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Christopher "Tanoro" Gray is a web programmer and science advocate especially concerned with resource management technologies, biology, and artificial intelligence. He is a student of epistemology and philosophy as well as an Atheist competent in Christian theology.
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Questioning Beliefs
Posted by: Tanoro - Aug 31, 2011 3:27PM

My last blog concerning my encounter with a creationist in my family and my slight rant against anti-intellectuals brought about some questions that I'd be happy to answer.

Question #1: Is it appropriate to question a person's beliefs?

That depends on the presentation. Generally speaking, it is not appropriate to engage someone else for the purpose of questioning their beliefs. This is considered rude and you'll probably only alienate them. However, if you are on the receiving end of someone's proselytization, you should be expected to meet it with questions. Let me make that more clear. If someone says to you, "This is what I believe," you can either agree or shrug it off and you're within your right to do so. However, if someone makes any kind of call to action, statement, or implication that you should believe as they do, you are completely justified to question them.

Question #2: If someone takes offense by my questioning their proselytization, am I responsible?

If they initiate the discussion with you, they make a claim that you should replace your belief with theirs, you respond tactfully with questions and skepticism, and they choose to take offense anyway, then it is entirely their own fault. They are dishonestly attempting to use an emotional appeal to make you feel as though you did something wrong when you didn't and therefore owe them the favor of believing their claim. It is an attempt to get you to suspend your critical thinking, which should ring alarm bells for any rational person. Regardless of whether or not they choose to take offense, their claim isn't automatically true. This is why it is important to remain calm and express your scrutiny as tactfully as possible. If your delivery is tactful, their only objection left is that you dared to question their claim in the first place, which places them firmly in the realms of dishonesty and you're not responsible for that.

Question #3: Should I question everything people say?

You should only question positive claims that are important to you and ring untrue based on the information you currently possess. It is entirely within your right to decide what is important and what is not. You should, most especially, question claims that are attached to calls to action or suggestions to ammend your beliefs.

Question #4: Wouldn't it be easier to get along with people if I just ignore claimants who proselytize things with which I don't agree?

You can and it certainly is less confrontational, but I find it incredibly uncourteous and arrogant. The claimant is taking the time to offer you what they consider to be valuable information. If it appears incorrect to you, it's honestly possible you are wrong. The only way to determine who is correct and who is not is to sit down and have a dialogue with the claimant. Compare your mutual understandings honestly and attempt to reach an understanding. They may convince you or you may convince them.

As I pointed out in my previous blog, anti-intellectuals tend to prefer arrogantly snubbing claimants with which they don't agree rather than attempting to reach an understanding. They don't care how rude ignoring the claimant is. They don't care how valuable the information being provided might be. They don't care if the claimant with bad information promotes it to others, leading to a massive outbreak of misinformation which could have negative effects on society as a whole. Worse than that, they don't care if they themselves might be participating in such an outbreak of ignorance where a claimant with good information just might correct that for them. The bottom line is they don't want to risk being proven wrong, because the embarassment of being wrong is greater than the benefit of being raised to a higher level of awareness.

On a wholistic scale, this mindset contributes not to a society where we actually get along, but rather a society where we simply try to not get in each other's way. This is not a cooperative mindset. It's a mindset aimed at minimizing the inconveniences of one's personal confrontations at the expense of having a truly cooperative society where we all attempt to communicate and understand one another. People who adopt this mindset couldn't have it more backwards. It's a wholy dishonest position from start to finish.

This blog is an editorial and contains only the opinions of the author. The author claims no expertise on most topics of discussion and this blog is not to be cited as an alternative for properly vetted journalism or scientific sources.

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