Beware: rambling blog post follows. I may tidy it up later – I’ve been studying protein fractionations and fragmentation over the past few days and I fear my mind has been overly influenced and followed in the way of the proteins.
There is little that’s really important or profound that is obviously true.
Some things that seem obviously true to a particular group of people are so only when certain guiding assumptions are accepted, and it’s been studied a fair amount or the believer hasn’t been seriously exposed to alternatives. A good example is the modern theory of biological evolution. I don’t in fact think it’s anywhere near obviously true, though a lot of it is very well supported with evidence, but I can see why a lot of people do take it as near axiomatic – the fact that I don’t accept the guiding assumptions of many experts in evolutionary biology makes me hesitant about some of their claims; while I hold to the truth of many of them, I do so fairly lightly. Two interesting examples of others who don’t fully accept the guiding assumptions of naturalism held by many evolutionary biologists are Simon Conway-Morris and Martin Nowak. And while both are brilliant evolutionary biologists (if we can include paleontology), the views of both are a bit different to the centre of the mainstream, at least as far as some of the bigger issues behind the overall structure and driving forces of evolution goes. So that’s an interesting caveat – some can study an area intensely but not accept all of the beliefs of other experts. Of course, sometimes people can study a belief very carefully and still reject it quite directly as well – creationist Kurt Wise did a PhD supervised by Stephen J. Gould, agnostic Bart Ehrman studied with preeminent evangelical scholar Bruce Metzger – but such counter-examples notwithstanding, the question must still be: where does the evidence in the field really point?
Another example is there are many purported moral facts that are plausibly either true or false (and which one they are would seem to be quite important!) – but many people disagree on them. Disagreement is a feature of our world, added to by our inherent cognitive and cultural limitations.
So, next time someone doubts something that is quite fundamental to your view of the world, or you doubt something that someone else believes, 1) ask whether you’ve both considered the relevant fundamental assumptions in play – have you tried to see it from where the other person stands? – 2) and then reflect on whether you’ve really looked into it. Whether it is that your only information about evolution comes from creationist pamphlets or that your opinion of the Old Testament or the existence of Jesus is primarily shaped by ‘new atheist’ internet message boards, it might be time to reconsider and look into what those who study and teach and live the truth of these things believe about them. You may well retain your original belief, but it should at least be more nuanced.
Likewise when it comes to Jesus. Is he the ultimate authority around whom you should centre your life, or not? The fact that it doesn’t seem obviously true to you one way or the other isn’t going to settle this important question.