There’s an interesting response to McGrath’s recent post. It traces one person’s evolution from a belief in creationism to belief in evolution — and, I think, ironically identifies something that went “wrong” in the process. No, of course I don’t think creationism is right and evolution wrong. So let me explain. First, here is the key part of the comment:
Maybe you had this experience too; but I remember reading a book arguing for creationism, it was well-written, finessed, and aid out all this data, had charts and figures, asked thoroughly compelling questions, and well, just seemed to reveal that the whole academy of science was just wrong- demonstrably wrong. Thankfully, through reading peer-reviewed, academic scientific studies I am no longer a creationist. I realized the lines they were given me were rhetorical, the gaping holes they pointed out that seemed just so persuasive and ground breaking were, once I became more scientifically literate, a chimera of rhetorical making. The questions they strung together just did not make sense once you realized the field,-and I noticed that I would need to read several books just to reveal a error in one dot in their whole join-the-dots technique spread across a chapter.
At the end of it I felt rather embarrassed that I listened to self-published, amateur scholarship, that I didn’t spot that despite the thousands of scientists there were in the world, it seemed to be only those with marginal nor tentative qualifications in the field though this was ground-breaking and became fawning enthusiastic devotees of pseudo-science.
That journey was a little different from mine and I am sure from many others who left creationism.
On my pathway there was a time when I was misguidedly looking for someone with a doctorate in psychology who also believed in a literal physical resurrection of Jesus. I think I must have been thinking that no-one so educated could possibly believe anything like that, and that this would somehow lend some weight to the case against the resurrection story in the Gospels. (As I said, it was a misguided quest.) When I mentioned this to someone (I think someone with a research doctorate in psychology) they asked me, “What would it prove if you did find one who did believe in the resurrection?” Of course, it would prove nothing.
I think that was one of a few stepping stones assisting me towards accepting responsibility for my own beliefs and thinking for myself.
I was a cataloguing librarian in an academic library at the time and encountered a regular stream of donated books about intelligent design. I enquired where they came from and discovered they were from a campus group that included a number of mathematics and (I think) science doctors. This was publicly funded university.
But there is one detail in which I do relate to in the above experience. Embarrassment. I know many of us have felt that over our past intellectual indiscretions.
There was a difference, though. What embarrassed me was that I could have been so screwed up in my thinking while being so sure I was right. I don’t know if it ever crossed my mind to think I was embarrassed over listening to “self-published” as opposed to “peer-reviewed” writings. What I was embarrassed over was my own inability to recognize the fallacies in my belief system.
I was determined to do all I could to avoid ever again falling in to that sort of self-deception, and one of the tools (there were/are a few) was endeavouring to become more conscious of basic logical fallacies. (Of course there is no guarantee for any of us against self-deception. How can there be? One always has to live with doubts.)
So I went over all the stuff I used to believe and tried to retrace my thinking about it and identify the fallacies that had blinded me. And I tried to be alert to all ideas with the same consciousness regardless of their source. After all, even politicians lie and people do tend to believe what is advantageous to them.
It was not a question of where ideas came from, but a question of the validity of the ideas themselves. And even in books that are very sound in every important way, one will sometimes encounter a claim that lacks substance or is logically flawed, or rests on foundations that are fine as far as they go but always open to revision.
It is easy to identify and see through the fallacies in the literature of alien abductionists and Atlantis believers. It is rewarding to read literature whose authors are also well aware of the fallacies and express information in a manner relatively short of them. There would be something seriously wrong if most of that did not come from the most educated people, and that, of course, means academics.
Where a piece of writing comes from, who publishes it, whether it is possessed by only one person in the entire world or has the backing of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, is entirely beside the point when it comes to its validity.
If it is logically flawed it is logically flawed. Occasionally in some disciplines (let’s pick one at random — say biblical studies) a practitioner comes along conceding the logical flaws at the heart of a particular inquiry (to pick one at random — let’s say historical Jesus studies). That, I admit, is a little reassuring to one who has found the very same flaws in his own reading of that topic’s publications. (I have not found cause for the same admissions from the few paleontologists whose works I have read. I have read a lot of history, and that is a mixed bag.
I can’t say I have managed to avoid fallacies or self-deception, but at least this way I like to think I have avoided the trap of arguing from authority or “consensus” (whatever that means).
It is great to keep meeting others — mostly online — who have enjoyed a similar liberating journey.
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