wrong. It doesn’t matter how much evidence I have, how legitimate my evidence is, or how good an argument i form out of that evidence, he is the very definition of dogmatic.
Take the Iraq war. We were arguing about the motive for going to Iraq, and I produced this senate report, where a bipartisan commission examined what was known in 2002, and concluded that the administration knew there weren’t WMD’s in Iraq. This is from an investigative committee, bipartisan and headed by a republican, so there’s no hidden anti-war agenda. It’s purpose is to answer a question. You can’t get much more authoritative than that. But my friend won’t have it. He insists that the administration acted in good faith going after WMD’s. Nothing I can produce will change his mind.
For the record, my own foundational principle is that reality exists (I know, I know, I’m a faith-nut now). Other than that, I subscribe to a view simialr to what T rex here calls evidentialism.
This same friend extends this rigid view to religion. When I walked away from religion, it was because the evidence wasn’t there, simply I had no reason to believe. My friend has been supportive, but at the same time has said non-sensical things like, “just be sure to ask god into your heart on your deathbed.”
It’s not a passive faith that my friend has either. If I make a relatively mundane statement, like, ‘don’t let the pope think for you, that’s your job’ he gets highly offended. He sees any criticism of catholicism, christianity, or theism in general as an attack on him personally. Like Dawkins said once, “I didn’t insult you. I insulted God.” I don’t even bother to insult god most of the time, as matters of inquiry should never be seen as attacks, rather simply as our means of understanding the world around us.
Mr. Munroe’s assessment here matches my own.
Of course he’s inconsistent: attacking mormons is just fine (this is just a for instance; I know he had mormon friends at least while we were in High school. Mormons, my friend is not your enemy). Their beliefs are absolutely ludicrous of course. how could anyone think otherwise? Furthermore, he says that I’m the one who will fall for any old belief, that I try to justify myself retroactively, ignoring what doesn’t fit into my world-view. I’ve much committed myself to the opposite of such thinking, thank you very much. I understand your beliefs, please don’t go assuming the faults of such beliefs also apply to me.
And this is where the larger problem lies, I think. My friend sees no need to be consistent on these matters because there’s no respect for critical thinking in the first place. If you don’t care that your own opinion is ludicrous, why respect any boundaries of ludicrous-ness? Might as well use the ‘silly’ label for anything you want, ideally for things that don’t suit you’re current purpose.
And this is what I just don’t get. How can one not care about evidence? How do you argue against empiricism, and still be honest? Even in the case of religion, where does your knowledge of religion come from? It comes from being told about that religion, from reading about it, from seeing people speak, and from interpreting the inner feelings you got after those outside sensations sparked your imagination. What I’m saying is, for everything, even for religion, you can’t escape the fact that data comes through your senses.
At the end of the day, our sensory experience is the input for everything about the world outside ourselves. How, then, can we start our exploration of the world with anything but senses? Any other starting point must first pass through those senses, so such a starting point means ignoring a huge part of the information-gathering process.
How does all this tie into evidence? Well since we’re forced to use our senses on a basic level, evidence is what passes through these senses. After that we have to decide what is most likely based on past experience. Rationality itself is the product of accumulated useful evidence (which kind of thinking best keeps me alive?). In this way, to deny empiricism in the search for truth is to deny what should be (and I mean this completely literally) self-evident.
ADDENDUM: My friend, who previewed this post, would like me to point out that often his dismissal of evidence is a matter of laziness, and often, he feels that he does have evidence for his religious beliefs. While he may not be the model experimental scientist-type, he’s not as dogmatic as I often perceive him to be.