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Entry 1414, on 2012-07-18 at 21:31:00 (Rating 3, Skepticism)

We can never know anything for certain so no controversy can ever be fully resolved. If someone wishes to take a particular view on a subject they will always be able to find some way to support their opinion or, more likely, cast doubt (deserved or otherwise) on the opinion of their opponents.

But no one really lives in a way that reflects this uncertainty. Everyone has a working hypothesis which they think reflects reality. For example, people work on the assumption that the sun will rise tomorrow because they plan their day based on that. And they work on the assumption that gravity won't do anything strange: for example, they would never jump off a tall building just because they think there's a chance that gravity will have reversed its action.

So whatever they tell you, and however open-minded someone wants to be, people do make assumptions and they do reject hypotheses which have an extremely low chance of being correct.

What I'm saying is that various groups in society who reject well accepted ideas just because there's a small theoretical chance they are incorrect are being dishonest. There's a small chance that the theory of gravity is wrong but they still wouldn't jump off that tall building, would they?

So now I am finally getting to the subject of this post. We should be careful of controversies which don't really exist. There are several areas where these manufactured controversies, or "manufactroversies", exist. Some of the more conspicuous would be in the topic areas of evolution, global warming, the reality of religious beliefs, and various alternative medical beliefs.

Creationists are the master of this phenomenon, of course, and have been using the technique for many years. The catch-phrase of many creationist groups, when they work against evolution being taught in science, is "teach the controversy". But to use this phrase there must be a controversy and in reality there isn't. What they should be saying is "teach the manufactroversy" but that doesn't sounds so good and people would also quite rightly ask why.

Why should we teach something which has a practically zero chance of being true? Why should we teach that there is genuine debate about the reality of evolution in science when there is no debate? As I said above, there is always a fantastically small chance that evolution isn't true at all, and there is a slightly greater one that major details of the process are badly misunderstood but, just like the idea that gravity might reverse itself, we really should work on the idea that evolution is real.

What about the other manufactroversies I mentioned above? A very similar conclusion can be reached regarding them. There is almost no real debate amongst climate scientists that global warming is real. There is no serious suggestion from rational experts that any of the world's major religions are literally true. And there is no serious debate amongst medical experts that most quack medical beliefs make no sense. For example, the alleged debate that vaccines cause autism has been rejected, and most sensible people have moved on.

I myself am undoubtedly an argumentative person and I don't believe anything unless there is good reason to. I doubt a lot of what I hear from politicians and economists for example. I doubt the accuracy of a lot of what I see in the news media and in advertising. And I am even skeptical of the opinions of many experts.

But I am not doubtful of well-established ideas which I have researched through multiple sources. I accept that the science I have mentioned above could be wrong in some way but it's unrealistic to think it is and it's even counterproductive to even think of a controversy really existing. Manufactroversies are just a waste of time which would be better spent on the genuinely controversial topics.


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