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The Big Picture

Entry 811, on 2008-07-09 at 21:41:45 (Rating 4, Skepticism)

Since I started writing this blog (800 entries and still going) I have used the phrase "the big picture" 16 times. I usually use it in conjunction with people who have a narrow focus on an issue being discussed. The narrow focus usually exists because the person is only prepared to accept information and evidence supporting one aspect of a debate - in other words they have already decided what they want the answer to be before they start looking at the evidence.

I know that we are all guilty of this to some extent but some people seem to take it to ridiculous extremes and end up believing the most ridiculous nonsense as a result. Of course, the most egregious example are the creationists, but there are plenty of others as well: global warming deniers, UFO believers, supporters of psychics and other paranormal beliefs, etc.

I am writing this as a result of an email exchange I had this morning with a creationist. Yesterday he asked me if the following quote is accurate: "evolution requires intermediate forms between species and palaeontology does not provide them". This was from a geology professor who is accepted as a real scientist. I replied "yes" but never heard anything more.

Today I emailed the person back and provided the rest of the quote which changes the intended meaning quite significantly. Here's the rest of the quote: "The gaps must therefore be a contingent feature of the record." So he wasn't saying evolution is untrue at all, he was saying that, because evolution is true, the gaps must be an inherent part of the record.

The creationists who publicised the original quote must have known this yet they still publicised only the part of the complete quote which suited their purposes. So what was that purpose? Obviously it was to deceive their followers, in other words to lie to them.

I rarely accuse anyone of lying but creationists must be the most dishonest group I have ever encountered - even worse than politicians! On the other hand, they are providing a service their followers want. Creationists want to be deceived because they have decided what the truth is and must then go in search of supporting evidence. I'm not sure why - aren't they supposed to value faith?

There is no supporting evidence in the real world so they resort to the delusional world of creationism. As I said, it makes them happy so I guess the creationist information sources are just catering to a demand.

Today the same person referred me to an interview with an Australian academic who was criticising the scientific consensus that anthropogenic global warming is real. That criticism is realistic and fair, but the vast majority of experts still think the effect is real. It may turn out they are wrong but we should plan based on the consensus amongst experts, not what a few detractors say. Even if it turns out humans aren't causing warming through carbon emissions reducing our dependence on fossil fuels would not be a bad thing.

Yes, I agree the IPCC could be wrong. And yes, its possible that creationists are right! Its also possible UFO believers, alien abductees, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, believers in Zeus, people who have talked to fairies, Santa Claus, and a billion other things could be right.

We must look at the big picture and make a decision based on the best evidence after looking at every side of the argument. Then I would assign a percentage chance of something being correct. For global warming I would say that chance is about 90% for evolution I would say about 99.9% for literal Biblical creationism I would say there's about a 0.01% chance of it being true.

Show me the evidence and those odds might change but I will always look at the evidence on both sides: some will increase the odds, some will decrease them, but the key is to look at the pluses and minuses, in other words the big picture!

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Comment 1 (1497) by SBFL on 2008-07-16 at 23:24:01:

OJB said: "I usually use it in conjunction with people who have a narrow focus on an issue being discussed. The narrow focus usually exists..."

I love it how you describe others as being narrow yet do NOT see yourself being narrow in your own right. Good stuff.

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