My Belief Matters as Much as Your Fact

My parents have a somewhat ornate clock hanging in the wall in their dining area whose battery died years ago. While they never, ahem, found the time to get it repaired, they like the look of the clock too much to take it down. So, there it looms over every meal: 8:07.

It became something of a joke in the house that if anyone asked what time it was within eyeline of the clock to glance for a moment and reply, “8:07.” Occasionally life would prove a little more amusing and it would be approximately 8:07 when someone asked and we could all share a laugh about the clock being correct for once.

Therein one finds the truth about logic – a human could regard that clock at, say, 8:09 and conclude, “The clock is working,” with no other evidence. That is a fallible human being relying on their powers of perception. The truth of the situation is that the clock is broken and chance alone accounts for its accuracy.

I have seen too many episodes of the Carbonaro Effect and too many performances by Criss Angel to trust human beings’ powers of perception for how we relate to the world. Our senses, everybody, are far too easily deceived.

Enter two important parts of humanity’s arsenal: logic and science. Logic is the process of inferring validity through a reasoning process to ascertain the validity of a conclusion. Something even the “**** your feelings” crowd understands well is that reality does not care one jot about perception, so we require a process to carry validity for us.

Science is the second part of that equation. The scientific method is the science of logic. Some people seem to view science as a theology or belief system itself, an alternative religion to Christianity or Buddhism. Science, at least as it relates to the conclusions, is something of a belief system and requires at least some degree of faith in its design.

That is the beauty of science though. One should find faith in its design easy to come by because it has but one purpose: to remove the human element of perception. Yes, science relies entirely on human perception to progress, but it’s a perception put through a rigorous vetting process to remove bias.

Science has two fatal flaws: poorly designed experiments and blind spots in human understanding.

Even scientists will admit to these flaws. There is no secret that science has introduced, modified, and even reversed positions through the generations, and that has proved enough for some humans to doubt the process. Why should science be so elitist, casting aspersions on other belief systems when science itself has been wrong so many times?

The answer is the clock.

Yes, belief systems may be right to varying degrees. Let us pretend that the Bible is 100% accurate (it’s not). Science as a process will eventually get to that conclusion, but, and this is the important bit, only when it can state to a maximum degree of human certainty that the validity follows. A human today can say that the Bible is 100% accurate, but there is no reason to believe that beyond that person’s faith.

That faith is fine. I admire that faith even if I do not share it (I have written before that I consider myself an agnostic rather than an atheist to leave room for the possibility that science might one day draw the same conclusion). One cannot impose that faith on others. It has no basis in reality because it has no proof. It is, at the end of the day, the work of men and I have seen men lose their mind because they thought the elephant actually disappeared.

The point is that belief might be correct in the end, just as it will be 8:07 at some point. That does not make the clock accurate, and one should not trust in its ability to provide the time.

Science, while still imperfect, will provide the best explanation for a thing that is humanly possible at that time. New evidence and challenges to the thought will revise those positions over time – no one will deny that. The difference is the introduction of new evidence or shining light on a previous blind spot to reframe the context of the experiment. That is why a massive part of the scientific process is peer review and replication (and why finding the 3 scientists that disagree with the other 97 is not the silver bullet defence of a belief that some people suppose it is).

While everyone may have their beliefs and opinions, we also need a shared sense of reality. The scientific method is what provides that for us in any given area. People dedicate their lives to the study of a particular topic, experimenting, reviewing, and replicating until we arrive at an understanding of the subject that we cannot refute (if you step off a building, you will fall – no amount of personal belief will suspend the physics of gravity).

When COVID began, I could believe that a low sugar diet mitigated its severity. Heck, I might even observe that people with low sugar diets were not catching COVID or that the ones who did had mild symptoms. That’s a belief. That is not science. I cannot just begin asserting to everyone that a low sugar diet is the solution. That is a belief, and that is me pushing me belief on others.

If science, on the other hand, begins the process of analysing the virus and discovers a vulnerability related to how it uses sugar, scientists might then establish an experiment where they test sugar levels with the virus. They might find that indeed depriving the virus of sugar mitigates its severity. That process would involve a large enough sample size controlling for other variables so that the only reasonably conclusion is the link between sugar and the virus (correlation does not mean causation).

Even in this case, where science might take months to reach a conclusion I had instinctually, that does not make my belief valid at the time I had it. There was nothing to support it beyond perhaps a highly suspect human perception of causation.

It reminds me of all the times people point to maps of some nonsense and claim it’s responsible for some human ailment because it correlates with population density maps (remember when people thought 5G towers caused COVID?). That is an honest but flawed human perception. The maps do seem to indicate a correlation between the two things but they ignore the reality: the two things do not have a causation between them. COVID correlates with population density because the virus needs hosts to spread and greater population density means more hosts. We build more 5G towers where more people live because those areas require a greater volume of the service.

Belief is the fragile sort of thing that leads humanity to hear something like, “5G causes COVID” and think it’s true. Science is supposed to be the thing that bails out humanity be submitting the idea to rigorous testing, proving that no such causation exists, and setting us back on the right course.

But we live in a world where that person’s belief matters as much as that person’s fact. The idea that two sets of facts could even exist is one of the most indictable things about humanity.

A person may believe whatever they want, but when presented with evidence that shows, “Your perception was fine, but your reasoning was not,” we need the wisdom, patience, and integrity to revise those beliefs.

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