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Am I Deluded?

Entry 1360, on 2012-02-15 at 15:55:55 (Rating 3, Skepticism)

Occasionally I write a blog entry examining my own beliefs and opinions and you, the reader, might be excused for wondering whether I have some sort of insecurity regarding these subjects. If I was confident my worldview and conclusions on different subjects were genuinely realistic then why would I need to question them periodically?

It's a good question but I would say that it is only people who do continually question their own beliefs who can maintain a genuinely realistic view of the world because otherwise they would be no better than the people they criticise. So in some ways it is the people who are most doubtful who are the most likely to be correct, an odd situation but one which makes sense when you think about it.

I listen to and read a lot of skeptical material every week and the thing that I consistently notice is the certainty the opponents of rationality have that their view is correct. By "opponents of rationality" here I mean people like religious and political conservatives, libertarians, and science deniers.

I'm not saying I disagree with everything these groups believe (especially the libertarians who I do share some beliefs with) but in general I would find myself disagreeing more than agreeing.

So let's get down to the specific issues where I should be continually reconsidering my position.

First on the list is the easy stuff. The areas where non-rational beliefs, such as religion, disagree with science, the most obvious example being evolution. I admit that science can be wrong and I make sure I catch up with all the latest news on the subject of evolution. But I often wonder whether I need to because evolution is rock solid. There is no real doubt about it and it would be totally astonishing if we ever had any real reason to doubt it. Still, that's probably the way fundamentalists feel about creation - and they're wrong - so I continue to look.

Next is the stuff which is fairly certain but still far from settled regarding the details. The most obvious example here is global warming. I think that most of the doubters now agree that the world is warming but the denial has now shifted to the cause of that phenomenon. And that is genuinely difficult to establish with any certainty. But the only new evidence doubting the consensus involves the details rather than the basics, so I think it is still safe to strongly support the reality of anthropogenic global warming while still remaining open to new evidence.

Continuing on the spectrum of doubt we come to historical (or allegedly historical) events. The classic example here is the existence of Jesus. I have said in the past that I doubt whether he existed at all but I am swinging more to the opinion that a person (or several people) existed which the stories are based on. I see no reason to take the supernatural stories: the star, resurrection, etc, seriously though, so the opinion that the Jesus of the Bible didn't exist is still quite realistic.

Finally there is the stuff, mostly political, which I am most unsure about. I am fairly well to the left politically but I agree that it is difficult to really evaluate the relative merits of various political ideologies. It's more important to look at each issue on its merits and respond based on what makes sense rather than applying a standard political response. So I usually disagree with my political opposition because they usually do follow a standard ideology.

For example I completely reject the idea that privatisation, austerity measures, globalisation, etc are the best answers to our political problems. In some cases they might be, but I see no evidence that the right are carefully considering individual cases before they apply these measures. Instead they simply prescribe them no matter what the problem might be.

So it seems to me that when my opponents say that my arguments are no better than theirs, just different, they are wrong. My arguments are better than theirs because I constantly apply skeptical methodology to them, just like I apply it to my opponents. And the argument that skeptical methodology is no better than whatever methodology they use (such as faith) is just untrue. Sure, you can argue that using a particular methodology to justify that same methodology is a circular argument but I think reverting to common sense can circumvent that criticism.

It's just intrinsically more sensible to believe the results of objective tests rather than accepting things on faith. It's more sensible to accept the opinion of experts rather than individuals who have no experience in the area under discussion. And it's better to question everything, especially the things you desperately want to be true.

If I am deluded I would never be able to appreciate that fact. That's part of the process of delusion. But at least I am aware of the standard mechanisms of delusion (believing in conspiracy theories, accepting what's in a old book before what's in a scientific paper, giving a preferred myth a "free pass" while applying harsh criticism to the similar beliefs of others, etc) so I hope I have at least minimised that possibility!

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Comment 1 (4547) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-20 at 20:30:15:

No, you are not deluded. If you didn’t act this way, you’d be the exhibiting the Dunning–Kruger effect.

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Comment 2 (4549) by OJB on 2016-10-20 at 20:40:25:

Thanks for the reassurance that I am not just fooling myself. I see a lot of the Dunning–Kruger Effect in various aspects of my life and I'm fairly determined not to be a victim of it myself!

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