Reasonableness is vital.

There is much argument to be had on the issue of reasonableness. Extreme religionists will argue that faith in the revealed word is reasonable, and those of a secular bent will argue that it is not. In fact, let me rephrase that: religionists know that their position is inherently unreasonable. To take Christianity, faith is a virtue, and reasoning only brings sad pandas. There is no reasoning to be had here.

Take reasonableness in everyday life. There are all manner of polarising ideas about, each with their own proponents and detractors, regardless of the evidence. Global warming. Political left vs. right. Evolution by natural selection. Bible vs. Qu’ran.

I believe reasonableness has just about disappeared on the internet. Those with the greatest opinion will hold the greatest sway. Is it because they hold a firm position in which no greys are permissible? Or are the arguments so nuanced that nobody is willing to really learn bar the most engaged?

One example of this is the frequent incorrect definition of an atheist: that they are those who are angry at God and therefore reject him/her; or believing that an atheist does not believe in the existence of a supernatural deity full stop, regardless of proof.

This is a (deliberate?) misinterpretation of the facts. As an atheist, I will happily admit that should there be sufficient evidence, I will change my outlook based on it. A believer does not change their outlook regardless of the evidence. Furthermore – how am I to be angry at a God I don’t think exists, or at least has insufficient proof for it’s existence? It’s barmy.

So reasonableness is vital, especially when evaluating what appear to be extreme statements. Look at what the person is saying, and evaluate. Take your time. Don’t jerk your knee, and for goodness sake, look at your own beliefs in a reasonable light.

Perhaps you might learn a thing or two.




Reader Bias

As an internet-savvy fella I often find myself reading blogs, and having my opinions formed by them.

As I was reading through this article on the recent spat of religious/secularist rhetoric in the UK, I noticed that I had already formed a preconceived opinion. As a hopeful scientist, this wasn’t good. Not good at all. I found that whenever I read about Baroness Warsi, a voice in my head was going “boo, hiss”, and taking an intense dislike to the woman.

The article itself, written by Doug Saunders – which reminds me of Winnie the Pooh, incidentally –  is a relatively neutral article. He neatly describes the recent clash as that

In truth, no one is calling for a religious state or attacking faith. Rather, we are witnessing a showdown, across the West, between two competing definitions of “freedom of religion.” In one definition, the public sphere is a wide-open space: Citizens are free to try to impose religion, to invoke their gods in legislation, to wear whatever symbols they like. It’s a marketplace of beliefs, and may the strongest prevail.

In the other definition, that sphere is a neutral space: Religion is private and public places are unencumbered by competitions for divine supremacy. This definition recognizes that freedom of religion depends on a strongly defended freedom from religion. And freedom from religion is just as important for non-believers, who don’t want public life to be corrupted with spiritualism, as it is for devout believers, who don’t want their sacred beliefs to be sullied by the vicissitudes of politics.

It was a definition I’d never thought of before, especially given that secularists want the wall between church and state to remain standing (here in the UK and around the world, to paraphrase Nicholas Parsons); and the religious want their own religion to hold the greatest legislative sway. I may be generalizing a lot here, but I was still surprised. The “marketplace of religions” is reminiscent of the religions of America – where churches are businesses, and indeed is part of the reason why such an ostensibly secular country is so church-happy.

It’s my firm hope that the secularist idea wins out in this particular war for hearts & minds. It is rational and not discriminatory, but that’s a just part of why I hope this, and perhaps I will bore you in another blog to come about this.

Back to the original point – has anyone ever found themselves biased before even reading through an opinion piece? Is there an official term for it?

The Cognitive Dissonance of Parents

There is a line between fact and fiction, and part of the point of a reasonable upbringing is to learn how to differentiate between the two. So far so uncontroversial.

So when comes to a parent wishing to teach their child their values, you come to another fine line. It’s been mentioned by Crommunist that it’s an educational authority’s job to teach children facts and how to think for themselves, and a parent’s role is to teach them their values.

It’s an undeniable fact that a child will come to the realisation that theirs isn’t the only viewpoint in the world. How a child deals with this is, in my opinion, a result of how they have been raised. Strong cognitive dissonance can continue right into adulthood, sadly; and is strongly linked to wilful ignorance or an unwillingness to face the facts.

I used to be a (very weak) Anglican Christian, and part of why I was such a weak believer was due to my engagement and enthusiasm for science. At the risk of sounding anecdotal, a friend who attends the same church as I used to is an accomplished engineer working for an engineering firm in London. He has had, necessarily, an education in physical and mathematical sciences, where rigorous methods are used to work out the validity of hypotheses. Yet on being questioned as to why he knew the Bible outlined the one and only “true” faith, he simply answered “I just know”. This extends to an innate belief – seemingly held without basis – that he also knows that the Qu’ran is “false”. This wall of cognitive dissonance is the hardest to break down and requires an active engagement on the part of the person themselves; and is the reason why it is so very important that children are brought up to question what they are taught. It is only during the early years that any difference can be made, really.

So where is the dividing line between a parents desire to teach their child their beliefs, and teaching them that theirs isn’t the only one in the world? Should we intrude on a parent’s right to do that? I think that schools should teach children facts and how to deal with facts and fiction, and that should (but occasionally doesn’t) help them figure out if what their parents tell them is worth anything.

As I’m only just really starting out blogging, this post isn’t really about anything at all, merely an introductory dipping of toes into the bloggers’ stream in the hope that I can marshal these thoughts in my brain. Any comments or constructive criticism would be appreciated.