Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Arthur Answers, Part 6 – On the other side

This is the penultimate post in this “Ask Arthur” series, and this post is about questions relating to ideological differences, and dealing with them. It’s a vexed subject, since it gets to the very heart of why it’s so hard to find common ground.

First up, Roger Green asked on Facebook:

“What do some smart (IQ) people have such stupid ideas, such as creationism?”

Man, I wish I knew! There are many theories and explanations for how it can be true that, basically, people who are smart enough to know better say or believe things that simply aren’t true. Here’s why I think they do it.

In some cases, it has to do mainly with ideology, either political or religious. They can’t accept something as being true because their politics denies it or their religion preaches against it. This is, of course, cognitive dissonance, which is basically a coping mechanism, a way of reconciling contradictory beliefs. In such situations, some people will pick their belief structure over reality and spout all sorts of nonsense.

The people whose cognitive dissonance leads them to bizarre justifications based on falsehoods tend to be sincere: Generally speaking, they really believe that they’re the true and honest ones, and those on the side of the evidence are all deluded, lying, or corrupt (or a combination). Sincere people may, over time, be reasoned with, though actual change requires them to first open up their minds to the possibility that they may be wrong, and that can be a huge hurdle.

The other kind of person espousing “stupid ideas” is pretty despicable: They do it for personal gain. Such people are usually politicians or preachers, but there have been other people who clearly know better but still sell absolute nonsense (like doctors on TV chat shows). Politicians may say utterly asinine things (like against LGBT people, or Black people, or women) not because they believe it, but because they see it as a way to gain and hold onto power. Some preachers, especially on TV, will similarly promote utter nonsense as a way to gain donations. Personally, I have contempt for such people.

Which brings me to a related question from Roger:

“And from Jaquandor to me: In this age of increasing partisan division, I am finding it harder and harder to even empathize with the “other side” (in my case, the political right in this country). I used to at least understand how they arrived at their worldview, if not share it, but now I increasingly can’t fathom how or why they would look at the world that way at all. Does this make sense to you, and if so, what can be done about it?”

I used to be a Republican, so for many years I understood how Republicans came to their ideological positions, even though I didn’t share them. But that hasn’t been true for 20 years—the change started with the gaggle of far right extremists that Ronald Reagan’s 1980 landside bought to the US Congress.

I actually do understand why so many people come up with a worldview I don’t even remotely share. For example, I can understand (yet despise) why politicians, Republicans in particular, pander to their most ardent base; their worldview is based on what will get them votes/campaign contributions, and they’ll change as soon as their base changes.

Among ordinary people, there are a large number who are just completely uninformed, and a large number who are badly informed. They’re actually quite different.

The completely uninformed are the sorts who never watch the news, or hear it on radio, never pick up a newspaper, and they may not even vote. They’re disengaged, detached, and form their opinions primarily on what other people talk about. Sometimes they defer to someone else—an opinionated co-worker, a preacher, a partner, parent, or a friend. For such people, the quality of information depends entirely on how well informed the people they listen to are, since they don’t seek out other views or information. To be brutally honest, I don’t get very upset at the idea of such people not voting.

What we have nowadays, though, are people with access to ever more diverse sources of information and opinion, yet they end up badly or narrowly informed. I’m in the camp that believes that the great variety of news, views and information on the Internet has resulted in the narrowing of perspectives because people tend to focus in on what reinforces their existing belief structures. In a way, this is no different than the old days when people read one newspaper and watched one TV news and listened to one radio station: For such people, their information was similarly narrow.

What HAS changed is the hyper-partisanship that exists now—not always in the literal sense of reinforcing one particular political party, but more in the sense of general political orientation: Left v. Right. In such a dynamic, even people who are familiar with a wide range of topics can still be badly informed, and have a shallow worldview because their sources of information are so narrow.

I’m extremely pessimistic about this, because I can’t see a way forward. The mainstream news media is, more often than not, shallow and doesn’t challenge the folks in power or the assumptions they promote. The interests of the oligarchs, plutocrats, and corporations are promoted, while at the same time, dissenting views aren’t given a fair hearing. How can anyone see a different way of doing things when they don’t even know there IS a different way?!

Roger answered the question on his blog, and his answer is somewhat different from mine, even though we had some common themes. That’s not uncommon, actually.

The next post in this series will be the final, and it promises to be eclectic.


DaChieftain said...

On the "creationism" front, I'd like to offer an answer. I believe in creationism because I do not believe it is at all contradictory to science, or to the theory of evolution.

Science in general, and Evolution in specific, seek to answer a fairly important question: "How did all of this come to be?"

The answers that Science and Evolution arrive at aren't complete or perfect, but they are pretty good guesses -- and are being constantly refined. And, over time, we come closer to answering this "How?" question.

Creationism isn't really interested in solving the "How?" question. It answers a different question instead: "Why did all of this come to be?" And it provides its own answer: because God wanted it that way.

The "How?" question and the "Why?" question are not mutually-exclusive. They are two very different questions, with two very different, non-mutually-exclusive suites of answers.

This is basic set theory.

I happen to believe God used the methods described by Science and Evolution to give effect to His creation, in a manner similar to the one described by those who believe in Intelligent Design.

Therefore it is a pointless argument, trying to disprove Science/Evolution with Creationism, and it is a pointless argument, trying to disprove Creationism with Science/Evolution. I believe there is a God, and that He uses Science and Evolution to carry out His creation, on an ongoing basis.

(I also believe He exists in the 4+ Dimension, which means he is not constrained by Time. I believe that concept is mathematically sound -- in fact, it is the only way His Eternal Nature can be adequately explained, and it is the only way Immortality can be adequately explained, and it is the only way the concept of Prophecy can be adequately explained. All of these concepts would require a Being that could move freely thru time. This cannot happen within the confines of 3 Dimensions (which we exist in). However, this can easily happen in the 4+ Dimensions -- in fact, they happen by definition.)

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

When I was a Christian, I believed the same as you do, so I have no trouble at all seeing how what you're saying works in people's lives. I no longer share that view, of course, but I certainly do understand it.

You're right that science doesn't seek to answer the "why" in philosophical terms, because that's not its role. However, it can answer the "why" in terms of one process leads to another that leads to another and so on. You (and other believers) may see that more as a "how" explanation.

Science doesn't try to "disprove" Creationism, although presenting the scientific evidence is seen that way by some of the more ardent religionists, of course. Instead, Science says, "this is what the evidence shows; if you have contradictory evidence, then by all means, share it so it can be tested."

I can't comment on all the dimensional stuff, because I'm simply not well-versed in the scientific side of that. BUT, I think you should find a way to expand on that, because, as you know, I'm curious about pretty much everything!

AmeriNZ's Sis said...

I remember going down a long highway on one of our family vacations and trying to understand how God could have no beginning. The more I thought about it, the more dizzy I became. Luckily, I was just a kid sitting in the back of our wagon and wasn't the driver behind the wheel!! I guess I never will understand it...at least not in this life.
I also don't know where Heaven is although of this I am certain. There is a place, possibly in another dimension as DaChieftain suggests, where God does exist AND you can feel his all encompassing love. I know this to be true. And I agree, He can move freely through time.
As far as creation goes, God sure has a wonderful imagination!!! One only has to look at nature to see that. I know it's not scientific, but rather my opinion, but I believe that God is the creator of all life. I know of no human who has ever really created anything. The word create is used loosely, but nothing "new" is made. Man has only manipulated what already exists by joining, separating or doing whatever to display what he calls his creation or invention. Nobody can make something out of nothing. Except God, of course.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Obviously, probably, I don't believe in things for which there is no verifiable evidence, including the existence of a god or many gods. However, I never say a thing (like a god or gods) doesn't exist, or that it can't exist, just that for me to accept that such a thing exists, there has has to be evidence that can be verified.

For me, everything that happens in the universe happens by chance in accordance with the laws of nature, no divine entity or entities required. For me, personally, this does a far better job of explaining things than religion does or can.

Personally, I don't believe in a heaven or an afterlife, except in the sense of physics: Our atoms are returned to the universe, where they came from in the first place, to be recycled and reused endlessly. I'm not sure if other dimensions exist, though, logically, I can imagine how they might. But whether they do or not, I'm personally confident that they, too, have nothing to do with any god or gods.

The "something out of nothing" thing is actually a frequent line of attack from Creationists, and the experts in refuting them have explained it far better than I ever could. But the gist is that something can be created out of nothing, though whether a human can do it is probably more a matter of semantics or even philosophy than it is of science.

You may have noticed that I often used the qualifier "personally". That because the only thing about this subject that does matter, I think, is that everyone keeps in their minds the possibility that they may be wrong. I know many religionists, particularly fundamentalists, have some trouble doing that, as do some atheists. Neither of which is my problem or concern.

What I think that religionists sometimes don't fully appreciate is that believers and non-believers have one massive thing in common: We're all seekers of the truth. Sure, we have different ways of getting there, and we won't see eye-to-eye on much, but, well, what fun would it be if we did?!