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01 March 2009

Three Simple Words (Pt. 1)

"Faith does not give you the answers; it just stops you asking the questions." - Frater Ravus

Quite often when having “discussions” with theists[i], I get the accusation that I “know it all”, or something to that effect. While I do admit to having a good education, and that I spend a great deal of time self educating myself on various subjects, I by no stretch of the imagination know it all. This claim by theists bothers me tremendously due to how disingenuous that claim is.

First of all, if my display of knowledge and intellectual curiosity makes them genuinely think that I know it all, then I feel sad for them and the ignorance that they live in. Not only for their lack of education, but lack of curiosity to actually go and find out things they may not know or understand. In this day and age, we have unprecedented access to information. Some of it good, a lot of it bad. However, being able to wade through all this information, and weigh its validity only helps to sharpen the mind, as well as expand your horizons. Something that is of great help in this is having a “Baloney Detection Kit” as Carl Sagan often referred to it as. The James Randi Educational Foundation also has a great exposé on the sort of Flim Flam that people get duped into believing. Finally, there is a great video for people who want to sharpen their thinking skills called “Here there be Dragons”. It’s free and educational. Instead of accusing me of knowing it all, how about actually taking the initiative to learn something?

Another thing that really bothers me about the claim that I supposedly know it all, is that the theist making that claim usually then proceeds to act humble and simple, as if to make me appear to be acting all superior to them. What makes this behaviour particularly disingenuous is that first of all I am not claiming any special knowledge that has been revealed to me. Also, the debate is generally about things that we don’t know the answer to, such as the origin of life, or even the origin of the universe. We have theories and ideas about these things, but in reality we don’t know, and perhaps won’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt. Yet, to the theist, some Bronze Age tales from primitive goat herders does provide them with those answers, even if those answers don’t make any sense and are just revealed truths through third hand sources. Apparently, to a theist, even a bad explanation is better than admitting that we don’t know the answer?

Hence why I really think that “I don’t know” are three incredibly powerful and liberating words. We can naturally follow it up with, “But this is what we think” about a subject. Or even go so far as to say, “I don’t know, but that’s a great thing to find out more about!” By claiming to have some sort of revealed TRUTH, the theist ceases at any line of questioning. They have the answer already, no need to actually check if it makes any sense. Whereas someone who displays any modicum of intellectual curiosity isn’t satisfied with nonsense and flim flam. By saying “I don’t know” you free yourself from dogmas and rigid beliefs that have only been drummed into you because it says so in the bible or whatever source you place your “faith” in. By saying “I don’t know” it should motivate you to find out what the real answer may be. And don’t be the kind of skeptical thinker that thinks dismissing anything you don’t agree with qualifies as skepticism, that’s just being dismissive and contrary. Instead, start off in a neutral stance, and see where the evidence leads you. Don’t confuse trust for faith either. Again, all things referenced in the Baloney Detection Kit and Here there be Dragons resources can help.

Many may argue that there is no harm in holding beliefs. To a certain extent, that is true, and I will not deny it. However, the lack of knowledge, combined with a willingness to accept whatever they are told, can lead to a great deal of harm. I also find it distasteful how many theists will pick and choose what they are willing to know, and again don’t apply any skeptical thought to the source. They already have the conclusion set out for them, and continue on forcing reality to meet that expectation. As such, they are defeating any natural skepticism that may be in their minds because they will never need to say “I don’t know” in response to hard questions. And since they think they have The TRUTH already, that basically leads them to never even consider three other powerful words, “I was wrong.”

[i] When I say “theists” I am generally describing the fundamentalist or evangelical christian mindset. They are the worst offenders in this type of thinking; however they are not the only ones, so I expanded the word I used.


Buffy said...

I detest the way so many theists consider "I don't know" to be akin to admitting you're somehow lacking. They prefer the abject ignorance of saying "goddidit" to anything and everything, as if they *know* this to be true, even if this means never truly discovering the answers. The beauty of science is that one is happy to say "I don't know", which is typically followed by "let's find out".

Larian LeQuella said...

Exactly Buffy! Thanks for the comment. Heck of a blog you have going over at your site as well. Best of luck to you.