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crazyivan's avatar

Should we be tolerant of beliefs if they are demonstrably false?

Asked by crazyivan (4471points) December 16th, 2010

As an outspoken skeptic, I am often told that I should be “more tolerant” of other people’s beliefs. I argue that many times it would be immoral to do so. For example, trust in unproven, unscientific medicine could cause somebody to forego or undervalue traditional treatment.

So to what degree should we be tolerant of things that are not supported by evidence?

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151 Answers

christine215's avatar

We should be tolerant of others beliefs until and unless they cause harm

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I can be tolerant to a point: that point is another person’s personal freedom. If they wish to undergo a treatment that is, to us skeptics, completely ludicrous then all I can say ‘I don’t think that’s going to accomplish what you want’ but I can do nothing to stop them from doing it because that would be imposing. However, when people’s ridiculous unprovable ideas are affecting me, when I do not need them to, or policy or education or reproductive health of general populations, then I have zero tolerance for it. So, to sum up: feel free to be as dumb or smart about your own life and body including your death (which is why I’m in favor of not shaming people for choosing suicide) but don’t impose the same on others. This is difficult, btw, for all of us to do.

kess's avatar

All shall Live according to what they believe,

The most one can do is make an opportunity so that one may see Truth.

And if he sees it not according you, then he must fulfill His destiny as define by His Truth.

It is vain to try to hard to make one see things your way,
The most that will happen is making that one a slave unto yourself.

Rather let all be slaves unto Truth as seen in their own eyes.
All will Live or Die based on what His perception of Truth is.

wundayatta's avatar

What does “tolerant” mean in this context? Seems to me that you are suggesting that it mean you have to accept the belief as truth, or act as if you think it is truth. Something like that.

I think it is fair game to use evidence to discuss the likelihood that a belief is very useful. But tolerance means being polite. That is, you don’t have to attack someone or argue with them heatedly just because they don’t see the world through the eyes of a scientist. Do you attack people who believe in homeopathy or chiropractic the same way?

Tolerance, in this context, I believe means two things. First, it means you treat them respectfully as a person. They are not to be sneered at or looked down on or condescended to because they don’t use the scientific method.

Second, it means not attacking them or their ideas endlessly, It means not acting as if the world depends on you showing them the stupidity of their ways, and converting them to science.

Attack the idea, not the person. Use evidence and ask for their evidence. Be polite and treat them respectfully. That’s tolerance.

crisw's avatar


“We should be tolerant of others beliefs until and unless they cause harm”

Although this sounds workable, in practice it’s a much tougher sell.

You’ll need to define “harm,” for one thing. Is choosing to belief in a pretty fantasy rather than ugly reality harmful? Is not using your brain to the best of your ability harmful? Is deliberate self-deception harmful?

And how about causing harm? Does a person have any right to expect their beliefs to be shielded from criticism, if that person feels the criticism is harmful?

And let me define what I mean by “tolerated.” I think, in discussions like this, people tend to interpret it as “not criticized” or “not questioned.”

From my perspective, no one has a right to expect that their publicly- espoused beliefs should be tolerated, in the above sense, if they cannot provide evidence for those beliefs. It doesn’t matter what those beliefs are. There is no difference, in my mind, between religious beliefs, beliefs in the occult, and beliefs that Brad Pitt will marry you. If you say it in public, you should expect it to be questioned, and you should be expected to provide evidence- evidence that is verifiable and free from logical fallacies. To question any premise is not intolerance, it’s simply logical thinking.

On the other hand, ad hominem arguments should never be acceptable, Question the premise, don’t attack the person. The corollary to this is that participants in a discussion need to realize that questioning their belief system is not an attack on them, and that righteous indignation will do nothing to prove their point.

Seelix's avatar

I really like @wundayatta‘s “Attack the idea, not the person”. There’s a lot that I don’t agree with or respect, but that doesn’t necessarily change how I feel about a person who holds a belief that I don’t agree with. Sometimes it does, based on how they let their beliefs affect their view of others, but not always.

crisw's avatar


“That is, you don’t have to attack someone or argue with them heatedly just because they don’t see the world through the eyes of a scientist. Do you attack people who believe in homeopathy or chiropractic the same way?”

I am not sure what “the same way” is referring to here. But I know that I, personally, don’t attack people who believe in homeopathy or chiropractic- but I will certainly question the effectiveness and scientific validation of homeopathy or chiropractic practices.

christine215's avatar

@crisw There’s a couple in PA that was recently convicted of manslaughte because their two year old son had pneumonia and they prayed over him rather than seeking medical treatment. I can’t be ‘tolerant’ of that as a belief…
In my personal life, I live by the credo of “first do no harm”

People who believe in a diety do so because of faith… you can’t prove or disprove the existence of a god. I respect people of science who stand by beliefs in what can be proven and not proven, and I also have respect for people who can have faith in a greater being, I do not respect the idea of feeling that either side needs to convert the other.

in forums like this, I see many who don’t believe in any higher power “bully” their way around and demean those who have faith and vice versa….

Religion makes some people crazy, both those who believe in it AND those who don’t

Qingu's avatar

I think the word “tolerance” means something markedly different than “respect.” Basically, you tolerate things you don’t respect. I tolerate stupid, annoying subway passengers. I tolerate the KKK’s freedom of speech.

So yes, I think we should tolerate demostrably false beliefs. I don’t think we should respect them though.

Qingu's avatar

@wundayatta, I think we should treat homeopathy and shady chiropracters in the same way we treat false and/or fraudulent religious beliefs and practices, and for the same reason.

Blackberry's avatar

Even if the beliefs do no physical harm, they can still harm the mind lol. Sure, a fundamentalist may not hurt anyone, but those wacky beliefs are going to spread throughout that immediate family like a wildfire. It seems unneeded because we are all aware there is a better way to go about proselytizing children…..i.e. not doing it.

Doppelganger19's avatar

All of the above, plus, considering the multiplicty of belief systems, who am I to know with certainty the veracity of “false”?

Kraigmo's avatar

Some beliefs are frivolous and it doesn’t matter what our judgment or tolerance level is. It is quite annoying when people have beliefs based on lies, or misunderstandings, or guesses.
But unless that belief involves a proposal to use force or legislation on someone, then we can usually be tolerant and let it go.

But if someone has rigid beliefs that involve controlling other people (example: “I think drugs are bad, therefore we need to jail all marijuana users”) and/or proposed government laws, and those beliefs are based on false pretenses, judgments, or understanding of facts, then no tolerance should be given whatsoever.

crisw's avatar


“Some beliefs are frivolous and it doesn’t matter what our judgment or tolerance level is. It is quite annoying when people have beliefs based on lies, or misunderstandings, or guesses.”

The issue here, I think, is that those who hold unsupportable beliefs about frivolous things will tend to think in the same way about less frivolous things as well. Lack of logic is often global.

JLeslie's avatar

For me it depends how it affects others. Like others have said, if it involves the law of the land, or the rights of others, then I think we need to speak out. If it is an individuals personal beliefs and does not really affect anyone else, let him think what he wants.

Summum's avatar

It really is not up to us to be tolerant or intolerant. We are all in the same world and living a life similar to all those that live here in the world. It is sad to find others who think they are the world’s police and have to correct others. Frankly it is not up to you or anybody else what my beliefs are or how they came about.

crazyivan's avatar

To clear up, I meant the word “tolerance” much more in the vain that @crisw and @Qingu described it, not at all how @wundayatta suggested. I also don’t mean in any way to suggest that one should not be tolerant of the person espousing the belief.

I bring the question up broadly, but it stems from an earlier discussion on astrology which relies on premises that can be easily proven false. If a person believes in astrology they are definitely harming themselves as they have elevated randomness above reason when it comes to the decision making process. The question of how much “harm” this causes is really the root of my inquiry.

But what would it mean to be “intolerant” of a belief in astrology? In the sense that I brought it up, I meant sitting silently by and letting somebody blather nonsensically without pointing out the clear violations of logic/untrue statements/logical fallacies in their statement. One can very politely and respectfully point out that a person is mistaken about a belief and offer overwhelming data to the contrary. This is being respectful but not tolerant.

Clearly we can argue about the semantics. No interest in doing so. If you believe my definitions are in error, then feel free to replace “tolerance” and “respect” with whatever words fit the given definition in your mind. I bring that up in an effort to help keep the thread on track and to avoid the inevitable “what do you mean by” phase of the argument that is already underway…

Trillian's avatar

“If a person believes in astrology they are definitely harming themselves as they have elevated randomness above reason when it comes to the decision making process.” Wrong.

crazyivan's avatar

Would you care to back that up with any data, evidence or hypothesis?

mammal's avatar

@Qingu you tollerate the KKK’s right to freedom of speech, doesn’t it depend on the content?

Qingu's avatar

@mammal, sure, but unless they are actively threatening someone or instigating violence, we “tolerate” it in the sense that it’s allowed speech, even if it’s stupid and hateful.

This is apparently a different sense of the word “tolerate” than @crazyivan meant though… in that sense, my position is that if I am in a social situation and someone is talking about religion, astrology, homeopathy, racism, or something else completely counterfactual in a supportive way, I would tend to shoot them down.

crazyivan's avatar

I guess I’m just okay with pissing off 100 people if I can get one of them to critically examine something that holds them back…

Summum's avatar

Holds them back from where?

crazyivan's avatar

Health… Intelligence… Happiness… Free will… Logic… Willingness to allow human knowledge to expand without constantly butting up against the walls of medieval obstructionism… take your pick.

Summum's avatar

Is that how you think? You think because a person doesn’t think or believe how you do they are being held back? Interesting.

Qingu's avatar

Obsessing over, for example, nonsense about magical Maya calendars and alien-built Egyptian pyramids does hold you back from the actual wonders and mysteries of human civilization and the natural world.

A while ago there was a girl on Fluther who insisted that dragons were real and was obsessed with dragons. Not only is this entirely nonsense but there are lots of actual, living creatures that are every bit as fascinating and wonderful as dragons.

Summum's avatar

Nonsense in who’s eyes? You are not the judge of what is right and wrong. Obsession is also relative and is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t know of anyone that believes the Mayan Calendar is magical in anyway? And who are you to say the Pyramids weren’t built by aliens? You act as if you have all the answer and that no one else can have a different answer than you do. Sounds out of reality to me.

BoBo1946's avatar

@christine215 excellent answer! Wish more would adopt that philosophy! There is room for all of us here.

crazyivan's avatar

@Summum If anybody with a fully operating brain looks at the evidence, they can say quite definitively that the pyramids were not build by aliens. By the way, nonsense is not a matter of opinion. Sense is defined as those things that fit in with logical observation. Nonsense are those things that do not. There is no room for opinion there.

Evidence does not bring an opinion to the table.

Summum's avatar

Again in your eyes you pronounced what you preceive and believe. I think most all of us have an operating brain and has and can look at the evidence. It does not prove aliens didn’t build the pyramids in any sense of the words.

Qingu's avatar

I am imagining the aliens who built the pyramids.

“Hey look, there’s a bunch of smart-looking apes on that blue planet down there.”

“Let’s go down there and build something!”

“Oh, awesome. What should we build, like a particle accelerator, or something that codifies QM…”

“Nah, too obvious. Hey, look at all those mounds the apes built. Why don’t we build a mound just like the other ones, except make it a little bigger and straighter.”

“Um… You’re the boss! You crazy dumb fucker

Summum's avatar

You know it is funny when someone acts so immature like that one has lost any type of recognition at all. And see they always amount to name calling. LOL

Qingu's avatar

Well, okay. Which pyramids of the hundreds of pyramids on earth do you think were built by aliens? Like, is every pyramid-shaped mound evidence of alien architects you, or just those above some arbitrary size limit.

Summum's avatar

Good question @Qingu but you are the one saying that pyramids are built by aliens so you best answer your own question. I never said that.

Qingu's avatar

I am saying it’s irrational to say the pyramids were built by aliens when (1) they were obviously built by humans, in an easy-to-trace evolution of applicable tech, and (2) saying they were built by aliens serves no purpose whatsover, has no evidence whatsoever, and is absurdly question-begging.

BoBo1946's avatar

Age has taught me to overlook audacity. Tolerance is a wonderful thing. Glad I met T-man!

mammal's avatar

@Qingu everybody has the right to be stupid, people exercise that particular freedom most of all. But to bunch racism in, with Homeopathy and astrology and mix them into some kind of indistinguishable, irrational sludge is sloppy more than anything. Astrology is proto-psychological not to mention a proto-astronomical discipline for starters. Racism is a visceral expression of political disaffection, i don’t see the connection, other than your subjective association based upon your aversion or misunderstanding of them.

Qingu's avatar

I lumped them together because they are both obviously bullshit. Though yes, for different reasons, and to different effects.

And it’s not “subjective” to say that astrology is bullshit. It is nonsense, and astrologers are frauds.

daytonamisticrip's avatar

To you there might not be any God and that is what you wish to believe. I tolerate and accept you and others who don’t believe in God, so I would hope that you would give me and other believers respect for our beliefs.

crazyivan's avatar

@daytonamisticrip But surely that doesn’t extend to the story above regarding the people who prayed for their child instead of using medicine… one has to draw the line somewhere.

And again, @Summum opinion and fact are two different things. They are actually opposites.

Summum's avatar

Depends on whos facts we are talking about. LOL

CaptainHarley's avatar

We should be tolerant of others’ beliefs when being intolerant costs society more than being tolerant costs.

Rarebear's avatar

One can be tolerant and disagree. I have a physician friend who believes in homeopathy and accupuncture. I am tolerant of that belief until it actually comes up in conversation, and then I challenge her. But one can be respectful in ones arguments.

HungryGuy's avatar

Be tolerant of others’ beliefs, for we all supposedly have the right to free speech. But you have the right of free speech, too. So if they really are demonstrably false, then don’t hesitate to demonstrate that falsehood.

flutherother's avatar

Yes, because that is almost a definition of tolerance.

TexasDude's avatar

I really don’t give a shit what anyone believes as long as they don’t try and break my legs or pick my pocket.

Someone could sincerely believe that the world was spawned from an egg that Stalin laid from outer space, and I’d be ok with it as long as they left me alone.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Even the fundamental beliefs of several majority religions can be shown to be unequivocally false.
Most of the people who have trouble tolerating the beliefs of others, believe things that are so self-contradictory that they should certainly throw no stones.

As long as the practices of others do no demonstrable harm to others, then their beliefs should attract no intolerance.

Blondesjon's avatar

Why not?

If the demonstrably false belief does no harm then you are just suffering from the symptoms of ego.


Because you have to show these people that you are right.

religion taught that earth was the center of the universe and science believed the earth to be flat. fuck ‘em both and leave me out of it.

Supacase's avatar

Something, like the pyramids, may be explained by the what we believe to be the most logical scenario with the information we have – but we weren’t there and we don’t know for sure. There could quite possibly be additional information that we don’t have and, obviously, don’t know we are missing.

I know a very intelligent person who believes humans, or a being that interbred with another species on Earth to create humans, are the aliens who built the pyramids. I think it is a little crazy, but I can’t disprove him. Maybe he is right. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.

I have no problem keeping my mind open to the possibility that there are questions we simply do not have the information to answer at this point even though we can make a good enough guess to think we know.

crisw's avatar

I see people repeating over and over again sentiments along the lines of “if it does no harm, leave them alone.” Yet no one has really tried to define what “harm” is. As I mentioned above, this question cannot be answered without such a definition.

crisw's avatar


“I have no problem keeping my mind open to the possibility that there are questions we simply do not have the information to answer at this point”

There is a huge difference between things we do not yet know and things for which we have absolutely no evidence that they are true and mountains of evidence that they are not.

For example, to use your example, there is zero evidence that alien-human hybrids exist. If they did, it would be very easy to show that something odd had happened through DNA analysis. But it didn’t.

Similarly, there is absolutely no evidence that homeopathy works, that astrology is true, that previous-life experience are verifiable, that the Earth was created 6000 years ago, that aliens abduct humans on a daily basis, that the world will end in 2012, etc. etc. etc.

It isn’t about belief- it’s about what the evidence does and does not show.

ETpro's avatar

@christine215 Ideas can do incredible harm, and so some need to be attacked before they reach the stage of doing their harm. The Nazi idea of Aryan racial superiority and the need to purge the world of all non Aryans had not done any harm when it was first floated, and if Germany and Italy had been less tolerant of it, they might have saved great suffering and enormous human slaughter.

So I think when we hear patently false ideas, we need to parse them and see if they are likely to do harm if allowed to spread. Believing that trrowing salt over your shoulder will ward off bad luck probably won’t work, but it isn’t likely to do any harm. But some ideas can kill millions. The idea that we need to provoke a nuclear Armageddon over Israel so Jesus will come back and snap us up in the clouds is a VERY dangerous idea. The idea that the whole world should be made a giant Caliphate under Sharia law and all who oppose it or refuse to convert to Islam should be killed is a VERY dangerous idea. We don’t have to wait till such ideas begin causing mass destruction to decide tolerance is not called for.

I also agree with @wundayatta that it’s often wise to tolerate the person but not the idea. I think it makes sense to expose falsity and superstition for what they are so they don’t grow and fester.

TexasDude's avatar

My definition of harm: as long as they don’t try and break my legs or pick my pocket.

Others will inevitably vary or have a problem with this, but whatever, it’s how I view it.

CaptainHarley's avatar

We should be tolerant of others’ beliefs when being intolerant costs society more than does being tolerant. The obverse is also true: we should be intolerant of others’ beliefs when being tolerant costs society more than does being intolerant.

Paradox's avatar

I don’t think faith should ever replace investigation. If someone’s faith is important to them on a personal level then there is no reason to criticise that person or their beliefs. Now if someone gets in my face and starts calling me names because I don’t take the Bible literally or I think evolution is a plausible explaination then yes I will bite back. Sometimes people force you to do this unfortunately.

As long as people keep it personal whatever they do is their own business. If somebody wants to see a chiropractor, accupuncturist or attempt to treat their cancers with alternative methods after all else fails then that is up to them.

augustlan's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard What if it’s your baby sister’s legs or pocket? How about my daughter’s? I understand where you’re coming from, but if no one cares beyond their own legs and/or pockets… we’re likely to end up with an awful lot of broke people who need a cast, you know?

TexasDude's avatar

@augustlan, there’s no reason why that can’t fit under what I said.

BoBo1946's avatar

ahhh…. The Captain of the ship has given a great answer! Thank you Captain Harley and Merry Christmas!

iamthemob's avatar

I think there are a few issues that play out in this question. To sum up my statements below:

(1) There is no practical difference, in the majority of cases of everyday debate, between attacking an idea/claim/conclusion when it qualifies as a belief and attacking the person holding it.

(2) Further, there is very often no practical difference between attacking a premise underlying such belief and the belief itself.

(3) Whether or not a belief is true or false is less important than the reasoning leading a person to a belief.

(4) Attacking the premises or the conclusion will more than likely result in a defense of the premise or idea.

(5) A person defending a position is less likely to evaluate clearly how they arrived at the position.

(6) Therefore, attacking or questioning the validity of the premise or conclusion will often prevent anyone from determining the reasoning leading to it.

(7) We therefore must inquire why a belief was reached in order to determine which underlying beliefs/premises deserve to be tolerated.

(8) We lack sufficient knowledge determine any objective truth, but analyze smaller premises more easily.

(9) Admitting the impossibility of objective truth does not undermine whether something is considered true by most, when arrived to by reason.

(10) Attempting to apply inappropriate analytical tools to alternative ideas, however, often leads to an incomplete assessment of what evidence there is supporting it.

(11) Application of such tools often leads to inappropriate generalizations about beliefs, and distract from learning, again, why the individual holds the belief.

(12) We cannot discuss harm caused by a belief until we know the exact nature of the belief and why it is held.

(13) Tolerance is only practical when we know what ideas we both disagree with and are intractable.

(14) Tolerance will only practically reduce harm when the belief in question is both specific and the reasoning behind it is understood, which requires an individual assessment of what a person means when they state the belief and not an assumption that the belief entails certain premises, biases and reasoning and produces certain behaviors, benefits or harms.

(1) There is no practical difference, in the majority of cases of everyday debate, between attacking an idea/claim/conclusion when it qualifies as a belief and attacking the person holding it.

- There’s less of a difference between respecting a person and respecting their beliefs (or tolerating either) than I think people recognize. I personally believe that those who attempt to develop their knowledge through reason would be the most likely to tolerate beliefs different from theirs, even those one might consider “demonstrably false,” in others as it is common to claim a “harm production” analysis. Beliefs that cause no harm, even if wrong, would therefore be “worthy” of tolerance.

But I’ve often observed that those claiming to be rational are the quickest to dismiss beliefs that they’ve reasoned are wrong with what can often be heard to be or read as a superior attitude. And often I’ve seen the claim that it is appropriate to say that x or y belief is “ridiculous” or “idiotic” or any other term…indeed, several times I’ve seen some of the most sacredly held beliefs be described in a profoundly insulting manner (e.g., Jesus Christ described as a “cosmic zombie”)...because they are discussing the belief and not attacking the person.

But I think we’ve all seen that this is often a disastrous approach. The problem with qualifying conclusions that are generally accepted to be wrong when examined with some form of reasoned analysis in the manner described above is that in common debate there’s no real functional difference between that and an ad hominem attack. When you say “that’s stupid” it’s often heard as “you’re stupid.”

(2) Further, there is very often no practical difference between attacking a premise underlying such belief and the belief itself.

The second most common technique I see is that people will attack premises – often before the premise is offered as support for the “belief.” Or the belief is compared to other beliefs or conclusions the person finds to be equally “irrational.” But if they don’t hold the premise, they’re on the defensive because the other doesn’t seem to take the argument seriously. If the premises or conclusions are compared to things most adults agree are ridiculous, you get the same effect, whether or not they hold the premise. And if they do, they’re forced to backpeddle to show how they came up with the premise attacked. All tend to place that individual in an argumentative position where they are forced to argue or defend the belief rather than explain or discuss it.

(3) Whether or not a belief is true or false is less important than the reasoning leading a person to a belief.

What I see very little of is what I loved about law school – Socratic dialogue. Whenever I made a claim in a class, or was asked to explain why something happened, I was always asked what facts or other conclusions that claim was based on. And often, an alternative explanation was offered to challenge my claim that would be equally or perhaps even more reasonable considering those facts or conclusions. It always forced us to think through (or it was meant to force us to) each claim and always consider a counterargument until we came to the answer generally accepted in the legal community (or, sometimes, with one against that generally accepted but completely reasonable). When you debate or attack a conclusion or a premise you pit one idea against another. When you ask how someone comes to a position that you disagree with, going through with them step by step…well, I personally find that you at least get people thinking, which is better than the “I’ve made up my mind” or “we’ll have to just agree to disagree” results that I see coming from the other methods.

(4) Attacking the premises or the conclusion will more than likely result in a defense of the premise or idea. & (5) A person defending a position is less likely to evaluate clearly how they arrived at the position. & (6) Therefore, attacking or questioning the validity of the premise or conclusion will often prevent anyone from determining the reasoning leading to it.

Asking the person “Why do you believe that” instead of “How can you believe that when” also more clearly brings out what are the problematic and potentially intractable “harmful” beliefs a person may hold. Determining that someone things homosexuality is a sin because their pastor, who does amazing things in the community, and their family, who are loving otherwise, raised him to believe that and supports it with bible verses isn’t really something that I can clearly undermine. In so many ways that belief would be wrapped up in how that person views people he sees as loving – and to counter that I’d have to show that they were either (1) deluded, (2) hateful, or (3) some combination. Then might be the time when tolerance becomes the important tool. I have to tolerate the fact that they think homosexuality is a sin in order to get them to tolerate the fact that I should be afforded civil rights they are trying to deny me. If I don’t, they have a rational argument to pursue legislation and regulation regulating my behavior – because I am trying to regulate theirs.

(7) We therefore must inquire why a belief was reached in order to determine which underlying beliefs/premises deserve to be tolerated.

I think it’s inappropriate, therefore, to talk about tolerance at the beginning. Tolerance should never be conceived as a starting point – but an unfortunate endpoint. Tolerance is essentially damage control. But if we start a discussion with someone who makes a claim we find unreasonable or unsupported or just wrong by qualifying the claim in a dismissive manner, attacking it and the premises it was based on, etc., before a person has stated where it comes from, we don’t get to separate out the intractable beliefs from the ones we can reason through, and we end up having to tolerate entire belief systems rather than fixed claims that, eventually, will wither when separated from their supports. A moral objection that one shouldn’t be asked to tolerate beliefs that are objectively wrong, if accepted, must therefore produce (although not inevitably every time) results where the objectionable belief is reinforced in a respective individual or group – which is precisely the harm that anyone who has a moral objection to such beliefs would be trying to avoid.

(8) We lack sufficient knowledge determine any objective truth, but analyze smaller premises more easily.

- Of course, there’s an underlying problem of whether something can be considered demonstrably false or objectively wrong. This back and forth about whether we know a significant percentage of, well, anything is an interesting statement on the problem. Recognizing that we have a slim understanding of most things, and that the analytical tools we have to measure them or draw conclusions are severely limited, doesn’t call into question by necessity whether those conclusions are the best we have – and certainly better than previous conclusions based on less accurate or knowledgeable assessments (or those based simply on faith). That, in fact, is how we develop knowledge.

(9) Admitting the impossibility of objective truth does not undermine whether something is considered true by most, when arrived to by reason. & (10) Attempting to apply inappropriate analytical tools to alternative ideas, however, often leads to an incomplete assessment of what evidence there is supporting it.

But when you group things like “homeopathic methods” together and claim that a harm results from believing in them as such methods are demonstrably false (just as an example – you in the general sense here), the most problematic issue is that you end up creating evidence where there is none. Whether or not a particular homeopathic treatment should be relied on depends very much on what it’s being claimed to treat – and very often wellness programs are meant to promote general wellness. Of course, to say that there’s no demonstrable benefit from x treatment is to rely on a method of experiment and analysis in from a medical perspective that is designed to fix something when it goes wrong. These results can be clearly measurable. Whether a particular treatment that is part of a lifestyle where things go generally well can’t provide clear proof of the success because the level of monitoring, the longitudinal nature, and the size of the samples required often undermine an attempt to prove the success. And balancing any cofactors/contributors/environmental factors – the task is daunting.

Further, the idea of having a control group where any wellness program that one might think is effective is denied to them, in order to show its success, reeks of ethics problems. Therefore, we’re left with “subjects” who engage in treatments along with multiple other routines for which we do not have an alternate path to compare to because we just don’t know whether the treatment (1) extended their life, because even if they die early they could have died much earlier without it, (2) prevented them from getting disease, because even if they get sick, they could have gotten sicker, etc.

Therefore, I often hear people claim that there is “no evidence” that x, y, or z works as if the type of proof that would validate x, y, or z is feasible. Saying that it’s “unproven” may mean very little. Where it does, it should be recognized as important. And where, as in th OP’s example, an unproven method is used to the exclusion of a proven one…speaking out against such a thing is not “intolerance” but a simple statement as to what an individual’s bet course of treatment is.

(11) Application of such tools often leads to inappropriate generalizations about beliefs, and distract from learning, again, why the individual holds the belief.

The fact of “no evidence” is also often morphed into “evidence against,” which is extremely problematic. I think @crisw‘s statement below is a good example (bold, small print mine):

There is a huge difference between things we do not yet know and things for which we have absolutely no evidence that they are true and mountains of evidence that they are not.

For example, to use your example, there is zero evidence that alien-human hybrids exist. (True – however, origin of life theorists discuss exogenesis and panspermia as viable solutions, and the new arsenic bacteria may open up more doors…so is this “zero evidence”?) If they did, it would be very easy to show that something odd had happened through DNA analysis. But it didn’t.

Similarly, there is absolutely no evidence that homeopathy works (But again – what kind of evidence is there that anything improves wellness?), that astrology is true (This is false – astrology has been predictive in many cases; not, of course, generally predictive, but that’s hardly “no evidence”), that previous-life experience are verifiable (This of course requests, essentially, that one “prove their proof”), that the Earth was created 6000 years ago (But here, there is plenty of evidence _against that), that aliens abduct humans on a daily basis (Again, this seems to be more about plenty of evidence against), that the world will end in 2012 (Nor is there that the world will end tomorrow, three million years from now, etc. – especially considering our limited understanding of even our local corner of space and what’s in it), etc. etc. etc._

The evidentiary status of all of these, when compared to other predictive methods to measure similar phenomenon (e.g., radiometric dating, not the Bible for earth age) makes them all relatively similar. However, their evidentiary status is extremely different when compared to each other, as done above. When we simplify things in such a manner, we do ourselves an intellectual disservice. It also opens up a critique of the arguments in question that often distract from the validity of the argument. Again, comparing “no evidence” of the beneficial effects of homeopathy treatments meant to increase wellness – where we just don’t know and determining the truth seems pretty impractical – to “no evidence” of a 6000 year age for the earth – where there seems to be nothing but natural evidence against the claim – seems more like trickery than evidence one shouldn’t be tolerant of any of the above ideas. PS – personally, I wouldn’t argue in favor of the vast majority of them…and those I would are context-dependent.

(12) We cannot discuss harm caused by a belief until we know the exact nature of the belief and why it is held. & (13) Tolerance is only practical when we know what ideas we both disagree with and are intractable. & (14) Tolerance will only practically reduce harm when the belief in question is both specific and the reasoning behind it is understood, which requires an individual assessment of what a person means when they state the belief and not an assumption that the belief entails certain premises, biases and reasoning and produces certain behaviors, benefits or harms.

Finally, any claim, as stated before, that we judge whether beliefs should be tolerated should theoretically and practically be determined through a harm analysis – but as @crisw pointed out, this can be difficult. We can make the big statements (e.g., @ETpro‘s statement about the global caliphate is a reasonable big statement most can agree to) and the broad ones (e.g., @CaptainHarley‘s claim about tolerance ends where costs surpass benefits of it), but they don’t get us far. But it’s almost scary when you add in the factor that the beliefs we hold about our daily routines might be so much more harmful than anything we can debate here. If I buy something as simple as a table, what environmental impact does that have? Why should I have that table instead of feeding someone who needs it? If I donate the money instead, will that trend end up closing an outsourced furniture factory, causing layoffs that end up producing more hunger than is stopped through the donations? Etc., etc.

However, again, the problem of determining harm stems from an attempt to determine whether a general belief should be tolerated. When we determine in each case the specific belief held by the person or group that, for the moment, needs to be tolerated, the harm that can be caused by that belief will be easy to measure. And tolerating it means, specifically, that there is disagreement – but that tolerance is the only solution at the time.

Therefore, contrary to what’s implicit in how @wundayatta defines tolerance, I don’t believe tolerance means different things in different contexts. Tolerance doesn’t require respectful treatment of another because it is the result of such treatment – and a recognition that further discussion would turn from that. It also may not mean constantly attacking an idea, but it does mean always disagreeing about it. Indeed, as @Qingu states, tolerance and respect are almost mutually exclusive – you tolerate what you disrespect. In order to be tolerant – you have to disagree (to add bite to @Rarebear‘s assertion).

Thank you all for your tolerance. :-)

mattbrowne's avatar

I’m an outspoken skeptic too. You mentioned unproved, unscientific medicine as an example. Sometimes this creates a dilemma. Here’s an example:

There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that homeopathic medicine as such has no effect and cannot cure people.

There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that the placebo effect can cure people.

People who strongly believe that homeopathic medicine will help, might benefit from the placebo effect. But it depends on the disease. It doesn’t work for type 1 diabetes for example. In this case it would be immoral to recommend homeopathic medicine.

But even if it works for certain troubles, because people believe in homeopathic medicine, there’s the moral issue of making people pay a lot of money for cheap molecules.

Things can get even more complicated. The question was, should we be tolerant of things that are not supported by evidence. Let’s go back to the year 1905 and Einstein telling people that their clocks are running slower when they are driving cars instead of going by foot.

It took decades to obtain empirical evidence. At first most scientists did not tolerate what Einstein was saying. Some even thought it was complete nonsense. And there are other examples like continents moving away from each other.

crazyivan's avatar

I must admit that @iamthemob‘s novel was a little too much to digest while I’m at work but I can say that even the summary contains a few statements that are unsupported and go against the majority of psychological research.

Also, I have to take huge issue with something @mattbrowne said. I know you’re a bright guy and it is a common mistake, but the placebo effect has not been shown to sure anyone of anything. It might make you feel better but the placebo effect cannot reverse or reduce any actual disease agent. It cannot cure any but a stress induced disorder such as a skin rash or something along those lines.

That being said, I agree with the heart of the response whole-heartedly.

mattbrowne's avatar

@crazyivan – I pointed out that it doesn’t work for all conditions. When I wrote ‘cure’ I actually meant the relief of symptoms, not treatment of the root cause. A good example would be pain. So, you’re right, the word ‘cure’ can be misleading.

The effect of placebo treatments (an inert pill unless otherwise noted) has been studied for the following medical conditions:

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan – I’m interested what parts you think are unsupported, go against the majority of psychological research, and why you think so. Honest request, not a challenge – that would be too ironic.

I will say, in all good fun, that when you state that a claim is unsupported and contrary to research, and you don’t include the research, you’re asking for sass. ;-) I’ll attribute it to the fact that you’re at work at the moment.

crazyivan's avatar

@iamthemob Yeah, hate to use the cop out that I can’t read through all of it at work when clearly I’m hopping on Fluther and thus not too concerned with finishing my project before the weekend. Anyway, I can’t say whether or not your larger point is valid or how much the point relies on the premises that I did read so I don’t want to point to specifics before reading your whole entry. It may be that you diffuse the issue in the body of the answer.

iamthemob's avatar

makes sense. project away.

ETpro's avatar

I ran across this quote from Thomas H. Huxley today, “Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.” I believe Huxley is quite right. The more we tolerate junk thought, junk sceince and anti-rationality, the more of it we are likely to get. In America today, we have a widespread culture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and respect for folksy culture. Great leaders of our past, who spoke in lofty words and elegantly woven logic; who laced their thoughts with quotes from the classics; would be unellectable today. “They ain’t the kinda guy I’d like to go have a beer with.” They would be seen as the dreaded “elites” and eggheads, who average people fear are arrogant and look down their noses at us folks. Politicians often resort to speaking of folks instead of the people to exploit this. Imagine the Declaration of Independence being rewritten “We the folks…”

Al Gore and John Kerry both faced the “Elite” obstacle in their campaign against a demonstrably intellectually deficient George W. Bush, a man who actually boasted about his lack of intellectual curiosity and provincialism on a world stage.

Thanks to our embrace of folksy thought, we have a nation where nearly one quarter the public believes the Birther nonsense. One third believe the US government was behind 9/11. On Global Warming, results vary greatly depending on how the poll question is worded. In some polls, over 50% believed it a hoax while several recent polls put that number at 25%. Almost 9 in 10 now believe the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy and over 50% think the US Government was behind it. One in ten still believe the moon landings were staged in the Arizona desert. This list of widely believed conspiracy theories should frighten any rational American.

Perhaps Huxley was quite right in suggesting that we not coddle irrationality.

Rarebear's avatar

This conversation reminds me of Phil Plait’s famous “Don’t be a dick” speech at the last TAM. I’d link to it but I’m at work. Go to You tube and look for it, but it’s on topic.

Rarebear's avatar

@iamthemob That’s it. I didn’t think of looking at JREF for the link.

Qingu's avatar

I think “fundamentalist agnosticism,” lacking a better term, is often worse and more annoying than “being a dick” about any particular ideology.

Consider three people.

A: I believe the Earth revolves around the sun.
B: I believe the sun revolves around the Earth.
C: I don’t think we can know the answer to that question.

Actually, we can know the answer to that question. But what often happens in discussions is that Person C has this desire to remain “above the fray” while maintaining that A and B are somehow both equally rude or dicks for having strong opinions about their positions.

I think this is just obnoxious. There are many cases where “not taking a side” is warranted: Copenhagen or many-worlds? Group selection or gene selection? But you don’t see the above-the-fray agnostics get worked up about those kind of things. They tend to get worked up about discussions that are political sensitive, and potentially offensive, but where one side is nevertheless factually correct and the other is nonsense.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Thank you, BoBoBro! And you have a Merry Christmas as well! : ))

crazyivan's avatar

@Qingu What a fantastic analogy! Hope you don’t mind if I use it ad nauseum in the future. It reminds me of an online comic I saw not too long ago.

Person A: You know, I’m starting to find these aggressive atheists just as annoying as fundamentalist Christians…

Person B: At least you’ve found a way to feel superior to both.

iamthemob's avatar

@Qingu – I don’t quite see how staying “above the fray” comes into it, though. The phrase, and example C, and the characterization of the fundamental agnostic, seem like synonyms for people that just aren’t part of the conversation, in the end. Personally, statements indicating that line I read as silence.

I think getting in the fray, getting dirty, etc., is a moral imperative. However, after watching the speech, I think that the “teach a man to think” is one of the most important takeaways. Personally, I approach my skeptical work, or try to, by trying to make the person convince themselves that they’re wrong. I ask why they believe something, and try to refrain from saying it’s wrong unless necessary (of course, we’re all works in progress).

How, then, are you accounting for person D?

@Rarebear – Hilarious. Watched the speech. Hadn’t heard of it…but yeah, that’s pretty much what I believe, and what I was saying. So where do you come down on the approach?

Rarebear's avatar

@iamthemob I agree with Phil, although I will be the first to admit that sometimes I slip.

iamthemob's avatar

@Rarebear – I feel like you wouldn’t really agree with Phil if you didn’t, in fact, slip. The whole point of the approach is that it is still passionate…it’s just stealth. ;-)

ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear What a fabulous talk. Thank you so much for bringing that into this discussion. Dr. Plait’s rational argument convicted me. I can see I have some work to do on the ego I sometimes let get in the way of winning the chess game and not just the exchange.

iamthemob's avatar

@ETpro – I don’t know if the work is so much about ego as it is about having the conversation each time like it’s the first time. I feel like part of the problem of collapsing the argument and the person in these discussions come from the fact that when a person approaches, say, an evolution conversation with “well, it’s just a theory” there’s a tendency to roll one’s eyes and think, here we go again, and try to skip to what we think is the meat. The thing is I’ve heard/seen exactly the same reaction from creationists.

We can’t skip to the meat. We have to let them get to it.

Rarebear's avatar

And for a slightly different point of view, we can always look to P.Z. Myers who is never afraid to speak his mind.

crisw's avatar


He has more on that today.

crazyivan's avatar

Excellent job @Rarebear! I’m definitely more of the PZ school than the Plait school. I never miss an entry in Pharyngula. I’m a firm believer that it is often more about the person standing next to the person you’re being a dick to. A “true believer” may be intractable, but anyone else who overhears you might benefit from your dickishness more than they would from your apologetic-ness.

iamthemob's avatar

@crazyivan – I’m beginning to think you might actually believe in this dichotomy – dickishness and apologetic-ness, never the twain shall meet.

I really didn’t hear anything from the “Plait school” indicating that part of the lesson could be construed that one should be afraid to speak their mind. There’s always a time where it’s necessary to be a dick. I just don’t understand why it’s generally productive as a default position.

Summum's avatar


Can you believe how we are and how we try to interpret the entire world and its life. Can’t we open our hearts, minds and mind and just see? Would it matter if Aliens are here and built the pyrimads? I just find it crazy to come against each other and think we have the answers. If you do have the answers then why do you constantly fight to show others you do? I see those pushing science so hard that they are so self doubting that they have to try to convince others they are correct. LOL WHY? Does it really matter and if so why?

iamthemob's avatar

@Summum – We can say we have the best answers for now. And that we reached those answers through the most reasonable, honest and rigorous methods.

Accepting every answer as valid or equivalent because it’s generally true that we don’t have a sufficient understanding of most topics to claim that we have the objectively true answer isn’t opening our hearts, “mind and mind and just see.” It seems more like giving up to me.

Rarebear's avatar

@crazyivan You know what’s funny, when I saw the Plait speech I wasn’t even thinking of P.Z. Myers. It was only after the fact when I saw Myers post about it that I could see how people would think Plait was talking about him. But I honestly don’t think he was.

iamthemob's avatar

@Rarebear – I think that one need only tour the blogs/sites/etc. to see what Plait was talking about randomly. Considering that the style of argument he discusses seems fairly common…it’s almost egotistical for Myers, I think, to suggest that he believed that he might have been called out.

Rarebear's avatar

@iamthemob I agree, though it wasn’t Myers’ fault, actually. I know a little of the back story on this from other sources, but after Plait did that speech, everybody started pointing fingers at Myers—this was merely his response. I spoke with one guy who is well connected with people in JREF and he said that Myers was a bit blindsided with this one.

But like @crazyivan I’m more of a Myers kind of guy anyway. As you know, from debates you and I have had, I generally don’t give an inch I press my point hard and I rarely take a conciliatory, “Well, let’s agree to disagree” like, say @mattbrowne might take. But I don’t call people names, either, and I respect intelligent writing, no matter whether or not I agree with them. In fact, I’ll generally only bother to respond and debate with people who I like and respect.

iamthemob's avatar


The important aspect of the Plait school (lord, are these “schools” now?), though, is fairly clear in the times that you and I have had bad moments. We have had blow-up moments, but I cannot for the life of me think of a point or conclusion that I’ve disagreed with you on – any significant one, anyway.

Where we’ve had issues are where arguments have been attributed to me, and then the assertion associated with that argument was something I was called on to support. Because, for instance on the evolution thread (I’ll just leave it at that) statements that I was making were in line with ID theory or creationism, I was asked to support the position.

Meanwhile, my main problem with evolutionist arguments is that they say “Evolution is a fact.” Of course, certain evolutionary processes are a fact and we see them. But saying that is a challenge, and the rhetoric both sounds (1) confusing and (2) dismissive, and contribute to someone who may be a young earth creationist to just focus on “Well, you said it was a fact, but now you’re admitting it’s a theory.” Also, the word theory is used as if the scientific definition of theory is different than a general definition of it.

I find Plait’s argument convincing because of things like the above. Most people concerned with investigating natural truths are scientists of some sort. Science has a lot of jargon that isn’t exclusively jargon. So communicating something you think is simply a statement sounds like an assault sometimes.

Rarebear's avatar

@iamthemob I see your point about schools, and there have been schisms within the skeptical movement. In fact the last TAM was all about trying to unify the skeptical movement back together and getting people together who have disagreed strongly about policy. And even my “source”, who is a bit of a curmudgen, bemoans some of the current trends within skepticism, but that’s an entirely different conversation that we could carry on for days. I also agree with you on the jargon, but part of the education of people is to educate them on the jargon. That said, I just finished listening to a wonderful interview with Genie Scott, director of NCSE where she said that she has met many scientists who confuse the words “hypothesis”, “fact”, “theory”, and “guess”. (I’ve also met Genie a couple of times—she’s wonderful person).

For my part in pissing you off in the past, though, I apologize. I’m sure it’ll happen again. Just know that it’s nothing personal, and the fact that I’m typing this at close to 11:00PM when I’m on call and should be in bed shows you the level of respect I have.

iamthemob's avatar

@Rarebear – Well, no need to apologize. I mean, once frustrated to a certain points, I have made it known – so I demand no apology when I’m pretty sure I cussed you out. ;-)

My “pissed off” is really more of a concern about, in essence, the marketing of skeptical “assertions” (if there can be such a thing). The tone in much of the online literature that I’ve seen is much as Plait describes. Now, whether this is even close to how the majority make their arguments I won’t claim – but it’s the loudest that get the most attention. And when I consider that, as a skeptical person myself, part of my goal is to get people past irrational processes that are preventing them from understanding the problems with certain beliefs held. And even when it’s respectful, the tactic generally seems to be “debate.”

I can’t really see how debate, in terms of convincing laymen, can ever really be effective. You’re automatically in a fight.

There’s a documentary about an evangelical (I think) Christian attempting to determine, basically, how Jesus’s message could be spread – and in so many ways the problems he say in the evangelical movement mirror Plait’s speech above. Essentially, getting someone to listen to you is often best achieved by demonstrating a willingness to listen to them. Personally, I see this as a way to get them to listen to themselves. And unfortunately, we have to appear more tolerant, I think, than “faith-based” arguments because to do otherwise seems, ironically, irrational…but also, I don’t see any fear in taking a softer approach if you have the better argument.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Summum – The trouble with 6.7 billion human beings: we depend on a critical mass of scientists and engineers to guarantee their survival. Earth doesn’t need this. It can deal with no humans or a few stone age humans. Earth can also deal with global warming. At some point feedback loops will kick in more strongly and thousands of years later the thermostats are being readjusted. The question is what this means to 6.7 billion human beings. Therefore any war on science is a war on modern-day humanity. Therefore some beliefs do indeed bring enormous harm to individuals and our societies. Educated theism isn’t a problem. It doesn’t mess with science. Leading a spiritual life isn’t a problem as long as it doesn’t mess with science. Religion isn’t a problem as long as church and state are separate and as long as secular laws rank over religious laws.

Rarebear's avatar

@iamthemob Dr. Scott makes the same point about debate. Debate is a sport, and she won’t do it. You can be right on the facts and lose the debate because it’s more about rhetorical style. Brian Dunning of won’t debate either for the same reason.

iamthemob's avatar

@Rarebear – I think that debate has it’s place, and it’s more often in the formal sense. Debates meant for public consumption can be incredibly useful. I just think it’s an extremely problematic tool in private or (as here) public/private.

PS – I really appreciate the cites. It’s nice to see skeptics inclined to an argumentative style that is more in line with my own. I felt like I was just making this shit up in my head.

Rarebear's avatar

I have tons of other links, podcasts, and blog sites, actually. I’m “plugged in” to the skeptic community. I’m going to go to TAM for the first time next year and I can’t wait.

Summum's avatar

Why is it that we can’t just accept one another and how we feel why is it we have to better the other. Love us one another.

iamthemob's avatar

@Summum – We can accept one another. We can accept how we feel. This entire discussion is about how that should be balanced, if at all, when trying to refine our knowledge of the universe or when trying to prevent people from holding onto incorrect arguments as if their viable in cases where they have not been derived through any reasoned analysis.

cockswain's avatar

This is a great question, glad I found it. Lots of great input. I like @CaptainHarley ‘s answer up alot. And I’m happy to see @Rarebear and @iamthemob having a fine debate too.

The thing that is resonating with me is what @crisw said, that we need to define harm. When is ignorance harmful? Is it when someone puts forth a belief that isn’t in accordance with the laws of reality and convinces a few people it is true and stays contained to that? Or does such a false illusion only become harmful when it is widespread? Sort of a micro vs macro thing.

Some examples perhaps: if you convince me thunder is the result of Zeus being pissed, am I harmed? It detracts from my ability to understand science, but lets say I’m a professional musician and whether or not I understand electrical charge may be of little consequence in my life’s journey. I may even mention it to some. Has harm happened? I’d argue very little harm occurred.

Let’s say I become convinced that God monitors and judges my every instant thought and desire, and I should follow a prescribed set of morals without daring question them. I would act very much against my natural sexual biology, as well as likely stunt my mind by being scared to consider many things. I would argue this illusion is significantly harmful to humans.

So like @CaptainHarley states, it has to do with how it affects society. If the modern society believed the earth was flat, that would impose obvious limits on us. Or if disease were caused by curses and things. So not a problem if a low percentage of a socitety believes it maybe, but creates major problems if the culture at large believes it.

Some modern examples of harm created by mass ignorance around the globe: the concept of race, women’s rights, acceptance of global warming, believing Fox News.

iamthemob's avatar

@cockswain – we’re not debating – we’re discussing. It’s why it’s all civil. ;-)

ETpro's avatar

@Summum I think how willing we should be to accept others’ beliefs depends entirely on what those beliefs are. For instance, there is currently Nazism with the intent of exterminating all non-white humans. I am NOT tolerant of that movement one bit. I will use whatever voice and logic I have to oppose and discredit white supremacists, and I am white. I just don’t want to see some lunatic like Hitler gain enough support to start another wave of mass exterminations targeting over 70% of hu7manity for death camps. All ideas are most definitely not equal.

crazyivan's avatar

@Summun As I read your points they seem to be verbose ways of saying “What good is knowledge anyway?” It’s as though you weren’t writing this on a computer. Keep in mind that if we were all about letting everybody’s opinion count the same regardless of factual validity things like computers would never come into existence.

Fact is not objective. Opinion and fact, again, are antipodal.

Paradox's avatar

@mattbrowne What hard evidence is there that time slows down due to increased speed. I could use the Michelson-Morley experiments as a good example to counter that claim. There are many brilliant scientists even today (though in the fringe portion) who would agree with me on this as well. I don’t believe many people realise how much the progress of physics has been held back by blindly accepting Einstein’s Relativity Theories.

I’m just mentioning one theory here. There are cosmologists who oppose the big bang theory. Sir Roger Penrose makes some strong arguments for the likely existence of a creator. Maybe these aren’t absolute evidence but then again no theory is but they are still concepts to be considered at least to some degree.

@toeverybodyelse There is no religious agenda here but hypothesis’ based upon investigation and not blind faith. I also didn’t know there were concepts that needed to be supported universally for one to be considered rational. I sense more propaganda forming here on this thread.

Rarebear's avatar

@Paradox How many experimental proofs of time dilation would you like us to list?

Paradox's avatar

@Rarebear This subject isn’t new to me for I’ve been reading books about General Relativity and Special Relativity for the last 10 years. I’m yet to see any hardcore proof of this. Yes where is this experimental proof you speak of?

Rarebear's avatar

How many experiments would you like me to list?

ETpro's avatar

@Paradox I fail to see how the Michelson-Morley experiments did anything to disprove time dilation. Their interferometer was meant to prove the effect of the aether on the speed of light. It failed. That failure actually gave additional credence to Einstein’s prediction that the speed of light was constant.

Paradox's avatar

@ETpro I have alot more information on this topic including many different books I’ve read. It looks like acceleration hasn’t been taken into account for affecting the time of the clocks used in the older experiments. The experiments where atomic clocks were used were not accurate either. Ironically the very guy who invented the atomic clock even criticised the experiments done in 1971! I have alot more information on this but here is just a very brief article by Dr. Essen (whose position at the time was actually threatened for making the very same statements criticising time dilation and other concepts and yes this is a fact) invented the atomic clock. I could post alot more information debunking this time dilation phenomena but I’m not going any further with it on this particular post for I’m getting off topic here. I have no problem with discussing certain topics in a respectful way (even when that person disagrees with me) but many on Fluther seem to already have their minds made up as well and like to resort to insulting, disrespecting other users and even name calling.

I’m trying to make a bigger point here and it’s not about General Relativity, Special Relativity, atomic clocks or God. When we start making decisions based upon cognitive dissonance then both sides of the spectrum (fringe vs mainstream) become battle grounds where nothing gets accomplished. I see alot of people being ridiculed for their beliefs on here unfairly. I actually agree with most of the posts on this thread. But what gives anyone the right on here to determine which viewpoint is irrational and which isn’t? Many fringe theories themselves were the results of investigation rather than trying to protect a certain agenda. Many fringe theories were accepted with time. Some older accepted theories were eventually discarded as well. We know more about physics now than we did 100 years ago. We don’t know as much about physics now as we will in 100 years in the future.

There is a big difference between considering somebody irrational and outright unfairly insulting people and I’ve been seeing this on alot of threads here lately. My mind is not anymore made up than rarebears, yours or anybody elses on here. I never said my mind was made up about time dilation or any other matter but when I see flaws I’m not going to blindly accept something as fact either. I used to be a diehard relativity supporter until I investigated further. I’m willing to change my mind when presented with enough evidence myself. Again I sense an ulterior motive here on this thread to blindly support specific propaganda. If challenging certain scientific theories makes me irrational when there are major holes in them then I reserve the right to call everybody else who disagrees with me the same. Doesn’t respect work both ways? Doing unto others as you would have them doing unto you? No I’m not getting religious here but this statement is still a standard we should all live by.

Paradox's avatar

@crisw Since this thread is specifically about what we should or shouldn’t be intolerant of which issues, theories, hypothesis, etc (out of curiousity) do you place under:

1. What will never or most likely never be explained/verified even in the future?
2. What could likely be explained/verified in the future that we don’t understand now at this time?
3. Which beliefs/hypothesis/theories are there mountains of evidence against?
4. Which beliefs/hypothesis/theories are there mountains of evidence for?

I just want to compare your responses to mine. You consider yourself a critical thinker and I also consider myself a critical thinker. I won’t bite or yell at you I promise. I will even give you some of my own opinions to your responses and why I think this way in detail. Believe it or not I’ll probally agree with you on some of these issues.

crazyivan's avatar

@Paradox The difference (as I see it) between your brand of critical thinking and crisw’s is that yours seems to move far afield from the scientific consensus and rests on a few dissenting voices. Of course, there are a few dissenting voices to everything in the universe so those can be used to justify anything.

Now, the question you’re asking is obviously unanswerable so I’m not sure what you’re trying to accomplish with the question. I can’t imagine that crisw has time to list every single scientific theory for which there are mountains of evidence for or against. When you move outside the scientific consensus you are on increasingly thin ground. Your “problems” with relativity and time dilation are pretty flimsy and suggest a lack of understanding of the theory. You’d also have to explain how so many predictions of the theory were later validated so it’s a pretty tough position to be in.

The fact that a theory “might” eventually be revised/abandoned is not a valid reason to abandon it before it is so revised or abandoned.

crisw's avatar


I agree with crazyivan, but I am interested in where you are going with this, so a few examples. I won’t be exhaustive as I don’t think that serves a huge purpose.

“1. What will never or most likely never be explained/verified even in the future?”

I think this is unanswerable. We can do things today that would never have been imagined 50 years ago. Therefore, I can’t state that anything will “never” be explained.

“2. What could likely be explained/verified in the future that we don’t understand now at this time?”

Abiogenesis is one thing. I also think we are going to see some huge strides in genomics in terms of individuals genetic predisposition to many things, and treatments based on individual genetic patterns.

“3. Which beliefs/hypothesis/theories are there mountains of evidence against?”

Young-earth creationism. Vaccines causing autism.

“4. Which beliefs/hypothesis/theories are there mountains of evidence for?”

The modern synthesis of evolution.

mattbrowne's avatar

One of the best examples in history about the damage of pseudoscience is this

Millions of people in the Soviet Union starved to death because of his nonsense.

The same could happen if creationism becomes pervasive in science curricula replacing real science.

Mendel was a monk and a scientist by the way.

We can accept each others beliefs, knowing they are beliefs and not facts. We can value myths and parables for what they are and what they might mean. When someone talks about pollution and tells you it’s the eleventh hour, will you check your wristwatch?

Rarebear's avatar

@cockswain Funny you should think that @iamthemob are debating, we’re not. We have in the past, and have both gotten pretty intense about it. But he (I’m assuming male but I could be wrong) and I are much more similar in our points of view than different.

crazyivan's avatar

@mattbrowne Right up there with your all-time best responses. Another great example is a survey (sorry, couldn’t find the link) that showed in 2008 that the majority of people in the UK thought that “alternative and complimentary” medicine was equally valid to traditional medicine. That trend could lead to innumerable deaths, not to mention a serious reduction of overall quality of life.

Paradox's avatar

@crisw Believe it or not I actually agree with your answers to my tricky question.

crisw's avatar


Thanks. I still want to hear about those double- and -triple-blinded experiments you claim scientists reject, though.

cockswain's avatar

@Rarebear I selected the wrong word when I said “debating.” Should have said “discussing.”

Qingu's avatar

@Summum, you asked, If you do have the answers then why do you constantly fight to show others you do?

There are several answers. The first should be obvious: truth is important. And while there is a whole lot we don’t know, there’s also an increasing body of stuff that we do. Truth is inherently valuable, and should shape our behavior.

Secondly, we also need to approach questions like “did aliens build the pyramids” logically, and that means looking at the evidence. It also means dismissing answers to this question that don’t have evidence.

And here is why this is important. Let’s say, instead of someone claiming “aliens built the pyramids,” someone claims “Summum is a child molester.” Now, both claims have no evidence to support them. In both cases, the truth matters for its own sake. But I also think it matters how we approach such questions. For example, if someone called you a child molester, without giving a shred of evidence, I would dismiss their claim out of hand. Because I don’t give weight to claims without evidence.

Anyone can make a claim; that doesn’t mean all claims deserve equal weight, or that there is no such thing as truth.

mattbrowne's avatar

@crazyivan – Yes, doubting modern medicine seems like a common phenomenon in all (developed) countries. A couple of years ago, in real life I met an anti-vaccine zealot and we had a debate. She wasn’t religious, but she still was a believer in absolute truth. Her truth. Based on three anecdotes. I wonder what makes pseudoscience so attractive to so many people?

CaptainHarley's avatar


It’s easier to understand.

mattbrowne's avatar

@CaptainHarley – Yes, maybe in this case. The heliocentric model supported by Copernicus is easier to understand than the flat Earth model implied in some mythology. Mars’s strange movements seemed like whimsical divine behavior.

CaptainHarley's avatar

LOL! True! : )

crazyivan's avatar

The allure of pseudoscience is a spectacular subject deserving of it’s own question, but from my experience it is about living in the world you want to live in. I had a good friend that was quite rational in most things but would take any nut-ball quack health supplement that came down the pipe. Through a number of discussions I came to understand that alternative medicine offered him a world where an herb for immortality might be just around the corner but with science-based medicine he saw only small incremental advances and the hope factor was diminished.

As nonsensical as that seems to me, I find it broadly applicable across the gamut of pseudoscience. Why believe in ghosts in the absence of evidence? Perhaps it makes your own mortality less intimidating. Why believe in UFOs in the absence of evidence? Because it’s more fun to live in a world where the aliens could be going public any minute now. Why believe in psychic phenomena in the absence of evidence? Because if I do then I get to think that someday I might unlock my own psychic powers.

Obviously some of it is just being misinformed and not understanding the scientific method. Some of it is being deceived from unscrupulous gurus. Some of it is the inevitable result of the Internet; a place where there is a wealth of information on any subject but there is no standard of evidence. That being said, an enormous amount of it comes from willful ignorance.

I suppose that the strongest example of this is probably crop-circles. I admire the “guerilla art” aspect of them but even more I enjoy the lunacy that keeps trying to tie them to aliens. The methods are known and demonstrated. Most of the really famous ones have even been identified by the makers. Anyone who wants it can watch video of how it’s done overnight. Every notion of strange magnetic fields and what not has been thoroughly debunked.

And yet, there remains a large contingent that rejects the demonstrated answer and still seeks something supernatural. They reject the official story, cherry pick a few circles whose creators are not yet known and call them the “real crop circles”. They hang out in echo-chambers and talk to one another while plugging their ears to the rest of the world.

I wonder how much of it simply comes from not knowing how to admit it when you’re wrong…

Summum's avatar

@crazyivan And how would you feel if you were standing on board a UFO and was able to see it touch it and observe it? Would that for you be enough evidence for you personal self? What would cause you to believe in such things without scientific evidence?

mattbrowne's avatar

Sometimes the allure of pseudoscience is similar to the allure of conspiracy theories. Life is boring for some people. So when they read snippets like “Moon landing was faked” or “Global warming is a hoax” they think, oh, wow, this is big. This sounds so exciting. Finally there’s something to end my boredom.

The solution to this problem:

We need to make science more emotional. We need 2000 new Carl Sagans. Perhaps we even need science to invent rituals. Recently I asked

How can we find remedies for the epidemic of anti-science syndrome?

Carolyn Porco who is a planetary scientist and adjunct professor at the University of Colorado and the University of Arizona made an interesting prediction based on an unorthodox proposal:

The confrontation between science and formal religion will come to an end when the role played by science in the lives of all people is the same played by religion today.

At the heart of every scientific inquiry is a deep spiritual quest – to grasp, to know, to feel connected through an understanding of the secrets of the natural world, to have a sense of one’s part in the greater whole.

Every culture has religion. It undoubtedly satisfies a manifest human need. But the same spiritual fulfillment and connection can be found in the revelations of science. From energy to matter, from fundamental particles to DNA, from microbes to Homo sapiens, from the singularity of the Big Bang to the immensity of the universe, ours is the greatest story ever told. We scientists have the drama, the plot, the icons, the spectacles, the ‘miracles’, the magnificence, and even the special effects. We inspire awe. We evoke wonder.

So what are we missing?


We lack ceremony. We lack ritual. We lack the initiation of baptism, the brotherhood of communal worship. See

Maybe such an approach will make pseudoscience and conspiracy theories less interesting.

iamthemob's avatar

I’d like to thank @Paradox because his (note – I resort to the masculine impersonal pronouns in a general manner that should not connote assumptions about gender) posts represent what I think is really good, clear critical thinking.

The problem with grouping anything under the term “pseudo science” is that, as I’ve stated here, it’s prejudicial, as opposed to critical thinking. It’s impossible to approach information presented by something you’ve categorized as pseudo science in a clear, critical manner. @Paradox‘s discussion of time dilation is the reverse – when something is generally accepted by the scientific community, there’s a tendency to dismiss criticism of it as uninformed. Now, time dilation has been observed within the past three months to affect even every day life – however, it’s interesting to think about alternatives not as better or equivalent alternative analyses, but as an exercise in ensuring you yourself are being sufficiently critical of current accepted ideas.

Science itself is subject to bias as well, as all scientists are people. Relativistic theories of gravity were criticized by incredibly intelligent people from the beginning – Nikola Tesla, for example, wrote an alternative theory of gravity and believed Eintein’s relativistic approach was fantasy wrapped up in very pretty and believable math. Conceiving of spacetime as something as actually warped, meaning to think of heavy object actually deforming spacetime as if they were heavy balls placed on a sheet, is a great way to show how it should look to explain how the math works. But considering our limited way of observing the universe, it’s not unreasonable to revisit it oneself because that’s just not how it really looks.

Further, acceptance of scientific information as factual is a task that requires, ironically, one to be either intellectually lazy or extremely intellectually diligent. As @Paradox points out, you can either accept a simple (and inevitably innacurate) basic explanation of a complex theory as fact – but that means, in essence, you’re just believing what they tell you. Unfortunately, that’s more like indoctrination than critical learning. Exploring it more deeply, however, means that you end up questioning parts of it as the explanation becomes increasingly complex. At this point, you cannot believe that the information is fact, but you can believe that what the community is telling you is more than likely right. It allows you to separate the good information from the bad to a point…but the lens is still slightly fuzzy. Only when you have a verifiable expertise in the field of the question at hand (using the example above again – unless you are a theoretical physicist), you can’t really believe the assertion are a fact – if you do, you’re being dishonest in my opinion.

I think this comes back to my original point – attempting to debunk a theory seems less productive than showing how one’s information is good in a clear, lay-manner. The distrust of modern medicine stems from the professional relationship between doctors and patients in so many ways. The more clinical the relationship becomes, the less incentive patients have to believe that their doctors any more than someone on the internet. Both sides contribute to the issue, of course – as an attorney, I’ve dealt with the same struggle. Having an expertise that requires clients put their trust in you makes you feel a duty to explain to them what’s going on. However, trying to go into to much detail often confuses and frustrates people, bringing on the inevitable “Just do it” demand.

Professionals and experts need to figure out how to clearly present the information, and repeat it as often as possible. Figuring out how to do so enables us to demand the same clarity from the other side, and ask everyone to do the same. Idealistic, I know…

Rarebear's avatar

@iamthemob Great answer, and I mostly agree. A tangential quibble, though. I don’t agree with this statement: “The more clinical the relationship becomes, the less incentive patients have to believe that their doctors any more than someone on the internet.” My comment is that it depends upon the patients. Some patients want the touchy-feely experiential relationship and some patients want “just the facts, man”. Everybody is different.

iamthemob's avatar

@Rarebear – A reasonable quibble – but I don’t know whether the fact that the experience patients want is causal of or resulting from the whole communication issue. It’s probably a bit of both, but there’s very little way to tell I think.

When I talk about “bedside manner,” though, it’s not necessarily the touchy-feely aspect of it. Regardless, nobody wants to be shuffled through as if they are on the product line, I think. There are “just the facts” people, but they still want to feel like people, and I think that the interaction between health insurance/big pharma/increasing medical specialization has made it less about treatment and more about “industry.” How big a contributor it all is to the communication/medical community criticism is again up for debate, but I think it’s something to consider.

So I think you’re right to make the distinction, but I think that they type of doctor-patient relationship is one where that all patients would want.

Rarebear's avatar

@iamthemob I agree with you, then. Back when I was still doing clinic (I gave it up to concentrate in the ICU), I was really fast, and I usually got out on time. But when I was in the room with a patient they had 100% of my attention. But I didn’t dilly-dally, which everybody appreciated. I have friends who are regularly running 2 hours late. They spent a lot more time with their patients, but they had to wait 2 hours to be seen.

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne Very profound statement. GA. I wish I could find a way to share the awe and wonder of cosmology, the study of the mind, evolution and so on with those who currently reject most of that in favor of less awe inspiring superstitions and myths with no evidentiary basis.

flutherother's avatar

@mattbrowne What is missing in science are final answers. Every question science answers leads on to new questions and this will always be the case. Science can also never provide an answer to a moral question, and if we think it can we are deluding ourselves. Who was it who said the sciences are pearls strung out along the cord of faith?

CaptainHarley's avatar

“Whut ah believe was good enuff for mah Pappy, ‘n by Gawd, it’s good enough for me too!” : )

Qingu's avatar

@flutherother, science doesn’t necessarily provide moral answers, but it certainly can frame the questions. Look at the moral question “is homosexuality morally okay?” According to everything we know about science, homosexuality is not a “choice,” is not a disease, does not lead to any harm among consenting adults. If you want to answer the question, you need to take these facts into consideration; I don’t really see how these facts can lead you to conclude “no.”

As far as religion providing moral answers: very often those answers are absolutely despicable. Let’s look at some of the moral answers in the Bible. What should be done about a newlywed who can’t prove her virginity on her wedding night? Stone her to death on her father’s doorstep (Deuteronomy 22). The Bible says it is morally permissable to buy slaves and pass them down to your kids (Leviticus 25:45). The Bible orders genocide (Dt. 13:12, 20:16, and all of Joshua).

Science may not provide a set of answers to moral questions, but it helps us find those answers for our selves. Religion, on the other hand, too often provides incorrect answers.

CaptainHarley's avatar


I beg to differ. Homosexuality is a normal human sexual variant, not a “disease.”

crazyivan's avatar

I think the argument that science can’t provide moral answers needs to be shelved until (a) it is proven to be true and (b) religion or philosophy do a better job at it. Moral answers can be arrived at through critical thinking, examination of evidence with unbiased credential and informed debate. That is, in essence, science. It’s also precisely how every civil culture in this world settles moral questions. We don’t go to court and cite bible verses, we go in and critically examine evidence.

I would say that religion/philosophy can’t provide moral answers because they’re answers rest on untestable claims. If the source can be nullified, the morality can be nullified. If a loophole can be found, the morality can be circumvented. When morality is achieved through logical means, the morality is not alterable. Nobody can absolve you from a sin if your judge is logic.

Qingu's avatar

@CaptainHarley, um, I don’t believe I said it was a disease?

flutherother's avatar

@Qingu Science doesn’t say that because something does no harm means it is morally okay. Only human beings can say that. Science only ever provides evidence and evidence itself is neutral. Religions do make moral statements which are a kind of moral consensus but individuals are free to accept or reject these moral values.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Hmm! I could have sworn… ! NVM! My apologies for misreading you.

iamthemob's avatar

I’m with @crazyivan on this one. When it comes to morality, it’s always dangerous to claim absolute answers about anything but the biggest issues. But most of us live with the small ones.

Faith does claim to give us absolute answers – but rarely do I believe in those except, again, on the biggest issues. For instance – killing is wrong. BUT, there are so many exceptions. So, the absolute answers give us very little workable guidelines.

Moral relativism isn’t what I’m talking about – what I’m talking about is the fact that we work towards better and better solutions for our moral questions, and science gives us significant ways to help us work towards those…whereas faith prevents us from asking the questions we really should be, much of the time.

(note – I like faith as a general concept. I don’t like it, however, in the manner most people put it to work).

Qingu's avatar

@flutherother, but science lays the guidelines for us deciding what’s right and wrong.

Religion doesn’t do jack shit. Religion is what ancient people thought was right and wrong, based on an outdated understanding of the world that has since been replaced and refined by science.

Paradox's avatar

@iamthemob You’re actually agreeing with me? No way, wait a minute I’m looking out my window and it’s snowing. (>:

I do get a kick out of people on here that claim I know very little about Special and General Relativity or even that I don’t know the difference between the two. Could it be that 90% of self described critical thinkers really have their own belief system? Some “critical thinkers” blindly take individuals such as Michael Shermer’s material in blind faith as well. Again those issues will be for another thread.

@ETpro I admit I screwed up when I mentioned the Michelson-Morley experiments. I tried to type too fast, had them two on my mind and got ahead of myself there.

iamthemob's avatar

Some “critical thinkers” blindly take individuals such as Michael Shermer’s material in blind faith as well.

Precisely on point, @Paradox. Your surprise at our agreement is, well, no objective surprise – but I bet you’ll find, upon review, that the times when it seems we’ve disagreed are times that you’ve actually more disagreed with yourself (e.g., times when a conclusion was predetermined and it appeared that you were looking for answers in line with that). Of course…I might not have been thinking critically.

I got into it on an evolution thread about this very sort of thing. Now, I’m completely on board with evolution as the best, and only real, scientific theory regarding the diversification of life on earth. However, I find it intellectually dishonest for scientists to discount alternative explanations as bunk without clearly defining in what way. Now, ID isn’t a scientific theory – it’s a critique of the problems that evolution has encountered and not fully explained, for the most part. Its own ability to explain those problems, though, isn’t subject to verification (they’re unfalsifiable). Therefore, it’s interesting to get people thinking outside the box, but not something that should be invested in in terms of research dollars. Further, it’s bunk as science and therefore should only be discussed seriously if we’re doing some other sort of reasoned analysis.

This is where the vehement critique from the scientific community (as the most generalized way of saying it) seems to run astray for me. Unless it is subject to the scientific method, an idea is described in an extremely negative light. Of course, the idea might in fact be right…but there may be no way of really testing it. Where it comes to teaching ID along with evolution I understand the vehemence. But I think that the criticism needs to be more clear.

Qingu's avatar

ID is also bunk as a critique of evolutionary theory’s problems, though.

The group selection/gene-centric controversy is a legitimate one. “The flagellate motor is too complex to evolve / DNA information must require magic to propogate” are not legitimate problems.

crisw's avatar


As that was the thread that brought me back to Fluther, I have to disagree. I think that all of your questions there were fairly addressed- and, in many cases, when you were asked some direct questions, you never answered them (for example, I asked several times “Do you have any specific. concrete example of an event or process that you think definitely cannot be explained by current theory?”). Then, you dropped out of the thread. I truly do not think that your criticisms are supported by that thread, which anyone is free to read.

iamthemob's avatar

@crisw -

There are a few issues that I will address again here, as those were the ones that frustrated me in that thread:

(1) You’re right that all of my questions were addressed in that thread as they related to evolution. However, my goal was not to explore the relevance of evolution, but to discuss the fact that there were relevant questions, raised by people who were actually concerned about ensuring they had a clear view about what evolution did or did not say, claim, or yet have clear proof for, that showed that some people referred to evolution as “just a theory” not because they did not support the theory, but rather as a response to vocal claims that evolution was a fact, and that when the scientific community insists that it is without depth, this has the potential of reinforcing it – as, emotionally, during that thread I was inclined less and less to listen to any evidence of evolution presented…and more and more to look into alternatives.

(2) My refusal to address your questions regarding whether I had any concrete evidence of events or processes contradicting the theory required me to take a stance against evolution as it has been partially disproven, which was something that I did and do not believe, as opposed to unproven, as aspects of it are, some by necessity at this point. Because it is something that must be theory to a certain extent, as opposed to other theories for which there is concrete observable evidence that we can mathematically and clearly use, without reasonable objection, to show how events occurred in the past (e.g., your questions regarding whether I questions continental drift, something that we can observe and extrapolate to show past behavior), there are enormous gaps in our knowledge – which require that we keep an open mind as to what can fill those gaps. Scientifically, of course, we cannot say that it’s “god” as that stops the inquiry, rather than continues it. Therefore, it was irrelevant to how I wanted to approach the thread, and it’s up to me the question I wanted to address, which was the one brought up by the OP, and not the one you wanted me to.

(3) You were brought back to fluther to address my questions by another user, along with another user, and there were two other users actively participating in either affirming all of “my” arguments (which were just example questions) or in directly attacking “my” arguments. I doubt I can be faulted in that situation for feeling as if I was, in essence, ganged up on…and for an argument that I repeatedly stated I was not trying to make. Therefore, I had several people demanding that I put forward arguments supporting a position that I was not taking, and against the position that was in fact the one I did support, but had not because I am not qualified to do so taken a stance on the correctness of. Therefore, I was backed into a corner about an issue that was irrelevant to how I was approaching the thread by now multiple people, who had been brought in for the specific purpose of undermining a claim that I was not making but that was being attributed to me.

Examples: in response to a user who started posting evidence in favor of evolution, I responded:

I thought we were explaining reasons why people claimed evolution was just a theory, not debating about whether it was valid. ;-) Although implied…my purpose of just showing that there were legitimate reasons to say why evolution was a theory and not a fact is a strong implication.

- in response to a statement that a person critical of evolution needed to prove their assertions, I stated that very few people really understand evolution (the whole “evolved from monkeys” thing gets me every time. I then stated:

Proponents of evolution are the ones, in this case, that need to demonstrate that the theory is a good one. He’s saying “I don’t believe it…prove it to me…” It is the evolutionists that really need to figure out the work is my argument. And if you’re saying it’s a fact and you can’t prove it 100%, then you’re going to confuse a person who doesn’t understand what you’re saying when you say “evolution” and doesn’t know what the scientific meaning, as opposed to general meaning, of “fact” is.

- in response to users ganging up on another claiming vague things as “overwhelming evidence” without examples, as well as stating the whole “fact” thing, I stated:

I don’t see any willful ignorance. I do, however, see arrogance. If there is an overwhelming mountain of evidence, please show it. If the fossil record mandates that this be the answer, show me it’s complete. If it’s not complete, show me how it could be fact. If it can’t be experimentally shown, how could it be fact?

I’m not saying it’s not reasonable myself…but you can’t take facts, and state “this is how evolution explains these facts” and say “therefore, these facts are evidence for evolution” – that’s so circular. I’m critiquing the style of argument still, not the theory of evolution. I am saying be specific, don’t be dismissive, and don’t say fact because if there are things that can’t be explained when you make that claim, and then you say “well, that’s by necessity as continental shifts over time” etc. sounds like a cop out, and then you lose people.

- in response to some good information as posted, the pattern seemed to be a whole bunch of bloggers, etc., saying “see why the creationists/ID supporters are stupid?”, so I stated:

Also, my severe problem with the argument is that it is posited as a “see why creationism/intelligent design is wrong” rather than “see how this proves our theory.”—-again…about the argument style, not the theory.

- in response to the statement that evolution is proven every time we look in the mirror, I got a little more vocal:

I have to do this – WHAT!?!? We see evolution by looking at ourselves in the mirror as proof?

That is the EXACT ARGUMENT used by creationists – that the fact that we’re here is the proof that our theory of how we’re here is correct!

PLEASE tell me you’re joking…—pretty clear

- in response to the assertion that scientists say evolution is the best theory therefore (essentially) we should believe it:

It doesn’t really matter if I think it’s the best option or not. Evolution is not the answer unless it is proven to be so. You’ve presented some good reasons in support of the theory, but if you have a particular expertise and you are asserting that evolution is the best explanation for genetic diversity then it is your job to present the evidence, not one piece at a time.

Should I be expected to accept the theory without a full explanation of it? Here, I’m arguing that it’s essential to critique statements that make a claim. We can believe that scientists are right, but if we accept it as fact without ensuring that we have the fullest explanation of it, we’re being intellectually lazy. Considering that the vast majority of people, and particularly of those in the creationist camp, are, sadly, intellectually lazy, it must be the job of the informed to guide them to the right answer…not insist that they give up ideas that they hold because those ideas are wrong. Essentially, and unfortunately, the informed have to bear the intellectual load for the uninformed.

- in response to a claim that if I was really so confused, I should look into it myself, I responded:

Really? And you wonder why people remain ignorant of the subject.

“Evolution is the best explanation for the origin of man.”

“Really? Why…?”

“You don’t know? It’s so obvious!”

“Not really.”

“Well, go figure it out for yourself.”

I’m amazed. It’s incredible that people who claim to have rational ideas about how the world works demand that people with alternative opinions or who haven’t committed explain their theories, stating “If you have an assertion, you have the burden of proving it” and then, when asked to prove their assertions, say “It’s not my job to prove it to you.”

This is exactly why people claim that evolution is just a theory. Everyone is ignorant about it, and those who apparently have some understanding of it don’t want to be bothered. Still arguing that the responsibility is on the informed.

All of the above was before you entered the thread… and your first statement upon entering was “I have not been here in over a year, but I’ll try and make a contribution to the thread. This first one will be short, as I have only a little time right now.” Then, you proceeded to argue against what I had posted regarding evolution – it seems clear, therefore, that your limited time and the reasons why you had been brought into the thread colored what you saw in my arguments.

Everyone can explore for themselves whatever else they want to in the thread, but I would suggest that you yourself read through the whole thing again, @crisw, as I believe the thread clearly illustrates the fact that I was discussing how we should approach these questions, what people might be thinking (including myself at the time, although I didn’t really doubt evolution except as a proven fact) and how people were approaching the argument in a way that actually closes people off to information, rather than opens them up to it. I think that my reaction, after repeatedly attempting to say that I wasn’t claiming anything against evolution as the best theory and being ignored, is a good example of how it can go wrong.

mattbrowne's avatar

@flutherother – I totally agree that science isn’t capable of giving final answers. Yes, every question science answers leads on to new questions and this will always be the case. Absolutely. This is why people are interested in subjects beyond science. But this doesn’t mean that we should overlook answers science can give us within its realm. These important answers do not reach a large number of our population and we should ask the question why this is so. Science can even prove why human emotions are so fundamental for the way we think. Science can also prove why initiation rituals and ceremonies are important. So it’s kind of ironic that science advocates and science communicators do not take this into account. It would be worth the effort. When we want to promote the understanding of evolution for example, we can either say ‘a universe with nothing but blind pitiless indifference’ or we can say ‘a universe bursting with evolutionary possibilities’. Imagine the difference this would make.

You also said that science can never provide an answer to moral questions.

I would argue that it can give valuable input. Pigs experience pain and fear for example. Mosquitoes don’t. Killing animals can be torture. Is it morally wrong to torture pigs before they die and we eat them? What about the killing of mosquitoes? Some even carry malaria.

flutherother's avatar

@mattbrowne I agree, we should never overlook or ignore the truths that science brings us, but we should also be aware that there are limits to science. Humans are more than just scientists. Even Albert Einstein, the most original scientific mind of his century, accepted that.

Through science we know that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes and of course this is vital information that should be communicated to people throughout the world but we shouldn’t imagine that science has told us that mosquitoes should be exterminated. Again I would agree that the transmission of malaria is not a fact that is in the mosquitoes favour but in the end it is a human judgement. Some people think that all life is sacred and shouldn’t be harmed and science doesn’t disagree with that.

ETpro's avatar

@Paradox No problem I too suffer from Type2 fastathinkithru syndrome.

@crisw & @iamthemob I knew this would happen here. :-)

iamthemob's avatar

@ETpro – it’s still under control. Let’s see how it rolls. ;-)

FutureMemory's avatar

Should we be tolerant of beliefs if they are demonstrably false?


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