A recent nonversation over on Nan’s blog (here) got me thinking about how people claim the supernatural exists and affects reality – among other things. I tried explaining to someone that debate over these claims isn’t really appropriate when there isn’t any new evidence that people can evaluate for themselves. The reason I put it in these terms is partly based on my thinking when I initially deconverted (here). Evidence means different things to different people, and deriding others for not accepting it isn’t exactly persuasive.
It’s been over three years since I last thought about it in much detail. Since then, I’ve encountered many different people who have assured me in general that there’s something out there, or more specifically that some specific idea of a deity is right around the corner. As a general rule, I tend to ignore such platitudes. Although I understand they’re meant as a kindness, these aren’t claims I can do anything with.
I’ve also learned that fairness matters.
There are many people out there who claim that their view of supernatural entities happens to be real. The specifics vary, so it’s hard to pinpoint what is being said or implied. Over the years I’ve been alive, I have met people who believe in a myriad of different things like earth spirits, fairies, and angels. If I wanted to be fair, I thought I had to deliberately consider all of their demands on my attention.
I needed to find a way to filter all of these claims and give them equal priority. Over the years, this has led to an informal threshold that I rarely articulate. Namely, the threshold is that if someone is exceptionally interested in getting me to consider a supernatural anything, they need to provide something I can evaluate on my own – that also doesn’t require someone else telling me what reality is. What this means is that books and arguments in favor of how deity X could do thing Y isn’t something I’m going to consider. If your belief is that something supernatural answers prayers, I’d like to see some sort of independent demonstration, preferably under lab conditions.
And yes, I understand this excludes a TON of information out there. For me, it does it uniformly. So, I’ll ignore a claim to consider reincarnation for the exact same reason I’ll ignore a claim that I’m going to burn for eternity. More importantly, if someone showed me something I can test for either point, I’d consider them equally.
What we give time and consideration to also matters.
Consider this post by Ark regarding the drawbacks of preaching to youth. Children exist at the mercy of their parents in almost every human society on Earth. They don’t get the luxury I have as an adult; they don’t get to set healthy boundaries for themselves with regards to what information they take in. All too often, parents and other adults can impose their ideas on young people before they are able to process the information themselves.
Most of the time, this is probably benign. After all, people wouldn’t operate this way if it wasn’t efficient and didn’t carry benefits. But there are consequences to such impositions. William Lane Craig, for example, argues it’s totally appropriate for a deity to torture children for eternity for no other reason than it can. Are there any parents teaching this to their kids? Is this wise to do so? Should they wait for their kids to become more developed before laying this on them?
Having thresholds for this stuff matters.
It works for everyone. Too often, we talk about free speech, free will, and freedom of choice. All of that’s meaningless when people are leveraged to consider things for terrible reasons. Bullying people into a belief doesn’t happen in a truly free society. Too often, that sort of thing can serve as a barrier to learning.
I also want to point out that I am a person who is excessively focused on efficiency in discussion. Some people might feel like this is dismissive of their points. Just because I don’t take one up doesn’t mean I hold people in less esteem. Rather, it just means I can’t add anything productive to the thought. To me, wasting someone’s time is uncivilized behavior. Although I can’t always avoid it, I am always looking for ways to behave more civilly.